(This story is a "Response to the Human's killing of Beetle's wolf-friend" -- see the listing for more related stories.)
**She’s right up there,** Notch lock-sent to Foxtail.
**I can see that. What makes you think she’ll want to help us? Or that she’ll even hear what we have to say?**
**Beetle’s curious about everything. You know that! We just point out that she’ll be able to learn more about the humans, and she’ll jump on the idea!**
**I’m not so sure! You two have hardly talked in the past couple of moons. Aren’t you still upset with her?**
The fact that he and his sister weren’t talking bothered him. He wasn’t even sure why they weren’t talking. Well, she and Willow seemed to be very good friends now, but he didn’t think that really bothered him. Of course, she had been spending so much time with Willow that she hadn’t had a lot of time to spend with him. And… he and Willow were not as close as they had been before. Actually, he wasn’t sure they were friends anymore. He hoped that they would be able to work things through, but he knew it would take time. Although Willow had misunderstood some, he knew that he had made a stinkbear of himself.
Still, his argument with Willow was no reason for him not to talk with Beetle. This was the perfect opportunity for him to spend time with his sister. Between that and his guesses about what Windburn would do once they were found out, he figured it would also give Beetle a break from constantly helping Willow. ‘Maybe when Beetle and I are both paying the consequences, Willow’ll realize she misses both of us!’
A jab in his ribs brought him out of his thoughts, and he turned to look at Foxtail, who was still waiting expectantly for an answer.
**I was never really upset with Beetle. I just haven’t really had much of a reason to talk to her recently. But now I do.**
**All right… if you say so!**
Notch nodded. **Now… let’s rehearse this. We’re going to walk, and I’ll start it by saying….**
Beetle stared at the strange piece of… she couldn’t really name it. For some reason, it made her think of animal hide, but the material was unlike any hide she had ever seen. She could fold or roll it like other scraps of fabric, but it was too thin to be of any discernible use. It was also similar to a type of bark, but this had not come from a tree. She had found it in a bush near a path humans had recently tread. She held it to her nose and sniffed again. Aside from a strong human scent, she smelled something similar to a powdered rock. She also caught a scent of something like wine and salt.
Scent aside, the thin material had strange markings on it. They weren’t pictures of anything she recognized, and they seemed orderly and regular. Some repeated frequently, and others less so. The markings were not naturally occurring, so Beetle guessed that the humans had created the markings. She wanted to know. ‘What do the markings mean? Why are they painted on this… material? And what is the material? How did they make it? Did they make it? What is it?’ Each question led to several more.
Voices—Foxtail and Notch’s—interrupted her reverie. It sounded like they were excited, and she wondered if they would notice her presence. It didn’t seem that they did, although they stopped beneath the tree she sat in. Something they were saying caught her attention, and thoughts of the not-bark were pushed aside.
“Now we just have to wait until they get close enough — ” Notch was saying.
“And then we get - ” Foxtail added.
“Oh, I can just see it!” Notch interrupted.
Beetle was having a hard time following them. What had them so excited? She wanted to know, but she was reluctant to inquire. She and her brother had not been on the best of terms of late. He still seemed resentful of her relationship with Willow.
She silently willed them to speak in complete sentences so she would know what was going on.
Foxtail raised her hand to silence Notch as her eyes lit up with another idea. “We can wait to see when Wolfkiller’s group is hunting again. Then, when he’s about to strike, we do something to divert his attention, or to scare the prey. Later, when they’re sleeping, we can… encourage… the not-wolves to make plenty of noise.”
‘!!!’ Beetle thought to herself. ‘They’re going to prank the humans. And not just any humans—they’re going after the one that killed Crawfish. But it wasn’t his fault!’ She had convinced herself that the human only did what he thought he had to. ‘Crawfish shouldn’t have threatened them!’ She wanted to jump down and intervene. No matter what the argument between her and Notch, she didn’t want him hurt. Still, she waited.
