Ambrose was evidently alarmed by their reactions.
“This is why we exist,” he said gently. “We fight their nightmares to bring some measure of succor. You need to hold to that duty.”
Marley left Ambrose to reinforce the younger bear’s morale. She continued to study the place. Placing her hand on a tree sent images through her mind. The surmise that the bogey was acting unusually was now evident. She could feel energy being drawn from the child. The nightmare was acting as a generator. The new question was why. It wasn’t feeding the creature. It was harvesting all that it could.
She closed her senses to the surroundings and returned to her companions. The younger bears were breathing steady while Ambrose spoke to them softly.
“Ambrose, we need to move.”
“They need a moment longer, Marley.”
“There is no more time,” she growled. “They must struggle through so we can complete our obligations. As you said, this is why we exist.”
The younger bears stood shocked at her tone. Sonny gritted his teeth and Latricia shut her eyes and took a deep breath before both began to follow her into the forest. Ambrose took up the rear, hoping that being between he and Marley would bolster their companions spirits.
The air grew thick as they progressed. A miasma had settled in the area, giving off a stench of rotten eggs. There was no sound but what they made. Their footfalls seemed to echo through the fetid forest. Walking behind Marley, Latricia saw her occasionally rubbing at her side without even seeming to realize that she was doing so. The younger bear kept that observation silent at first. After a time, she could not keep it to herself.
“Marley, why do you keep rubbing your side?”
The older bear sighed.
“It’s an old wound from a fight I lost,” she said.
All three bears were taken aback, particularly Ambrose.
“What could you have gone against that was so dangerous?”
Marley didn’t respond immediately.
“There were several of them, one being the bogey we are pursuing.”
This revelation sent shudders through the younger bears.
“But, she added, I was alone. It was a trap and the bogey was actually the least dangerous.” She was speaking softly at this point, obviously unnerved by the memory. “Fortunately, another bear sensed my distress and came to my aid before something terrible happened.”
Sonny was hesitant before asking, “Who was it?”
It was some time before Marley answered: “Barnabus.”
Ambrose and Sonny both stopped in their tracks.
“Him?” Sonny practically spat the word out. Ambrose also did not conceal his distaste.
“He actually did something altruistic? I thought he was to self-centered for such a thing.”
Marley gave them a wry grin.
He has his faults and we haven’t spoken in some time, but I owe that bear my life, especially given what was in store for me.”
“Which was?” Latricia did not attempt to conceal her fear.
“Something I hope you never learn of,” she responded.
Her words further dampened the spirits of the three bears, but resumed their march behind Marley out of respect for her resolution.
Marley didn’t realize that Ambrose and Sonny found Barnabus so distasteful.