(This story begins directly after "Explosive Experience, Pt. 1".)
Dreamflight had been out bird-watching. It was one of her favorite past-times. The night time was perfect for spotting owls and she had been following a beautiful one. Tap, her wolf-friend, walked beside her. The wolf often went with her on her 'quests.’
She had wandered for a while, leaving her sense of time back at the Holt. Her hand ran softly along the head of the grey wolf that walked beside her. **It's a quiet day today isn't it, Tap?** she sent to the wolf. The wolf replied with silence, and they walked on. Because her hand rested on Tap's head she felt her ears rise to an alert position. She stuck his nose in the air and, at her example, Dreamflight did the same. It was the scent of a wolf, a familiar wolf.
"Padfoot, what are you doing here?" Dreamflight said as she recognized the wolf, which seemed to be doing nothing more than hanging around. Kneeling in front of the wolf she ruffled his cheeks as she spoke to him. Padfoot was Beetle's wolf, Dreamflight knew that. She also knew the other girl had a tendency to wander around, much like herself. "She's not eating beetles again, is she?" she asked with a light giggle.
Shocked by the sound of the explosion, Dreamflight fell back. Both wolves yapped and moved away from the sound.
"High Ones! What was that?" she exclaimed as she tried to right herself again. Tap yipped and jumped back to Dreamflight, tapping the ground with her foot beside Dreamflight as she did so. This was what had gotten the wolf her name. She tapped her feet on the ground when she was upset or to get attention. This time it meant both. Padfoot barked to the empty air in the direction of the explosion. Without further hesitation Dreamflight jumped on Tap’s back. "Padfoot, come." The trio headed in the direction of the explosion to investigate.
It only took a few wolf-lengths for the smoke to catch Dreamflight’s eye. There was a plume of smoke rising up in the air. Its origin was hidden behind trees and shrubbery, but the girl’s curiosity was piqued so she kept riding.
Then she saw that the smoke had come from a cave. The smoke had stopped rising, and Dreamflight assumed that whatever had created it was no longer burning. She slid off her bond’s back and carefully peered between the bushes that surrounded the open area before the cave. Dreamflight felt uncertain about who, or what, was in the cave. Tap was tapping her front paws repeatedly. "Cut that out Tap, not now," she hissed without sparing her a glance.
Padfoot drew her attention. The wolf’s nose was twitching, and then he shoved his head into the fisher, whining. With a frown she pushed him away and shoved her own nose into the air. The left-over smoke still burned her nose. With a deep breath she smelled something besides the scent of smoke. It was Beetle's scent, clear as rain on a spring morning. ‘Is she in trouble? What if…’ she let the thought die. She had not scented humans, though she was still cautious.
Before Dreamflight had a chance to send to Beetle, Padfoot’s patience ran out, and the wolf bolted through the bushes for the open area. "Padfoot, no!" she called after him in hushed tones. There was nothing to do but follow the wolf and get him back into the foliage. When she caught up to him, she found more than the wolf. Near the entrance of the cave she saw a shoe--a shoe that seemed all too familiar. 'Beetle.' With one hand she grabbed the shoe and, without thinking, she ran in.
Padfoot was waiting for her as she stumbled out of the cave. Laying Beetle softly on the ground, she knelt beside her. Coughing still, she tried to speak to her. "Oh Beetle, what did you do? Oh High Ones. Oh no. Oh High Ones." Drawing her eyes away from her friend’s burns she looked for Tap. The wolf was still hidden behind the bushes, loyal as she was. **Tap. Howl! Howl!** she sent to the wolf. Tap yapped and then threw her head back.
A long howl went up from the wolf’s throat. Padfoot, who had been sniffing at his elf-friend, immediately joined in. The howl was repeated a second time and then both wolves were silent. In the distance Dreamflight could hear the howl being taken up by another wolf and moving on.
'This is not good. She needs water... There's a stream. There's a stream near here!' She looked left and right to get her bearings and then lifted Beetle again. Now that she had clear air to breathe, her friend felt much lighter. It wasn't difficult to get her to the stream, which was lucky for both the women. With great care she lay Beetle down with her legs touching the water.
Padfoot and Tap had both followed them, Padfoot lay with his head towards Beetle, Tap with her nose against the other wolf. Dreamflight held up Beetle’s head with one arm and carefully spooned water from the stream over Beetle with the other hand. Looking at her body she discovered a patch on Beetle's head that was bleeding. She didn't know whether she was burnt so badly that she might bleed or whether she'd hit her head on the rocks when she'd fallen. It didn't matter much to Dreamflight, whichever one it was. “Oh High Ones… Cloudfern… anyone... get here quick.”
