He very nearly shook his head to clear it of such thoughts, then remembered he still had an audience. Or rather, he was the one who was the audience. The gargoyle was watching him with an air of expectation. Was it hoping he would understand?
Aster thought on it. He had heard here and there that gargoyles, of all kinds, including the wingless ones who were only as smart as the average dog, were special because you could fit a gem into their sockets. There was even talk of a few people who had it done to theirs, though he couldn’t remember if it was just a one off deal or not. He hadn’t been paying very close attention at the time, mostly because it hadn’t seemed relevant to anything that was happening in his own life. Now he regretted it, a little. It never hurt to pay attention, as it turned out.
It wasn’t a lesson he would soon be forgetting, but then, it wasn’t exactly practical to try and pay attention to everything he overheard either. The best he could hope for was to keep an open mind in the future.
What he did remember hearing of the ones that got something put in their sockets was that most folk--- all folk?--- who had it done used elemental crystals of some sort. Maybe it had been just another way to show off their wealth in such things, but it had also been confirmed to convey weird powers on the creatures after the fact. That was the real interesting part.
Was that it? Was he looking for a crystal to fill the gap?
Aster wished he had some on him now to test the theory. He didn’t. He didn’t know how best to convey the idea of them either, considering he didn’t have any on hand.
He couldn’t use a real rock, in case the gargoyle misunderstood and thought he was proposing that it stuff any old rock into the collar socket on its neck… He didn’t know for sure, but he had a feeling that that might be pretty insulting, if not outright offensive. No need to run that risk if he didn’t have to.
He had his node, since it was always on him, but that… He frowned. It was maybe a little absurd of him to think so, but he was honestly worried about having it stolen from him. A gargoyle probably had very little interest in such a thing, since they couldn’t use it… right? But it was an intelligent creature, and nodes were real valuable. It probably didn’t take a great leap of logic for it to figure out that it could trade the node for whatever it was the gargoyle actually wanted.
Plus, he’d literally sheared off a bit of his soul for this. He wasn’t sure if those things grew back. He wasn’t going to part with it if he didn’t absolutely have to, and that meant guarding it against the knowledge of any potential thief.
In the end, he sighed, and squatted down so he could draw a picture on the dirt floor of the cave. The gargoyle watched him, not quite understanding what he was doing at first. It did notice that he was making a shape in the dirt after a moment though, and scooted closer to look.
The magical crystals were pretty interesting. The surrounding stone sort of sloughed off them once you got the crystal out of their surrounding matrix of rock, so they always came out cleanly. They tended to have a specific shape too, and that was what he was drawing now, to the best of his ability.
He was no artist, but even Aster could manage a basic geometric shape, surely.
The hard part was going to be conveying the idea that it was a magic crystal. If it were just a humanoid that he was dealing with, he might have settled for drawing some wavy lines around it, or the outline of a flame, or something. But with this gargoyle, he wasn’t sure to what extent he could use any of that symbolism.
Instead of that, what he did was cast a little spell--- just a small one, letting out a puff of air, which he directed onto the drawing. It had seemed like a good idea in his head, but once he had done it, he felt pretty stupid about it. What was that supposed to do? It was just a puff of air… He could have blown on the crystal drawing and achieved much the same result.
But surprisingly, the gargoyle seemed to get what he meant by his awkward attempt to illustrate... and demonstrate... a magic crystal. Or at least, Aster thought it did. It did suddenly seem pretty excited about something. It didn’t nod, exactly, but it did retrace the shape of the drawing and look at Aster, with an expression that Aster could have sworn was beseeching.
“Well alright then. Looks like we’re in business. You want me to find you a magic crystal, huh?” said Aster. Wow, the price of this gargoyle’s assistance was really not cheap. Once again, he found himself missing Cinna. Cinna had never once asked him for anything difficult like this. Cinna was content to just sleep on a pile of precious stones, and even then, there were so many of them by now that he hardly noticed when Aster took a few from the pile here and there.
But then, he supposed that it wasn't as bad as it could be. It wasn't as if the gargoyle was asking for anything he couldn't actually give, if it came down to it. He did even have a few crystals already sitting around in his storage... It was going to be a king's ransom, to be sure--- especially depending on just what kind of crystal this gargoyle was hoping to get. But it was doable.
