Hadn't it been such a long time, since Nadia had last set foot in the mines?
Standing before the yawning mouth of the tunnel made her heart skip a beat. Was it fear, or excitement? She had no way to tell - all she knew was that she felt a keen sense of familiarity, like she was returning to an old friend. Though accompanied by a different companion this time, a wily young thing she'd named Amber, everything else had remained the same. The bag on her back was stuffed with her long-unused tools. Pink wasn't her colour, but the hard hat sat jauntily atop her head was a comfort. Nothing could harm them.
A naive thought, but one that kept her spirits high and her anxiety low.
She'd ensured that it was dawn when she arrived, with the sun peering into the morning sky; she did not want the disorientation of exiting later on into darkness.
Nadia could feel the coolness of the cave already. It was a pleasant relief, against the warmth of the sun - unusually humid for the season. The weather tended to be more unpredictable around the Labs than it was back home. Something to do with the magical influences, perhaps? Who could tell?
Amber wound herself around the girl's ankles and made a curious, meowing sound. It was her first time to the mines, and Nadia was always cautious about such a thing - she didn't know how the creatures would react, though from what she could tell, this crossbreed was blessed with echolocation. At least if they got separated, that could come in handy. But how, if she hadn't been taught how to utilise it...?
Bother. She rubbed at the base of her neck, already damp with nervous perspiration. For someone with such high levels of anxiety, she sure was inappropriately drawn to putting herself in danger.
No one else seemed to be around. Not early miners, then? Perhaps there was such a thing as being too keen. Nadia didn't know if there was a prime time to go into the tunnels, but if there was, she didn't know of it. There was only the most comfortable time to avoid the annoyance of others.
The pack was weighty. In typical fashion, she'd forgotten the cart that would have made her life far easier; it didn't matter a terrible amount in the end, because she wasn't intending to stick around long, but her back would suffer for it. Good job she still had some remaining strength.
Amber sniffed along the cave walls as they at last reached the mouth, her tail high in the air behind her. Curious! Different smells, not like things she'd smelled before. Perhaps they were going on some sort of adventure. That could be fun!
"Now, now," Nadia said gently to the crossbreed - already her voice echoed around the space. "We must stick closely together, okay? Otherwise things could go rather wrong."
It would have been fortunate if Amber had listened to such a notion, or understood. Her body quivered; she meowed, and then sprang, shooting off along the wide tunnel in search of thrills.
"No! Wait, Amber!" The woman cursed her own naivety and paced after her as fast as she could manage with her burden. Why did she bring someone who held little affection for her and even greater curiosity? "Oh, bother, here we go..."
She could hear the crossbreed's gem jangling around her neck, but the echo was distorting her ability to tell where it was coming from. All she could do was grasp her torch and flick it on, directing the beam into the mine. Please, let her give up before getting too far...
Amber was enthralled. This was all new; she'd never seen anything like it, and she was keen to explore for as long as she can. Even though Nadia was calling, she didn't listen, and kept trotting forward, deeper and deeper along the entrance tunnel before it began to split.
That was the problem. If she shot off into an offshoot and got lost, how could Nadia ever find her? Trying to keep calm, the girl took her pickaxe from her pack and pursued, scooting rubble out of her path. Amber had no problem scrambling over it with grace, but she was less blessed.
"Oh, Amber, please," She called, as if her begging might make a difference to the crossbreed's opinion. That would have made her life a lot easier... as well as a leash and collar. "I am the biggest fool to walk this planet. Curse me to the ground."
After the incident with her Amber, Nadia had been hard pressed to want to come back to the mines.
She wasn't sure why she bothered. It was obvious that she was in a huff that day, making her way to the mouth of the caves with her bag of tools thrown over her shoulder; taking her frustrations out on the rock was just what the doctor ordered. If it cleared her head the slightest bit, she'd consider it a success.
Alex sidled alongside her, his signature hissing a welcome change. They hadn't stepped out together for a little while. Did he miss the mines? She figured that he must crave the environment of his home somewhat, so there was that reason for a visit, at least. The tip of his tail quivered as they drew close to the first tunnel. That was the closest indication of happiness she'd seen in him.
