Author's Note: Please review! I'd love to know what you think. Thanks to everyone who has favorited this story or reviewed already.
Astrid crossed her arms, keeping her head tucked down as she walked slowly through the wind, every step a challenge. Her eyes focused on the ground, Astrid stopped suddenly. She wasn't positive, but she felt as if she'd noticed something, something out of the corner of her eye. Taking a few steps backwards, Astrid let her eyes scan the sandy ground in front of her.
There it was. It was so slight that Astrid wasn't entirely sure if she was seeing things, but there, only a few feet away, the ground seemed to be pulsing upwards, the sand shifting as if something was impacting the ground from below. In fact, it looked as if that particular square of surface was a trap door, beneath which was someone pounding to get out.
Astrid whirled around, thinking to yell for Jenny or one of the Krinkite men. Through the raging winds, she could see none of them. She stood still, unsure what to do. If she walked back the way she'd come to seek help, she doubted that she'd be able to find her way back to the correct spot.
There was no option then. She had to try to handle it on her own.
Crouching down on the ground, Astrid brushed her hands over the area which was pulsing, brushing the top level of sand away. After a moment she found something. It was a handle, a metal handle. Astrid's instinct had been right, this was definitely some sort of trapdoor.
Please be the missing Krinkite boy, she prayed silently for a moment, grabbing the handle. Yanking upwards with all her might, Astrid's hands slipped and she fell backwards onto her bottom.
Rubbing her aching behind, she got up and positioned herself again, gaining a firmer grip on the iron. Gritting her teeth, she heaved upwards. At first the trap door seemed unrelenting, but then she heard it: the first creak. Encouraged, Astrid put a new surge of strength into her pull.
With a slow moan, the door broke free of the smooth ground and swung upwards. Despite her best efforts however, Astrid could not get the door up high enough for it to fall open. It took all her strength merely to keep the door up in the air, and her arms were starting to strain from the burden.
"Uh, h- hello?" she called out. The space under the trapdoor was pitch black. "Is someone down there?"
Astrid could distinguish no words, but there was a sound coming from below, she was certain of it.
"Can you come out?" she called nervously, her arms beginning to fail her. Again, there was the muffled sound of speech, but no words. And no one coming up.
Seeing nothing else to do, Astrid ignored her thumping heart and stepped closer to the opening in the ground. Exhaling slowly, she jumped in.
The door above slammed shut and the whirling wind could still be heard from down below. Everything was still pitch black.
"Please help me." The voice was a child's, and Astrid was immediately convinced that she'd found the lost boy.
"Where are you?"
"Here." Astrid reached out towards the voice and her hand met the cold skeletal shoulder of the young boy.
"Well hello," she said, attempting to be positive. "Why couldn't you get out?"
"I'm... I'm not big enough," replied the boy in a small voice, "I could only hit the surface by jumping. But I'm not tall enough to open it myself or to climb out."
"I see... Well, let me try." Astrid reached her arms up and she felt the wood above her. She wasn't quite tall enough for the reach to be easy, but she disregarded that. Getting on her tiptoes, Astrid pushed upward with all her might; but it was not enough. The door popped open for but a second before slamming back shut. She was not tall enough to push it up any higher. Astrid was beginning to worry now.
"Well, if I hoisted you on my shoulders, do you think you'd have the strength to push the trapdoor up?" she asked.
"I... I can... I can try," was the stuttered response.
"Alright, we'll do that then. I'm sure you can do it!" said Astrid confidently. She hoped that her positive attitude would encourage the young Krinkite because in truth, she was terrified. What if the boy couldn't heft it on his own?
Inhaling deeply, Astrid forced herself to remain calm. Panicking never helped anyone, and, after all, this wasn't the first time she'd faced the possibility of death. In fact, once upon a time she'd sacrificed her life for a man she barely knew. She'd shown no fear then, and she would show none now.
Crouching down, Astrid waved her hand blindly.
