The inside scoop on Jelly W-argh! *choke* Circulation: 196,453,187 Issue: 907 | 17th day of Swimming, Y22
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Quarry Life


by blueys45

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Only by technicality did homes in Obsidian Quarry qualify as “buildings.” That was to say that they had four walls, a floor, and a roof. Granted, the walls were at risk to topple any time there was a small tremor, the floor was typically just the bare ground, and the roof rarely did an adequate job at keeping out the dirt that trickled down from the cave ceiling. Furthermore, many homes outside of Obsidian Quarry boasted several rooms, but Monazite had only ever known one.

But for once, the single room provided Monazite with an advantage: having much less to rummage through.

The instant she stepped foot inside after finishing her shift, she immediately began to search every inch of the house for the thing that could tell her what the gemstone was and where she could have possibly seen it before. It wasn't long before she thought to look under her bed. Sure enough, the old geology book that her parents gave her when she was little was there, so covered in dust that she wasn't even sure it was it before brushing it off.

Not wasting a second, Monazite sat at the table and began flipping through the musty pages. There were many red gemstones, but identifying the one sitting next to the book was going to be a task in of itself.

She rubbed her fin against her forehead as she looked the candidates over. The book was the most extravagant gift she ever received, so she couldn't help but feel a little greedy when she began to wish to herself that she had a mineral hardness kit as well.

But perhaps she could make do with what was around the house. Monazite got up and opened up her clothes drawer. Hidden in the back were the few common gems and minerals she saw around town that she was able to collect for herself, including the piece of obsidian Agate brought her. There was also a quartz crystal, which was precisely what she was looking for.

The front door opened as soon as she shut the drawer. Agate eyed Monazite curiously. “What's going on? You left the mines like the floor was made out of hot coals.”

“Shut the door!” Monazite hurriedly whispered through her teeth.

Agate complied, though began to look at Monazite even more suspiciously. Once the door was shut tight, Monazite ran back to the table and showed her the gemstone. Agate's eyes become wide, and her jaw loosened. She too dropped the volume of her voice as she said sharply, “I get you one piece of obsidian, and now you're taking out whole gemstones?!”

“I know, I know, I know!” Monazite said rapidly. She closed her eyes and took a breath. Though her nerves were still frayed, that small moment of tranquillity she forced upon herself was the calmest she felt since finding the gem. “I just... I just have a feeling about this one.”

Agate brought her hand to her hair and began to run her claws through her bangs. She began to pace around, but eventually, she too found a moment of peace long enough to ask, “So what is it? A ruby?”

“I-I don't know. But I don't think it's a ruby,” Monazite answered. She remembered the piece of quartz in her hand and said, “I can narrow it down a little more, at least.”

She sat down, and Agate did likewise. Closing one eye, Monazite took the very tip of the quartz crystal and carefully scratched it against the tiny gem. The red gem was so small it was hard to tell, but Monazite couldn't see any marks on it. She then did the reverse and brought the edge of the gem against the quartz. That time, a scratch was left against the quartz's surface.

“It's harder than quartz, at least,” Monazite declared. But instead taking the moment for a small celebration, she instead groaned and leaned back in her chair. “If it's that hard, then I wouldn't have been able to get a streak colour out of it. And it could still be any number of things...”

She tapped the ends of her fingers against the table. “What to do, what to do...” Her options were running dry. But as she scanned her eyes across the room for possible solutions, she caught sight of an old scale and came up with an idea. It would be a bit crude and possibly inaccurate, but it would be something to go on.

Agate sat in place as she watched Monazite rush around the room, gathering the scale, a clouded measuring cup, and some parchment and graphite. “What now?”

“I'm gonna try to find out the specific density. And I can do that with by measuring how much water it displaces,” Monazite said as she carefully chipped away at the rock the gem was embedded in with a small pick and pried the crystal out.

“And that'll tell you what it is?”

“Uhh... Maybe?” Monazite laughed through a sheepish grin. “Actual geologists use some pretty fancy scales and really nice beakers, but we'll just make do with what we got...”

The air was silent for the time it took Monazite to complete the task. Once in awhile, between steps, she would wonder if Agate was even still awake and take a glance at her. She was, but Monazite saw her eyes glaze over as she watched Monazite measure the same items over and over. The cup without water, the cup with water, the crystal, the crystal in the cup with the water... By the time Monazite got to making use of the numbers she recorded, she figured that Agate would have given in to boredom. But the Bori still watched her.

Near the end of it, Agate stretched her neck to take a look at what Monazite was writing down. Immediately, dread spread throughout her face. As if suddenly transported into a dark tunnel without a torch, her eyes locked into the void as her mind seemed to stumble aimlessly through the cluster of equations. Only with a quick shake of her head was Agate able to pull herself out of the abyss, and diverted her eyesight from that point on.

