Sapphire was helping, of course, but it had such small claws that I was surprised at how much dirt it was actually able to move. For such a small creature, Sapphire had very tough little claws. It still wasn't putting in as much as I was, but I could forgive it because it found the curious pile of dirt in the first place.
I could feel the texture and density of the dirt change as I bore through it. I figured that the end of the dirt patch must be close. We would be on the other side of the tunnel soon. I could feel it. I was beginning to get excited about what might be on the other side. There could be a wealth of gemstones just on the other side of this cave in. Maybe someone even knocked the dirt loose by digging through a huge vein of gold.
The temperature change on my paw was instant as it broke through the stiff layer of dirt to the other side. The dirt had become warm after however long it was sitting there, but the air on the other side was cold. What a discovery! I dug with more fury to break through completely so I could see inside.
I burst through the dirt to the other side and stepped confidently onto the floor below. Except that there wasn't any floor below. There was nothing but air below my paws. I started to fall and scrambled to catch the ledge, but the dirt only continued to crumble away and there was no sturdy place to grasp. I gasped and my eyes were wide with panic. As I started to tumble down into the depths of an unknown cavern, I looked up to see a little glimmer. It was Sapphire!
Sapphire was flying above my head. Sapphire... was flying! I suddenly remembered that I, too, could fly and straightened myself out and caught the air before anything bad happened. It was a long way down and I'm sure it would have hurt to hit the ground at that speed. I twitched my paws and swished my tail, just to make sure that I could.
I lowered my ears at Sapphire and told it, "We will not ever speak of this moment, got it?"
Now that I had some space to think, I considered my options. The area was clearly blocked off because it was dangerous. I don't think it could have been a coincidence. It was perhaps foolish to think I could dig my way through unscathed. Those were the kinds of lessons that were learned the hard way out here. I do not think a human would have fared as well as I did in the same situation. I looked around to see if anything caught my eye to inform what we should do next.
Someone must have blocked off that pathway I had dug through. It couldn't be a coincidence that there was so much loose rubble and dirt blocking a tunnel that led to a huge cavern. I looked around for any sign of what might have created the blockage. I flew closer to inspect the still crumbling dirt where I had fallen. Other than my own claw marks, there does not seem to be any clear markings which reveal how it got there.
Sapphire floated closer to me as I got closer to where we started. The ceiling was much higher in this part of the cavern than where we started, but it seemed to want to hover close to me instead of exploring. I am not surprised by this; the little gem does prefer my company when it is available. I think it might be starting to like me. Maybe some day we will grow to an even greater understanding of each other.
There were no tool marks in the dirt or any other obvious markers that indicated what could have blocked off the tunnel here. If they were doing it to be benevolent, then they were sadly unsuccessful. I tore through the warning without stopping to consider why it might be there. Then again, maybe it was just an accident after all, or possibly a result of the shape of the hole in comparison to the cavern itself. Satisfied that I would probably never know and it would be a waste to spend more time on it, I turned away to look down the cavern for another place to go.
Sapphire was starting to flutter and flap more erratically and I wondered if it is unwell. It must not be a very strong flyer with its tiny wings. I plucked it from the air with one of my claws and offered to carry it to our next destination. I was unable to tell whether or not it is grateful, but I assumed it was.
There was a bottom to the underground canyon, but it was difficult to discern from where we were. I decided that it was wiser to float along the walls and see if there was another tunnel to investigate. Unlike the first tunnel, I figured that this one would be far less likely to be plundered by frequent travelers. I whistled softly to myself, pleased by the very thought.
Just as I had suspected, there was another tunnel leading into the cavern on the other side and down a ways. I floated gently down to it and offered for Sapphire to enter before I did. It looked very relieved when its claws were back on the ground again. I did not think it is very comfortable in the air like I am. I would have to remember that in the future in case we were to fall down any more huge caverns again.
I watched Sapphire cautiously walk through the tunnel for a while before finally settling down into it myself. It was a bit wobbly on its feet after being in the air for so long. Though I didn't have such a problem myself, I empathized with it. Clearly it was not the sort of creature that saw a lot of flight, so I considered training up its endurance a bit. I thought that such a thing should be possible, but I would have to figure out how. That was a thought for later. For now, we had a new cave to explore.
