Have you ever stooped down to pick up a pebble, only to find the object of your interest jumping high into the air and away, landing several peds down the road, all the while laughing raucously - like a demon, an imp, or at least like a mad ogress? If so, you may have been the victim of a mischievous magician’s prank, or conceivably you may have to question your own sanity. More likely, however, you have encountered a Gigglepebble, or "Chucklestone" as it is also called, a little known resident of the Rimmerins Ring. Among ogres, Gigglepebbles are known as "Ghuff’aaw" (where the first syllable means ‘eat’, and the second “waste”, referring to the Gigglepebbles’ habit of dining on the nutritious bits sticking to bones discarded by ogres after a meal).
Seen from above, this ground-dwelling creature looks like a round, grey pebble,
varying in size between one and four nailsbreadths in diameter. Gigglepebbles
may be difficult to distinguish from the numerous nuggets of rock lying about in
their habitat; except that their surfaces are smoother than most stones’ - as if
they had been shaped and polished in a riverbed, and had by some chance been
removed from the water and placed on one of the dry slopes of the Teeth.
To look more closely at a Gigglepebble, you need to catch one! Grabbing an individual that is sitting on the floor is virtually impossible, as Gigglepebbles can sense movement in the air around them and will leap away with a single jump that can reach well above a dwarf’s head in height, and several peds in distance. And to add insult to futility, the annoying beast will be guffawing all the while! No, to get hold of a living Gigglepebble, you have to anticipate its jump and catch it in its flight. Although their leaps are quick and difficult to predict, the patient hunter is assisted by the fact that Gigglepebbles cannot change direction in mid-air.
Having got one in our hand, let us examine its back first. This smooth, semi-spherical surface is in fact composed of two plates, which fit so close together that they only leave a barely perceptible line that runs lengthwise through the centre of the back. These plates are hard as stone, so you’d hurt your knuckle if you should be fool enough to venture a vigorous knock. If you pry the back plates apart (an operation which your compendiumist performed on a dead specimen, lest a living Gigglepebble be harmed in the process), you see that underneath two wings appear, thin and transparent, but likewise hard and stiff. These are not fit for sustained flight, but they are one of the reasons that the Gigglepebbles can jump so high and wide. It is these wings, in fact, which produce the noise that have moved your humble chronicler to give the Gigglepebbles their Tharian name.
Now turn the creature on its back and have a look at its underside. You will then notice the peculiar body plan of the Gigglepebble. There is nothing resembling a head. The underside is flat, soft, and black. Right in its centre sits a thin proboscis, which can be retracted and extended by the creature’s volition, and is used to suck in food and water, as well as to emit waste products.
Five black legs are arranged in equal distances at the outer edge of the underside, as if forming the tips of a regular five-pointed star. When the creature is sitting on the ground, these legs are curled up so tightly, that you will see no gap between the edge of the hard back-plates and the ground. When a Gigglepebble wants to walk, it just unfolds these legs a little bit, and slowly crawls along its way.
The coiled-up legs really come into their own, however, when the creature feels threatened. They will then be released suddenly and act like springs, propelling the Gigglepebble a ped or higher into the air. With the help of their cumbersome but noisy wings, they propel themselves “forwards” (with the direction being determined by the way their wings happen to point at the time of leaping), so that their trajectory through the air describes a semi-ellipse.
Most difficult to spot are the Gigglepebbles’ delicate antennae. Like the legs, these are five in number and are arranged in a regular star formation that overlaps with the star formed by the legs. The antennae are likewise black, and thin as hairs. Although they protrude slightly underneath the stone-like back plate while the creature is sitting on the ground, human eyes would have to get very close indeed to be able to spot them from above. The best hypothesis as to the antennae’s function is that they serve both for the detection of smell and the detection of potentially dangerous movement in the air.
Gigglepebbles are prey to birds and small mammals, and rely on their almost
perfect camouflage and their ability to leap away as means of defence. A
predator will find it all but impossible to crack the hard back-shell of a
Gigglepebble, but if it manages to turn the creature on its back, the soft flesh
may easily be scooped out by a beak, a paw, or a set of teeth.
Territory. Gigglepebbles have been recorded in the Rimmerins Ring, and appear to be most common in its Northern Range (also known as the Teeth).
Habitat/Behaviour. Gigglepebbles may be found beneath the snow line in the rockier areas of the Teeth, which offer them protection through camouflage. They may also venture into grassy areas or even forests, if the stench of their food attracts them there. For ordinary movement, Gigglepebbles will content themselves with the slow progress that crawling affords them. The laughter-producing leaps are only used for self-defence, and during the mating ritual (described below).
One reason that Gigglepebbles rarely leap without necessity may be that in their mountainous habitat it can be rather dangerous to do so. Your devoted chronicler has himself witnessed more than once how a Gigglepebble set off in a giant defensive leap, only to hurl itself inadvertently over the edge of some profound precipice. It is an uncanny experience indeed to hear the wild laughter of the little animal echoing from the mountain faces as it falls into the depth, presumably to its death.