Monazite, though, had an easier time navigating through the calculations. It was to her surprise as well, since it had been some time since she was in the right mood and circumstances to work with numbers like that. Fun as it was, she didn't devote much thought to how she'd like to do so more often. She had her final answer, and now her only concern was to run it through her book.

After carefully scanning page after page, she paused on one in particular. She looked at the picture in the book, then the crystal in her hand. Then again, and once more after that for good measure.

“Did you figure it out?” Agate asked suddenly.

Monazite didn't jump or flinch. Instead, she continued to stare at the same spot on the same page. “I think so...”

“And?”

She lifted her head to Agate. Her mouth opened, and her breath began to shake. “I think... I think it's... It's a red beryl.”

Agate blinked, then raised her brows briefly. “That... sounds cool.”

“Aggie, you don't understand,” Monazite said, no less nervous, but forcing herself to pull herself together anyways. “Red beryl is extremely rare. It's worth tens of thousands of Neopoints!”

Agate straightened her posture. She stared at Monazite for a moment, then the tiny gem. She said nothing, and seemed entirely absorbed in thought.

But Monazite finally saw the opportunity to release the emotions she kept pent up all day. One laugh escaped her lips, then another and another. Soon, she was overtaken by a rush of excitement, and spread the biggest smile she had made in a long time.

“This... This is it, Aggie! This is our way out!” Monazite exclaimed. She stood up, twirling about and doing all she could to keep herself from jumping up and down. “We can pay off all our debts! Move into a better house! Quit our jobs! Oh... our dreams! We can actually – really – start chasing our dreams! You can finally be a journalist; I can finally be a jeweller! Everything really did end up paying off in the end-”

“Mona...”

Agate was still in her chair. Her eyes had drifted from the red beryl to the portion of the table directly below her head. She took a slow breath. “Mona, who in Obsidian Quarry is going to appraise it? Who's going to buy it?”

Monazite fell silent. The Jetsam ceased all prior movement and became just as still as Agate.

When Monazite couldn't answer, Agate resumed, “And you said yourself that you're not entirely sure what that gem is. It might not even be a red beryl at all.”

“Even if it's something a little more common, it could still go a long way...” Monazite chuckled nervously.

“Mona, you're missing my point,” Agate said in a firmer tone. After a moment, she continued more delicately, “There's just no way for us to get any Neopoints out of it. It's a pretty rock, but here, in Obsidian Quarry? That's... that's all it is.”

In her excitement, Monazite had brought her fins up to her chest. But after listening to Agate, her arms slowly began to lower. Her head tilted downwards, bringing nothing but the floor to her sight. As Agate's

     s sunk in, she could feel all the joy and cheer she held just moments ago evaporate.

But there was no despair to take its place. Instead, a deep grimace appeared, and her eyes narrowed as her brows scrunched together. “Well,” Monazite scoffed. “Sorry for being hopeful about something.”

“Don't be like that...” Agate sighed. “I'm not trying to say you can't have hope.”

“Really? Could've fooled me!” Monazite retorted. She sharply pointed at the red beryl. “We finally come across something that can get us away from the mines, and you just shut me down!”

Agate's ears began to tilt backwards. “Because I know nothing's going to come from it.”

How do you know that?! You're not even willing to give it a chance! You're just being defeatist for the sake of it!”

“I'm being realistic!” Agate snapped as she stood up. “Stop and think about it for a second! Even if somebody here could appraise it, and if you can find a buyer, do you really think that there is any way to get Neopoints out of that gem as long as Granite's around? Do you really think he's going to let you have those Neopoints? That the instant he hears about it, or as soon as he notices us climbing out of the hole, he's not just going to take it all away?!”

“You're just assuming it's going to go that way.”

“And you're assuming that gem is a magic ticket! There is no magic ticket, Mona! We are stuck here! This is all we have, and all we're ever going to have!” Agate shouted, her voice starting to break with each successive

     .

In all the years that Monazite knew Agate, she had never heard her raise her voice that much. Nor had she ever seen her that close to tears. She lowered her head. When Monazite spoke again, it was through a choked whisper, “You really have given up.”

Agate's glower deepened. “Of course I've given up,” she hissed. “And it's for the better. Because you know what? When I stopped fantasizing about how the solutions to all our problems will just fall into my lap someday, it hurt a lot less when I realized that real life doesn't work like that.”

Monazite's teeth ground against one another – so much that she could swear that the sharp tips were whittling down by the second. She took a few heavy steps forward and growled, “You think you're looking out for me? That you're doing me a favour by trying to drag me down with you? If you want to wallow around in misery, then you go right ahead. But you can do it by yourself.”

Agate stared at her. Her lips tightened and her scowl started to waver. If she was going to say anything further, the

     s died before even leaving her thoughts. Instead, Agate turned around and walked out of the house, slamming the door behind her.

