Laticia jumped to her feet, sword in hand, when the door crept open. Barnabus stepped in, followed by the biggest teddy bear she had ever seen. Barnabus stopped and looked around, puzzled.
“Where are Marley and Hamish?”
Laticia glared at him with her one eye.
“Where have you been,” she asked in a flat voice.
Barnabas snorted before replying.
“Yes, it was just a moment to find what we needed so I decided to take a vacation.”
The large bear’s brow furrowed.
“Well, you were on a cruise ship.”
Leticia sucked in her breath to unleash a blistering tirade, but Barnabus interrupted her.
“Latitia, this is Janice, and vice versa. Janice and I hunted a demon on the ship. Can we delay this lovely reunion to cut the damn cords off of Montrose? Yes?”
Without another word, he walked over to the bed, drawing the jinn’s knife. Laying it on the bed, he carefully sliced through the cords on that wrist before moving to remove the rest. After a few minutes they heard a soft groan from the bear. The three watchers gave a collective sigh of relief. Barnabus walked to the chair in the corner and collapsed.
Latitia stood in shock, knowing that teddy bears don’t sleep, but Barnabus had slipped into a stupor. She looked at Janice, but the large bear just shrugged his shoulders and returned to looking after Montrose. She stared at him before speaking.
“Does this not make you curious,” she said incredulously.
He turned back to her, briefly taking his attention from the bear in front of him.
“No. I don’t waste time worrying or clinging to grudges. Neither does me any favors.”
Latitia closed her mouth and remained silent. Janice did not know Montrose, but still fretted over him as an old friend. Wordlessly, she walked over to Barnabus and slipped a footstool under his boots.
A short time later Marley and Hamish returned, both looking haggard, a haunted look in their eyes. Marley looked to the bed, then at the slumbering Barnabus. She exhaled softly and walked over to the corner, pulling Barnabus’s cap low over his eyes, and gently stroked his cheek.
No one spoke, pretending not to see the soft scene before them. Montrose was sitting up with a grim expression. Hamish began filling him in with what he knew, followed by Janice, relating the events on the cruise ship. Once they were finished, Barnabas began to speak although he had not shifted position, telling his story.
“Do you think Ambrose was under an outside influence, or has he betrayed us?”
Hamish began to answer, but Martley interrupted the corgi.
“I am certain it was his choice, but no clue what could have led to it.” The violet eyes of both bears met, holding the gaze for some moments.
Barnabus stood, retrieving the jinn blade.
“We should leave,” he said, “they know where we have holed up. Besides, I want to have a word with the witch.” The bear walked over to Montrose, offering his shoulder. He easily supported the other bear, the pair shuffling out the door with the others close behind. None saw the glassy eyes, blinking with exaggerated lashes, peering through a crack in the wall.
The group moved through the winding streets to Stratha’s basement. The door was stuck, however, leaving everyone awaiting a frustrated outburst from Barnabus. Sensing their stares, he looked around.
“What are you looking at?”
He sighed and leaned back, kicking the door hard, sending a split from top to bottom. Throwing his shoulder into it, the door gave way.
Inside was a room hazy with humidity. The wood around them was creaking as it warped under the unnatural atmosphere. Ahead of them was Stratha, still strapped to the cabinet. She was gasping in the harsh air. Barnabus drew the jinn’s blade and nodded to Hamish, who held the witch’s arms steady while the cords were cut away. It was a slow process to free her, but eventually she was helped away. Hamish and Janice set about destroying the cabinet while Barnabus began investigating the cords.
Latitia and Marley busied themselves with reviving Stratha. She was trying to say something, but was barely audible. Suddenly, Barnabus rushed through the room, grabbing the larger bear and the Corgi. On their way to the door, he grabbed the witch from the floor. Without a word, everyone charged through the door, spending their energy running in blind faith rather than wasting time with words.
Barnabus remained unvocal, but continued running toward nearby portals. As they raced through the streets, dolls began to pour out from buildings they passed. The group accelerated as Barnabus wrenched open the first door he reached.
“Run, you damn fools! It’s a trap!”
Everyone tumbled through the door, with Barnabus slamming it shut behind them. He scratched a series of symbols on the door frame before rushing them onward. They were racing through a field of sunflowers, the idyllic scene in contrast to what they saw before entering the dream.
Wild-eyed, everyone turned a questioning look to Barnabus. The bear was gently setting the witch on the soft grass. The withered half of her body had spread, destroying the remaining vestiges of her youth and beauty. Her traumatized eyes released a constant stream of tears and Barnabus, no fan of Stratha, stared at her with concern and sadness.
The bears gathered around her, sensing that her end was near.
Marley looked at Barnabus, her eyes fixed on his.
“It was all a trap,” he said. “She was the battery for traps all over the world. Those cords stretched through countless dreams and a great many bears are in danger.”
There was a range of emotions on the surrounding faces, ranging from shock to disbelief. Marley, though, had stiffened at his words.
“We must get the word out, warn everyone…”
“It’s too late,” he said, the words soft and bitter, “everyone is on their own. All we can do is gather everyone we can. Teddy is still on the other side of the world. We need him to begin summoning bears.” He stopped, looking at each in turn. “We are at war and need an army.”
Everyone became aware of a barely audible sound. It was Stratha attempting to speak. Barnabus couched, putting his ear to her mouth. He listened, nodding at her words. Abruptly, he stood and began to walk away. Montrose and Janice began to hurry after him, but he shook his head.
“I’ll see you again shortly, but there is something I must do first.” With that, he disappeared into the dream, leaving only a rustle among the flowers.
Marley, feeling numb, crouched down to hear the witch’s words. Her eyes widened in shock and she jerked back, violet eyes glistening.
“What did she say,” Laticia demanded.
“Secrets that aren’t mine to share,” the older bear whispered. “Come. We must make preparations. We may not be able to get out a warning now, but we can begin to gather bears. As she began to drift away, the others fell in beside her. As they walked, the ancient witch began to crumble into dust.