She had prepared her mining supplies and picked a spot off the map as she looked for a seller who might have some less rare gems lying around, but there was not so much as gemstone dust for sale. Hopeful until the end, she had collected the houluh pup earlier that day from the contest hall and tried to find some trader with a trove of gems to spare and an obsession with breeding to feed, only to fail there too.
So, she had taken her packed supplies and Walker to one of the squares the drovers liked to use, the pup napping in the open small cart she dragged behind her. Then she had found the asshole currently singing about some meal he had enjoyed, or a wench perhaps, as he tested to see if Alma could keep down even the small breakfast she had eaten before the sun rose.
Of her chosen companions, Walker had been the easy choice. It was his fault she had to return to the mines, but he was also the only one of her mining familiars who would hunt down gems like they were all that stood between him and starvation. Which they were in a sense, but he was trained not to eat the gems they found immediately. 136
Her other mining companions were better suited for hunting down live things, things that moved and could sometimes be sold for twice her monthly salary. What rocks they found seemed more of a result of a casual search than something deliberately hunting for them. While in theory they might be better suited for finding things like the bones that were the latest craze in the city, she doubted they would find many gems unless a beast happened to have previously amassed them.
And, as an added bonus, the gem drake was entirely unremarkable, just like the worn tools and the little houluh that was somehow still sleeping away as though her hands were a feather bed. The rules about not killing other inhabitants only protected those in the city after all, and that was why she chose the cheat above all the others. She knew how he made his money, and she doubted it would be worth the trouble to kill a silly guard who was not carrying enough credits for a better cart. Let them target those with champion sarane, or specially colored houluh, let this asshole with his cushion laugh at her misery, she was going to reach mines alive and somewhat rested. 137
Bruised perhaps, skin so mottled that she could be mistaken for a humanism or a particularly strange ssashirk, but she would be ready to walk and dig the second she did some stretches off the cart.
The carter, finally tiring of his game, drove them down a relatively smooth path for the last quartered mile before coming to a stop. Alma had shut her eyes long before more to protect them from the miraculous level of dust that the mount had managed to kick up than in any hope of rest. In fact, she had been wondering if the mud-covered pasha that pulled the cart might have been a custom with the ability to summon sand when the cart jerked to a halt. Walker, having tucked himself into a small gemstone ball, slid into her side with a dismayed sound of grinding rock, but the pup snored happily as she slapped against the back of the cart.
“We’re ‘ere. Hope yah enjoyed yer luxury ride.” The carter was still laughing to himself as he hopped down from his cursed cushion, which Alma cursed a few more times as she tried to stand. Let him stuff as many gems as he wanted in the damn thing for the return trip that he could not sit for a week! 138
She lay the pup onto the floor of the cart, elbowing Walker as the familiar tried to clamber over her numb legs to investigate. “He’s notta gem, you twit,” she informed him as she ran her gloved hands down her legs, bending them and slapping at them until she was fairly sure they would not collapse if she stood.
Grabbing the edge of the cart and doing her best to ignore the carter’s offer to help as she led his pasha to a trough of water, she pushed herself onto her knees, then onto her feet. Alma stood there until her legs were not swaying quite so much, then left the pup and Walker behind as she hopped over the edge of the cart, determined to show how little the ride had affected her.
She was only mildly grateful that her hand landed in the pasha-apple rather than her face.
Standing up, she had a bit of a laugh with the carter, wishing for nothing more than to slap him in the face with his beast’s waste, then walked over to the sparse plants surrounding the small clearing to wipe off her gloves. She recognized one or two of them, but wasn’t sure which ones, if any, were safe to use. 139
She had taken a chance with a fern-looking plant, one that lacked the glossy or powder coats of the other broad leafed plants, when she heard the carter yell that he had arrived. Slapping away the worst of the dirt, she returned to the cart and first removed the heavy, barrel-like cart that was full of her supplies as the first of the building’s inhabitants came out with bulging sacks. They traded words with the carter, haggling as though the man would not take his price from them in the end, and the few that bothered with her suggested that she mine elsewhere. She yanked Walker free of the cart after giving one of the less sullen ones a pasted on smile, then put him on the ground to take the puppy.
The houluh inspired those suggesting what mined out spaces she should venture to calm down a little bit, and one with a writhing sack that sounded like a perpetual cave-in was occurring inside was kind enough to inform her that sarane had been spotted in their preferred mining area. She let a few of them pat the puppy roughly, the drugs in his system not letting him wake to even the shrill whistle that a self-proclaimed canine lover made. 140
The gem drake was less accommodating, grinding and clicking at the familiars and beasts of the other miners, trying to position himself between Alma and any that came too close. The carter eventually drew their attention as well when he stated there simply was not enough space for all of them and their treasures, and the bidding that ensued distracted even the canine lover from her attempts at waking the pup. Slipping the straps of her smaller barrel cart over her shoulders, Alma walked away as quickly as her legs would take her, following what looked like an extension of the road they had followed so far.
