Here is part thirteen
Sam comes clean about the dreams he’s been having, but they’re no closer to figuring out what they mean. Cas and the angels he saved, crash land in the bunker. Through the veil, Pamela reaches Sam and they learn what’s happened in heaven, pushing the urgency to reach Lucifer and Michael in the cage to a new level. Rowena grudgingly assists them with a way to find Crowley, who’s gone radio silent. Sam and Dean prepare to go to hell.
Saints in Hell
Fetch the scream eagles
Unleash the wild cats
Set loose the king cobras
And blood sucking bats
Wake the dead, the saints are in hell …
“Oh look. The cavalry has arrived.” Crowley paused in pouring himself a drink. “I’m afraid, darlings, you are just a bit too late.”
The King’s throne room was way cleaner than Dean expected. Looked a lot like a warehouse. The kind you might find in 1600s England but with a strange mix of modern elements thrown in. There were lights and a cart on wheels along side old brick and stone pillars.
A dozen demons surrounded them instantly, black eyes flaring in reaction to the presence of an angel, but Crowley waved a dismissive hand at them and they all backed down and a few steps away.
“Better late than never,” Dean said, completely surprised to not feel the overwhelming sense of dread he expected.
“I’m in a bit of a spot here,” Crowley said and went to the big stuffed purple chair on a dais. Or maybe it was dark blue. The light was weird so it was hard to tell. “The Darkness has taken the first four levels of my kingdom, you see.”
Dean saw where this was going and a glance at Sam, who was gritting his teeth in sudden annoyance, confirmed that he knew it too. “You sold us out.”
“No,” Crowley said. “Not yet. But in very short order, the Darkness and its Queen are going to be at my door. Right there.” He nodded to the entryway behind them. “It’s a matter of survival, boys. Nothing personal.”
“You son of a bitch,” Sam said, demon killing blade in hand as if he meant to use it.
There was a swift displacement of air around them as Cas left and came back in a split second. He had a burlap bag in hand. He dropped it to the floor, reached in, and produced a piece of skeletal finger. He held it up and Dean produced his lighter, lit it, and put the flame to the bone.
“We brought insurance,” Cas said, lowering the bone closer to the flame while Crowley cringed away from something he couldn’t escape.
“A matter of survival,” Sam said.
Dean smirked at that. “Nothing personal.”
“You,” Crowley spat at them. “Where did you—”
“Does it matter? They’re yours. We have them. If you want to live, you’re going to help us get to the cage.”
“They’re soaked in oil, by the way,” Sam said, producing a lighter of his own, which he lit and capped, lit and capped, holding the flame right over the bag of bones. He was enjoying the abject fear in Crowley’s face – a little too much. Dean cast him a glance. They wanted his help, not so pissed that he would throw them to the wolves the first chance he got. Sam closed the lighter. “What’s it going to be, Crowley?”
“You’ll never make it,” he said. “Not with just the three of you. There’s no way.”
“Then how about you nut up,” Dean said, disgusted. “You want to survive? You’re going to have to fight. Clock’s ticking.”
Crowley turned to the nearest lieutenant demon on hand. “Get me 20 of my lads”
“From … the battle, sire?”
“From anywhere. The rest of you lot stay here.”
“And do what, sire?”
“Stall! You’re demons! Make a deal you have no intention of keeping,” Crowley roared at them. “I’ll be back.”
He produced an angel blade, which prompted Cas to produce one of his own. There was zero love lost between the two for certain and no trust at all. Crowley came abreast of Cas, looking at the bag of his bones.
“I want those back.”
They blinked and Cas vanished, only to return without the bag the next instant. “We’ll see.”
“All right,” Dean said. “Let’s do this.”
The hallway Crowley led them to was swarming with devil spawn, ten ahead and ten behind, surrounding them, Dean noted and he didn’t like it. But then, he realized there might be danger coming from all sides and the demons were there as a barrier. He noticed too how Cas got right behind them, protecting their backs.
A strange, low-pitched moan reached their ears a couple steps ahead of entering the next corridor, and that’s when it hit; revulsion, fear, a sense of loathing so powerful it stopped them both on the threshold.
Before them, a room stretched as far as they could see, ahead and to either side, and it was filled with the souls of the damned, every single one of them with black eyes. They were chained, by the neck or by the wrists. There were thousands of them, thousands upon thousands beyond count, stacked up row after row like cordwood.
Crowley paused and then snapped his fingers. Immediately, a central aisle started to open through the middle of the masses, the chains retracting, metal against stone. It was loud, making them both cringe against the noise of it. The moaning only increased as a path opened. The realization dawned that they could get out into the middle of all this and Crowley could vanish with his demons in tow, trapping them there.
Dean felt a hand on his shoulder, the fabric of his jacket clenched. Cas reached for Sam and took him the same way, looking out at where they had to go. He nodded and without a word, let them both know he was there to get them out at the first sign of trouble. That was the only way either of them could take a single step forward into the maelstrom of fear that clothed their minds.
