The noise of it was loud enough, and his attention sufficiently absorbed with the task of striking the rock, that he didn't notice the gargoyle. It would have been another good opportunity for the gargoyle to run off, or to steal his stuff, but it didn't do either of those things. What it did do was make its way over to the rock that Aster had left, the same one that had produced the turquoise. The gargoyle probed at the rock for a moment, turning it this way and that, then tapping at it. When it seemed to find something to its satisfaction, it dug down decisively. Its claws made short work of the rock, and not long after that, it managed to produce a… chunk of rock.
Aster himself had just finished loosening a good deal of rubble, and was about to begin inspecting what he had dug out, when a movement at the corner of his vision caught his attention.
As he turned to look, he saw the gargoyle placing a rock in the pouch that he had put the turquoise in. Aster's brows arched toward his hairline at the sight of it. Sure, it wasn't all too surprising that the gargoyle had managed to find a gem of some value--- he couldn't see from this distance exactly what it was, but he doubted it was rubble rock if the gargoyle was bothering with it at all. But he hadn't expected the gargoyle to place the stone there once it had found one.
Was it trying to help? That was what it looked like at first glance, but… That begged the question of why it was doing this. It wasn't as if it owed him anything. He hadn't done any favors for it beyond buying it out of the Zoological Imports, and that was hardly what Aster would have considered a favor.
It wasn't as though they mistreated the creatures there. On the contrary, as far as he knew, that shopkeeper was pretty good to them.
If any of his acquisitions ought to be feeling grateful to him, he wagered it ought to be that strange half breed he picked up. That one really had been in an uncomfortable situation when Aster got his hands on it, to say the least. Not that the half breed had suffered any of it quietly, but it was clear that it hadn't all been victories on the creature's part.
But of course, that wasn't the case. Fair enough that it had no way of knowing whether he would be just as bad as the last one that tried to keep it, if not worse; but since then, Aster and his lot had treated it perfectly well, and the most it had done for them was not burn the barn down. And even that had been a close thing, come to that.
It still didn't care for him, a fact that it had made abundantly clear. It tolerated Rabbit, but that was hardly saying much. Probably it had figured out by now that she couldn't actually be killed, and had simply stopped trying.
Back to the issue at hand though… Aster approached the gargoyle, who snapped to attention as soon as it noticed him moving.
“Hey, easy there. I don't want to hurt you,” he said. Did gargoyles understand Common? He didn't know, and was inclined to think they didn't, but people could pick up languages after living in a country long enough. The gargoyles were smart enough for it. It was just a question of how long this one had spent among people, and he had no way of determining that now. Maybe if it had occurred to him to ask back at the shop… but alas, the window of opportunity for that had long passed.
At least it could probably understand the tone of his voice, and body language went a long way, if nothing else. Pantomime did too. Aster held up his hands in a placating gesture, just in case.
It worked, in that the gargoyle no longer looked quite so startled as it had a moment ago. Now Aster just had to figure out how to ask the question he wanted to ask.
“Why?” he said. There was an off chance that it might understand him, after all. But he accompanied the question by pointing at the pouch, then at the gargoyle, and inclining his head in what he hoped was an obvious enough gesture of inquiry.
The gargoyle didn't immediately respond, but Aster wasn't disheartened by that. Probably it needed a moment to figure out what he meant, and if it managed to do that, it would doubtless need more time to formulate a response.
Aster didn't think awkward pantomime was anyone's first language, or their ideal way of communicating, for that matter. He had certainly never met anyone for whom it was the default if they had other options. It was too much to expect anyone to be fast at it.
Eventually the gargoyle began to move, hesitantly. It motioned to the pouch, and then held up both hands, cupped, in what Aster thought was probably a gesture of offering.
Aster gestured to himself, and the gargoyle nodded several times, quickly. At least it had picked up that gesture; Aster supposed it was common and obvious enough.
So it was giving him the stone after all. That did answer a question, but it was the more obvious of the two. It didn't tell him why, which was what he had really wanted to know… But any amount of certainly was good. At least he didn't have to worry about the question of ownership now.
Aster inclined his head again, but that wasn't the way to go about it, as he found out after he made the attempt of it. The gargoyle merely looked… flustered…? And it repeated the motions that it had just made, only faster, more insistent.
It was time to try something else. “But what do you want?” Aster said. He pointed to the pouch, and then to himself. The gargoyle nodded at that. But then, Aster pointed to the gargoyle and inclined his head again.