When she and her pets were no longer in sight of the small clearing or anyone that might have been waiting in the house, she slowed her pace to one her body complained less about. Any place this close to the rest stop had likely been mined to uselessness, and she did not fancy the idea of fighting anyone who thought otherwise. The gem drake would shatter like glass, the pup was, well, a pup, and she had no illusions that her chances against something like an estharne, even if her weapons were not buried in the cart to avoid tempting the carter, was less than that of a ducky. 141
And if the estharne was a trained beast, or the cave had been booby trapped, no amount of badge flashing would keep them alive. There was a reason the guard only really stuck to enforcing the laws in the city, and why so few problems were reported on outside of it. She did not doubt for a second that her body would never be found, though Walker might have a shot at living if he could burrow quickly enough. He had been trapped and caught in the mines all those years ago, and he never seemed to forget about his home despite how long Alma sometimes stayed away.
The houluh, well, he might make it. She did not know what tricks the new labs might have put into the poor hounds, or maybe the person might be enough of a dog lover that they could know the worth of a houluh, “even an ugly little one like you, huh? Ha.” The pup kicked at her chest as though he could understand she was making fun of him, and she laughed again. Making noise out here could be dangerous if a predator was looking around, but the sheer number of folks back at the rest stop made her less worried about a wild beast. 142
Being noisy would let any criminals know she was moving around, and hopefully they would steer clear of her. After all, what sort of loon would talk loudly to herself in the middle of the wilderness without some sort of safety net? “Don’t answer that,” she told Walker, the familiar easily obeying that command. After a few steps of silence, she nodded to herself and dropped her voice to tell him, “See? I knew you weren’t as dumb as a rock. Yer at least as bright as crystal, right? Ha!” When he failed to laugh at her joke, she shrugged as best she could with the cart’s straps around her shoulders and a pup in her hand. He had the sense of humor of a rock at least.
They walked long enough for her legs and body to finally feel right, the aches and pains fading to a less noticeable level. She took a short break then, inspecting her body to find much fewer bruises than she had expected, “Would have been fewer if that bastard had shared his cushion,” and looking at the map as she drank some water. It was not a spectacular map beyond the price, but the person she had bought it off of had thrown in a ‘free’ hint when she had finally bought it. 143
Based on his, or her, she had a problem telling sometimes with the less-normal looking folks, information, the general area she was moving to had just had a sarane problem dealt with, with the rangers sweeping in to snag the expensive little hatchlings that had been orphaned. That meant, with any luck, other miners had been avoiding the area. If they had not already started plundering it once the last of the crying babies had been taken off to be sold, she had a good chance of picking up any treasures that the sarane had inadvertently been protecting. After putting the map away and laying the pup down in the cart to make him less enticing of a treat for any predators that might have returned after the sarane were dealt with, she resumed the walk.
“Funny how it all looks so much closer on a map, aye Walker?”
The gem drake kept trying to pull her into random spots in the undergrowth, including towards what looked like a pile of leaves and branches. She had dragged him away quickly, making sure to be noisy and as unthreatening as possible until she was sure nothing had followed them. “Here’s a tip, if someone’s hidin’ outside the city, let them stay hid.” 144
Walker was sullen despite her warning, and he only half-heartedly strolled in directions away from her chosen route. She felt bad for him, knew he only wanted to go after some sniffed gem, but she really did not want to die finding him dinner. Plus the pup would be waking up soon, the transport drugs meant to wear off hours after an owner could get their new beast to their kennel and cages. Having a tiny puppy barking, sniffing, and relieving himself on her supplies was much less than ideal. They needed to find the proper caves before that even became a problem.
Eventually they reached what she thought was the place, matching up the mark on the map with the odd protrusion of rocks. She dragged the cart closer towards it, and was happy to see the already fading red x’s that rangers made to warn folks away from dangerous beasts. They had likely already cleared out the entire cave system of anything bigger than a small worm, which meant Alma and Walker would be free to harvest as much treasure as the cart could hold.
“Think yew’ll join in too, little pup? Tin liked digging.” The thought of her other houluh made her sigh. Tine would have been much more useful than the new pup. 145
Of course, the new pup was meant to be a gift for the zephyr houluh. A new best friend for when Alma had to go out and work with beasts that were a great deal more useful than the small dog. It wasn’t Tin’s fault that their supposed connection to the goddess of Order amounted to them being treated like well-trained orbaru in terms of breeding, but the houluh just was not powerful enough to be used for anything like a fight. Seeing as something about houluh prevented them from breeding with their kennel mates, she figured it was safe to pick up the small male that was snoring away in the cart. Once she was sure WELP had not made him some horrible beast that ate minds or something, she would introduce the two.