Beetle’s head throbbed, but she felt something cold and wet being dripped over her. It made her shiver a little. Beetle coughed some, trying to open her eyes, but they felt so heavy. She tried to open her mouth to speak, but could not get the words out.
A voice... Dreamflight's?... could be heard, asking for help, and quick. Wolves howled in the background, summoning the tribe for help.
She tried sending, but her head hurt pretty badly, and she wasn't the strongest sender in the tribe. Still, she managed to convey a few images--the sparks, the sulfur, the bat dung, the bowl falling into the fire, then darkness.
Dreamflight felt Beetle's mind connecting to her own and a sigh of relief escaped from her lips. Tap lifted her head with a whimper and then put it down against Padfoot again as the wolves waited impatiently. They felt that something was off, they could see the dark color on Beetle and smell the sulphur that lingered still. It stung their noses like it did Dreamflight’s.
The fisher softly caressed Beetle's cheek as she hushed her. **You had an accident, Beetle. Don't try to speak. Just stay with me, all right? They're on their way. I know they are...** she sent soothingly into Beetle's mind.
Beetle wasn't sure who they were, but she trusted Dreamflight. She wondered how the other elf had gotten to her so quickly, and she wondered what had caused the accident. She wanted to know everything, but she knew that she'd have to wait to find out. She reached out to Padfoot, reassuring him that she would be fine. The wolf whined a little.
The sun was actually still climbing towards its peak, but for Dreamflight, it felt like half the day went by before she felt the tingling -- the familiar feeling that someone was trying to contact her. Her head shot up from Beetle's burnt body and she sent out with all she had. **Here! By the stream! Hurry!**
It was Cloudfern who replied to her first. **What’s going on, Dreamflight. Who's hurt?**
In her panic Dreamflight had neglected to inform them of the source of her worry. **It's Beetle. She's hurt, there was an accident.** Her mindvoice was calm now. Now that the first floods of panic had raced from her system she had collected herself again. But her eyes still rested on Beetle, showing nothing but concern.
When Cloudfern finally reached the two women, Dreamflight saw he was not alone. Windburn had come with him. The two had been together when they'd heard the wolves cry for help, and as they were the closest, they were the ones coming to investigate what had happened.
Windburn’s eyebrows were closely knit together as he jumped from his bond and ran the rest of the way to them. Cloudfern’s bond came to a halt right next to the girls. His face remained calm as he jumped from his wolf and moved to Beetle’s side.
Dreamflight knew that the first thing the two men had seen when they arrived was Beetle, filthy and motionless, her hair tangled and scorched, and small blisters forming on her shoulders, hands, face, and neck. Thankfully, Beetle’s skin did not appear raw, as the case would be with a more severe burn.
Cloudfern lock-sent to his daughter, **Rasha.**
Beetle's soulname echoed within her, and she was able to respond to her father's concern, **Father.** It was a weak send, but it was enough for him.
"Hold her head," Cloudfern ordered in a soft tone. Dreamflight obediently moved so she could sit with Beetle’s head resting in her lap. "Are you hurt?" he asked as he lay violet-blue eyes on the younger of the two.
"I'm fine. Care for Beetle. She needs it."
Windburn wanted to know what had happened, but he knew explanations would take place later. He made himself available to help. Dreamflight had continued pouring water over Beetle, and though some of the soot had been washed away, some areas remained dark and filthy.
As Dreamflight sat waiting, Cloudfern looked Beetle over. She wondered at his apparent calmness, but guessed that underneath he was even more worried than she had been. Dreamflight watched as the he moved to inspect Beetle's head. Her hair was knotted together. Some of it had been singed in the explosion and melted together. Beetle's soft brown hair was also darkened by the dried blood that covered it.
Seeing Cloudfern’s look of concern, Windburn rummaged through the items he'd brought, and found a sharp knife which he brought to Beetle's head.
"What are you doing?" Dreamflight asked in a panicked tone.
Cloudfern looked at Windburn, nodding.
"The wound needs to be cleaned, but it can’t be done with all that hair," he said simply as he put the razor near Beetle's scalp.
"But she'll wake up without half her hair!" Dreamflight replied. She wasn't aware that the hair could prove dangerous if it stayed there. She was scared and could only grasp the things she knew of her friend, the things she could understand.
Cloudfern was not happy about it, but he knew his Chief was right. He knew he could not properly treat the head wound with the hair in the way.
"If he doesn't crop it, Dreamflight, I can't clean it. If I can't clean it then it might get infected," he said as he raised his eyes to Dreamflight. His brows were knitted together and now Dreamflight understood how scared he was too. **That would be dangerous,** He added in sending.
Dreamflight only stared while Windburn started on Beetle's hair.
