Crispy Noodles dug out the rocks and found the preserved fruit before stuffing it into his mouth. Li Du picked up the fire opal from the ground and lifted it. He smiled. "Hey, we found another!"
Two gem hunters, who had just started to leave, stopped suddenly in their tracks after seeing Li Du find another piece of fire opal so quickly and exclaimed, "You guys found an opal after having just arrived?"
"When did opal become so easy to find? They are very precious gemstones!"
The output of opals was very low at 9,000 to 11,000 pounds per year. It was even more so for fire opals.
Nine thousand to 11,000 pounds was equivalent to four to five tons. Most people would think that was a lot. However, they would just need to do a simple comparison to understand that opal was rarer than other gemstones.
According to the International Colored Gemstone Association, the current yearly output of diamonds was approximately one billion carats, which was equivalent to 44 thousand pounds or 22 tons.
Gemstones were all considered to be rare, but of course, none could be compared to the rarity of opals and diamonds. Diamonds, unlike opals, which were only well-known to a select group of people, were well-known all over the world regardless of wealth.
By Li Du's understanding, Europeans, Americans and the Chinese adored opals the most.
Opal was significant in many ways. Aside from being October's birthstone, it was used as a lucky amulet in ancient Rome. At that time, opal signified the rainbow so it was believed to bring the wearer a bright future.
With its extremely clear surface, opal also signified the purity of love. As such, it was called "Cupid's stone." This was the reason Li Du gave Sophie the gemstone.
These were also the reasons that led to its adoration by Europeans. As for Americans, the opal had different significance and was instead called, "the Stone of Freedom."
With freedom being a major part of the American spirit, it was easy to imagine why Americans adored opal.
All in all, regardless of where they came from, people adored opal for its striking beauty.
Li Du handed the gemstone over to Sophie for safekeeping. After cleaning it with chemicals, she rinsed it with clean water and carefully put it away.
The gem hunters walked over and took a look at the rocks. After confirming their legitimacy, they were astonished and asked Li Du, "This raccoon of yours can find fire opal?"
Li Du, not wanting to draw attention to the matter, smiled and vaguely responded, "Who knows? Maybe? The kid's brilliant and has a knack for finding things."
"But his specialty is finding hidden food," Sophie added, helping him cover up the truth. She felt that Crispy Noodles's unique ability should not be made known but rather should be kept quiet.
However, she had unwittingly blurted out the truth. Crispy Noodles's specialty was indeed finding hidden food.
The gem hunters became aware of their attempt to hide this matter. Thinking that they had realized the truth, they left talking quietly among themselves.
While leaving, they kept looking back to peep at Crispy Noodles.
Godzilla spat. "Got to be more careful."
Li Du, having seen the greed in the gem hunters' eyes, said, "Let's all take turns keeping watch. We need to be more careful as the park isn't very safe."
However, he wasn't too worried as he had brought two crossbows. Moreover, Ah Meow and Ah Ow possessed a good sense of hearing. Anyone trying to sneak up on them would definitely be caught.
Besides possessing a good sense of hearing, Ah Ow was also very territorial and would run around peeing to mark her territory.
Li Du let the little bug carefully search the area of cracked rocks. It was not a technical job and only required searching mechanically.
Until everyone had accepted that Crispy Noodles possessed the unique ability to find fire opal, the mining would remain a tedious task.
When Li Du found a piece of opal, he would place a piece of preserved fruit at the location. Crispy Noodles would then run around searching for the food. After catching the scent of the fruit, he would run towards the location and begin digging out the fruit before eating it.
Li Du was focused on him. Whenever Crispy Noodles had dug out the rocks, Li Du would bring Big Quinn and Godzilla to unearth the opal.
He had to get the timing right so as to not let the two discover that Crispy Noodles had found preserved fruit under the rocks.
Also, he would bury fruit in a few areas that had no opal. This was to ensure that Crispy Noodles's success rate was lower than 100 percent.
Big Quinn and Godzilla, who wore tank tops, perspired heavily. Whenever Crispy Noodles dug a hole, they had to immediately rush over with their tools and continue digging deeper.
At times, they managed to dig up opal. Other times, they were not able to as the spot had no opal.
However, as they did not know if the area had any opal, they would continue digging deeper and deeper. Li Du was in charge of supervising them, and he would usually stop them from digging deeper than three feet.
Digging any deeper would risk collapse, as the cracked rocks were unstable.
According to the National Park rules, gem hunters had to fill in and even out the holes dug for the purpose of restoring the park to its previous condition. It made the excavation work difficult and tedious.
The local government was devoted to the protection of the National Park. With the high value of opal, they would have had already sent in its engineering team to excavate the opals if they were purely looking to gain in the short term.
That was what the African government did. Whenever diamonds were found, they would send in heavy machinery to excavate the gemstones while destroying the environment in the process.
The American government did not dare to do so as they were afraid of angering the locals who were against such actions. They were also unwilling to destroy their own homeland for the sake of profit.
It was rather interesting that America, a capitalist country, would very much respect their people's opinions. On the flip side, Africa, a land claiming to be democratic, was actually run by autocratic warlords.
At dusk, Li Du put aside his tools and brought Sophie to see the sunset. He found a small hill and sat shoulder to shoulder with Sophie at the top.
Li Du carried Ah Meow while Sophie carried Ah Ow. Together with Crispy Noodles between them, they looked at the evening sun on the western horizon and quietly watched the sunset.
A flock of birds was flying slowly past. A bird with beautiful red, green and white feathers landed nearby. The bird tilted its head and looked at them with shining eyes.
Ah Meow became excited and jumped up, intent on catching the bird.
Li Du held on to him and gave him a stern look. Ah Meow, who could only behave and stay put, let out a muffled cry.
Showered with the warm sunlight, the barren land radiated a variety of colors. The colors were from different quality gemstones, which included a few that were beautiful and valuable.
It goes without saying that their value and the value of opal were worlds apart, like the difference in the value of cod and tuna.
Cactus, which was the most common type of vegetation in Arizona, grew vigorously on the barren land year round.
After the sun had set, the barren land turned grayish blue. With no moon in sight, the starry sky was bright.
Li Du let out a long sigh and said, "There goes another sunset. It was so beautiful."
Sophie raised her camera. "I managed to capture a picture today. I want to post it on Facebook when I get back home. I bet that a lot of people will be jealous of us."