“I warned you.” Hamish’s voice was soft, lacking in accusations. He knew the situation was beyond the bear’s ability to foresee. He and Barnabus stood over Montrose’s comatose body, the sounds of the cafe drifting up through the floor.
They stared at their friend, willing him to awaken, but nothing could rouse him. Every attempt to remove the cord from his wrist had failed. The flight from the Workshop was furious as Barnabus half-carried Montrose until they reached the doorway.
They stood in silence for some time before a disturbance below broke through their reverie. Barnabus sighed and went to the rocking chair in the corner, seated himself, and slowly began to rock back and forth. Moments later the door opened and Marley entered. She stared from Montrose to Hamish before stalking across the room to Barnabus. Ambrose, Sonny, and Letitia entered, then went to the bedside, keeping vigil with Hamish. All four found it preferable to ignore what was about to happen.
Marley grabbed Barnabus by the collar, dragging him to his feet.
“You careless fool!” Her shout caused a lull in the sounds of the cafe. “How many bears must be hurt because of your willingness to lead them into danger,” she continued.
Barnabus stared at her, but did not respond. Their violet eyes locked together. Eventually, releasing a long held breath, she released Barnabus and turned back to the bed. He continued to stand where she left him, still saying nothing. Eventually the others began to murmur amongst themselves. They had not noticed that Barnabus had moved until the door clicked shut behind him.
The chatter in the cafe lulled again as Barnabus walked through. Those who had not heard of him before, learned his name in the days since he returned from the Workshop carrying Montrose. Now the place muttered about the bear’s reputation. He said nothing, but exited the buildings, easily slipping into the flow of beings outside.
It took longer to reach his destination than before. He was not in a hurry; it gave him time to think. Arriving at the building with the barely seen staircase and did not knock when he reached the bottom, but entered unannounced. Baba Stratha hobbled quickly into the candle light, but was unable to speak before her visitor.
You know what happened,” he stated. “You did not disguise us as well as you indicated.” His voice was flat, lacking in emotion.
The two-faced hag said nothing, but waited.
“You know what I am and I know what you are, so let’s not waste too much time over mutual distaste. Tell me what I want to know.”
Stratha’s lips twitched as though she was about to speak, but thought better. Her eyes narrowed as Barnabus flexed his fingers and long, thick claws emerged.
“Fine, she said at last, “You must find the first teddy bear, imposter. Now leave.”
“Not good enough. Give me a heading to begin with.”
“You must go to the other side of the world to the King’s Quarters, the place Ptolemy conquered, and the place of wonder carved into the cliffs.”
“How helpful,” he said sardonically.
Stratha began to speak again, but Barnabus had already turned to the leave. Her words trailed off as the door closed on them.
The bear crossed the town to a portal he knew, and entered a dreamworld, setting off to find the mind that could help him. Traveling from dream to dream, he found the one that he sought. The person was sleeping soundly, and dreamed of a warm, pleasant place. The dreaming version was sitting idly beside a tranquil pond. She looked up without surprise and greeted her visitor.
“Hullo, old bear. It’s been too long since we have met.” Her face was blissful, a great difference from when Barnabus first encountered the woman.
“I apologize for being absent so long.”
“You are a busy bear,” she said fondly. “Please, join me.”
The bear sat next to her and they leaned into one another, sitting in silence for some time.
“What brings you here tonight, old friend?”
“A bear is in danger and I was told to go somewhere for answers. I don’t know what the directions mean. I hope you can assist me as time is critical.”
She smiled wanly.
“Give me the details.”
Barnabus related the conversation to her. When he finished, the woman furrowed her brow in concentration. It was some time before she spoke again.
“You came to the right person, of course. Although the subject isn’t among my specialty, but I do have some knowledge of your destination. The place you must go is Amman in Jordan.”
“This will be quite the journey. It has been some time since having a need to travel so far.”
She smiled and his words.
“I enjoy that you are so trusting that there was no question about how I arrived at the answer. Have you really been to the other side of the world?”
