“Can I touch it?”
“It bites, and it’s got claws that are usually filthy.”
“But if I’m careful –“
“Then it’ll be that much easier for it to bite and scratch you. I have no antibiotics with me, and I doubt very much that there are any down here in these caves. You might well die from whatever it’s got living under its claws, David.”
David pulled back the hand that was starting to reach out to the mewling teddy bear and looked nervous. Isabella didn’t think he looked anywhere near nervous enough considering how lethal she knew the teddy-bears to be, but was fairly certain that the only way he’d learn was to be attacked by one. She looked around the room again; teddy-bears rarely travelled on their own, preferring packs. They were only little – teddy-bear sized, suitable for children – but enough of them could bring an adult down.
“Can you tell it that we’re not going to kill it? It keeps crying.”
“Don’t Izzy! me, David. I’m not telling it that because we might just have to kill it yet. There are probably more of them on their way, and we can’t just walk out of this side of things because we don’t know what’s back on our side. We need to find out and fast. If this one tries to leave, tell me. If any more turn up, tell me.”
“What are you going to be doing?” David turned round to look at her, and Isabella, who’d been waiting for this, glared at him. “Look at the damn bear, David!”
“I just wish you’d tell me what you’re doing instead of being so secretive all the time!” He turned back to the bear though, which retracted its claws and started mewling again.
“I’m looking for a doorway to look through,” said Isabella. “And when I find the right one, we’re going back through it.” She took the Brinchev Kris in her hand, and slowly waved it through the air, feeling how it seemed to catch here and there as the sensitive blade identified the thin points where the two sides were closest together. There was a small group of them in the direction of the mantlepiece, and she stepped that way, passing the knife in front of her constantly, feeling the pressure changes and adjusting her step accordingly. As she reached the fireplace the sensations thickened and she turned the knife slightly, letting the blade grip. As she sliced down a fire sprang to life in the fireplace, and she knelt and peered into the flames.
For a moment there was just the yellowish-orange of the flames and then there was a second image superimposed on top, of the side of a cave. There was a path visible leading into the mouth of a tunnel, and as she watched an electric car like a golf-buggy motored out of the mouth of the tunnel. There were three people in the car, all wearing grey uniforms with little red-and-yellow insignia at the collars. She cursed softly and stepped back; the fire went out as she moved out of range.
“What was that?” asked David, this time not letting his gaze move from the teddy-bear. It peered at him between its fingers, but didn’t stop mewling.
“Trouble,” said Isabella. “I think we did the right think coming over to this side when we did, but I think we did the wrong thing coming here at all.” She passed the knife around her slowly, feeling for the next opening. The knife didn’t respond. “Oh damn, this is locally solid.”
“We need another room,” said Isabella. “This is locally solid; it’s probably not going to move relative to our side for a few hours. And we probably haven’t got them, given that this thing is here.”
“What does that mean though?” David sounded plaintive.
“We go on to the next room,” said Isabella. “How did this one get here? Portrait?”
“Yes, but it’s gone now,” said David. “Which doesn’t happen of course, so I think it was probably just a revolving section of wall with the portrait on the other side.”
“Right,” said Isabella, her voice heavy with sarcasm. OK, let’s check over here then….”
The knife sliced into the plaster of the wall like it was wet and fresh rather than its real old-and-dusty state, and the wall seemed to flicker for a moment. Then a door appeared, white-painted with drips still visible, and Isabella cracked it open a little and peered round the edge.
“Ok,” she said. “You go through. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
“What are you going to do?” asked David, turning away from the teddy-bear to look at her.