But it had never come to that. Maybe some of them didn’t even see Rabbit as a person, come to think of it. He had never really bothered to ask, but maybe that was why the Sarane didn't react to her as much as he thought they might.
Dragging the buggy behind him, Aster started toward the tunnel on the other side of the cave, the one that led deeper into the mines. The gargoyle followed him as soon as it became clear that Aster was actually moving off somewhere. Aster paused at the tunnel entrance, fumbling around in his pockets until he came up with the flashlight. He did still carry it on him, even if he tended to rely on the torch more these days.
Turning it on, he directed the beam down into the tunnel. “Hmm,” he said. So far he couldn’t make anything out, just dirt and rocks and darkness.
But it wasn’t really as if he was expecting to find the glimmer of something valuable in the tunnel walls just shining a light on them like this. That would be too easy. What he was looking for was a sign of movement. Just because they didn’t encounter dangerous things in here very often didn’t mean he had altogether thrown caution out the window.
“Well, the two of us are partners now. If you see anything dangerous, let me know,” he said to the gargoyle.
The gargoyle, for its part, seemed to be waiting on something. Maybe it was trying to figure out why Aster had stopped? Experimentally, Aster took a step forward and watched the gargoyle’s reaction.
It advanced with him, only looking back at him once it became clear that he had stopped again. Aster had a chuckle at that. “I’m the only one psyching myself out, huh? Alright, I got it,” he said.
Putting the flashlight away, he continued forward with just the torch. It was enough light to see by, as far as just seeing where he was going and not tripping over some errant rock somewhere, and if there wasn't anything dangerous afoot, then that was more than good enough for him. He liked light as much as the next person, but he'd been mining often enough that he was used to this by now.
He did keep an eye out to see if he could find signs of a good place to dig, but to be honest, he wasn't looking all that hard. If the entire point was to move deeper so they could find better stuff, there was no sense in getting caught up here, and wasting their time that way. The only reason he was doing this, besides possibly force of habit, was on the off chance that they found something really valuable or convenient that they couldn't pass up. Better yet if it was both.
Putting the flashlight away, he continued forward with just the torch. It was easier that way; fewer things for him to have to to hold.
Glancing at the gargoyle, Aster wondered if it needed light to see. Probably not, if it was a native denizen of these caverns. Cinna never seemed to mind the dark. Moreover, there was the matter of it's strange eyes… They didn't have anything in them.
That just begged the question of exactly how these gargoyles got around though. Actually, come to think of it, how did any of the mining familiars “see” the world around them? None of the gem creatures had eyeballs either, that he could remember. It was some kind of dark vision, wasn't it? It certainly hadn't looked anything like echolocation. Aster was familiar with that concept, but it wasn't as if they had oversized ears, and they're weren't making any noises he could discern.
Maybe when he established better communications with this particular gargoyle, he could ask. Cinna wouldn't have given him an intelligent answer, but this gargoyle just might, if he could figure out how to phrase the question.
Well, if he managed to establish better communications, anyway. It was hardly a sure thing. They might part ways before then, and even if the gargoyle stayed with Aster a while, there was no telling if it would be willing to speak with him, or whatever it otherwise came to.
As he was pondering all this, the two of them were slowly advancing. Aster's pace was still somewhat meandering. He wasn't in any hurry himself to be somewhere, and he didn't want to try anything too adventurous today, for a couple of reasons. One was that he hadn't gone in in a while, and didn't trust himself yet to navigate the caverns with the same confidence that he once had.
The second was that his partner was an unfamiliar one, so he couldn't count on the gargoyle for assistance where he might otherwise have relied on it, like with Cinna.
Nevertheless, or perhaps even because he was going so slowly, Aster slowly began to get a sense of… something. At first, he couldn’t really put his finger on what. It was a little like an itch, but not really--- just that it was more like an itch than it was like anything else. But the sensation was such that he didn’t feel compelled to scratch himself, or do anything else so physical. It was more like a… a notice, he supposed. The idea that something was present, and that maybe he should be paying attention.
It was fortunate that this sort of thing had already happened to him before. If it hadn’t, he might have taken a lot longer to realize what was going on.
