It had been a different client every time too. He hadn't advertised this in any way, so he imagined it must have been by referral... And he was hardly one to turn down a job that paid, if there was no real reason to do it. Heavens as his witness, but that Seveth certainly didn't do any work. His only use was for maintaining the 'student' aspect of their mutual cover identity, which he didn't seem to mind. San was surprised by that, but didn't pry; finding that Seveth was good for anything at all had been almost more than he had dared to hope for.
The charge this time, unfortunately, was another large reptile... sort of. He wasn't entirely sure, actually. The creature had scales, but from a distance the shape was distinctly equine. Mostly. The tail was a different matter, but as far as he could tell, all horses here had this sort of tail.
Given that there was one organization creating all these creatures, San wondered if it was a matter of their taste, or if the horses in this region that had been endemic before this facility sprang up had had similar tails. The horses he had known in his homeland had tails that were almost entirely hair, with only a bit of bone and skin jutting out at the base. Not that he had had much opportunity to meet any horses in person, but there had been books and paintings aplenty in which to see them.
The horses of those tales had been loyal and stalwart companions, but he knew that a horse that didn't know you well was a dangerous thing. He didn't try to get too close to the one he was leading now. Oh yes, there was a lead again, though the... Pasha, so they were called, didn't seem to mind.
Maybe it - no, she, the new client had informed him of that much when he had picked her up - had already been acclimated to some things. Maybe the lead was a... practical aspect, that the Pasha understood the need for, and didn't view as demeaning. There were times even people had to be restrained... No, that wasn't the parallel he was looking for. Very well, sometimes a mother had to hold her child by the hand to keep them from wandering off somewhere dangerous. And as a Pasha didn't have the liberty of having hands, this was the next best alternative, so long as the one holding the lead didn't abuse their position.
But then, the Pasha wouldn't be walking so docilely along if she had ever experienced anything unpleasant with the lead, surely? San thought so, but if that wasn't the case, it wouldn't be his place to ask either.
For the sake of simplicity, San picked the same wide tall tunnel he had gone into with the reptile - whom he had since learned was called a Laredo - to explore with the Pasha. There might have been a different, more navigable branch that he had missed the first time, and even if there wasn't, at least he knew that the first portion of it was roomy. His current charge didn't strike him as a creature who dealt well with being in too cramped a space, and he didn't want to give her any cause to go off into a panic.
The risk of cave ins wasn't far from his mind, but this tunnel had seemed sturdy enough. He had never heard any rumbling in his time here, and he hoped things would stay that way. The Pasha stopped, but only to get a sense of her surroundings, and San stopped with her.
He waited for her to acclimate to the cavern. It was a strange place to be if you've never experienced a cave before, but neither of his previous charges had panicked in the caves, so San had hope that this would merely be enrichment and not cause for the Pasha to bolt. Maybe he had been lucky with the other two, but surely the heightened intelligence of these lab-made creatures helped temper them against the usual instinctive fears that had to be more slowly overcome in less intelligent creatures...
The Pasha did seem a little uneasy, but she also took a few cautious steps forward, red eyes peering into the darkness.
Maybe it was the dark that unsettled her. People aplenty were afraid of the dark, after all. Rei had been, before she had learned to see properly in low light, back when San had been teaching her the basics of being an agent.
In the interest of making her a little more comfortable, he held up his flashlight and shone the beam further into the cave. There wasn't enough time for him to try and teach the Pasha to see in the dark, and there wasn't enough trust between the two of them for that sort of thing either. But he could do this much for her, at least, if it would make things a little easier on her.
... But his actions, though well intended, had the opposite effect. Perhaps it was because it was too sudden; or perhaps she disliked the flickering shadows cast by the flashlight the same way that the Laredo had seen them as threats to be hissed at. The Pasha tossed up her head, and the lead nearly slipped from San's grasp. Only quick reflexes honed through years of work kept it from happening, and even then, San was left at a loss.
The problem here wasn't that he was caught off guard, but that he didn't exactly know how to comfort a... a Pasha. She might have been intelligent but there were still species differences. Roku still slept most of the day, and his personality was still cat-like, and there were still certain inclinations he had that would have been highly unusual in a person.
"Whoa," he said. "Whoa girl, it's alright, it's okay..." He tried to keep his voice even, soft and soothing, as if he was talking to a startled child. The Pasha was a fully grown adult, so he had been told, and her proportions certainly hadn't looked like those of a half grown creature, but even so.