Astrid braced herself as a heavy weight settled itself on her shoulders. With a great struggle, she unbent her knees and stumbled to her feet, trying to keep from toppling over.
"Ok, go ahead, give it a try," she said encouragingly through difficult breaths. Astrid felt the boy's muscles tense up and she prayed with all her might.
Suddenly there was a creak. Astrid could hear the raging wind again, painfully loud. The boy must have been able to open the trapdoor some. Almost laughing from sheer relief, Astrid called out,
"You can do it! Push the door the rest of the way, I believe in you!"
The Krinkite boy grunted and put all his strength into the effort. Finally, with a loud bang and a shout from the boy, the door slammed open. Astrid restrained the urge to cheer. The crisis hadn't been averted entirely yet.
"Can you pull yourself up and onto the ground?" she asked.
"I think so!" the boy shouted back down to her.
Astrid held her ground as the boy shifted on top of her. Then, miraculously, his weight was gone.
"I made it! I'm aboveground!" came his excited cry from above. "Here, grab my claw!"
Astrid peered upwards. The light from the outside now made it possible for her to see again, and so she grabbed at the offered claw. The boy's claws wrapped around her wrist and he heaved upward, straining with all his might. Astrid clutched as tightly as possible to his leathery skin as she felt herself lift off the ground.
But she only made it up a few inches before landing heavily back on the ground.
"Are you ok?" she called up worriedly.
"I... I'm ok," he called back, "But I... I can't do it, I'm not strong enough."
Astrid's heart began thumping much too quickly, his words sending a shock of terror through her heart. She'd tried to be brave, but the truth was... she wasn't sure if she could handle facing her imminent death... again. Astrid felt that she should say something comforting to the boy, who clearly felt bad, but her mouth was dry as ash and her mind blank.
"D-don't worry!" the boy cried, the wind screaming on top of his words. "I'll... I'll get help. You'll be ok! Don't worry. I'll be back, I promise! I'll close the trapdoor so the sand doesn't choke you."
The wind suddenly ceased to roar above Astrid, evidence that the young Krinkite was gone. Astrid slumped to the ground, coughing. She wrapped her arms around her legs and tried to stay positive. This storm couldn't last forever, and when it was over, well... the boy would bring help, just like he said he would.
These thoughts helped to calm Astrid. After all, she was a believer in the inherent goodness of people-or Krinkites, in this case-and she had no doubt that the boy would keep true to his word. So then, as long as the storm ended quickly, Astrid would be fine. In fact, it was possible that she would be discovered even before the storm ended. Astrid hoped silently that the boy had a better sense of direction in a blinding storm than she did.
Three hours later, Astrid was beginning to doubt that he did. Clearly she would not be rescued as long as the winds continued to rage as wildly as they were. Smacking her dry lips together, Astrid leaned up against the wall of the shelter and let her eyes drift closed.
Astrid's eyes flickered open. Hours must have gone by, but her situation was unchanged. She was still trapped underground in dark hole with nothing but the muted sound of rushing air above her. And now, she was beginning to feel stomach pains, due to the lack of food and water. More than anything, she wished she had something to eat. Astrid stared dully into the blackness for what felt like several more hours before her lids closed once again, and she fell asleep.
The next time she awoke, the pain was worse, and there was additional pain from the sitting position that she had now fallen asleep in twice.
"Three days..." she muttered aloud, over and over again. The sound was oddly comforting in the silent darkness, so those two words became her personal mantra, repeated over and over.
Three days. A person can survive for three days in the desert without food or water. As long as the winds died down before three days ran out, Astrid would be totally and completely fine. Three days. It had been three days now that Astrid had known Jenny. Jenny, the most fascinating, wonderful, stunning person that Astrid had ever met, bar none. Three days... Three days...
"Miss Jenny! Jenny, we've got him!"
Jenny spun around sharply, a hesitant and amazed smile beginning to curl the corners of her mouth. Rushing toward her were two Krinkite adults tailed by a child. After a moment, the three Krinkites reached the leader of the excavation crew.