“I have never met a historian so knowledgeable in my life. That’s why I came to you. I have been to various corners of the world during my existence, but never to Jordan. I am not certain what I am looking for, though. Most likely that will resolve itself. The hag seemed certain.”
The woman reached out a bony, aged hand and gently scratched behind Barnabus’ ear. Few people could attempt such an intimate touch with any safety.
The woman had appeared youthful at first, but now her true age was apparent. Reality began to exert itself on her.
“I’m waking up, old bear. Being trapped in my mind is so tiresome.”
“You wake? I thought you were unable to do so?”
“It’s not apparent to those outside and the machines barely show anything, but I do wake after a fashion.”
Barnabus sighed. He had known the woman since she was a child. Knowing that her time was limited left him in sorrow.
“I will return again soon.”
“You skip from crisis to crisis. I understand if you are incapable.”
The bear did something that would have shocked everyone who knew him: He climbed into her lap and snuggled up to the old woman. Tears trickled down her cheeks and held him close for a while.
“You saved me from death, dear one. Go and save others with my eternal love. I can pass secure in the knowledge that I have helped you one last time.
Tears dampened Barnabus’ eyes as he stood up, and reached out a soft hand to brush her tears. He hung his head and left the fading dream.
Barnabus traveled the dreams and nightmares of one person after another, traveling to someone seated in an airplane. He materialized in an unattended corner, staying there through the flight, listening to the dreams and nightmares, addressing the latter as needed. The flight was long, arriving in Europe later, where he resumed his dream journey until he finally arrived at the country of Jordan. The last dream took him to the place of Petra.
Without a definite answer for what he searched for, the bear wandered through the site, admiring the carved structures and caves that covered the stone walls. As he continued, a familiar presence came to his senses. Barnabus began to move with purpose towards the bear he knew was there. He stopped after a while, looking straight ahead. A smile split his muzzle.
“Hello, Teddy.” The warmth of his words were evident.
“Hello Barnabus, my boy.” The speaker was a black teddy bear, his eyes squinting behind thick spectacles. He had a sturdy handshake and a knowing look. Barnabus was not always comfortable with that stare.
“How are you, old bear?”
The bear laughed. It was a jolly sound that ricocheted off the walls.
“Old? You’re one to talk. What brings you here?”
Barnabus related his story to his friend, going back to when he and Marley caught up with Marley after passing through the Garden.
“This catastrophe could easily expand,” Teddy said grimly, “and word must be spread so awareness may be a bulwark against the storm.”
“You think that this is a greater threat than I expected.”
“Barnabus,” the bear said primly, “you are not a fool. Do not understate the situation.”
Barnabus opened his mouth, then shut it again.
“You’re right, of course.”
Teddy sighed. “You are strong enough to take on most anything and are unique, but those who follow you are not. Be more careful about those who travel with you.”
The rebuke was gentle, but Barnabus felt the force behind the words. He nodded silently to the old bear before him and walked over to sit on the steps of a nearby building.
“You know I am doing my best in changing what I was made to be. It would be easier if I were just a teddy bear, but I’m not.
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.”
“It’s still close. Somewhere in the neighborhood, I think,” Bilal said.
“We’ll have a better chance with greater numbers.,” Teddy said. “Bilal, this is Barnabus.”
Bilal approached warily, examining Barnabus with curiosity.
“So, you are him, then. I have heard much of you.” Bilal’s voice was soothing. Barnabus felt calm in the bear’s presence.
“Probably not all of it my best,” Barnabus said wryly.
Bilal smiled, saying, “You are a brave bear. There are some drawbacks, but your dedication is respected.” His tone became troubled, though. “I have heard some upsetting rumors, including one regarding a young bear several days ago.”
Barnabus sighed. “Word travels fast, it seems.”
“You aren’t the only one searching for solutions, Barnabus. Marley has sent word through the dream world to find a means of salvation. I feel that the shaitan that we are hunting might have something of use.”