Beetle felt the odd sensation of someone wetting her head, then pulling some of her hair. Her father said something... And she heard Windburn make the suggestion that they crop all of her hair.
Windburn's explanation didn't make sense to Beetle. Something about patches being burnt to the scalp and there being need for care on more than just the bloody knot. She heard her father's sigh, then felt her hair pulled, gently, and a scraping sensation. Her head felt cooler. She could picture what they were doing, and a send from Dreamflight, offering reassurance, let her know that they were doing what she thought they were—they were cutting her hair as close to the scalp as they could without actually shaving it.
She was in no place to protest. When they reached the area that was throbbing, the pain of them pulling sent her back into darkness.
The areas that had been burned were still radiating heat. When they got back to the Holt they did everything to cool her down. Cloudfern immediately began making different ointments to smear on her skin. Starskimmer was right beside him, the pair working in silent unison. Both were grateful the damage was not as bad as it had first appeared. The burns were minor and would heal.
Dreamflight sat beside her friend, doing what Beetle’s parents instructed and quietly whispering to Beetle. She wasn't sure if Beetle could hear her in her sleep but she felt helpless, having nothing to do, so she talked to Beetle. She whispered comforting words at first but after a while she just started talking.
She talked about their wolves, about how Padfoot had responded, what a silly wolf he was. How nervous Tap had gotten. Then she spoke about what she had been doing before. She had been trying to fish, but wasn’t having any luck. Then she'd tripped and fallen on her behind. After that she just felt like doing something else. How she saw the cutest little owl just near the stream and how she'd followed it. She talked about everything she had done that day and the day before.
Time went by and Beetle remained silent.
"She is going to wake up again. Isn't she?" Dreamflight asked the wounded girl’s father. Her voice was soft as ever and caring. It was not overly-emotional but the worry was there for those who cared to listen.
"She is sleeping. Her burns aren't severe. They will be painful, but she'll be all right," came Cloudfern’s reply. The herbalist was exhausted from the panic and caring for his daughter throughout the day. The sun had set. He had made plenty of the ointment to last for another day and now that his job as herbalist was over, his job as father began.
Kneeling on Beetle's other side he looked at her sleeping face. Tears welled up in his eyes, but he didn't want to cry over her yet. Drawing a deep breath to stay his tears he looked at Dreamflight. "Go and sleep too. We will call when she wakes up."
Dreamflight’s yellow-green eyes looked up at him and nodded quietly.
Starskimmer had spent the day going from Beetle's side to helping Cloudfern and back. She had been frantic when they'd brought Beetle to the Holt, quite unlike the herbalist. When she'd seen that the burns were red and some of them blistering, she knew that they would heal as long as they cared for them well.
Then she laid a hand on Dreamflight’s shoulder. **You should get some rest.**
Dreamflight only nodded, sending a mixture of gratitude, worry and support to her and locking eyes before leaving.
She had been heading towards her own den, where solitude awaited her. Rubbing her eyes, she took a different path. She was tired, but unlike Cloudfern she had spent the last long hours sitting beside Beetle, which was emotionally tiring but not physically so. And thus she thought there was one thing to do before sleeping.
Opening the entrance to the den, she could hear the sound of people sleeping quietly. **Whispersilk?** she sent. **I'm sorry to wake you but… it's important..**
Whispersilk, along with the rest of the tribe, had been told what had happened, though everyone was waiting to hear from Beetle what had really taken place. Whispersilk, however, had a bit more information than the others, and she had been expecting a visit from Dreamflight.
Carefully, so as not to wake her lifemate, Whispersilk extricated herself from his arms and moved toward the front of the den. Stepping into the twilight, she took in Dreamflight's haggard appearance. Whispersilk reached out, taking Dreamflight's hand, her eyes conveying warmth and peace.
Dreamflight began, "I... um... I can't sleep right now. Beetle..." She choked on the thoughts, then sent the images, of Beetle's burns, of her shaved head, an impression of the last few hours. At the back of the sending was a request that she didn't quite know how to voice.
Whispersilk nodded. "I'll have it ready by the end of the night."
A groan from the bed near them woke Starskimmer and Cloudfern, who hurried to their daughter's side. Beetle's eyes fluttered open, and she looked up at her parents, surprise registering in her eyes. "H-how? What happened?" she asked.
Starskimmer and Cloudfern were relieved to see their daughter awake, and both held back questions and lectures for another time. Starskimmer knelt beside Beetle and said, "You had an accident, a pretty bad one. We'll let you tell us about it tonight."
Notch entered the den, coming to check on his sister. “I can’t wait to hear about your latest experiment! According to Dreamflight, there was quite a noise! Seriously, though, I’m glad you’re all right.”
Cloudfern reached out to his daughter, "You should sleep a little longer."
