If that was the case, then maybe it did have a better sense of caves than San himself, who had to venture into the cavern itself to realize that fact.
But perhaps it was merely a coincidence. Without a way to ask, there was no way to know.
As they made their way back, San took stock of the rock around them again, and in the process of doing so, he saw something that made him pause. The reptile continued ambling along, and San let it, thinking only to inspect the thing that had caught his interest for a moment. Bending down, he picked up what he had thought was only a strangely shaped rock at first. But something about the pattern of it had caught his eye, and when he lifted it, he could see that it was some sort of... shell, fossilized into a dull yellowish brown rock.
It didn't look like much. If not for the intricacy of it, and the fact that he had found it here among rubble rock, it might well have just been an intricate carving, though one made from a stone that wasn't particularly appealing. But it seemed like a real fossil, and that meant it might have value in the right hands...
San considered it a moment, then pocketed the thing. He would find out later just how valuable it actually was. And even if it had no value, it was no real loss; he had gotten it for free by picking it up off the ground, after all, even if he had to go into a strange cave to find it.
He walked briskly a little while to catch up to the reptile, who really hadn't managed to get very far, and together the two of them took their leave of the cavern.
It didn't take long for San to find himself back in the mountain caves. Apparently being the equivalent of a dog walker was at least a little lucrative and in demand, since it didn't take long for him to pick up another similar job after the first had ended. And something about the caves kept drawing him back; and it wasn't as though the one who had hired him this time said he couldn't go... So here he was, yet again.
At least this time his companion was of a more manageable size, though San didn't think they would be becoming close acquaintances, exactly.
Looking at it, it was hard to say what this creature was. The one who had hired him said it was a 'Ghaenelt', whatever that meant. He had never heard of anything remotely like the name, or of anything remotely like the creature he was looking at.
So he supposed it made sense; it must have been a creature that was only found in these parts, or... only created in these parts, he supposed. In this case it was most likely the latter, since that was the way of it with most of the creatures in the city.
He recalled having wondered why someone would create a creature like Roku, who was simply a somewhat larger cat with strange wings. But now an even more unfathomable mystery had appeared. The Ghaenelt was roughly the size of a medium dog, but with a strange sort of... face plate, and spines along the back. They were too sparse to resemble a hedgehog, and too long and hard by far.
Not a creature to be held, or indeed to have in close proximity with you at all if you could help it, he thought. Not that this was a problem for him.
San wasn't the type to... Well, he didn't know. He hadn't really grown up around animals, though the ones here were different, of course. Maybe it was for the best. He couldn't imagine they appreciated it if people were forever trying to pet them like regular animals.
Even so, setting off into a cave with an unknown companion was a little strange.
San didn't have a lead this time, so he had to keep a more careful eye on his charge. To be honest, it felt like a mixed blessing. It had sat badly with him to be jerking around a sentient creature on a leash, but the reptile was large and stubborn enough that he had felt the necessity of it somewhat, even though he knew that if push came to shove, he couldn't really pull it or stop it from going anywhere it really wanted to go to.
The Ghaenelt was of a size where a leash really could make a difference in him getting his way, so he was glad not to have the... the temptation of it, he supposed. But without it, he also had no way to keep track of the Ghaenelt's movements except to watch it as carefully as he could. And this was a smaller, quicker creature, so if he took his eyes off it for too long, there was the serious risk of losing it in the tunnels somewhere.
Maybe the tunnels really weren't the best place for this.
But he had heard that these creatures liked to dig, and there was the off chance it might unearth something. It was no native of the caves the way the gem creatures were, but if the caverns were as bountiful as people claimed, there was still the chance that they might get lucky.
But it might not happen that way. It wasn't as if the Ghaenelt knew him very well, and San was hardly in a position to be asking for favors. Besides which, if they did find something together, there was always the question of how to split the spoils, which might come up. Maybe it was best if they didn't find anything after all, simply to avoid coming to that kind of conflict. San didn't know how he would go about negotiating that sort of thing, under the present circumstances.
The Ghaenelt at least seemed to be enjoying itself, wandering about with great animation. It was for the best that the creature itself was so small, since even with it ranging about, it didn't get very far ahead of San very often. He still had to walk fast to keep up sometimes, but it was no worse than brisk exercise now.
