The Nightmare Plague: Voices Within, part six

A commotion outside caught their attention.  The windows distorted the outside world, but several shapes were visible.  The large display window suddenly cracked from an impact, causing those inside to step back, but, as quickly as they’d come, the figures were gone.

The woman continued to cradle Uri in her arms.  He had begun to shake when the glass was struck, but was quickly calmed by the embrace.  As the bears looked around, it was apparent this was some sort of curio shop. Lamps, desks, and assorted knicknacks could be seen, but towards the back were shelf after shelf of books.  One memory after another began to creep out from those shelves and approach Uri until a dozen or so had appeared. He walked to them with his arms outstretched and began to hug the first one.  By the time his arms had closed, all were absorbed back into him, leaving the child hugging himself.

Barnabus turned to the woman and asked, “How do you know Uri?”

She returned his gaze with a flat look.

“Perhaps it’s all those books where he’s been hiding?”

Montrose nearly laughed at the expression on Barnabus’s face, but thought better of it.  He wondered, though, how often the bear finds himself brought up short like this.

“Nice,” the bear said.  “Who are you?”

“Who are you?  This is my shop, after all.  You don’t get to talk to me with that tone, even here amidst a nightmare.”

Now both bears stepped back in surprise.

Montrose asked, “How do you know that this is a nightmare?  You shouldn’t be self-aware.”

The woman laughed.

“I am not a shadow, you see, but a projection.  I have been looking after all these copies of Uri to keep him from becoming lost.  Do you think stuffed animals are the only ones who can come here?”

Barnabus had recovered from his shock and was studying her with renewed interest.

“I rarely encounter anyone capable of this feat,” he said.  

“Few that are capable bother.  It’s a matter of least importance to many, considering there are so many animals walking through dreams, Barnabas.?

Now the bear gripped his sword and stood ready to fight.

“How do you know me?”

“She told me about you once.  Your reckless behavior and willingness to endanger those around you.  You are difficult to destroy, but those who travel with you aren’t so fortunate.”

Montrose was silent, paying close attention to the conversation.  Finally, he couldn’t help but ask, “Who is this she you refer to?”

“Should I tell him, Barnabus, or will you?”  There was a mocking tone to the woman’s voice now.

“A bear I used to work with often,” he said in a clipped tone.

“Oh, just a bear you worked with, hmm?”

Barnabus wouldn’t look her in the eyes at this point, and turned to go back to the window.

“She is lost to you if your arrogance and foolishness continues,” she said to his back, then muttered, “Idiot bear.”

“Enough,” Montrose said firmly, “this is becoming cruel and accomplishes nothing.”

She pointed her finger at Montrose.

“You watch over the boy,” she snapped.  “Don’t let him endanger the child. So far as I know he hasn’t failed those he has gone to protect, but a number of bears that trusted him weren’t so lucky!”

“It looks clear enough to move,” Baranabus said in a flat voice.  The woman opened her mouth to say more, but the bear had already slipped out into the street.  She turned to Montrose and placed her hand on his shoulder.

“Be on your guard around him,” she said in a kinder tone, “and don’t become another bear to succumb to his folly.”

Montrose looked at her and opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it.  He nodded, smiled at Uri, and gestured for the boy to follow. Once outside, he turned right to catch up to Barnabus.

“I have questions,” he began, but a curt gesture cut him off.

“Do you see a playground ahead?”

Montrose gnash his teeth and said nothing, increasing his pace to match that of Barnabus.  

It was only a few moments before the neighborhood melted away into a large park area.  There was a playground there, but it was crowded with shadow people. They seemed to be focused on something near the swings.  Navigating through the crowd, the sounds of a disturbance became more audible as they approached. Emerging into an open area, they saw several chatterlings tormenting another of Uri’s memories.  Their mocking laughter became a physical presence, as though the sound had become solid. All noise died away as they noticed the bears and stood to face them as the other two turned back to their victim.

“Don’t harm the shadows if you can help it,” said Barnabus, as he approached the dominant creature.  It put up a pitiful defense as the bear cut it down in seconds. The other two snarled and leapt into the crowd.

“I’ll get them, you get the memory!”

To Montrosese’s surprise, Barnabus put away his sword and leapt into the forest of grey figures.  He weaved through the crowd, ducking away from the chatterlings attacks while working his way closer to them.  The creature’s bodies were constantly changing, limbs becoming claws and tentacles whipping around the shadows.  Baranbus deflected their attacks from himself and the apparitions surrounding them. It was almost a dance for the bear, who was more agile than Montrose had expected.  The creatures were attempting to surround Barnabus until he suddenly rolled backwards and attacked one of them directly. Not being able to shield itself with the shadows, the chatterling panicked, lashing out wildly, striking several of the figures which shattered like glass.  The bear forced it to the ground and hammered it with his paws until the creature vanished.  

Montrose had become engrossed with the spectacle and didn’t see the attack coming until too late.  The warning shout died in his throat as the tentacle stabbed into Baranabus’s shoulder. Montrose heard him grunt before grabbing the wispy appendage and, jerking hard, drew the last chatterling close and dissipating it with a hard strike to it’s abdomen.

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