Barnabus stared in disbelief.
“You mean that is…”
“No, no, it is a shaitan, a spirit that is found in this part of the world.”
“Oh, well, that’s better I suppose,” Barnabus said wryly.
“We’ve already wounded it, my boy,” said Teddy, “so between the three of us we stand a better chance of stopping it.”
“Let’s proceed back down Rainbow Street. That’s the direction it went.”
The trio walked down from the crumbling ruins, again entering the nightlife of the popular avenue. They passed unseen, searching for anything out of place. It was not long before a disturbance at a restaurant caught their attention. Shouts and curses drifted out of the open doors. As they approached, the fracas tumbled into the sidewalk, men and women kicking, biting and swinging punches. Without pausing, Bilal walked into the building, his delicate sword in his hand.
The establishment was chaos. Arguments and fights were everywhere and the place was in shambles. Tables were upended and a few chairs were still being thrown about. The bears slipped through the room, following the sounds of violence. They found the center of the maelstrom on the third floor. The carnage was shocking to even the jaded Barnabus. Bodies were strewn across the floor, though most still moved or groaned. People were beating and clawing at one another, caught in the grip of a madness they will never understand.
All three bears stood still, observing the scene before them. The adversary was present somewhere and it was a short time before the sickley colored outline at the balcony seating. Without a word, the bears began to range out, working their way to surround the creature.
Wooden swords were hefted and Barnabus’s growling slowly cutting through the pandemonium, the shaitan realized that it was being stalked. Before it could again dissolve into mist, Barnabus leapt and grabbed the beast by the throat. His violet eyes blazed and drove the shaitan into a panic, seeing something there that no others could see. The bear threw the monster to the floor, and all three closed in as one.
The shaitan rose to its feet, wisps of smoke still trailing from the stump of arm it waved at them. The gesturing punctuated statements in a guttural language. Teddy and Barnabus cautiously looked toward Bilal, who shrugged.
“I have no clue what it says,” he responded.
The voice rose in anger, the vitriol expressed being apparent. Barnabus lunged forward, causing it to turn in his direction. BNilal and Teddy took the distraction to their advantage, slicing quickly, their swords trailing more of the smoke. The shaitan howled in pain. Barnabus stepped in quickly, slicing deep into the creature’s back.
The trio continued to move in a circular motion, feinting and striking when it was distracted. Each blow drew more smoke, and the shaitan noticeably shrunk as more smoke was released.
The fight was short and left the creature a shriveled and wizened shape. It was a grotesque little thing, looking aged terribly. The fury in the eyes, though, was filled with an energy that the body no longer possessed. The bears stood their ground, each hesitating to attack the dwarfed monstrosity.
“It’s a trick,” said Barnabus. “It will recover and return to causing pain.” Without another word, he swung his sword in a high, overhand stroke that caused the diminutive form to vanish in one last puff of smoke.
Teddy sighed, but Bilal looked on with approval.
“Not many have the wherewithal to complete the task when this happens.” Turning to Teddy, he gave a wan smile. “He did properly. It would have returned to strength eventually.”
Teddy appeared thoughtful, glancing at Barnabus. He seemed to accept his actions.
Where the creature had been was a long, fine knife. Barnabus walked over and bent to pick it up, but Bilal hissed.
“Careful! That is the weapon of a spirit and it will still have something terrible in it.”
Shrugging, Barnabus picked it up and tucked it into his belt. The bear stared at him in shock, but said nothing. His eyes seemed suspicious, though. Ignoring this, Barnabus looked off into the distance.
“There’s a dream nearby that can get me to Europe. I need to return to Montrose.” He looked at the bears. “Thank you for the adventure and I will think of the words you gave me.”
He took several steps before disappearing. Bilal turned to Teddy, but the only response he received was the bear shaking his head.
“Don’t ask me questions. I cannot give you satisfying answers,” he said. Bilal said nothing and the pair walked off to undo what damage they could of the creature’s rampage.