The karzik does indeed take the stone, since it is allowed, and flits back to it's own hoard with it as quickly as possible.
Now, the karzik didn't have any more fear. This creature obviously saw that it was a better collector of gems, and was going to give it these. If this being was going to give up its hoard so easily, why should it worry? The karzik moved forward, trying to grab the gems, coming all too close to the outstretched arm of the much larger creature and the other mining familiar. Why should it worry?
It did not cross the simple karzik's mind that the gem so easily given might have been a ruse to get it to come even closer, on the ground and not flying, this time.
There is no smile, no telltale twitch of motion at all as the creature comes closer to the pouch and the gems. She is as still as the stones themselves as it first passes her arm, no longer in the erratic flight that she worried would aid it in avoiding her. She waits as it reaches the pouch, the fallen onyx, waits for it to commit itself to grabbing any of the gems that lay so close to her.
And then she finally moves.
Her outstretched arm snaps back as she lunges forward, seeking to pin its wings to its body, it's much smaller form to her chest, trusting and hoping that her scales will provide adequate protection from whatever resistance it can muster. The other hand, pouch dropped to the dirt and gems spilling out freely now from the impact, seeks its throat, the base of its head, maybe even a leg if it evades the pin, some sort of hold that will allow her to cement her grasp and minimize its struggles, or perhaps hold it at all should it evade the lunge. It takes a significant amount of willpower for her to not also lash out with her jaws, knowing now is not the time for such things. She wants to hold it, to restrain in until it is too tired to fight her, not kill it.
Walker's reaction was to stumble back, mouth open in a silent cry of surprise as the tail whipped back and the lizard lunged away from him. He could not see what had happened, did not understand why she had moved so quickly, and he blunders into a wall as he tries to reorient himself and rush to help at the same time.
The karzik had not even the time to blink before he was suddenly captured; the wings pinned to the body, where it could not fly away. A dismayed noise left it's strange beak-like maw, and then a second, much more aggravated screech. However, there was not much it could do, since the other creature was so much larger than it was. The creature twists it's head back, glancing towards it's hoard and was confused.
However, the karzik was now caught (as long as it was not let go of), and the hoard was now forfeit. Perhaps after a while it would stop trying to get away and become more attached to its captor, but for the time being, it would attempt to escape invariably.
She had caught it. Leaving the mines with it was another matter entirely.
It took time to calm Walker, who had somehow managed to ignore the trove of gems scattered across the floor as he launched himself at the creature she held. Once that was done, the thing, whose species name she planned to find out once she was out of the mines, nearly escaped her grasp as she had begun to collect the scattered gems, provoking Walker as it buzzed and chittered. It might have gotten free if not for her having grabbed it by the legs as one might grab a COD for slaughter, and in but a moment it was pinned once more to her chest. Shoving Walker away from her towards the creature's original gem pile, she reached inside her sack for the rope she had earlier built a snare from. Tying it one-handed was no quick task, and Walker had already gathered all of the gems into a neat pile by the time she had tied the creatures legs together, with an added loop to keep its wings from fluttering.
She looped the slack around one arm and threw the bird-insect over her shoulder before gathering and storing the gems, and starting back down the path she hoped was an exit. Thankfully, as a minor blessing on top of all that she had experienced so far that day, it was, and one at ground level too.
They left the mines quickly, all but the miserable creature tied behind her back rather happy with how it turned out.
An important part of any trap was making sure it did not feel like a trap. The chosen prey had to believe that a given location was safe, feeling the place familiar enough to risk taking the chance of wandering there without reservation. Normally, she would have seen to placing bait and traps, but with the steady stream of soft-skins constantly moving through the mines, her nostrils given a twitch as she almost imagined catching the stench of one, there would be no hope of her traps being left alone. No, she would have to rely on making the creatures believe the area to be safe, so safe in fact that a sarane hatchling might wander through unmolested. While she could not ensure wild hatchlings, or really any of the mine-dwelling species would risk approaching anywhere near an opening to the outdoors, especially not when all of them appeared to thrive within the confines of the mine, she could work at making the space smell more familiar.