Crowley glanced back at them and smirked. “This,” he said. “This is nothing compared to what’s ahead for you two.”
Dean really wanted to tell him to shut the hell up, but he didn’t want to waste what little breath he could get into his lungs. Instead, he took his own hold of Sam’s jacket, needing the physical assurance that he was there and not an apparition. Already, Dean was seeing things. Every demon face that strayed across his field of vision twisted, or melted, or dripped blood, grotesquely contorted, until it was all he saw. An odor of freshly flayed meat grew with each step. The temperature plunged until they were both shivering from it. And the wailing noise stayed with them.
They walked in the midst of this horror for a whole day. There was no end in sight. When Dean looked back, he couldn’t see where they’d come in, only that the narrow aisle closed behind them as the last demon passed. He realized that of the ten demons that followed, two were missing, and then he saw why. Crowley had brought these demons along to feed the writhing masses. Dean watched as another was taken, hauled down, and ripped to bloody shreds. The others walked along seemingly unaware of their peril, and when Dean looked closer at them, saw that they weren’t paying attention and didn’t notice that three of their fellows were consumed. They stared ahead as if in a trance.
“We need to keep moving,” Cas said because Dean stopped, and gave him a push to get him going again.
Another day passed, or a night. Dean didn’t know anymore. It felt like an eternity, even though in the back of his mind, he knew that hardly any time at all had actually passed topside. Or at least he hoped so. All he knew for certain was that his whole body hurt and it felt like he was walking on two stumps for feet. Sam was limping a little, but he didn’t complain. Dean kept a firm hold on him. It only helped a little.
An arched doorway of ancient stone loomed ahead, distinguishable only because it was a deeper black than the night that surrounded them. The air took on a salty tang. The floor beneath their feet grew slick and treacherous. It wasn’t until they drew closer that they realized the liquid was red, a solid, chunky sheen of it flowing from the hole they were about to pass into.
Crowley stopped on the threshold. Not one of the twenty demons he’d brought along remained. They barely took a step into the passageway when the aisle behind them closed and as one, the entire horde strained toward them. Dean wondered if he’d ever be able to hear the sound of rattling chains and not be brought right back to this place. Ahead of them, the shrieks of distant screams echoed through the tunnel. It was lit by flaming sconces, but it was a dim light that hardly cut the surrounding black.
“Take these,” Crowley said and handed them both a hex bag. These were larger than the ones they already carried. He paused, looking from Dean to Sam, and for a moment, he was hesitant, sympathetic even. “This is where they kept your brother for 40 years. The hex bags will help with the abject terror of the place, but not the memories of it.” He smirked then, the usual glib returning. “So gird your loins, boys. If you even have a happy place, I’d advise going there now.”
The walls to either side of them vanished, and they were confronted by another seemingly endless tableau. The sound of souls being tortured struck them like a body blow. Sam stopped a step inside, gagging from the putrid smells that filled their nostrils and burned their lungs. Racks, meat hooks, an endless web of wire stretched over their heads and filled every available space. Blood and body parts, flayed skin, fingers, whole limbs lay strewn across the floor.
Memories of this place filled Dean. With every scream, images of being tortured paraded through his mind, strung up on hooks, or strapped to a rack, or locked in a suspended cage for days and days on end while he watched others get flayed open. These were human souls, all of them, not yet demons, being tortured by other human souls. Everywhere he looked, he saw himself with a blade in his hand, slicing away at them. It was how demons were made, twisted by pain and fear, then tempted by the only coherent thought left; escape.
“Do you know how long it takes to make a demon?” Crowley said as he made his way through the mire, gingerly stepping around a grisly pile of innards. He glanced back at them.
“You know, we don’t really care,” Sam snapped at him.
“About two years, Hell time of course. Not even that,” Crowley went on, ignoring Sam. “Barely a blink of an eye, topside. It’s why there’s so damn many of them. Only two souls in the entire history of damnation ever lasted longer.”
They both realized who those two souls were. Maybe it was encouragement. Maybe it was a reminder that one of those two had broken, and had at long last finally turned into a demon. It wasn’t something Dean would ever be proud of – lasting as long as he had. In the end he’d failed.
Sam turned to him, looking ahead at what they had to face to get to the cage. “I don’t want you to do this,” he said. “Crowley can take you back. I’ll have Cas. You don’t have to do this.”
Dean started shaking his head before Sam finished. He recognized the danger. Going through this level of hell would once again indelibly mark him. The danger to his soul now was tenfold. He knew all that. He knew Sam was right. He probably shouldn’t go.