Notch laughed. “I wonder if we could — ” he stopped himself, “no, no… that wouldn’t work. We have to make sure Wolfkiller doesn’t catch anything! He’ll realize he was wrong to kill a wolf.”
Foxtail laughed at the idea, and the two began moving away from the tree, still talking and planning. Beetle knew she had to make a choice. She could let Windburn know what was happening, she could pretend she’d never heard anything, or she could confront the plotting pair. Beetle worked her way down the tree and jumped the last few lengths to the ground.
Foxtail and Notch turned at the sound of her landing. Foxtail merely looked surprised, but Notch looked upset. Beetle wondered what he was thinking, but she didn’t wait to find out. “What you two are planning is irresponsible, dangerous, and downright stupid. Do you want to get caught? Do you want the humans to find us?” Looking at Foxtail, Beetle asked, “What would your father say?”
Foxtail stared at Beetle and answered confidently, “I don’t care what he would say.”
Notch joined in, “What I see is that he has sat by letting the humans get closer and closer without any consequence. What I see is that Crawfish died, and the humans haven’t experienced anything negative. The superstitious ones will begin to wonder, and soon we’ll have them all over the forest, even more than they are already. Someone needs to do something.”
Beetle listened. She didn’t agree with them, but she wasn’t ready to say that — yet. She looked at her brother. “Notch… don’t you think this is foolish? Haven’t you thought about what could happen?”
His expression was not readable as he said, “I gave you my explanation.”
Beetle answered, “Look, I know that we have our differences of opinion, but I still don’t want to see you get hurt. These… pranks… are foolish!”
“Leave us alone, then!” he retorted.
She shook her head. “No.”
Foxtail intervened. “Look, Beetle, we’re going to do this. You can go running to Windburn to tell on us, and we’ll be stopped before we start. Or….” Her voice trailed off.
Notch finished her sentence. “Or you could help us.”
Foxtail chimed in. “You could be our lookout. All you would have to do is watch the humans for us. Let us know when they are getting close enough and send to us when it’s time. That’s all. That way, no one gets hurt, no one gets caught.”
“We need a third, Beetle, and you already know what we’re planning. The fewer elves we involve, the better.”
She shook her head dubiously. Something wasn’t adding up in her mind, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint it.
Her thoughts must have shown because Notch began speaking again, faster this time. “Come on, Beetle. We could stand to spend some time together.”
“A moment ago you needed a third. I know you don’t want me talking to Windburn. Now it’s about spending time together? You haven’t even come near me in a moon or two, I figured you wouldn’t want me around.”
“You’re right.” Beetle’s eye arched in skepticism at his words. He continued, “I haven’t wanted to be around you because you were the one to help Willow, and I wasn’t. I’ve been acting sort of like I had nutmash for brains, and I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”
She almost challenged him to send what he had just said, but she chose not to. She was happy he had come around and she didn’t want to be suspicious of him.
A look passed between Foxtail and Notch, and Foxtail commented, “Consider it an opportunity to learn, Beetle. Look at what you have in your hands! Aren’t you curious about the humans? Just the tiniest bit? I bet you could find out a lot, and you could help us, too!”
Notch joined in, “C’mon, sis. It’ll be fun! It was your wolf that was killed by the humans. Doesn’t part of you want Wolfkiller to pay?”
When she made a face, Notch added, “We’re not going to hurt him! But the least he deserves is a run of ‘bad luck,’ don’t you think? Besides, you could help us. And Foxtail’s right—there’s a lot to learn about the humans. And you’re really observant. You could watch the humans and learn about them, and you could keep us out of trouble while you’re at it.”
Beetle smiled a little. She could be helpful to them. She would enjoy learning more about the humans. And Notch was talking to her again. Suspicion cast aside, she was convinced. She would help.
‘My plan was successful. Beetle’s going to help us. That was easier than I expected. Almost too easy.’