Jewel's ears pricked up when she heard a voice calling from beyond the boulder she was approaching.
"Vanessa!" it called out.
Jewel had though she was alone in this part of the cave, clearly, she had been wrong.
"Vanessa?" the voice repeated, growing desperate.
Jewel peeked out from behind the boulder and saw a human girl with a mop of curly hair and no light in her dark brown eyes. She wondered why a human would be this far underground. They didn't usually come this far unless they were ambassadors, lost, or--
"Vanessa!" the girl called one more time, her final shred of hope dwindling into nothingness. She collapsed onto the floor, laid her head in her hands, and began to cry. Large sobs that shook her entire body echoed through the cave.
Jewel watched her for a few moments, too scared to do anything, before her compassion took over and she approached the weeping girl. She knelt down next to her and laid a hand, gingerly on her back.
The girl jumped open like a reverse mousetrap and pointed a switchblade right between Jewel's eyes. Jewel put her hands up and knelt in front of the girl.
"W-who are you?" the girl said, staring her down, "What are you?" she added, as if just noticing Jewel's short dark fur, long claws, short tail, and the nose that was too long but yet just right for her face.
"I-I'm so so sorry," Jewel stammered, "I don't mean you any harm. You just looked so upset and my heart hurt for you and I wanted to take your pain and make it better. I'm sorry."
The girl lowered her switchblade and looked at Jewel with a quizzical look.
"I'm Jewel," she started again, "I'm a Taplan. Which means I'm kind of part Mole and part terrestrial elf."
Chloe flinched and gripped her knife tighter in her hand at the mention of Moles.
"Now, if you don't mind me asking," Jewel began nervously, "Who are you? And who's Vanessa?"
"Chloe," the girl said, "I'm Chloe and Vanessa is my little sister. She disappeared about three days ago and everyone's looking for her above ground; no one believes me when I tell them that the Moles took her. I saw them take her. They burst out of the ground and grabbed her from right in front if me and- and." She began to cry again.
"Hey, hey, it's okay, you'll be okay," Jewel stood up and tentatively hugged Chloe who, this time, did not threaten her, "I'll help you."
"What?" Chloe asked softly.
"I know where to find her."
Chloe snapped at attention.
"You do?" she grabbed Jewel’s shoulders.
“Yes. I know where the Moles take everything they find on their raids above ground. But, did you say they took her three days ago?”
“This is actually the third day,” Chloe said, wiping her face, “She's been gone about seventy hours.”
“That means that we have about two hours before...” Jewel trailed off.
“Before what?!” Chloe shook Jewel’s shoulders.
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that,” Jewel grabbed Chloe’s hand and pulled her out of the cave chamber down an adjacent tunnel.
One hour and fifty-four minutes of running down endless tunnels of twists and turns later, Jewel and Chloe emerged at a huge atrium with four tunnels leading away from it. In the middle of the atrium, there was a glowing, jagged chasm that radiated heat.
"Is that..." Chloe began.
Jewel gulped and replied with a nod, "Lava."
The girls huddled behind a tunnel wall when they heard a cymbal crash. Promptly, hordes of Moles began marching out of the tunnels, each one was much larger than the girls and Jewel hoped they wouldn't have to interact with them. Moles were known to be, well, disagreeable, at times.
As the Moles continued their march, each of their steps were perfectly timed to create a steady beat; it was almost as if the entire room had a heartbeat, but there was something sinister about it, too.
The heartbeat stopped when a huge, dented bird cage was dropped to the ground with a loud crash. Chloe caught sight of what was inside.
"Vanessa!" she gasped. In the cage was a small figure, covered in bruises and not seeming to be conscious.
Chloe grabbed at Jewel's shoulder to show her the cage but Jewel's attention was focused on the lava and Chloe soon realised why.
"No," Chloe gasped, "No no no. They can't."
Jewel looked into Chloe's eyes and her heart nearly broke just looking at the despair and helplessness there.
"Look at me," she prompted, "We still have four minutes. I'll get go Vanessa and then, hopefully the Moles wont notice she's missing."
Chloe nodded a weak 'okay' and Jewel crept across the floor to Vanessa. She used her claws to pick the lock and carefully pulled open the door, praying it wouldn't creak, all the while looking back at Chloe who was waiting anxiously.
Jewel gently picked up the limp girl, being careful not to scratch her, and crept back to Chloe who instantly embraced Vanessa.
"She's badly bruised and needs to get help. We dont have time to walk but I can dig a tunnel to another cave entrance."
Chloe nodded, speechless with relief.
When they got to the mouth of another cave, Chloe asked, "Why did you help me?"
Jewel thought for a moment before deciding to open up.
"My species, Taplan," she began, "Well, we're endangered. I mean, I'm endangered. I'm the last Taplan."
"Oh," Chloe said sadly.
"My parents, friends, siblings, everyone I know," Jewel continued, "Was rehabilitated and died, killed by poachers, or taken by Moles. So, seeing you, distressed that something similar could happen to you, whether you knew it or not, I knew that it was in my power to make sure that didn't happen. And it didn't." She stroked Vanessa's hair and smiled.
"Which is good," she finished. And, with that, she disappeared underground.