That was the point of bringing the hatchling along with her to this visit, the sarane tied and carried in along with the sack containing her tools. The crossbreed, who had so recently proven that she could trust it to stay close to her, was allowed to trot along in her wake. 54
She had been forced to several breaks on her way to the mines, the weight of the tools and energetic hatchling straining her arms and the rest of her as she tried to carry it all. The young drake was not one of Barrel’s offspring, but he writhed and flailed with a strength that reminded her of the old hen, his body twisting and pushing off with a solid hit of his head or shoulders to her back and side, only to slam into her again an instant later. It was almost enough to make her regret not having worn her armor, but she refused to wear it just yet, especially not in response to a sarane hatchling’s pitiful attempts at escaping. She ignored the hits as well as she could, fighting to keep herself rigid and not flinch as he rammed a spot on her back with his budding horns for the uncounted time. His muffled, yet no less furious, squeaking was much easier to ignore, the leather binding his mouth to prevent him chewing on her having the additional benefit of keeping the normally ear-piercing squeals to a tolerable annoyance.
The crossbreed made no such sounds, only an occasional click or two as the advanced down the twisting tunnel. 55
Her tolerance for the young drake was purely based on the need to ensure the pit smelled like a young sarane had been crawling around in it, which in turn would entice a black hatchling of some kind to wander into the pit and get trapped. There was also the ever so slight chance that the scent of an unfamiliar hatchling might attract the curiosity of a hen, him being a male also could increase the odds of finding an enraged drake rampaging in an attempt to find what left the scent. Of course, in the case of the latter, she would likely only discover gouges in the walls and floor left by the tantrum of said male, but at least there would be evidence that sarane did travel through this way. If she was truly lucky, a hen might decide to nest in the pit, heedless of how difficult her newly hatched offspring would find climbing out of it to be.
The crossbreed and herself would leave a trail as well, but, with any luck, the sarane would think their scents signaled prey rather than hunters. Rangers were rarely dispatched to clear out the mines, the beasts inside calm and valuable enough that most did not mind their unexpected appearance. 56
If any other creature beyond a sarane hatchling fell into the pit, it’s wings as floppy and weak as the sarane hatchlings she had dealt with, it would escape quickly. A worm might stick around for a little while, gorging itself the offerings she had left gutted around the floor of the pit, but it would either burrow or slither out of the pit without much issue. A shame really, as the worms she had heard lived in the mines could grow to be massive things that could carve out walk-able tunnels with little effort on her part. And, well, they were worms. They may have been touched by the labs in some way, as the black sarane were not native to the mines either, but it was heartening in a way to see such things.
Another twist of the sarane dangling behind her, another twist of the tunnel, and suddenly her light caught on the lip of the small pit, illuminating the last few feet of normal ground before being swallowed up by the shadows. The crossbreed remained closed behind her as she stepped closer to the edge, playing her flashlight’s beam across the floor. But there were no creatures already waiting for her. 57
The rotting remains of her past sacrifices stood out in mottled greens, yellows, and whites from the grey floor, the fungus eating what no insects had found. The brownish red stains were still there, though they were much fainter than she recalled. It was not the greatest sign, but with the presence of the fungus could be considered neutral rather than an outright bad omen. The lack of any larger force on the bodies was also worrisome, for what meat eater of the mines would refuse an easy meal of carrion? The fungus that turned the bodies into greenish silhouettes was poisonous, the kind that would cause the guts to seize and tighten as the body failed, and the things that lived down there would know to avoid it. But the bodies should never have been left alone long enough for the mold to take root.
A little worried, though not entirely dissuaded, she crouched and began to climb down into the shallow pit, pausing randomly to allow her more unruly burden to finish a headbutt to her back before lowering herself once more. Stalker watched her progress from above, clicking a few times but refusing to move from the edge of the pit. 58 ((Stalker-24.0 Gala-1.0))
A call to the crossbreed fixed that, the beast spreading its wings so that they caught the light shined upon them, then hopping off the edge to gracefully flutter to the ground only a few feet away. She had considered bringing Walker for this portion of the trap, for a gem drake would not provide any scents that might warn off what she was hunting. Their kind was neither edible in any way to a sarane nor a threat as they were so common in the mines. Stalker was not a common thing, some crossbreed castoff sold for a decent price to her by the soft-skin owner. Its scents might confuse a sarane, but it could also be thought of as living prey, something for the sarane not to fear but hope to encounter. That, and there was the issue of being so close to the outside. The wind would carry their scent upon her return, and she did not wish to make any captured creature find an escape in their panic that they failed to find before.
