The Labs was a marvelous place, full of wonder, strange blends of magic and technology, and an ability to produce nearly anything one might want... nearly, not fully. They couldn't provide Vixen with a blake Sarane, no, and they couldn't churn out any crystals nor nodes, both of which she had been cultivating a growing interest in. She blamed Ashe in part, he and his ramblings about Magic this and Magic that, and she had grown curious on her own "pull" towards the crystals she had experienced once before at the Mansion. She had felt a warmth, an overwhelming desire to touch it, and it had nearly sung to her- she experienced a similar feeling around her magic-inclined creatures, such as Sayen and the Gologug. Bizarre, really. Unfortunately, she rather hated mining, and getting herself down here was the struggle of all struggles, and at last she had decided on a compromise: take a trip down, map out what she explored, and revisit with the intent of doing some digging. Who knows, maybe while she was down here this time, she'd feel froggy and put her tools to use- or at least that's what she had told herself as she had loaded up her backpack, her gargoyle, and one very ornery little Wiurn, the latter of which was nipping sharply at her gloved hands in protest as she carried the little beast down, gargoyle leading ahead of them.
((Mining Post 1 Juke .1 // LL -- Qi 1.1 // LL 3))
"You," he said, "are a very real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain."
Vixen had intended on working with the gargoyle, purchased after she had sold an amethyst drake, and training him the finer arts of snatching hatchlings, but alas the plans had fallen by the wayside, as often her intentions did in the face of her overload of creatures and forms of employment. Still, he wasn't an overly ornery thing, and had seemed overall receptive to her presence and food bribery, despite not having a particularly strong bond with her just yet. Part of her was nervous he would return to the mines, remember his natural habitat, and take off at top speed... but maybe not. She had done her best to present herself as an appealing companion, often speaking to the intelligent beast as she offered him his bizarre choice in snacks, and even now as they were walking down the slope of the mine entrance, he didn't seem to be hastening ahead. Maybe there was hope. More hope for him, it seemed, than the colorful wyvern twisting about in her grip, snapping at her backpack straps. It was the strangest thing, this little beast; her half-brother was so mild and steadfast, but Qi? No, Qi was a miniature tantrum in physical form.
Though Vixen wasn't typically thrilled with the idea of bringing baby critters into the mines, Wiurn were more durable than most, and she simply didn't have time to fit in bonding with Qi otherwise. She was too aware that she was on a time restraint for accumulating trust and loyalty in the little beast before she was too large and unruly, becoming a threat to Vixen. Heaven knows, Vixen had had her fill of winged reptilian threats as of late. Her ribs had improved into minimal soreness and discoloring from her sarane encounter, and her Equillion-healed side boasted pink, swollen knotted scars, which she fully suspected, in time, would become white. She had seen scars on scaled animals before; they were always white or black, that she had seen. No, she wasn't looking for any further body modification, so she toted the multi-colored baby with her, gloves in tow, treats for bribery in her swollen pack. As the mine widened out and the mouth of the cavern grew smaller, she drew to a stop, keeping an eye on the dark, stony creature before her. At her stoppage, Juke slowed, turning his eyes, so dark they seemed empty, towards his owner.
Staring at Juke, Vixen could not help but think of Ashe's gargoyle, a socketed Runic by name of Bazin. It was incredible what difference socketing made- the creatures took on the magic of the crystals so fully, their bodies transformed with it, and Brazin in particular had adapted rainbow, pastel hues and a soft glow. "Juke, if we find a crystal, and it's not what I'm looking for- we can fit you out... if you want?" She was curious under what circumstances Gargoyles took on the crystals if left wild to their own devices. Surely that was some sort of goal or milestone of their existence- they had developed a hollow in their chest specifically for it, after all, and their bodies seemed made for it. There was something objectively fascinating to her about non-Lab crafted creatures. The sarane, the gargoyles- evidently the gargoyles had their own culture and history, even. Amazing! She was disappointed there wasn't more reading material on it; perhaps she would pester Ashe with some questions about Brazin some day soon... and maybe ask his advice on socketing. Seeing what they could be, she felt guilty for Juke, feeling that he was almost empty. Feeling small claws scrape the skin of her forearm, Vixen looked back down to her scaled charge, remembering why she had chosen to stop to begin with.
