They gray sky held a hint of drizzle and the air drowned in the scent of damp decay as Elm picked her way through the ruins. It was Wednesday and she hated Wednesdays because that was the day her mother got paid, which served only to remind her mother how little she made and put her in the sort of foul mood that resulted in shouting if not blows. Elm needed a find today, something that would bring in a good value at the bazaar. If the clouds where to open up and drench the city right as she found it, so much the better as that would decrease the odds of a sentinel observing her and nabbing the artifact.
The roofless building Elm targeted today didn't look terribly likely to hold anything that hadn't already been weeded through by previous seekers, but the little feeling inside her that pulled her to her greatest finds was making itself heard today and it was certain there was something in here.
The wind whipped through the holes in Elm's sweater, not at all deterred by building's walls even though all four were intact. Four walls, but no windows. According to Elm's grandmother, those windows used to be filled with glass, but Elm couldn't imagine anything like that. The lone window in her house was covered by a thick drape of bear hide. Glass, it seemed to Elm, would let in both light and cold.
A rain drop fell and hit Elm dead on the nose. She allowed herself a small smile, nothing big enough to attract disapproval should anyone see it but just enough that whatever spirits watched over her could see her gratitude.
The feeling lead her through the structure, though she needed to pause several times to close her eyes and concentrate when she lost touch with it. As the rain picked up speed, she wove her way to the back corner until at last the feeling thrummed with the pulsing urgency that told her she had found the spot.
Her only tool was a worn trowel she'd found in a garbage heap, but she dug into the rocky ash with determination. She dug until the fingers she used to assist the trowel bled and pains tore through her shoulders with each new motion. Water pounded her from above, numbing her muscles and plastering her hair to her back.
And just as she was considering giving up, she hit metal.
Metal was valuable in and of itself and Elm had just found a large amount of it. It spread to the sides and she kept digging, clearing the debris from the metal sheet even as she began to tremble from the enormity of her find. A plate of steel this big could get her family out of the city, to the country where things could grow. They wouldn't need money there, not in a place where they could grow their own food free from the poisons that had always surrounded her.
The metal wasn't all flat. There was a rise in it that she didn't know the purpose of and a short length of split cable wrapped around that.
And... Elm didn't recognize it at first, but once she realized what she was looking at, it was obviously a door. A tiny little hatch just big enough for someone to slip through.
Elm wrestled the door open and peered into the dimness beneath it, trying not to breathe in the musty stench of the now-released air rushing past her. She only had one light rod left, but this seemed like a good time to use it, so she slid it from her belt and snapped it until the agents inside began to glow.
Below her was a box big enough for at least a dozen people to stand in. A rail ran along its walls and its bottom was coated in a thing gray fur.
Two skeletons lay in the box. They weren't arranged like the ancients used to bury people though, so they'd probably died in the box. Maybe as a punishment? Their arms were wrapped around each other, one of them much larger than the other. A parent and child perhaps.
Elm wrapped the rope she kept around her waist about the strange protrusion atop the box and swung herself down to investigate closer. The clothes were remarkably intact and would be worth something, as would the jewelry both wore. She knelt to slide gold bands and ropes from the bodies, stuffing them in her pockets while the rain hit the box with a curiously metallic pit-pat.
As she jostled the remains, she realized something lay pressed between the pair. It was small and soft and although it smelled of mildew and had obvious signs of age, Elm knew it was the first thing she'd ever found from the Old World that she would keep for herself.
She pulled the creature out. It was some sort of doll with the head and hands of an animal, although Elm had no idea which one. Probably something extinct.
She held it to her chest and wondered, just for a moment, what it was like to live in a world that had such things. Both the amazing animals and the toys. Her world had neither.
She stuffed the creature under her sweater. She'd have to hide it from her mother or it would be sold along with the jewelry. But that shouldn't be hard. Mother would be so distracted by the bounty of this find that she'd never stop to ask if there had been something else. And why would Elm hold back when she'd always given everything she had to the family?
“It'll be okay, little girl,” she told the toy. “We'll get you out of this smelly box. And you'll love it in the country. We both will.”
She scrambled back up the rope to rush home with the news of the box.
The above was inspired by a random word generator giving me "pitpat" and me putting that into Google image search.