The walls shook and the ceiling trembled. For a little while, Monazite was frozen at the same spot, in the same posture, with the same expression. But then the silence began to sink in. Slowly, the tightness in her facial muscles went away. At first, there was an emptiness within Monazite. Then, she felt something arrive to fill that void. As the minutes passed and she replayed her last

     s to herself while her breathing became heavy, she came to recognize it as regret.

After some time, she moved to her bed and sat on the edge as she watched the door. However long she waited, it didn't move. Even later, when she had briefly fallen asleep, she was startled awake by a noise. But it had come from elsewhere nearby, as the door was still shut and Agate's bed on the other side of the room was still empty. Most of all, Monazite was still alone.

Monazite laid down in her bed and threw the thin covers over herself. But she had no will at that moment to let herself drift off into slumber by the thoughts of her deepest fantasies and wishes. Instead, it was only when her sobs petered out was she able to fall into a dreamless sleep.

* * *

The next day, Monazite prepared for her shift by herself and arrived at the mines alone.

Monazite teetered on her feet as she stood in line. She certainly didn't get sound sleep, and her appetite that she lost after her fight with Agate still hadn't returned. With all that and her mind distracted over the previous day, she was in the worst possible shape to go to work. If she managed to go through the whole day without slipping up in front of a foreman, then she would be extraordinarily lucky.

As Monazite signed her name on the attendance sheet, she quickly scanned the list of the miners that arrived before her. Near the top, she saw Agate's signature. Sure enough, when Monazite swivelled her head, she saw Agate herself putting on her gear along with the other miners.

Monazite's throat suddenly began to feel dry. As she approached Agate, she walked in slow, heavy steps as if a weight had been strapped to her feet. In order to reach her own gear, Monazite had to walk straight in Agate's line of sight. Monazite silently reached for her things but snuck a glance in Agate's direction. Agate looked away from her, her face stoic and cold. The Bori tightened her helmet's chin strap – more firmly than usual – and walked off without a

     .

Monazite started to open her mouth, but her intention to call out for Agate faltered and soon withered away. As much as she wanted to make an apology for the day before, Monazite was filled with too much doubt – doubt that her

     s would be enough and doubt that Agate would even want to hear them.

Monazite sighed and stuck her fin in her pocket, clasping the red beryl inside. When she woke up that day, she was still so bitter from the fight that her first thought was to take the red beryl back to the mines, stick it in the gemstone collection box, and pretend that she never found it and brought it home with her. But now that she was actually at work, she began to have second thoughts. Deep down, she knew Agate was right that making any Neopoints off the of the red beryl was going to be close to impossible in Obsidian Quarry. Yet part of Monazite still didn't want to let go of the hope that it could help her and Agate.

However, she had little time to mull over her options in regards to the red beryl before Diorite's arrival interrupted her thoughts. Looking no less irate from the day before, he called all the miners on the shift to attention.

Diorite stood next to a pile of the common rocks that the shift had dug out of the tunnel. He grabbed a piece and examined it as he said, “Here we are, in the biggest obsidian deposit in all of Moltara, and this is all you idiots can find.”

He tossed the rock over his shoulder and down the cliff, all while he glared at the miners. “It can't be that hard, to find obsidian in Obsidian Quarry. But somehow you managed to even mess that up. I warned you all that you'd be in for a bad time if you didn't shape up, didn't I?”

The miners were silent, only nodding their heads minutely.

Diorite's ire lifted for the moment as he gave a short, eager laugh. Monazite gulped. A foreman being excited about something could often be even more foreboding than their anger. “Well, I had a chat with the Boss about you all yesterday. And we came up with an idea. It seemed to us that we just need to stick the fire under your feet. So he let me borrow someone that'll do just that.”

Diorite snapped his fingers. In an instant, someone dropped in from above. The impact cracked the ground upon landing, and the tremors caused Monazite to lose her balance. Her breath stolen from her out of shock, it took her a few seconds to regain her senses and process who just appeared.

It was a glowing Buzz – a Firefly. And though he appeared to be only a teenager, he was – bar none – the biggest Neopet Monazite had ever seen in her life.

Diorite picked up another rock and quickly threw it at the Firefly. Not missing a beat, the Firefly shot a single arm out and grabbed the rock with his hand. He began to squeeze, and the rock crumbled under the pressure in mere moments. All the while, he directed his harsh, unwavering glare straight at the miners.

“Say hi to Flicker, everyone,” Diorite said in a falsely amicable tone. “He's going to be watching you today to make sure you do your jobs. And if you don't...”

Diorite glanced at the bits of rock at Flicker's feet, then at the miners. No more needed to be said. The miners all gave firm nods and immediately filed into the tunnel.

Monazite grabbed her pickax and followed her co-workers inside. Her hands trembled, and her fear caused a wave of nausea to come over her. It was just her luck that after the day before, things had to get so much worse.

To be continued…

 
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