I watched the walls and floor closely for any imperfections or signs that this area was unstable. I was traveling ratheer slowly because I was being especially cautious after what had just happened. I would probably pick up the pace as I got more confident, but for that moment, I was taking my time.
My careful inspection of the walls revealed a little vein of silver. I stopped to run my claw over it slowly. If I were to break it free, there was sure to be more behind it. It was just the kind of patterning I would expect to lead to a larger piece. It was probably even worth digging out of the rock. I sat my pack down and pulled out a pickax. Sapphire stopped and turned around to watch, but I scooted it out of the way so it wouldn't be injured.
I smashed the unwieldy human tool into the wall and watched as chunks of it fell to the ground. Another sturdy strike split the rock right open and revealed just the source of silver that I had been expecting. I was more careful with subsequent strikes and eventually just used my bare claws to pry it loose. I admired the shiny, strangely formed chunk of metal for a moment before stashing it away.
When the pickax first hit the wall, Sapphire jumped back. It was startled, probably because of the loud noise being made, or maybe it felt some kind of empathy for the rock being smashed apart. I wondered if it feels emotions for the crystals buried here. Even if it didn't, I imagine that it could be afraid of the same thing happening to it. A well placed strike with the tool would smash it just the same as it did the rocks.
I was pleased to find my assumption correct. There was a chunk of usable silver in the wall. When the dirt and stone fell away, there was a shining hunk of it that I pried free with my claws. It was easy to pull with the well placed knocks around it. I knew that I had the right technique, but nothing was as satisfying as holding the metal in my own claws.
To my surprise, Sapphire tapped on my leg to get my attention. I turned to look at it and saw that it was carrying a moonstone in its claws. It was reaching out to me as though it wanted to give me the gem. I was pleased and a little bit flattered, so I took the gem and put it and the silver away in a secure place. Sapphire seemed proud, but I could have been projecting.
I almost did not realize that it might have jumped away before to catch that gem. I did not even see it fall, but Sapphire might have. I was thankful to have it along for the journey. It did have a knack for finding gemstones. It even gave them to me freely. Between the two of us and our skills, we could curate a brilliant hoard. I hoped that it didn't have any expectations of ownership. I like it well enough, but I do not intend to share.
Thinking about how Sapphire had found the moonstone that I had missed, I gently sifted through the rubble with my claws, hoping that something would jump out at me. It wasn't as impressive as a moonstone, but I did find a piece of marble I liked the look of. It was a brilliant white color that would really accent the gems around it. I stashed that away as well and looked to see what Sapphire was doing.
Sapphire had taken my lead and was pawing through the rubble left behind as well. There were little twinkles of silver strewn about, but not a lot worth taking. Then, the lucky little bastard surprised me. It uncovered some rubble, looked surprised, then continued sweeping around until it revealed a bright green gem of some kind. It was not shimmery enough to be an emerald, but it was beautiful nonetheless. I pulled it from the rocks and attempted to identify it.
The mottled green color and slick surface no doubt belonged to aventurine, a form of quartz. Clear quartz was cheap, but I was always fond of the colored varieties. Gems with brilliant color were not terribly common, which made them all the more appealing. I slipped that gem into my bag as well and patted Sapphire on the head. It had done well today.
What had started out as a near disaster had turned into a pleasant surprise. There were a ton of gems in this area, just as I thought. It was so difficult to access that I knew nobody else would have taken everything out of the area yet. With a bit more time and Sapphire's weird luck, the bag would be full in no time. I must remember not to be too greedy and take only enough to fill the pack for now. We could always come back again soon.
The tunnels were virtually endless. I could not possibly know how far they spread, but I do not think anyone could manage to explore them in a single lifetime. If every tunnel was as full of gems as this one, there must be many hoards worth hiding in the earth. Mine would no doubt be formidable in no time. Especially with Sapphire by my side.
I was not sure what to think at first, but I have grown fond of the strange little creature. It was smarter than it looks and very capable of contributing. I would certainly bring it with on future explorations. It was sort of cute, too, in a weird sort of way. "Well, what do you think?" I asked it. I ran my claws along one of the gems in my bag again to reassure myself that it was still there. Sapphire brought it to me, so it might just have a plan after all.