But then, under the circumstances, perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered. After all, he did have the gargoyle here with him to contribute to his efforts, and it was conceivable that it would have found the source too, given a little more time, a little more walking, a little more proximity to the source. Cinna had found such things before too, before Aster had developed a sense for them himself.
But Aster had felt this before, and it was only because it had been a while that he didn’t recognize it straight away. Even then, it didn’t take him terribly long to remember. That sensation of magic being afoot, down here in the mines, it could only mean one thing.
That was some strange luck, wasn’t it? As soon as they came down here, almost, and just as soon as the gargoyle made it plain what he was looking for too, they ran into a magic crystal.
It was kind of a shame that he was going to have to give it up, especially since he’d only gotten a couple of rudimentary semi precious stones out of the deal thus far, but at least Aster would be paying his debt off early, he supposed. It was true that he disliked being indebted, even to a creature.
He cast around for a moment, trying to get a directional lead on it. The gargoyle stopped when he did, though it seemed confused by this, so Aster figured it must not have sensed the crystal itself yet. That was funny too. They had that rock sense, so they were much better at scrounging up precious stones than he was, but apparently their senses for magic were weaker…
Well, Aster was also an actual mage now. Maybe that made a difference. Actually, it made a little sense that he might have some sort of advantage over the gargoyle in this aspect.
Otherwise, why would it broker a deal with him at all? If they could find what they were looking for without any help, there was no need to make an exchange, and take your chances with another creature that could screw you over just as easily.
Well, Aster didn’t have any plans to deceive his new mining partner. He headed in the direction that his sixth sense was pulling him in. It wasn’t very directional at first, since the sensation was so faint, but he had enough experience from having done this before that he was able to make the best of it anyway. It was a lot of slow, careful walking, actually, and paying attention to how the reading--- or his sense of it--- changed.
The gargoyle’s confusion quickly gave way to a more hopeful look, which went a ways to confirming what Aster had begun to suspect from earlier.
It did seem to have the expectation that he would have some means of locating the crystals himself. How it had come to that conclusion was still up for debate, but he could see how it lingered on his every move, which just made things harder. It was always more difficult to focus when you had an audience, especially one with an up close and personal front seat to what was going on.
Once he had something like an idea as to which way to walk, it was a lot easier. He quickened his pace, at first to a normal walk, and then faster. By that point, the gargoyle must have detected it too, and Aster only began running because the gargoyle dashed past him, and at the speed it was going, there was going to be a very real risk of him losing track of it entirely if he didn’t follow.
Its enthusiasm shouldn’t have been surprising. It had presented its case with a certain sense of… no, desperation wasn’t really the word he wanted for this, but he did get the sense that it was pretty important.
All the running Aster wanted to do in the caverns wouldn’t do him that much good though. He still had to slow down a little, if only so he could see where he was going. Even with a light source, it was at least a little hard to see, especially if the jog of your gait was throwing all the shadows into a jumping rhythm that made it even harder to make things out. Better to ease up on his pace than to trip over a rock--- or something worse--- in the dark and be sent sprawling. This would be no soft landing either, no grass or dirt to catch him on. Nothing but rocks here, at least for this particular stretch.
And if he so happened to trip over a Sarane… Well, first of all, that would be some luck, but even so.
So as a result, he was ultimately slower than his companion, who didn’t need to worry about that kind of thing, because they made their whole lives in these dark caverns. Which meant that the gargoyle pulled ahead despite Aster’s best efforts. By the time Aster had caught up to him, the gargoyle was already digging at a particular spot in the rock. “Ah, that’s where it was, then,” Aster said, at this point mostly to himself. Not that he was sure whether his words would carry so much weight with the gargoyle, but even if they did, right now it was a little preoccupied with other things.
He could feel that they were close to the source of the magic, and that the magic was not very concentrated here.
The latter fact was, of course, no great surprise to Aster. A single crystal wasn’t even enough to tap into for a single spell, and you needed at least two or three just to make a little node, the kind that wouldn’t grant you much in the way of power, or so he had read when he first started looking into the idea. The one he had had taken six whole crystals to make, and he’d heard of some that took nine. When and where anyone could manage to get that many of the same type of crystal, he would dearly love to know. He had certainly never seen the like.
This close, he was also beginning to get a sense for what kind of crystal it was. It was hard to tell from a distance, but when he was closer, the sense of it resolved into something more definite, more detailed.