Diet. Who wants to know what a ground-dwelling, vaguely beetle-like creature eats? If you insist, we may divulge that Gigglepebbles are scavengers who find their food by its rotten smell, and compete for it with flies and other insects. They belong to the multifarious class of under-appreciated little creepy-crawlies that make their living as cleaners of Caelereth’s surfaces, relishing insect or spider carcasses, the half-eaten victims left behind by predators, and generally whatever other creatures have discarded as inedible or not worth the effort of scraping off. Bones discarded by ogres after a meal, in particular, seem to be regarded as a delicacy among Gigglepebbles, a circumstance which has led to their ogrish name.
Mating. The only occasion when Gigglepebbles jump for a purpose other than to escape a predator is their mating ritual. For the ears of a human observer, this must surely appear to be the jolliest way of producing offspring in all of Caelereth! On a certain evening in Changing Winds, once every year, and for reasons and by means only known to them, Gigglepebbles congregate in their hundreds at what appear to be undistinguished locations, but are in fact regular mating places that may, as far as we know, have been used for many generations. These places are always on rather flat ground, with no slope or precipice in jumping range. There seems to be no order to the assembly – rather, as the creatures arrive, they proceed to crawl around, over and alongside one another until some signal unperceivable to human senses prompts them to commence their jumping almost at the same time. This, of course, results in a thunderstorm of chortling, chuckling, and cheering; cackling, cuckooing, and culooing; hooting, howling; giggling, guffawing and gullawomping; snorting, sniggering, and tittering – which proved so infectious that your fallible compendiumist’s will-power was unable to withstand the urge to join in the creatures’ mirth, which rendered careful and conscientious observation a rather more challenging task than it already is even under the best of conditions.
Nonetheless, it was possible to discern that most of the raucous leaps did not result in any interaction or mating, but ended with the creatures landing on their feet as after any defensive jump. In some instances, however, and as if by chance, two Gigglepebbles would meet in mid-air. Quicker than the human eye could follow, the two chance-partners would grab each other with their legs, intertwine them, and pull their two undersides together, so that they now formed one perfect round stone. Thus united, and laughing with combined volume, the pair would drop to the ground, where they would bounce and roll – hitting not a few of those of their fellows who have hitherto not been fortunate enough to hit on a mate in the process – until their movement came to a natural stop. Then they would separate, the “stone” slowly breaking apart into its two parts, the mating having been achieved. It is the belief of your correspondent that Gigglepebbles do not in fact have separate genders, but that each of a mating pair inseminates the other. For chances of a successful reproduction would be sorely diminished if every second mid-air meeting ended in a same-sex encounter!
Usages. It appears that ogres occasionally listen for the sound of the Gigglepebbles as indications of the presence of intruders in their territory. However, as the guffawing leaps may occur in reaction to the proximity of any of the creatures’ predators, they constitute a highly unreliable signal.
Ogre children know an ungentle little game to play with their Ghuff’aaws. This game is preferably played as an after-dinner entertainment, and is called “Ghuff’aaw-Tharrokk” (from ogrish “tharrokk”: to bash). It goes like this: You need a small group of players, say between two and five, each of which must supply herself (or himself) with a club or large stick. You then throw the leftovers from your last meal onto a heap and take seats in a circle around it, waiting for the Gigglepebbles to pick up the smell and come crawling for the food. Once a sufficient number of Gigglepebbles is munching away, everyone carefully stands up and steps a little closer. On a signal, all players jump toward the centre of the circle, upon which the Gigglepebbles, of course, get scared and jump into the air. Each player must then try and bash a jumping Gigglepebble with their stick, trying to make it fly as wide as possible. The player whose Gigglepebble laughs the longest (indicating that it is in the air for the longest time) wins the game. When her Gigglepebble has landed, the winner shouts out "Ghuff'aww-Tharrokk!". As her prize, she can demand the club of any other player, if she likes it better than her own. Alternatively, she gets a free “tharrokk” on the bum of another player of her choosing. A child who, during the game, hits another player instead of, or in addition to, a Gigglepebble, must de-louse the injured party’s hair that evening.
Myth/Lore. Gigglepebbles are rarely recognized as living beings – although the ogres of The Teeth seem to have been aware of them for a long time. Humans and other intelligent creatures usually assume that what they have encountered are stones brought to life by magic. As travellers noticed that these stones were often in the vicinity of ogrish territory, tales arose that ogres have magical abilities that allow them to bring stones to life, and that these stones act as sentinels who notify them of the location of potential prey. “If you hear the stones laughing”, it is said in the Rimmerins Ring, “run for your life, for the ogres are surely on their way to catch you”.