Walker, now pulling towards one of the cave mouths and being pleasantly surprised by Alma’s willingness to follow him now, thankfully did not require constant companionship. He would fight the other gem seeking beasts in her kennels if they came close enough, and she was certain he would leave her to die if it meant getting a mound of treasure. She could hardly fault the living statue for that, though she hoped the treasure would be something like gold and diamonds rather than jade and pyrite. 146
“Have to admit, little pup, really hoping you aren’t gonna explode or eat houluh or something. WELP likes their horrifying twists, and they’re in charge now.” She walked closer to the cave Walker was so interested in, voice growing slightly louder as she determined one of her sarane could have fit into it. “I mean, those little cats. Do you know how many we had to kill? Some families were starving ‘cause the damned things had wriggled their way into their heads. Like worms. One of the father’s couldn't take it, man’s, well, he’s in therapy now with a few of the revived.”
Her shudder was only partially at the memory as she saw the rusty stains splattered around the cave mouth, the same color as the pups’s hide. “Dunno if they’d mess with old labs stuff, but really hoping I don’t have to leave yah here. Cost me quite a few points,” she laughed, but it was pitched oddly high to her, and she could hear it echoing. “Well, you’ll wake soon, and Walker isn’t all that impressed by mind stuff.” She stared at the pup a moment after fishing out the flashlight from the cart, looking at his little twitching paws, adding quietly, “Please just be a pup.” 147
The pup slept fitfully while she examined the cave mouth for fresher traces of blood, wishing that she had as strong a sense of smell as some mammalians. There were gouges in the rock, unsubtle signs of some beast’s passing, and the scratches on the walls that she could see with the rising sunlight looked like something very angry had been marking its territory. But no amount of searching there revealed any fresh blood, and the gouges in the walls appeared to have growing within them some green moss. “Should be safe. Know you wanted to just run in,” she smiled at Walker, holding the rope tightly against his attempts to pull her in, “But it’s better to be safe than sorry. Pup would agree.”
She gestured to the fitfully sleeping pup, his eyes rolling about under his eyelids. If he was like the other beasts she had taken to her kennels, that meant she had roughly ten minutes before he was awake enough to start moving around on his own. Which meant they needed to find a good mining spot before then so she could tether him before he woke up and started drooling acid or something. She quickly slipped back into the cart’s lines. 148
“Lead the way,” she told Walker, but the familiar was already straining to pull himself back into the cave. With the flashlight in hand, she followed his pull, flipping on the light as the sunlight faded behind them. The tunnel was much bigger than the ones she was used to, no mere route for some tiny gem wyrm to tunnel to its nest. She was able to stand at her full height as she followed Walker, and the ground, while not smooth, was nowhere near as rough as the trip up had been. More than once she stopped to check on the houluh, as much to ensure he still slept safely in the cart as to steel herself against what they might find in the tunnel. Black sarane were not known for being any kinder than the rest of their species, perhaps even less so as they were the only breed commonly encountered in the wild by inhabitants of the city.
They found no corpse, no sign of any struggles in the long, large tunnel beyond a few trails of dried blood, each one ending abruptly without anything to mark it besides the lack of blood. It made her no more comfortable to find the tunnel did not branch for several minutes. 149
The first true branch they encountered had several tunnels, including one that opened up in the wall behind them. Alma only noticed this one as Walker scurried towards it like a metal to a magnet, ignoring the tunnels of various sizes that had peppered the wall in front of them. Fishing out a piece of chalk from the puppy, she watched the houluh open his eyes, blink, then close them once more. Hurriedly, she marked the wall with a long-tailed arrow, and followed after Walker.
There were more splits, and Alma marked each once quickly before following Walker down increasingly smaller tunnels. The current one was wide enough that she could have stretched out on the floor and barely touched either wall with her hands and feet, but the height was such that she was forced to travel after Walker in a near crawl. Then it abruptly grew taller once more, ending in a bubble of space littered with holes that were the perfect size for only Walker and the pup to fit through.
The gem drake was pulled slowly out of one of these tunnels, claws scraping at the ground until she pulled him back into sight. “Sorry Walker, the cart’s too fat to fit.” 150
Silver: That's okay, things can change a bit. :3
Sept 27, 2021 5:42:43 GMT -6
Twilight-Claw: Since the Bellafaux are the dumbed down but bigger version of them. Love the fact that they got stats of their own now though! Finally they can be trained! <3
Sept 27, 2021 0:06:11 GMT -6
Twilight-Claw: Hmm, for some reason it doesn't feel as if the Bellaroxi has the right move set when looking at the old entry of them in text.
Sept 27, 2021 0:05:02 GMT -6
Renathan: -points at the sushi monster- Him go 3 Miles an Hour. Lookit him go.
Sept 26, 2021 21:31:10 GMT -6
Twilight-Claw: That just means rl has caught up with you, it can happen. X3
Sept 23, 2021 10:10:22 GMT -6
Renathan: I'm gonna have to get caught up on all the updates, I've let myself fallen behind sooo badly.
Sept 22, 2021 4:47:08 GMT -6