If he had been thinking about this from a merely mercenary perspective, he might still have declined the deal even so. After all, he did have other familiars, and even ones with which he worked better. It would really be no skin off his back in those terms to just come back with Cinna again, and leave the gargoyle and its proposal behind. But Aster wasn't so cold as to consider only his profit margins or what have you.
Even if he had come into the gargoyle's ‘ownership’ unintentionally--- that is, without having known that it was in fact a sentient creature--- it was his responsibility now. You couldn't just claim ignorance and ignore the consequences of your actions with that. At least, Aster wasn't the type to do it, anyway. And he wanted to do well by the gargoyle if he could, now that it was under his stewardship, even if it didn't think of its situation in the same terms.
And there was perhaps some evidence that it did understand the less savory implications of its predicament. It had offered its assistance before Aster had ever offered compensation, after all. Its motives might not have been pure; thus far there was no way to know. Lulling your new master into a false sense of security by being helpful was one way to achieve your goals, to be sure.
But even the pretense of appeasement tugged at Aster, and he didn't have the heart to deny the gargoyle its request. Perhaps that would prove to be his undoing at some later point, but let it not be a regret on his part for being cruel, anyway. He felt privately that the latter would be harder to live with.
He nodded. “We'll see what we can do for you,” he said.
There was no guarantee that it was telling the truth, but then, it had no way of knowing whether Aster would honor his promise either. It was really just a matter of faith, at this point. And while that wasn't ideal, it wasn't really a problem with an easy solution either. Anything with the capability to deceive would inevitably bring that issue into play.
Only time would tell how things turned out. But very well, the gargoyle at least nominally wanted an elemental crystal of some sort.
That was easier said than done though. This shallow cave couldn't possibly have any of those. “If that's what you're looking for though, we're going to have to go deeper,” Aster said, looking around him with a contemplative expression.
He was as good as his word on that front. He immediately took the torch down from the wall again, and put his tools away, back into the buggy. Dragging that thing around always made him feel a bit like a human mule, but he had to admit that it was still easier, most of the time, then having to carry it in a pack all the time. Just so long as there weren't any steep drops that he had to rappel down for.
The gargoyle watched him do it with a quizzical expression. So no, probably it didn't understand what he was saying. Well, that was pretty much within Aster's expectations anyway.
Did it think he meant to stick around here longer? That logic wasn't without reason, Aster supposed. He had gone to the pains of setting himself up here, after all, and they'd managed to find one--- two?--- things in rapid succession pretty much as soon as they'd started. Those two things might not have been all that high-value, but it still indicated that this place had a wealth of things to find, anyway.
And based on his choice to keep the turquoise, the gargoyle probably thought that he wasn't very discerning when it came to what he wanted to find. It wasn't really wrong about that either. Sure, Aster would have liked to find nothing but magic crystals, but that wasn't even remotely realistic, and in the meantime, the other stones had uses, and they were valuable to others even if they weren't valuable to him. No sense in just leaving them here if he found one.
But that didn't mean he wanted to stay here in what essentially amounted to the shallows of the mines forever. He wanted to find more valuable things too, if there were more valuable things out there for the finding. And if the gargoyle had agreed to help him, that overcame some of his other reservations about exploring deeper into the caves. It was true that he was rusty, but so far, luck seemed to be on his side, right?
And if he was being perfectly honest, part of him was curious about how things would be different, going adventuring with a gargoyle. Besides the higher rate of interest, of course. Figures that he would find the most unpleasant part first, huh? Or, well, he hoped that this would be the most unpleasant part, anyway. If it wasn't, then there really would be a question of how much all this would be worth it.
“Further down we go,” said Aster, once all his things were packed up. It didn't take all that long actually, since he hadn't unpacked a lot of his tools to begin with. They had been here barely… what, thirty minutes?
He didn't bother to check. He always spent a long time in the mines. His creatures knew he was going to be gone a while if that's where he said he was going when he left. Rabbit was still back at the Estate, and he could leave things to her if he really had to. She had all the basic care of the creatures well in hand, and even the ones that were very closely bonded to him would at least accept food and water from Rabbit if the need arose. Come to that, those ones were generally the ones that Aster was connected with telepathically, so he could always issue orders that way if things became an issue.