But then again, the gargoyle was reputed to be the cleverest of the lot--- or the runic ones were. So it was possible, and in fact, probable, that this one already knew something about how that sort of thing worked. It might know how to manipulate rock much better than Aster himself did. Even Cinna had an intuitive sense about the mines that Aster himself lacked; it was what made their partnership necessary in the first place. If humans knew everything, there would be little point.
Maybe what the gargoyle had been surprised about was that Aster could do this at all.
“See, I am good for something, aren’t I?” he said, grinning. The gargoyle looked up at the sound of his voice, but didn’t otherwise respond. Its gaze returned to the hunk of rock that Aster had just dug out almost immediately after, as if Aster’s speech had been nothing more than a brief and unwanted interruption.
Aster resisted the urge to sigh. He was never going to meet a familiar that liked him much, was he?
The gargoyle’s interest did catch his attention though, and he decided to take a closer look at the piece of rock he’d dug out. Could it have been that there was something in there, something that might be worth investigating? This was part of the rock sense he had thought about earlier, with regards to Cinna and the other familiar types. They always seemed to know which rocks were valuable, or at least usable, and which were just rubble. Aster had gotten a pretty good feel for it too, over the years, but he didn’t always know. Some types of gems could be incredibly plain in their raw form, while others they’d found had been small and easy to miss. And there were so many varieties of them down here in the mines that it was sometimes hard for him to remember them all.
It did make him curious as to how these mountains became so rich in these things sometimes. By all accounts, it should have constituted quite the anomaly. The books he’d read--- which, to his own eternal surprise, had been quite a few by this point--- didn’t really stipulate the existence of such a place. Some of these gems, indeed, ought to have formed under wildly different and mutually incompatible conditions, and yet… Here in these caves, you could find them within reasonably close distances to one another. How strange.
But then, he’d found magical crystals here too, and he didn't know anything like a geological explanation for those. What he ought to be making of that, he didn’t know. It was probably just one of those things you weren’t supposed to think too hard about. Besides, it was good for him, so why question something like that?
Aster rolled the stone over so he could have a better look at it. The hunk of rock looked pretty unassuming at first glance, and nothing jumped out at him, but the gargoyle was eyeing it too as Aster turned it. That alone was an indicator to him that he had either missed something, or neither of them had found it quite yet.
"Mmm. A little more light in here would be nice," he said. It was hard to see in a great amount of detail with the torch being where he'd placed it before. The level of lighting was fine for the actual work of mining, where he just needed to be able to see well enough to make out where he was digging, but the task of finding a gemstone was a different beast altogether. Normally he would have relied on Cinna for that, but Cinna wasn't with him today.
And while he did have the companionship of the gargoyle, he hardly knew how much he could trust it to alert him to the presence of a gem, beyond what the gargoyle was doing already. With Cinna, he knew the gem drake's cues, and could tell right away when they'd found something, and where it was. In fact, Cinna had often seemed motivated to point out what Aster had failed to notice. Cinna had a strong collector's zeal, and knowing that they would return home together with the spoils was more than enough incentive to assure his contributions to their efforts.
But Aster didn't know any of that stuff about this gargoyle, which meant that, for the moment, it was better to just suck it up and be a little more self reliant. And that meant bringing the torch down so he could use it to get a better look at these rocks.
He took the torch down from where he'd jammed it into a small rock crevice. It really was quite a convenient tool. Not that his flashlight hadn't done its job--- and for years too, suffering through a lot of mostly unintentional abuse from him to do it--- but the torch just... shed light all around, so it was easier to deal with. You didn't have to worry about angling it on top of holding it up in the first place. Plus you could do things like put it up on a wall in the first place, instead of having to hold it in your mouth like a dog, and suffering that way.
The only downside was that, since it wasn't a flashlight and the light it shed wasn't a beam, it also wasn't as powerful on any one spot. If this thing only glimmered faintly under bright light, he probably wasn't going to see it.
Fortunately, it didn't come to that. The first stone wasn't all that hard to notice with better lighting in play. The color alone alerted Aster to it, a faint bit of blue between the duller colors of the rubble rock around it. Turquoise, if he had his types right.