Some months back, even this would have been beyond him, but then at that point he wouldn't have been offering to do this kind of work. It had been hard to find any jobs period for the first little while, since he was up to so little. He was pretty sure Rei and Roku stole some things, but that was the way of it back when they had been Watchful too. The organization itself provided what you needed to do your jobs, and what you needed to stay in a fit condition to do those jobs. Past that, if you wanted something, you had to be able to take it for yourself without causing a fuss anywhere. Most of them inevitably became excellent shoplifters and pickpockets, though the organization being what it was, it wasn't as though many of them did so often, or with any great abandon, even then.
After all, one of those conditions was not to draw attention to yourself, and a glut of thievery was bound to draw attention eventually. Besides which, they weren't exactly encouraged to have much in the way of attachments. Even permanent quarters weren't something they had. There was no room to keep a dearth of personal possessions, so agents kept their personal affects small, and their indulgences few.
And when San had been that weak, they couldn't have afforded much else. It wasn't the safest or the most legal course of action, but he couldn't fault them for it either.
San stopped when he noticed the Ghaenelt pausing a little ahead of him, its ears perked up like it was listening for something. Frowning, he paused too and tried to see if he could hear anything. At first he didn't, but then... Then there was something, a faint noise at first, low and indistinct.
It took him a moment to place what it was, but by then it was rapidly growing louder. A rumbling of some sort, not that he wanted to stay long enough to find out what exact type it was.
"We'd better go," he said to the Ghaenelt, but fortunately for him, it seemed to be having similar thoughts. Together the two of them turned and ran. The rumbling hadn't been close enough that they could see it happening, but the rate at which it had been growing louder was some cause for alarm. And in a place like this, with tonnes upon tonnes of mountain waiting to fall on them, standing around and letting it come to you wasn't the smartest idea.
... This really wasn't the kind of place you wanted to be taking a creature for a casual exploration, was it? The thought flitted through San's mind as he ran.
San stopped when the rumbling did. He was used to having to stay aware of his surroundings even when running for his life, so it wasn't a difficult thing for him to notice. In fact, when you were running for your life, that was one of the most important times to keep your wits about you. Whatever other things they might have inflicted on him, the Watchful Ones had taught him a few useful skills.
Of course, the price that he had paid for those skills probably outweighed what he had gained... But what was done was done, and he could only make the best of what he had now.
The Ghaenelt ran right past him, and only stopped a little further on, staring at him as if he were a fool for stopping at all. San met its gaze and wondered which of them was right in this situation.
But if the Ghaenelt didn't want to stay... After something like this had happened, San couldn't exactly blame it for that sentiment. And he was, once again, first and foremost supposed to take care of his charge, rather than go on searching for valuables in mountain tunnels. If he could do both, then that would be best, but if he had to choose one or the other, he knew what his priorities ought to be.
"Alright. Let's go somewhere else then," said San to the Ghaenelt, and together they went to the entrance. There was no longer the same sense of urgency, since there was no more noise to dog their heels; most likely what had happened had been a cave-in, and it hadn't been big enough to reach them. San turned back once, but he couldn't see any sign of it in the tunnel depths. Then he turned, and together they headed back to the city.
... At this point, Roku would have called San a fool for coming back. It had been a few days after the cave in, or whatever it was, had happened in the tunnel that he had explored with the Ghaenelt, so it wasn't as though he was immediately jumping back in, but even so. A cave-in, so the cat would have reasoned, was ample reason to stay away from the place, treasure or no.
And yet, here he was again.
He hadn't told Rei where he was going when he left. He felt a little guilty over it, but he knew she would have worried. It had been a bad idea to tell her about the cave in to begin with, but he felt that she would have found out one way or another. Like when Ichaival upbraided him about taking unnecessary risks with his body, since it wasn't strictly just his anymore.
Ichaival wouldn't be happy about this either, and San knew he ought to be wary of the dragon, for so many different reasons. And yet, the threat of Ichaival's ire had done surprisingly little to curb his actions so far. Perhaps a part of him resented the dragon, which was not a useful feeling to have, but it had given him plenty of reason to feel that way, if one was looking for them.
But he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
For now, he kept an eye on the creature he had been hired to watch over this time around. It seemed that a lot of people didn't have time to spend with their creatures, or time to spend taking them out, anyway. He hadn't even meant to offer this service when he first started, but now it was starting to become almost a regular thing.