“‘You’re hanging onto a cliff with the stones crawling upwards.’
“This phrase, common amongst the people of the Askharnn mountains refers to the unusual behaviour of a (thankfully) rare creature of the mountains. The phrase indicates much the same as, for example, “you’re treading on thin ice”. If you listen to my story, you’ll know why.
“It was springtime in the Askharrn and I was out, wandering, as I would in my youth. It was a beautiful day to be surrounded by huge rockfaces, that echoed even the sunshine. Far up the slopes, I caught sight of a dancing chamois and I gave chase, climbing deftly up the cliffs to gain ground more quickly.
“It was a foolish youthful fancy that I might catch something as agile as a chamois, but I pursued it hoping to force it onto some isolated rockshelf from which it couldn’t escape.
“After a good half-hour’s exhausting climb I decided it was time to give up on the chamois, and I hung for a while, enjoying the breath of the wind and the beating sun on my back. I had not been still for more than five minutes when the chamois appeared, very close by, and skipping faster than I have ever see even one of their daring species, down the cliff by nooks and crannies. There was something frenzied about its descent, something wild in its eyes that I saw as it passed. It was afraid of something, and no longer so terrified of me. Had I been an older and wiser man I might have taken this as a hint to get out and down, but being young I laughed at the beast’s plight and watched it scurry to safety at the bottom of the cliff.
“In the Askharnn, one gets used to a certain amount of background noise. The babble and chat of the rock pipits or the lonely calling turruts or geese is always present. When one suddenly notices that stable background of birdsong has gone, one knows something is wrong. When the small pebbles and rocks around you suddenly start rolling upwards towards the top of the cliff that is even worse.
“As soon as I saw the pebbles crawling up the rock, I panicked. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew that it wasn’t supposed to be and that if I stayed where I was much longer then I wouldn’t be there for very long. I scrabbled my way downwards, fumbling handholds and footholds as the rocks around me fell up. The birdsong had been replaced by a growling, like that of an hungry predator who is certain of his prey.
“It was best for me that I fell. I slipped, I lost my handhold and I fell thirty feet to the ground: broke both my legs. It was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.
“The rocks that had been crawling up the cliff had suddenly leapt off and cast themselves down, covering the rockface where I had hung not two seconds before. I could hear a terrifying liquidy sucking sound, as though they were exuding something horrible and trying to imbibe something which (fortunately) was no longer there. I should have been transfixed with horror and broken limbs, but I managed to grip the stones around me and pull myself away from the sickening scene. A few days later I was found, half-crazed, by Khosthasorni who took me back to my village.
“It was they who told me what I had seen. The rukuk-nurudni are strange and horrible creatures, formed from particles of rock (the Khosthasorne called them “silicon”), some like grit, some as large as boulders. Each creature is made of many discrete parts, which behave as one, crawling up cliff-faces to leap down onto goats, men and monsters that are climbing through the mountains. They devour the unfortunates they fall upon by secreting vile juices which dissolve the poor being and then absorb them into their rocky bowels.
I am extraordinarily lucky to be alive.”
The man drinks up, gets up and goes, leaving you feeling somewhat less confident about your journey through the mountains.