Well, one way to find out. He brought out his finer tools and began chipping away at the surrounding rock. This was less like riding a bike, and more like... He didn't have an analogy for it, but it wasn't the sort of thing that just came back to him automatically, that was for sure. For that reason, he had to go slow and take his time, being careful not to overdo it.
Granted, this wasn't like making jewelry, which he had also pursued as a hobby once upon a time. He had the tattoo to prove it too, not that most people thought about tattoos when they thought of jewelry.
Fortunately, this didn't require that level of finesse, and so long as Aster was slow and careful, he would see good results eventually. It was actually much of the same principle as cutting out larger sections of stone, just applied on a micro level instead of a macro level. Eventually the surrounding rock fell away chip by chip under his ministrations, and what he was left with was a chunk of turquoise that came away from it.
“First find of the day, huh? Not bad.” It felt pretty lucky, anyway. Sometimes you could prospect for hours and not get much. Which wasn't to say that wouldn't necessarily happen to him here today, either, but at least he wouldn't be going home completely empty handed.
The gargoyle had watched him dig out the gem, and now it craned its neck to inspect it. Aster, catching its gaze, obligingly set the stone down.
Actually, he was a bit curious about what the gargoyle would do when presented with a rock. So this was like a kind of test, to see if its tendencies lent it to becoming a viable mining partner. Aster still had to figure out its motivations; only from there could he work out anything like a plan.
Maybe it was greedy, but he could work with that. Greed was, in the end, a simple motivation. In some ways, something so straightforward was more preferable. But if it was something more complex… There would be plenty of time for him to observe, but in the meantime he couldn't rest easy, not knowing what to expect.
The gargoyle must have known that Aster was watching. What it made of his motives, Aster didn't know. It was possible that they were both trying to figure the other one out, which would have made things tricky indeed for the both of them.
Aster had never been one for mind games, and the layered of I know you know that I know… He was just going to pass on that.
He really hoped it would end sooner rather than later.
The gargoyle wasn't shy about his scrutiny of the stone, at least, once it had been presented to it. The gargoyle picked up the stone in one of its hands, turned it over and peered at it… and just as soon set it down again.
Whatever the gargoyle was looking for, apparently turquoise weren't it. Or this particular turquoise, anyway. Aster shrugged and picked up the stone, depositing it in a pouch for safekeeping. In some ways, this wasn't a bad outcome. He hadn't had to fight a gargoyle for the stone he had dug up. But on the other hand, he was also no closer than he had been to figuring out what the gargoyle wanted.
It had followed him in. It must have had something in mind. For the moment, it didn't seem like escape was the goal; there had to be ample opportunities to do so by now. It wasn't as if Aster had put any restraints on it, nor were there other creatures around to arrest it if it tried to make a break for it. As for Aster himself… He was fit enough, and he had paid good money for the privilege of having a gargoyle possibly run away from him, but sometimes that was just the way the dice fell too. Not that he was a gambling man, but he had had more than his fair share of reversals of fortune over the scant two and a half decades of his life. And given what some of those reversals had involved, how could he begrudge his fellow captive an escape of its own?
But for better or for worse, it didn't come to that. Aster wasn't sure what to make of it, but there was nothing to be done for the moment but to keep going. After all, it wasn't as if the gargoyle was disrupting his efforts or anything. There was no excuse to stop.
He gave the rock another once over to see if he could find any other gemstones. This was another moment in which he missed Cinna's assistance after all. Cinna would usually have indicated to him whether there was anything of worth still left in there, or whether they were good to move on elsewhere.
Of course, with that assistance came the distinct impression that Cinna thought of himself as the master in the relationship, with Aster as his labor grunt, but Aster’s ego wouldn't suffer too much from being looked down upon by a familiar like that. What did Cinna know anyway?
And from his perspective it might have been true too. Aster had certainly been looked down upon by a wide variety of people in his life. A little gem drake hopped up on his own importance was nothing more to him than a spoiled lap dog. He wouldn't be much of a person if he got upset at every snooty cat who turned its nose up at him.
Aster didn't find anything else of note in the rock, so he left it alone and moved over to another spot along the cavern wall. He took a moment to put up his torch again, and then another moment to survey the wall itself. It was no good to just start striking it randomly. In the long run, it was better to figure out where best to expend his efforts.
Finding a suitable place, he began digging into the rock with his pick again.