"Right. You... you little snot." Qi was clinging to her arm, small wings wrapped around her forearm, teeth digging into her thick gloves, her back feet scraping blindly near Vixen's elbow. The baby was sized somewhere between a hatchling and juvenile, large enough for her nips to pass the "cute" stage and be, well, frankly annoying. Pursing her lips, Vixen seized Qi behind her head, forcing her jaws open with an indignant screech, and peeled her backwards, forcing her to loosen her wings. Once free, Vixen's other hand came up and seized the Wiurn's rear legs, holding her out at arm's length for her wing's flap irritably. "What's your deal? You and Lore are the same age and he's a doll." Qi did not care about Vixen's comparison to her navy-hued brother, and only thrashed to be freed. Juke, low to the ground with tucked wings, took a few shuffling steps forward, curious about this feisty creature with a body style that mirrored his own. Glancing at him, Vixen show her eyebrows up. "If you feel up to babysitting, have at it." Juke did not come closer, only observed quietly on the outskirts as Vixen struggled with the adolescent Wiurn.
In her usual fashion, Vixen had come prepared for tools for issues such as this. She crouched down, carefully pinning Qi's head down with one hand while she awkwardly shrugged off her full, strapped backpack with a heavy thud. With one free hand, she tugged the zipper up and plunged her hand into the crowded contents, feeling for a thick, shaped piece of Gug leather. Once her fingers brushed the firm surface, she seized it, tugging it out. At this point in her Labs career, Vixen had accumulated multiple Wiurn hoods in graduating sizes, and that is exactly what she produced. Though forced dependence was not her absolute favorite method of taming and training, it certainly had its place, and once she loosened the straps on it, she carefully fit it over the misbehaving wyvern's head, tugging the straps snug before she was able to scratch it off. Qi's blue eyes efficiently blinded, Vixen let go, watching closely as the baby thrashed and screeched, her stinger flailing wildly, wings flapping up dust. As her clawed foot raised in a fruitless attempt to scratch the hood loose, Juke approached again, now drawn by the sounds of distress. Once he grew close, the gargoyle stood still, watching with no expression as the baby thrashed and crashed backwards into his thick legs.
Juke had, from what Vixen had experienced thus far, a generally impassible personality, and even now he did not break character. In her fit, Qi did not seem to care that she had bumped into something solid, and only rededicated herself to scratching at her blinder. Juke dipped his head down, nosing the top of Qi's back with his beak-like face, his thick wings shuffling against his body. At the feeling of his probing, Qi whipped her head around, snapping blindly and closing onto his face. Evidently expecting something softer, like Vixen's skin, she immediately let go in a startled response, before Juke had time to withdraw or respond on his own. He shook his head sharply side to side, but did not withdraw, and instead made a low, guttural sound, surprising Vixen. She had not heard him make so much as a single utterance since she bought him, and pulled out her journal from her pack. She had originally packed the purple-bound book to sketch out mine paths, but the researcher in her could not bear to to not take notes. Squinting in the faint light, she tried to discern the intention behind the sound- angry, placating, disgruntled? It was hard to say; gargoyles did not have particularly expressive faces.
Whatever the intention of the vocalization, it caught Qi's attention, and her long neck whipped around, turning her hooded head towards the winged gargoyle. She stood on her feet and wing joints, head wavering slightly to pinpoint her travel companion's location, and fixing on his point, let loose a strange grunt that reminded Vixen vaguely of the sound that baby alligators made to call their mother, causing the thin skin under Qi's jaws to flutter out briefly. Vixen, engrossed in the two's interaction, nearly missed the polished-looking rock just inches away form where she crouched, but noticed it as its smooth surface reflected the faded light in the mine entryway. Momentarily distracted, she reached over, clutching it into her palm and drawing it closer to examine. Onyx! Nothing fancy, but not without value, either. Reaching into the side pouch of her pack, she fished out a gray pouch she had brought with her to hold gemstones, loosened the drawstring, and placed the stone in. What luck! No pesky pickaxe needed. Some distracted miner likely dropped it on their way out; no way a stone could sit this close to the entrance and be looked over with how often the mines were frequented.
