He felt Teddy’s paw settle on his shoulder, the grip reassuring him. Barnabus sighed and looked up into the squinted eyes.
“Should I stay away from other bears?”
The other bear stared at him for a moment before shaking his head.
“No, the younger ones still need you to help. But stop dragging them into any situation that arises. You need more experienced bears to overcome the obstacles you meet. If Montrose had not been with you, the Workshop would have gone differently and you know it. There is a difference between bravery and hubris. Remember that.”
The two sat in silence, listening to the wind pass through the canyon. It was some time before they felt the presence. Neither bear encountered such malice often and it sent them racing down the narrow canyon without a word. Their boots kicked up dust as swords were drawn in haste. Their pursuit led to an ancient theater, row after row of carved seats. Barnabus was reminded of the colosseum where he fought the chatterlings.
In the center, taking the stage, was a creature of darkness. It towered over a cowering man, his face pale with fright as it beheld the lean, monstrous thing before him. It was tall and lean, corded muscles covering the limbs that ended in taloned hand. Horns jutted out from the beast’s forehead. The twisted mockery of humanity drew a slim, curved sword from it’s belt. Spittle dripped from the fangs of that leering mouth.
The creature advanced on it’s intended victim, seemingly unaware of the bear’s ceaseless charge. As they approached, though, the frightened man dissolved into dust, fixing them with a maniacal grin. The creature spun around, swinging it’s sword at Teddy. Barnabus shoved the old bear aside before rolling away. Both bears were on their feet in an instant, entering into a defensive posture to wait for the next attack.
They circled the creature, waiting for an opening. Barnabus charged in, causing Teddy to shout a warning. It feinted, the dull gray sword sweeping in. Barnabus blocked the worst of the blow, but the felt of his arm slit open.
Teddy lunged in to distract their opponent, leaping back from the return attack. Barnabus swung a massive blow, severing the hand holding the weapon. It dissolved in oily, black mist as the monstrosity screamed in rage before sweeping it’s other arm around the body. It was wrapped in a swirling, dusty cyclone before joining the desert wind and disappearing into the distance.
Teddy growled, turning to glare at Barnabus.
“We could have kept it trapped between us and prevented this!”
Barnabus was panting with rage, a low growl issuing from his throat.
“I’ll find the thing, make no mistake,” he began, but was immediately cut off.
“It could find a victim in the meantime, Barnabus! It is wounded and malignant. Who knows what it will do before we can catch up.”
Barnabus clenched his fists at the admonition.
“I will end it,” the bear said with conviction.
Teddy sighed in resignation.
“Let’s go, my boy. We have to get after the thing.”
Sharing a look, both bears nodded and took flight down the canyon. Their minds reached out searching for signs. It wasn’t long before the sense of unease was found. The creature had not stopped to select a victim, but its passing left an impression on sensitive souls.
Barnabus sensed a foothold and grabbed Teddy, dragging him into one of those thoughts. She wasn’t asleep, but had become unsettled by the touch of the creature. The girl was daydreaming to the rocking of the tour bus, but that sense of wonder had become tainted until she saw, through tear-filled eyes, saw the reflection of two teddy bears in the window’s reflection. The one with the violet eyes gave an embarrassed wave while the other, with his squinted eyes behind thick spectacles, grinned and held a finger to his muzzle. She nodded, grinning, and waving back as the tears fell unheeded.
The little girl’s daydreams carried them forward until other errant thoughts and dreams carried them forward, slowly gaining on their fleeing adversary. The bears skated among the thoughts in their path and could feel the presence growing closer. The bears leapt from dream to dream so quickly that they skidded into a dark alley when reality caught up.
“Any idea where we are,” Barnabus asked, panting heavily.
Teddy crept to the mouth of the alley and looked around.
“That’s Rainbow Street. We’re in Amman.”
“It knows we’ve followed along. I can’t sense it any longer,” Barnabus said.
“Same here, but I do sense an old friend. Come along.”
Keeping to the shadows, the bears made their way up the street. They soon reached ancient ruins, crumbled structures scattered among pillars that stood amidst the passage of time. Barnabus could feel the presence of malice. Someone was facing off against the creature.
It seemed to be a plush, but the head and most of the face was covered in a red and white scarf of a sort Barnabus was unfamiliar with. Thoughts of Marley came to his mind and he shook away the thought. A slightly curved saber was in the figure’s paw. No sign of concern or distress was evident. Whoever or whatever they were, the creature did not cause alarm.
The creature straightened up, sniffing the air. It turned slowly to observe the bears. The stranger reached up and pulled the scarf down and pushed it back from his head. A sand-colored bear with sleek felt looked at them with a calm, pleasant smile spread across his muzzle. Shouldering his sword, he began moving to the creature’s right side with a gesture that Barnabus and Teddy should also move to flank their opponent. Before they could surround it, the monstrosity swirled into a spinning vortex of shadows and drifted away.
Teddy and Barnabus growled in frustration, but the other bear only made a tch-tch noise.
“As-salam alaykum, Teddy,” he greeted.
“Walaykum as-salam, Bilal.”