The Nightmare Plague: Bilal, Chapter One

Note: This began as the opening for an intended novel. Whether that stays or not is not yet decided.

The young woman had been walking faster since she realized a man was following her.  The street was nearly empty and the shops were closed, but there was confidence in her ability to escape once she reached the next alley.  Rounding the corner, though, she realized that he was quickly gaining on her.  Plunging into the dark space, the woman began to run.  Behind her was the sound of heavy feet accelerating.  Both stopped when a voice called out.

“Friend, I really have no time for this.  Return to your lodgings with haste.”

The man turned but saw nothing until his gaze lowered.  Before him was what looked like a stuffed bear in western dress, the eyes automatically noting the heavy red boots it wore.

With a snort, the man started to turn back to his quarry when a shooting pain went through his thigh.  As he began to fall, a small plush fist entered his vision before it all went dark.

The woman stared in shock at the little bear, recognizing him after a moment.

“You, she said, a slight quaver to her voice, “I remember you!  You used to drive away my nightmares!”

The bear was taken aback, as shocked as the woman.

“You can see me,” he asked”

“Of course I can!.  Although you do look more like one of those Americans on the adventure reality shows.”  The last bit was followed by a slight giggle.

Sighing, the bear, reached down and pulled the shemagh over his muzzle.

Looking confused after the shock had passed, she examined the russet colored bear.

“Should I not be able to see you?  Are you like a jinn or something?”

“No, I am not a jinn, but you should not be able to see me if I do not wish it to be so.  Things here are getting worse than I had thought.”  The bear peered out of the alley mouth, scanning the street.

“But you were always so gentle when you would come to my aid,” she said.  “You seem less friendly now.”  Her tone was sad and caused the bear to walk to her side.

“My deepest apologies, little one,” he said in a softer tone, “but there is great danger here in the dark and you must be on your way home, swiftly.  I must search out what is happening in Amman before things get worse.”

Crestfallen, the young woman nodded her assent and silently made her way down the alley.  Before she got too far, the bear spoke again, his voice a whisper in her ear:  “Also, my name is Bilal, and I will guard over you as I do all my children.”

The woman moved on, somewhat more reassured than she had been.

Bilal went back to the recumbent form for a closer look.  He was a westerner, possibly European, though the bear was quite uncertain on how to tell the difference among people of the west.  He had been drinking, yes, but not so much to influence such behavior.  While examining the man, a wisp of ash colored smoke began to drift from his mouth, fountaining up into a gauzy double of the unconscious man.

Bilal drew his curved, wooden sword, The Sirocco, and stood at ease, waiting for the emanation to announce itself.  Both creatures stared at one another for some time before impatience took hold of the bear.

“I really, really have no time for this,” he said in an exasperated voice, “what are you and how may I convince you that it is in your best interest to simply leave?”

The form looked puzzled at such a response, taking on a hurt expression.

“I am nothing more than my nature,” it said.  “You are such a rude creature.  No manners at all.”

Bilal raised Sirocco and leaned it against his shoulder.

“I have only been gone a short time and return to find nightmares descending on my city, people behaving strangely, and then I find you controlling a man to do foul deeds.  My patience is a bit stretched at the moment.”

A light of understanding entered the apparition’s eyes.

“Ahh, you are the one they are seeking, the bear with the violet eyes!  For my part, I was not controlling him.  His darkest desires took over and I am nothing more than what he makes me.”

Ignoring the first part, Bilal’s eye narrowed.

“Qareen,” he said, the distaste evident in the tone.

The apparition now looked offended, and made as if to speak again, but was cut short.

“You push the boundaries of behavior, spirit, and you are not a passive passenger.  How many of you are here?”  Receiving no reply, after a moment the bear roared the question again.

The qareen stepped back, fear showing in its eyes.

“We are multitude,” it responded, “and we were invited!”  This last bit was accompanied by a wailing sound.

Bilal’s words were becoming a growl.  He had to make haste, but this was too important to ignore.

“Who invited you?”

The qareen was becoming more agitated as the bear’s fury was mounting.

“The name I was given was Jalil.  I never saw him, I swear this as the truth.”

Bilal remembered himself and drew in several deep breaths.  What happened in Ireland still left him too unsettled.

“I apologize for my temper, but you know that no one has the authority to simply invite every qareen in the country to this place.  Go and trouble this man no further.”

The spirit looked relieved and placed its hand over the heart and, with a bowed head, shuffled off into the night.  Bilal drew in several more deep breaths until he felt a wave of calm pass over him.  He took another glance around the street before slipping out of the alley, his heavy, red boots making no sound.

The bear endeavored to pass through the city unseen, swiftly traveling from shadow to shadow.  If one mortal could see him, it must be assumed that any might be capable of it as well.  A scent that he could only name as electric was in the air, leaving him uncertain about entering the dreamscape or being too overt with most of his abilities as a teddy bear.  If the walls between reality and the dreamscape were falling, too many things could act as a beacon to his presence.

Amman had grown quiet as Bilal traversed the city.  The silence was almost deafening to him in a place where even a calm neighborhood would still see some activity, even at this time of night.  He was close now, though, and hoped the old man was in his office as usual.  A faint sound gave him pause, however, before he could cross the last stretch to the museum.  The sound of wood dragging across stone was just audible, alternating with a soft clinking as though someone was being careless with a set of dishes.

Slipping into a recess in the building next to him, Bilal reached for his sword.  Instead he found his paw wrapped around the shaitan’s dagger that he had taken from a fight that now seemed a distant memory.  He quickly crouched, holding the weapon close to the ground to prevent the dark blade from reflecting any light.

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