The Pasha snorted, then pawed at the ground, claws scraping against dirt and rock. "Do you want to leave?" he asked. They had just gotten here, but if she really had been spooked...
There was no point in asking her to stay if she didn't want to be here. It was a disappointing result, but San couldn't resent the outcome. It felt as though it was his own fault for not knowing more, and not thinking things through.
Next time, maybe he would try a different place... Or a more suitable companion.
"Okay, let's go," he said, when she answered his question by tugging at the lead. "It's alright. We'll go home. We'll stop by someplace nice and you can calm down. How does that sound? A nice meadow somewhere, right by the water..." He kept up a litany of soothing words, and that seemed to help calm her a little. She grew calmer yet when they exited the cave, so that was the end of that. San led her away from the caverns, all the while thinking of how best to ease her worries before returning her home.
When the fourth such request came in, San had to wonder what was afoot, that he was getting such an influx of requests to... take a creature out with him for some time outside. It seemed like such a strangely specific request, coming from so many different people, and so quickly in succession.
As it turned out, it was all being arranged through the man with the Laredo. Apparently there was some sort of... fighting pit event coming up, and other people were hiring him to ready some creatures for it. He, in turn, didn't have time to exercise them as much as he would like, and thus the job was being outsourced to Linyü. Or rather, specifically to San, since Seveth didn't really work.
Which was why he was back at the caverns yet again, this time with a cow in tow. Or a 'Murp', as they called him.
He supposed that must have been the name for the cows created by the labs in these parts. This one didn't look that much different from a regular cow, excepting the fact that the horns met together in a circle, which was somewhat strange to look at. San had never seen anything quite like it before, but aside from that the Murp looked like an ordinary bull, more or less. There must be some breeds out there with fur not unlike what the Murp had going on.
... He was really beginning to wonder what the labs were about, creating slightly altered versions of perfectly ordinary animals. Were these Murp created to help agricultural yields...? No, but that couldn't be right, since they must have had the same enhanced intelligence as the other species found here. Unless intelligence enhancement wasn't part of the package with some of these creatures after all...
He never did ask, and loath as he was to admit it, he had been rather lax in his efforts to research the creatures here. They were a big part of life for most people, so it had been remiss of him to put it off for so long, but there was such a wide and overwhelming variety... And yet, at the same time, his own household had stayed largely what it was, with only the acquisition of Chime recently; and Chime was inert most of the time, and an unusual specimen besides.
Aside from that, there was always so much to do. He didn't have time to study much. Maybe he ought to ask Seveth to give him a summarized report, though he wondered if Seveth would do it even if San asked him to.
"Let's go," he said to the Murp, and led him into one of the caverns,
The Murp was on a lead, in a similar fashion to the Pasha from last time. The Murp seemed to like it less, sometimes snorting or tossing his head. Probably he wasn't used to it, but it made San think again on the question of his intelligence, and those thoughts brought a frown to San's face. Was the Murp's discomfort simply for the fact that the lead was uncomfortable or unfamiliar to wear? Or was there more to it, something more to do with pride or the idea that this was demeaning somehow?
He wished, now, that he knew the answer to that fundamental question of the creature's level of intelligence. But that wasn't something he could ask of the Murp directly, and until he had an answer, he felt that it was best to err on the side of caution. "It's alright," San said, soothing the Murp as best he could.
Regardless of how clever the Murp was, this much at least should be universal. "It's okay. It's just a lead. Maybe it feels a bit strange now, but there's nothing to worry about."
Well, not from the lead, anyway. What the caves had in store for them was a rather different story, and San couldn't in good faith promise that there would be no mishaps down here, in case the words came back to bite him later. And if the Murp was of a similar intelligence to Roku, and understood Common on top of it, then the Murp would have the capacity to remember his lie, and resent him for it. That didn't seem like the kind of thing he wanted to happen, if the Murp then had to be trained for combat by someone else. An individual who already mistrusted humans would doubtless be that much harder to train.
What… what is that smell? Is that gas? Oh no! The cavern you are in is full of slowly seeping natural gas. Not only do you risk explosions if you are not careful with sparks and open flames, but if you stick around for too long, you will surely pass out from lack of oxygen!