"This is the boy?" she asked excitedly, grinning down at the young one. One of the men nodded, smiling right back at her.
"We just got a hold of him. He came walking from that direction." The Krinkite gestured behind him.
Suddenly, the boy rushed forward and grabbed at Jenny's arms. Jenny was startled by the frantic look in his eyes.
"There's someone trapped back there!" he exclaimed. Jenny's head snapped up to look at the men in shock, but they were clearly just as confused as she. Jenny turned back to the boy.
"The rest of your family has all been accounted for, don't worry. Everything's going to be ok now."
"No, not my family!" Jenny peered confusedly at the boy. "One of you!"
"One of me? What do you-" Understanding finally dawned on Jenny. Her eyes widening with fear, Jenny glanced frantically all around her.
"Astrid!" she screamed loudly. The wind seemed to sweep away her cry. "Astrid!"
"She's underground," explained the boy nervously, "That's where I was. I was in a shelter underground but I couldn't lift the trapdoor to get out. She got me out but she got stuck down there. I wasn't... I wasn't strong enough to... to save her..."
Jenny could tell that the boy was on the verge of breaking down into tears. Steeling herself, Jenny forced herself to breathe. She needed to treat the boy delicately, but finding Astrid was clearly a top priority.
Kneeling down to his level, Jenny looked the boy in the eyes.
"You did all that you could. I'm very proud of you for that. But now, the best way for you to help, is to lead us back to the trapdoor. Can you do that?"
The boy nodded quickly and Jenny smiled at him, clapping him proudly on the shoulder.
"Alright then. Off we go. Come on boys!"
Obediently, the two men followed behind Jenny and the boy as the boy set a course off into the dusty oblivion.
Hours later, their search had come to nothing. Each patch of sand looked just the same as any other. Occasionally the boy would pause and pound the ground, checking for the hollow shelter, but he was never successful.
Jenny felt like tearing her hair out in frustration, but she could not allow herself to lose her dignity that way. Still, it was difficult to resist the urge to fling herself onto the ground and thrash about angrily. In fact, she was feeling the unhealthy desire to shoot something. This in and of itself was concerning to Jenny. She hadn't felt violent tendencies like that since her first few days of life. But now, she was so frightened by the turn of events that somehow the old feelings were beginning to resurface.
"Miss Jenny?" Jenny turned to face the Krinkite addressing her.
"Yes, Taban?" Taban glanced uncomfortably at his companion.
"We feel that it is best to... to end our search until the storm passes. Once-"
"No," Jenny cut him off forcefully. "I'm not giving up until I've found my friend. But... I understand if you can't stay. I'll continue the search on my own. Thank you for your assistance so far, you've been a great help today."
The two men looked guilty but grabbed the boy and started to leave.
"No!" the boy cried, wrenching from the hold of the two shocked adults. "She saved me. I want to find her."
At this declaration, Jenny's heart warmed again. Such purity and bravery in such a young person made her feel a glimmer of hope. Still, she knew that she had to do what was right.
"You've been through enough today," Jenny said to the boy quietly. "Your efforts have been so very brave, but you need to go rest and get food and water. You'll be no help at all if you collapse in the desert due to dehydration. Don't worry, we'll save her. But you need to rest."
The boy looked solemn but nodded his consent.
"So do you, Miss Jenny." Jenny looked up in surprise at Taban.
"You have to rest and get water. Otherwise you'll collapse out here and there will be two of you for us to rescue. You need to come back to the camp with us and recuperate. Wait the storm out. It'll be over soon, and your girl will be ok. Come on."
"No," refused Jenny, shaking her head. Despite the sense in his words, she refused to abandon her friend. It was her fault in the first place that Astrid was even in this mess. Jenny turned away from the Krinkites.
"Well then, I'm sorry for this Miss Jenny."
Jenny began to turn back around to ask what on earth Taban meant, when everything suddenly went dark.