Beetle nodded, her eyelids already growing heavier. She allowed herself to drift to sleep, content that they would wake her later.
"Hey pup," Dreamflight said with a soft smile as she entered the den and looked at Beetle. Dreamflight was the younger of the two but had often called her friend by nicknames. Dreamflight nodded at Notch as he left. The bags under Dreamflight’s eyes weren't half as bad as they had been before she had visited Whispersilk. Not feeling like sleeping, Dreamflight had sat in Whispersilk’s den and had eventually passed out from exhaustion.
She looked at the one that had kept her up that long to start with. Beetle looked better. She didn’t look as good as she had prior to the accident, but there was finally color in her face again and it brought a smile to Dreamflight’s lips again.
The fisher sat beside Beetle and for a moment didn't look at her. Then her green and yellow eyes went up, reflecting the concern she had felt since she'd found Beetle. **What happened?**
No one knew Dreamflight to show her worry much. She was cheerful and easygoing most of the time. The worry that almost beamed through her sending to Beetle therefore could hardly be called characteristic. She breathed deeply, keeping back the lump in the throat.
Beetle knew from her father that Dreamflight had found her, and she had a vague memory of Dreamflight caring for her before Windburn and Cloudfern arrived. She felt badly for causing so much concern. She knew she would tell the story later, to the whole tribe. She'd already told her parents, but she believed Dreamflight should know now.
Beetle shared the story from the beginning; finding the cave, deciding it was a good place to work with fire since it was far enough away from the Holt, and because of the running water. She shared of discovering the bats, of finding the sulfur, of running little experiments that went nowhere.
When she got to the point where she accidentally kicked some dirt and got a spark and a pop, she began sending. She wasn't sure what had happened, and she was unable to replicate it at the time. She shared of deciding to come back another time, sent images of her picking up belongings, then of dropping the clay bowl into the fire.
At that, Beetle's sending ended. "I don’t know. I remember you showing up, then Father and Windburn, and then waking up here."
Looking beyond Dreamflight to where her parents sleeping, Beetle whispered, "Once I'm better, I'll go back and try to figure it out."
Dreamflight's eyes widened a little, and she was about to offer to go with Beetle when she did experiment again, just in case something happened, but Cloudfern's voice rose, causing the girls to start a little. They'd thought he was asleep. "You're going to what?"
They watched as he rose and headed toward his daughter. "You could have died! You had some burns and a head injury, and you even lost all your hair! You want to go back and do what???"
Beetle looked down, knowing she was not currently in a position to argue with her father. Unconsciously, her hand reached toward her head, but she stopped herself. She couldn’t run her hands through her hair any more. It was gone, at least for now.
Starskimmer, overhearing, rose and stood behind him, and Cloudfern continued, “Promise me you won’t try that experiment again.”
Beetle didn't want to make a promise she didn’t intend to keep, so she offered a compromise. "I won't try that experiment again any time soon. And when I do try it again, I will let you know beforehand." Sending, she shared, **I want to understand what happened! You can't fault me for that. I promise to be more careful next time. And I promise I will wait.**
Knowing his daughter's stubbornness and curiosity would not be set aside, Cloudfern chose to accept what she did promise. Relaxing a little, he allowed Starskimmer to lead him back to the furs.
Dreamflight had quietly watched the argument between parents and daughter. Beetle's parents were not a couple as such, but in this case they seemed to form a strong front against their daughter’s crazy ideas. Dreamflight added her say, "I'll never blame you for wanting to know. But... I will blame you if you try it again alone. You were very lucky I happened to be in the area. Tell me when you will go again. And let me come."
The fisher’s calm but confident attitude took Beetle by surprise, but she responded to her friend with a small smile.
Beetle's hazel eyes looked to her parents to make sure they were satisfied. They seemed to be. Cloudfern’s head was in Starskimmer’s lap, and she combed her fingers through his light hair. Her lips didn't smile but her eyes were soft in acknowledgement. Her fingers still entangled, she lay down beside Cloudfern and closed her eyes. **I can't stop you. But as long as you tell us and you don't go alone, we won't have to waste our time following your trail.**
Dreamflight grinned at Starskimmer’s words.
Beetle shook her head with a smile and then looked at Dreamflight again. "Very well," she said in a defeated tone. It seemed to be three against one at the moment.
"Eh," Dreamflight started. "I didn't come here to ask that, though," she said as she repositioned herself and grabbed a pouch from her side. "I couldn't sleep when I left earlier, and well... I thought that maybe you'd like this." With patient care she took a bandana from the pouch. Whispersilk had made it for her at Dreamflight’s request. Carefully, she laid it before Beetle and then with a crooked smile joked, **Sorry we made you bald.**