What did it want?
The gargoyle was silent again--- or maybe it was better to say it was motionless, if it could only communicate through mime. It was clearly thinking over the question now. Aster was hopeful that he might have conveyed the idea this time, but in the end, the gargoyle-s reaction disappointed him on that front. It pointed to itself, and merely shook its head.
Aster didn’t know exactly what that was supposed to mean, but if he had to hazard a guess, he would say that it might have been trying to convey the idea that it wasn’t going to take any gems. But it was also hard to say for sure. This system really needed some work. If only he had some of his spare ribbons on him… Unfortunately, the ones he had were all halves, and all of them were in use already.
Maybe he wasn’t being explicit enough. Maybe he had to illustrate his question in a more concrete manner. Patting himself down, Aster produced some coins. He was, to be honest, pretty sure that the gargoyle wasn’t going to be interested in these. What use did any of his creatures have for money? Even the ones who were smart enough to appreciate its significance never seemed particularly inclined to cover the money itself.
But then again, those individuals tended to live with him anyway, and for the most part had done so all their lives. The expectation probably was for Aster to keep buying them the things they wanted or needed. And if that was the case, then why bother collecting the stuff at all? They already had a way of getting to their ultimate goal.
The gargoyle wasn’t really one of his household yet though. They had pretty much just met. What measure of trust and reliance could there possibly be between them? They were, perhaps, on their way to establishing something, but even that would take time and effort. And maybe it would all come to nothing, if they couldn’t come to an understanding first. Things were trickier with sentient creatures. It was pretty much like dealing with another person, and Aster couldn’t take that for granted even if they looked like any number of other strange, perfectly non-sentient creatures that also wandered the area.
The gargoyle looked from the coins to him and back again. Aster thrust the coins a little further forward, to drive home his point: that he was offering them to the gargoyle. The gargoyle hesitantly shook its head, then did so more insistently when Aster didn’t relent, eventually even going so far as to push Aster’s hands back toward himself.
Aster tried, then, to offer something else. He didn’t have a whole lot that was of value. He tried not to keep his valuables on him as a matter of principle, just because you never knew when you would get mugged… So what he had to offer were things like his tools, or a bit of dried jerky. But considering the fact that he didn’t know what this gargoyle wanted anyway, a shot in the dark was as good as anything, wasn’t it? Maybe he would strike lucky with a guess.
Besides that, though, what he wanted to demonstrate was really just the idea that he wanted to give the gargoyle something in return for the gems that it was, apparently, proposing to help Aster find. On the surface, it might seem like he was just trying to be nice about it, but the truth of it was that his motivations weren’t really all that altruistic.
Sure, he liked things to be fair, and he did in fact feel a bit guilty--- or a lot guilty, even--- for taking the labor of another sentient being without compensating them for it. But the crux of the matter, at least for him, was that there was no such thing as a free lunch. Put it another way, he didn’t actually trust the gargoyle’s motives in helping him.
As far as he was concerned, it had no reason to, and so it must want something… And if that was the case, he would rather operate knowing what that was.
If it was something he couldn’t offer, or something he wasn’t comfortable offering with a clean conscience for whatever reason, then it was better that they part ways or at least break the deal here. Saved everyone more time that way.
After several attempts, Aster finally managed to impress something of his intent upon the gargoyle. It refused everything Aster offered it, which was within Aster’s expectations, then frowned, as though it were contemplating something. Seeing that, Aster waited, wanting to see if this would finally produce a result that he could work with.
It took the gargoyle a long moment to figure out how it wanted to broach the subject, but at length, it pointed to itself. Aster nodded, trying to encourage it to go on. The gargoyle paused again, and when it resumed moving, its hand brushed a cavity in the middle of the collar around its neck.
Its motions were slow, gentle, careful. Aster didn’t think it was concerned about hurting itself, but it did seem like the topic, such as it was, was important to it. Now that he was thinking about it, the gesture even seemed a little reverent--- not that he had a great deal of experience with spirituality himself.
There had been that one moment years ago, when he had made his first (and, to date, only) node… But that was neither here nor there. He didn’t like to think about that moment, or what followed. It hadn’t been traumatizing, exactly, but it had been… harrowing. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, but perhaps he ought to have felt worse about it than he did. Shearing off a piece of one’s soul… He still remembered the scolding he had received from Summer after, among other things. It was hard to forget that.