The stone surrounding the gem was rather hard, or maybe that was his lack of muscle mass talking, but there wasn't a whole lot of stone there, and it only took a minute or two for Nerius to loosen the gem enough to pry it out of the wall. Shining the flashlight more directly on the gem, it looked to be an agate of some sort. A decent find, and into the bag it went. He looked around where it had been sticking from the wall, but didn't see anything other than dull grey stone. Ice hadn't bothered to dig around the area more, either, so he doubted there would be any other finds here.
Speaking of the familiar, she'd wandered quite a distance down the tunnel, he noticed. She seemed interested in a spot in the wall, but hadn't started to dig yet. It would be best to follow her, Nerius really didn't want to loose the gem dragon at a fork in the tunnel or something.
It didn't take long to catch up to the familiar, stopping every few seconds to poke at the wall, as she was. Shining the flashlight along the walls, Nerius didn't see anything either. Perhaps he ought to look up? Gem dragons weren't very tall, and he wouldn't have been surprised if Ice couldn't sniff out a vein that was in the ceiling. Though he had to admit, digging straight up didn't seem like the safest of ideas, but, at least he had a hard hat.
Flicking the light upwards, he didn't see anything other than more of the same rough grey stone. Not at first, at least, but as Nerius and Ice continued further down the tunnel, small stalactites started to appear. Stalagmites on the floor, too, he realized after almost tripping over one. That would have been embarrassing, had anyone other than the gem dragon been around to see it, but at least he hadn't actually done a nosedive to the floor. Best to pay attention to the floor as well as the ceiling.
Tripping hazards aside, stalactites and 'mites were a good sign. They generally indicated water flow, and that could create mineral deposits, or wear away rock to reveal harder stones within.
Or they could indicate an actual source of water. He could hear moving water, Nerius realized, it was distant, further down the tunnel, but it was there. Ice was more interested in scratching into the floor at the moment, but he was sure she was aware of the water. And that water source could be a good thing, or bad. Worse cast scenario it would be too fast or deep, or otherwise completely block the tunnel, and they'd have to turn around. Nerius could swim, but he wasn't about to take a dip in a raging underground river that he had no idea where even ended up. It could end up dumping him off the edge of a waterfall, or into a pit of magma, even.
An excited chirp from the mining familiar interrupted his gruesome train of thought, and pointing the flashlight down to the floor, Nerius could a yellow-ish vein glimmering in the dull rock. That wouldn't be as simple to remove as a gem sticking out of the wall, maybe it would be best to let Ice have a first go at digging? It may have been an excuse to avoid breaking out the pick, but either way the gem dragon wasn't waiting around for him, and had started digging. Which was fortunate, as she hadn't actually been trained to follow any commands, that was probably something he should work on.
He wasn't sure how much of the small vein would actually be usable, much of what he could see was quite thin, and wouldn't produce a chunk large enough to be useful in jewelry. He was also sure Ice would end up eating some of it, which was fine, it was a cheap way to feed a mining familiar, as long as he got the jewelry grade bits.
Nerius wasn't exactly sure how to be helpful at this point, it was a small vein, and there really wasn't room for him to get in there and dig with the mining familiar right there. Maybe there was more of the vein nearby? Searching around the wall, he didn't see the vein reappear anywhere else, and didn't see anything else shiny, for that matter. Ice was making good progress at least, and had dug a good deal of rock away from the thicker end, while the thinner end tapered off- what was that?
A few inches past the end of the vein, there was.. something. It wasn't shiny, not a gem or ore, and was only a slightly different shade than the surrounding rock. It was the shape that gave it away, rocks didn't come in that spiral-y of a shape, and kneeling down, Nerius realized it was a fossil. What sort of creature it had been, he had no idea.
It wasn't the most useful of finds, it didn't have any magical applications, and he'd never heard of anyone making jewelry out of fossils either. But some people had a use for them, and they were worth a decent bit, and, well, the fossil did look neat, so he'd take it. Or would, after he dug it out of the wall, which would be interesting, as it was stuck in there a lot better than the agate had been. A pick risked damaging it, so mallet and chisel it was again. After carefully lining up the tools, Nerius set to work digging out the fossil.
After a few minutes of work he.. really hadn't made much progress. He'd managed to remove a little rock, but the fossil was still very well stuck in there. Look, he didn't have very much upper body strength, okay? ..Or, any body strength, really. Ice wasn't very impressed with him, either, and having finished digging out the vein, was now holding a chunk of jade in her mouth and giving him a look.
She stared at Nerius for a few seconds, before dropping the jade on his boot, and attempted to nudge his tools out of the way with her snout. Someone clearly thought they could do a better job that he could, which was probably correct, and Nerius removed the tools and let the familiar dig. Putting the gear back in his pack, he picked up the gem chunk, jade it looked like, even it wasn't the classic deep green.
