It wasn't the most ideal one though, the tunnel was very steep, and very rough. At least it wasn't the slick dripped stone, or a sheer rock wall, but it would be like climbing a really terrible staircase. It would have been manageable under normal circumstances, but Nerius wasn't sure how well his injured leg would be able to manage it. Checking the bandages, he found a little blood had seeped through in a two spots. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't a good sign for being able to scramble up a steep tunnel.
Ice hadn't taken off up the tunnel at least, she was still sticking close to him. She could fly, and wouldn't have had issues with the steep tunnel at all. Nerius was still considering his options, the ledge did continue on far past the tunnel, but it was so uneven, and there was no telling if there'd be any other way up further along.
Nerius stared up the tunnel, shining the flashlight over the uneven rock. The angle made it impossible to see the end, but that could be a good thing, he had quite a ways to go to get back to the surface, and a tunnel that tall was more promising than one that leveled off after a few yards. Further along to the right, the ledge continued, but it was getting more and more rough, and as he shined the flashlight down the tunnel, it appeared to get narrower as well.
The tunnel up was the best bet, unpleasant as the trek was likely to be. Nerius checked over the bandages first, he'd already spotted blood in a few spots, but he didn't have any more bandages to replace it, and settled for readjusting the bandages to be affixed to his leg properly. Ice was watching him, or more specifically the injury, the whole time, making little worried noises.
Did she actually understand what blood meant for a fleshy creature? Gem dragons, being made entirely of stone, didn't bleed, and Nerius wasn't sure if they had an instinctive reaction to blood. But gem dragons were smart, it was possible she'd learned after all the time spent around people, and, well, the empathic connection also might have had something to do with it.
Nerius realized at this point he was just putting off the climb, the bandages were properly wrapped, and it really didn't matter if Ice understood blood or not. With a sigh, he gingerly took his first steps up the steep tunnel. Thankfully, he was right in that it wasn't like climbing a sheer rock wall, which would have been impossible in his current state, but more like a staircase for giants. He couldn't just walk up the 'steps', they were large enough, and steep enough, that he had to climb up each one.
For a while, his focus was entirely on carefully making his way up the stair step like ledges, only vaguely aware of Ice following him, fluttering between every few 'steps'. But it wasn't far into his climb that Nerius felt the distinctive thrum of magic. Distinctive, but different than any crystal he'd felt before. It was burning and cool and chaotic and calm and everything else all at once. But not with the harsh tangle of multiple nodes all crammed into one place, but somehow all thrumming together, like instruments in an orchestra.
He'd never owned one himself, but that had to be a prismatic crystal. Couldn't be anything else, with the way it felt like all elements at once. It also felt rather distant, and coming from far above him in the steep tunnel, and he still had a long way to go to reach it. It was extra motivation to climb the steep thing, that was for sure.
Nerius continued his climb. The rough, flat ledges meant there was little risk of slipping or falling, but it also wasn't easy on his injured leg. The more he climbed the more painful it was becoming, and blood was seeping out into the bandages and a slow but steady rate. The bandages were more red than white, and were starting to drip. It was a little concerning, but there was nothing to be done about it now.
Ice was fluttering along beside him, giving encouraging little chirps. It wasn't really doing anything to help, but she meant well. It wasn't enough to keep his leg from giving out as he tried to climb a particularly steep set of steps, and Nerius dropped roughly to the lower ledge with a soft yell that was more out of surprise than pain. It hurt, but not more than it had been, and it was the sudden drop that was more of a shock.
The ledges were too wide for him to drop more than a few feet, but it was a rough landing. It wasn't that he leg was weaker than it had been, at least not by a significant amount, but rather these ledges were taller than the rest of the tunnel had been. He'd had to hold his weight on his injured leg too long, and it had given out partway up the ledge.
After a moment of rest, Nerius tried again, using his non-injured leg to bear the brunt of the weight, then clambered awkwardly with his arms rather than pushing off with the other leg. It was slow and uncomfortable, but he made it. Unfortunately, the rest of the ledges didn't look like they got any less steep, which meant awkwardly climbing would be how he'd have to climb the rest of the way. Ice couldn't really do anything to help, but landed next to him, nudging his arm in an affectionate way.
Nerius gave her head pats in return, though the gem dragon couldn't really distract from how far he still had to climb. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, he could distantly see where the slope leveled off up above him now. He was more than halfway there, but the other half would be the worst half.
Well, it wouldn't get any less steep by staring at it, and Nerius determinedly started climbing again. The ledge scramble had worked, but it wasn't the best, and this time he tried a mix, pushing off even with his injured leg, but also using his arms to take some of the weight off of it. He was half surprised that it worked as well as it did, and Nerius kept climbing. His wounded leg didn't like it, the limb was burning, and when he glanced down, he could see a trail of blood up the rock.
He didn't have any other choice though, so Nerius kept climbing, and eventually, as he scrambled over a particularly tall ledge, he realized there weren't any more, just a relatively flat, smooth tunnel. It was a relief, and he just laid there for a while, panting, but unaware of his breathing. Distantly, he wondered if his vision would have been dark around the edges if it weren't for the darkness of the caverns. He had to have lost a lot of blood by this point, glancing he could see a small puddle already forming under his leg.
Ice didn't like how he was just lying there, and chirped at him, concerned. When she didn't get a response, she tried again, louder, and pecked gently at his arm. That make him finally be aware of the gem dragons presence, and he reached up to pat the mining familiar, mostly to stop the pecking.
As much as it concerned Ice, who had flopped into his lap once he was sitting, the break helped a little, and with a groan Nerius managed to pull himself into a sitting position. The cavern spun a little, but otherwise it was fine. He looked down at the leg again; it was very, very bloody, with the bandage being completely soaked through, with only a little white remaining at the top. It would have been better to replace them, but the first aid kit hadn't been large, and it had taken all the bandages contained in the kit to wrap it how he had.
He could tighten it a little at least, scrambling around had loosened it in places, and was probably part of why the bleeding was as bad as it was. Nerius gently pushed the gem dragon out of the way, and re-affixed the bandages. It wasn't easy, as soaked as they were, and left his hands looking like he'd committed a murder.
It was doable though, and he even managed to wrap the less bloody end that had been at the top of his leg around the main wound. With any luck it would help, if only a little. There wasn't anything he could really do about the mess on his hands though, and resigned himself to wiping them off the best he could on his pants. They were black, the blood wasn't that noticeable, and the pants were already mangled from the water monster bite.
Nerius hadn't forgot about the crystal either, it was close now, and as he looked around the tunnel he could see a faint glow from not too far away. With a grimace, and hiss of pain, he forced himself to his feet. Ice made a noise of alarm as he stood, but there wasn't anything she could do to either stop him or help him, and carefully he limped his way to the glowing crystal.
He was a little wobbly, but using the wall as a support, Nerius managed to make his way to the magical crystal. It was sitting in a little alcove, along with a sizable treasure trove of stones, which he pointed at. "Look Ice, gems," he might have sounded a little delirious, and even with the added distraction of gems he could still feel Ice's concern. She did flutter up to peer into the alcove, though he wasn't entirely sure it wasn't just to keep a closer eye on him.
It was a nice collection of gems, but Nerius went right for the prismatic crystal, picking it up out of the stash, and just stared at it for a several moments before Ice pecked him again. Nerius shook himself out of it, and stored the crystal with the others he'd found, before looking through the pile of gems, collecting them as he went.