After slipping the pouch back into her bag, Vixen returned her attention to her tag-alongs, and was greeted with an interesting, though unexpected, sight. Juke had lowered himself down closer to the ground, wings spread and touching down, body hunkered low, allowing him to somewhat surround Qi as he probed her all over with his snout. Qi, blind and with limited information to process, had stopped flailing and was still, letting her body sway with each minor push from the gargoyle. Was he... being nurturing? Vixen cocked her head and flipped rapidly to a blank page in her journal, digging a pen out of its spine to jot down her observations. Winged gargoyles were known to be more intelligent than most animals, though not quite sentient, and it appeared they were not as emotionally blank as they outwardly seemed. "Servants" was a work often tossed around with them- maybe one of their traditional roles was that of some form of child care? At any rate, his soothing seemed to be working, or perhaps Qi was just overwhelmed and could do nothing in her blindness. Vixen nearly felt bad, but the red marks on her arm persuaded her otherwise. When Qi settled, she would take the hood off. She couldn't have a baby acting wild and senseless down here.
Juke, Winged Gargoyle - Observations, Vixen scribbled in messy, swirling script. Displays interest in young Wiurn and exhibits comforting behaviors when subject was in distress; natural role may include care of young in a community setting? Interest maybe due to anatomical similarity. Must test with other species of different build. Looking up, Vixen saw that he had straightened back up, and Qi had trailed close to his leg. At least she'd be attaching to one of them, anyway. Vixen tucked her journal back into her pack at easy reach and loaded herself back up, stretching her arms as she stood. "Ok, Qi." She projected her voice, but was not loud, simply alerting the baby to her presence as she approached the pair. Though Qi seemed to like Juke's presence, she could not blindly follow him at the pace Vixen wished for them to sustain. As she neared, Vixen clicked her tongue, trying her best to make sure that Qi was not startled as she reached down and lightly cupped the sides of her wings with open palms. Qi jerked slightly and trilled, but did not resist much as Vixen lifted her straight off the ground and to her shoulder, positioning her carefully near her neck.
The young Wiurn wavered slightly on Vixen's shoulder, throwing her owner off balance as she shuffled blindly sideways, stopping when she found Vixen's bundle of hair and leaning into the solidity her head provided. Already, Vixen was planning on rotating which shoulder or arm the creature sat on, not particularly looking forward to lopsided cramping and fatigue. Her pack was heavy enough, and if Qi threw her off too much, their mapping exploration would be rather short-lived. "Be good and we'll try again without the hood, yeah?" Vixen locked onto Juke forging ahead of her, allowing him to choose which tunnel they would travel down. As the pre-placed torches grew increasingly sparse, she fished out her flashlight and clicked it on, lighting up the walls around them. Following the sound of the latch, a hollow trickling sound caught her attention- it sounded like it was coming from ahead, perhaps. An underground stream? No, not this close to the surface. As they forged forward, a minimal head turn on Juke's behalf prompted Vixen's own glance, and she noticed a trickle of wet stone, seeming to come from the ceiling. Ah, there it was- idle drip drops. No stream for now, but maybe they would find one as they went deeper underground.
The trio progressed deeper into the tunnel, Vixen's flashlight illuminating the way. Though it was late morning outside, down here there was only blackness and humid, thick air that offered no relief of a breeze or ventilation. Fortunately for Vixen, with her outward snake traits, such as her scaled stomach and hood, there came some minor physiological benefits, and the heat did not particularly bother her. The lack of air flow, however, made her somewhat claustrophobic, and she always spent her first hour or two in the mines in the state of mild anxiety that came with the sensation of a restricted ability to breathe. Because of this, she found herself taking deep, exaggerated breaths as she followed Juke's steady base, feeling almost light headed from her own paced respiration, but unable to get herself to stop. Like breathing with her amulet, it was a mind trick she had to get over, and she had yet to spend a truly enormous amount of time in the mines to train herself otherwise. Periodically, her hand went up to gently touch Qi's leathery side, assuring the little creature was getting enough oxygen. Of course she was, unburdened with overthinking as her mistress, and she simply swayed blindly to the momentum of Vixen's stride, wings and back feet lightly clutching her shoulder and pack strap.