Were there any other miners up and about? Nadia had decided to come on a whim, on a sleepless night; she hadn't checked the clock precisely, but Obsidion was asleep in his room, and she'd had to creep to avoid making any noise. It was late. Her flashlight was turned on preemptively, guiding her way over the path. When they stood together in the mouth of the tunnel, she could hear very little noise within. The distant drip of water, and the occasional clink of metal on rock. Nothing extraordinary.
"Are you ready, Alex?" She asked. Why had she callen the little guy that? She didn't remember. "Let us explore."
The ground was noticeably more uneven inside. Worn with carts and footsteps, it would've been a hazard in the pitch black - even so, Alex slid over it without a second glance. That level of grace was enviable... she should take notes.
Decisions, decisions. They could go in any which direction, free agents as they were; they could try to stay in the upper levels, on paths walked before, or they could descend into the earth in hunt of uncharted territory. Did Nadia feel brave? Brave, or just wired from poor sleep and a pot of tea? It mattered not. A caffeine rush was an adequate substitute for courage. She shone the beam of the flashlight over the available routes.
One to the left, onwards into the caverns. One downwards, towards the unknown. She pulled her pickaxe from her pack and took the downwards slope, one hand grazing the wall to ensure her stability. It wasn't steep enough to cause her trouble, but she did feel rocks skittering under her boots and clattering onwards. Alex chased after them, the rear half of his body just visible in their pool of light. Certainly excited.
"Do you see something, Alex?" Nadia said. The slope was coming to an end, petering out into flat ground - she couldn't see too far ahead of her, but there appeared to be a tunnel, stretching out in front for a little distance. "I trust you to lead the way, old friend."
The wyrm may have seen something, or may not have. Either way, he was slithering forwards with purpose, but would stop every so often to nudge at the walls. All solid. He'd been hoping for some crumbling patches, for easy access to potential gems. He turned his head to stare at the human. When she was around, the rocks moved. Why wasn't she moving them?
"A little further, then," Nadia decided with a nod. They picked their way deeper, keeping an eye out for any drops or falls. It wouldn't do to twist an ankle or break a leg at that time of night. How would anyone hear her calling for assistance?
There was no need to stress about potentials. Nadia wasn't very good at keeping anxiety at bay, but she was trying her hardest; having a task helped to alleviate the constant worries. It would be a marvellous thing, to find some gems! Perhaps she would gift one to Obsidion, as a thank you for reuniting her with Mabel. Did men appreciate jewels? Not so much, right? It was more--
Oh! Alex had drawn to a halt by a patch of wall that looked softer. She was willing to take that as a sign. If he was sure, then she was sure too!
"Here? Alright. We shall see if there are any treasures within," She teased. Using the pickaxe was a little troublesome, considering she hadn't picked it up in a good while, but there was no way to improve without diving straight in! The tool was raised, and brought down.
It was harder work than Nadia remembered. She wasn't exactly built for manual labour as it was - perks of being a noble's pampered daughter, she supposed - and on top of that, she wasn't in peak physical condition. Within a few minutes, she was sweating, and had to stop to dab at her face and neck with a handkerchief.
Alex, on the contrary, was relentless. He had both the stamina and the familiarity with the rock to dive straight in. Not being able to sweat would be a gift. She looked at his form with a tinge of envy, before demanding to herself that she must stop feeling sorry for herself and get on with it.
Nothing was exposed at first, other than more and more rock. The rubble culminated around her feet; she scooted pebbles aside with the side of her boot to keep her working space as safe as possible.
A most unfortunate thought seized her. If a particularly heavy rock landed on Alex... would he shatter? The mental image made her cringe inwardly. No, surely they were hardier beasts than that if they lived in the mines... but she wasn't well educated on their anatomy, or even their basic lifestyles.
"I lament not being able to communicate with you, sometimes," She said to the wyrm, who glanced at her with apathy. "Yes, you may well look careless, but I fear for your safety! You be careful, now. I shall be dreadfully upset with you if you die."
Enough energy had been gathered to resume her efforts, and she raised the pickaxe again, bringing it down on the wall. If she wasn't mistaken, she heard the quiet clink of metal against something that wasn't stone. A discovery, already? Her excitement was tangible as she swapped to a smaller, more delicate tool.