He'd only had time to briefly check it over, and put it away, before Ice had finished digging out the fossil. Okay, he'd gotten embarrassingly bad at the digging part, and sheepishly took the fossil as Ice offered it out to him. Well, that was what happened when you were sick, and didn't go mining for over a year, he supposed. At least he had someone to do the heavy digging work, he didn't even want to know how bad he'd be with an actual pickaxe.
But now the issue was how to carry the fossil safely, it was much more fragile than a solid piece of stone, and he didn't want it to get damaged. Wrapping it in something would be best, some of the bandages from the first aid kit would work for that. They weren't the most padded things in existence, but they'd keep the fossil safe enough when put away into one of the utility belt pockets.
There didn't seem to be anything else here, either that Nerius could see, or Ice was picking up on. He was interested in finding that source of water, still audible in the distance, and there wasn't really any other direction to go. So toward the water it was, and thankfully, it wasn't getting too much louder as they got closer. With any luck, that meant it wasn't a raging river, and was something they could cross, or even mine from, without too much difficulty.
After only a few minutes of walking, which probably would have taken less time if Ice hadn't been sniffing for gems (not that he was complaining about that), Nerius spotted the shine of water further down the tunnel. As the two got closer, he could see it wasn't a particularly large source of water, it flowed from a crack in the wall, and the foot or so of 'waterfall' was responsible for most the sound. It wasn't that deep either, but did take up part of the tunnel, over the years wearing a deeper channel next to a higher ledge he could walk along.
There wasn't really anywhere other to go than to follow it, even if Ice wasn't that thrilled to be so close to water. Still, she was willing to follow behind Nerius as they continued down the tunnel. There was a noticeable slope now, it wasn't terribly steep, but enough that the water flowed downwards.
The stream continued rather uninteresting for a few hundred feet, before the tunnel curved sharply. Around the curve the path narrowed, and Nerius had to be watch where he stepped, and Ice was even more unhappy about this bit of tunnel. But past the curve, the tunnel opened up. And not just a little, but into a huge underground pool. Long trails of stalactites dripped from the ceiling down to the pool, forming mounds where they hit ground instead of water.
They were beautiful, and also reminded Nerius of a cake with extra icing, which probably said something about him as a person.
Food similarities aside, the cavern was also faintly lit, bio-luminescent moss grew on the walls where there weren't icing stalactites. No, that wasn't the technical term, yes that was what he would continue to call them. There was also a shore, for lack of a better term, where the floor sloped gently into the water, though it was scattered with the occasional stalagmite.
As nice at the cavern was, the real question was if there where any gems or such down here. It seemed like a promising spot, but Ice wasn't really searching yet, too busy being unhappy about the water. Nerius wasn't sure why she disliked it so much, was it something common to all gem creatures, or an individual quirk? Did gem dragons even need to breathe? He would guess 'no', but hadn't ever been in the position to learn for sure or not, and he wasn't about to dump Ice in the lake for the sake of scientific curiosity.
Well, hopefully she'd quit glaring at the water soon, and until then he could always search himself. He wouldn't be able to tell if there were gems under the stone, but at least could spot something sticking out of the floor or wall. Though it would be a bit more difficult with all the water, there were plenty of damp patches that shone when hit with light, and were not actual gems.
So far, Nerius wasn't finding anything, there was nothing shining out in the open, an easy, obvious find. If there was something, it was either nestled in with the stalagmites, or under a layer of dull rock. Ice was, at least, starting to help with the latter, sniffing around for gems, while still giving the pool a wide berth. The pool was another option, actually. There could definitely be something in the water itself, either formed there, or carried by the stream, though Nerius wasn't terribly thrilled about the idea of diving in there.
He'd start with the stalagmites first. It would be a bit of shame to dig into them, but he supposed wild mining familiars dug through these kinds of formations all the time, looking for tasty gems to snack on, so it wasn't something that didn't happen in nature. In fact, as he looked through the stalagmites, he could see a few places that did look like they had been dug at by little claws, some fresh, others that had been dripped over by more icing. Erm, rock.
And now he was really in the mood for some cake. Which, wasn't exactly possible down in the mines, he'd brought some food, but it was more nutritious than desert-like. And it wasn't like he was going to find a cafe down here. But he could have his TROD pick up some cupcakes while it was out doing errands, Nerius realized, somewhat surprised that the connection still worked beneath all the rock. No, he wasn't going to have it bring him a delivery into the mines, that would be silly. Rather he'd have the robot take it to his house, so he'd have a nice snack after this trip.
Which would be a while, it was still early, and he hadn't found a whole lot. Ice, at least, finally seemed to be on to something.. or not. She had been digging at a spot as if she'd found something, but had abandoned it and moved on to further searching, and shining the flashlight at the spot, Nerius didn't see anything either.