The sarane was still struggling as she carefully, but none too gently, dropped him on the ground. He squealed as he fought his bonds, worming his way across the ground. 59
The bag of tools was dropped scarcely more gentle than the sarane had been, Haix taking the moment to stretch out now that she was no longer hunched under her burden. Reaching up towards the cave ceiling, the flashlight still gripped in her hand and illuminating the rough-cut ceiling, she could not fail to hear a few clicks from a source other than her bones. She did not see the way Stalker scurried over to one of the bodies of mold, taking a click as it slowed and stopped a few feet away. Another few clicks sent it between the lingering bodies, then back to the bound hatchling, the echos barely needed to find the squeaking thing as he scuffed his scales against stone and dirt. He moved blindly in the dark as it watched, and a small gnawing at its stomach made it decide that the lizard would not mind if it ate its meal now.
The flashlight came down just in time to dazzle the crossbreed, pupils shrinking to pinpricks as the light sparkled in its eyes. Haix could clearly see the way its hindquarters were up, tail held as low behind them as its chest was in front, both held barely an inch above the ground. 60 ((Haix-176))
The light was enough to shock Stalker out of its pose, eyes blinking furiously as it twisted and leapt out of the direct light. Haix sighed, then knelt next to the wiggling sarane, noting his lack of progress. Then she loosened the rope at the mouth of the sack, just enough to pull free the shovel. The sarane’s rope was grabbed a moment later, the coarse material slung over her shoulder and, the rope pulling taunt as she stood, causing the sarane to smack against her side with a grunt from the much smaller creature. Tying the rope to her harness once more, and trying to ignore the return of the headbutts against her side, she walked to the first and most recent body with the shovel in hand.
A few seconds of shoveling saw the tool scrape against the hard stone with a screech that made her hiss, and so she went back to grab the pickaxe as well. Bracing herself, a task made all the more difficult with the bawling sarane tied to her, and muttering a quick apology, she swung at the ground. The stone was resistant to her swings, but she had no lack of space with which to build momentum, and on the fourth strike the recently made cracks began to splinter and break. 61
It took a few minutes, and a few seconds of shoveling later, until she had carved a small hole into the rock. The body was pushed with all the gentleness one might handle a broken limb, Haix cautiously sniffing the air as she watched the fungus. No haze of spores erupted from the body to blind her eyes and sting her throat after it slid into the hole with a slimy thud, so she then began to scrape at the portion that remained to free the rock from its grasp and drop the rest into the hole. The crossbreed paced around the pit, a click here and digging a few claws into stone there, but remained out of her way ass she saw to the next body, and the next, and so on until the only sign of her previous sacrifices was the brown streaks that may have just been a kind of stone, and the gravelly mounds that refused to lie flat even with a few firm pats of her shovel.
She was panting from the work as she returned to the sack of supplies, the sarane hanging from her showing no such exhaustion. As tender as his constant strikes had made her side, she was glad to see he had some strength beyond his unusual coloring. 62
Obtaining his egg had not been a simple matter, requiring not only the trade of a mining slave but a ‘raffle’ of sorts, of which the previous owner had sworn was a requirement of ever getting rid of the hatchling. The event had lasted several days, her temper fraying as she could only guess at how many individuals in the soft-skin hive would be able to claim the beast without her being able to interfere, leaving her without a true flying sarane and the mining slave so carelessly given. Not one of them had bothered, the interest that the soft-skins had vanishing around the same time the sarane’s ability to breed had once again been barred. And thankfully for her, the few collectors that may have entered had far more sarane than her.
He was an investment, one she intended to see pay off after all the work she had put in obtaining him, a creature that would fly with more grace than Barrel’s offspring would be able to manage. And still, there was a part of her that wanted to snap his neck so that, except for a few spasms, he would stop struggling. Stalker might have even enjoyed the treat, if the way it had stalked the drake was any indication. 63 ((Stalker-25.0 Gala-2.0))