Montrose nodded solemnly and the three were silent for a time. They perked up when their drinks were refilled.
“The Workshop is a strange place. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it,” Hamish said, looking at Montrose.
“He’s young,” Barnabus said, “so we need to fill him in.”
Barnabus’ face became stern.
“There’s an old enmity between dolls and plush creations. We supplanted them in many ways and they are resentful of it. They gain some measure of life from any intention, whether love or fear. Many of them have come to enjoy the latter. They will be resentful of us intruding on the Workshop.”
“Shankill is making it worse though,” Hanmish added, “but I’m beginning to wonder if he or someone else is taking advantage of this power they receive from negative emotions. I am not well-versed in the nature of the Gardens, but your description makes it look like someone is gathering as much as possible.”
“The details lead to Shankill, though,” Montrose said.
“Yes,” Barnabus said, “and we need to get into the Workshop and look around.”
“If they dislike us, that would be difficult,” Montrose noted.
Hamish had been quiet, and spoke softly: “I may know a way to do this. There’s a person who could make certain you would receive little attention.”
The corgi’s reticence was telling to the bears.
“What’s the problem,” Barnabus asked.
“Best to wait to find out,” Hamish said.
Hamish drained his cup and stood, walking away silently. The two bears shared a look before standing to follow. He led them through the winding streets. Eventually they arrived at a shabby building and walked down a set of nearly invisible stairs to a rotted door. Hamish knocked perfunctorily before entering. Little could be discerned in the gloom of a few candles, but bundles of plants, pots, and various detritus cluttered the place.
“Baba,” Hamish called, “I need your help again.”
A shuffling sound from the darkness revealed a robed figure that seemed to move with pain. When the figure entered the candlelight, it pulled by the hood. A woman was revealed, possibly it had been human, but one side of the face was that of an attractive woman, while the left side was shriveled up as an old woman. Both eyes were fierce and cold, seeming ancient in their gaze.
“Baba Stratha, this isMontrose and…”
“Barnabus,” she finished. “I know of this bear. Her cold gaze had not changed. Montrose realized that she was not much taller than they were, and he wondered again what she might be. She seemed to sense his thoughts, saying “Never you mind that, young bear.”
Montrose flinched when she reached toward him with the youthful right hand, but she only stroked his muzzle. A sorrowful look crossed her face, but it was so quick that he wasn’t sure if he had actually seen it. The hard expression stretched across her face.
“Why did you bring bears to my home, Hamish.” It was a statement rather than a query.
“We need to get these two into the Workshop. Can you help, Baba?”
“Why would I assist these two in risking their souls? It wouldn’t make much difference to one,” she said, looking at Barnabus. He returned her glare.
“Someone is making nightmares deadly and destroying bears and other plushes in horrific fashion, Baba,” Montrose pleaded. “We have to find out what may be seen there. This is an urgent task.”
She looked at Montrose, shrewdly. He became uncomfortable under her stare. She spoke after a length of time.
“I can disguise you to a degree, but I am certain you will not like the result.”
“Is this a permanent change,” Barnabus asked.
“No, you can cancel it at any time. If you end up in dire straits, you might want to do so. You will have enough trouble adjusting to the alteration as it is.”
“How long will this take,” Barnabus asked.
Baba Stratha reached out and placed her left palm on his chest. He quickly curled up and moaned, his fur falling out to reveal a body of wood. She cackled at him. She reached out to Montrose with her right hand again, brushing his face. Unlike Barnabus, he smoothly transitioned to a wooden bear.
Barnabus straightened up, gasping.
“Why did it not harm him?” The bear said with rising anger.
Baba grinned her strange smile.
“I don’t like you. Now get out. I detest your presence.”