Just as equally soul breaking though, was the thought of leaving Sam to do this on his own, and even with Cas, Dean still looked at it that way. He couldn’t do it. He also knew that Sam had it in his head that he was going to say yes to Lucifer, and somehow control the monster. Dean couldn’t let him face that alone. He figured he had enough juice left to see them all through this latest nightmare. Maybe Sam would never forgive him for, in effect, ending his existence. What Sam didn’t understand was that it would end anyway if Dean stayed behind. It was yet another no win situation.
“Sam, I can’t do it and it won’t make any difference for me to stay here and let you go. I’d rather face it with you.”
“Dean—” That was from Cas, who clearly agreed with Sam.
“The only way out is through,” Dean reminded them. He pointed into the maelstrom. “Through is that way.”
They both recognized the futility of arguing. Sam understood the double-edged sword they were up against. Secretly, Dean hoped he could get the answer from Michael. He was an archangel. Maybe he knew more about souls than regular angels. Of course, Michael had no reason at all to help him, considering the history there.
With clear reluctance to go along with it, Sam nodded. “Through it is then.”
It was so easy to say.
It became a constant mental battle to put one foot in front of the other, starting almost the instant Dean stepped beyond the archway. Every instinct of self-preservation kicked in. He felt Sam and Cas beside him, and that was the only reason he could keep moving. He heard his brother’s voice, but couldn’t understand the words. All he heard were the screams of souls being tortured. All he saw was himself, razor in hand, slicing into them, tearing them apart the same way he’d been torn apart, piece by piece. All he could remember was how much he liked it. On some level he understood that what he’d done in hell was a matter of survival. There was the added knowledge that they’d paid particular attention to him in the most horrific way possible to make him break so they could have their apocalypse. But this place had changed him into a different person. It had changed how he viewed everything. This was where the demon came from. That man was an animal, a monster he didn’t want to be reacquainted with ever again.
Somewhat abruptly, Cas was with him in a bubble of golden light. They walked on a green patch of grass inside the strange sphere. Dean meant to stop, bewildered by the immediate cessation of everything horrific, but Cas put a hand to his back and kept him moving.
“What is this? Where’s Sam?”
“He’s here. Sam?”
Sam stepped into the bubble, tense and afraid but trying to hide it. “I’m right here. Listen—”
“What the hell is happening?”
“You were starting to … um…”
“Freak out, is the appropriate term, I think,” Cas supplied when Sam hesitated. “I’m in your head.” He nodded to Sam. “Go on. I’ll explain.”
Sam nodded and disappeared.
“What the hell, Cas. Let go of me.”
“You can’t do it, Dean. No. You can’t. I knew it wasn’t likely, and I knew you wouldn’t like this solution, but it’s the only one. So Sam is going to lead us through this level. If you think about it, you can still feel that he has hold of your arm. He’s not alone. I’m with him. He can talk to you any time he wants and you can talk to him, but for the duration, you’re in here with me. When we get to the seventh level, it’ll be Sam in here, because he won’t make it through to the cage otherwise. This place is not meant for living humans to endure, but especially not souls who’ve been here before. Don’t be so stubborn that you can’t accept help or think that you’re indestructible. You aren’t, and I’m going to do whatever I have to, to help keep you and your brother safe.”
“Do I get a say in this? What makes you think Sam can handle this level? He was here longer. He might be more screwed up than I am.”
“This isn’t his hell. It’s yours. And the big difference – you remember it all. What did you see?”
Dean didn’t want to answer and Cas noted his hesitation.
“You saw what you did. What you became,” he answered for him. “The hallucinations started the moment we entered hell, didn’t they.”
“All right. I get it. But leaving Sam and Crowley out there together is—”
“Crowley is gone. He left when we entered.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. That son of a bitch!”
“He’s under attack. Amara and the Darkness are nearly here. He said he was going to stall.”
“Do you believe him?”
“No,” Cas said bluntly. “This way if he does help, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
It was true and it sucked. Dean wanted to believe Crowley would continue to assist them. He thought all the King of Hell really wanted was everything back to the way it had been, but the possibility existed that he’d see an opportunity to make an alliance with the Darkness. For all Dean knew, maybe that was his end game all along, in getting Dean to take the Mark. If that was the case, the likelihood of them reaching the cage was not good.
“Look, if this goes into the shitter, you have to let me fight. Just put a gun in my hand and tell me where to shoot. Sam has to get to the cage. You have to get him there and you might have to leave me here to do it.”
“That’s not an option.”
“It has to be, Cas. You’re the only one who can protect Sam from his hell.”
“I won’t do it.”
“I never said you should leave me here forever. I can hold out for long enough if I have to. Go check on him,” he said, looking at the oddity of his surroundings. “I’ll just hang out here on this patch of grass.”
Cas frowned at him. “It’s all I can manage at the moment, in that mess of a mind of yours. I’ll be right back.”
The next instant Sam stumbled into the same space, as if he’d been thrown, bumping into him, which pushed Dean into an invisible barrier that reverberated all around him.
“What did you say to him?” Sam wanted to know.
“I think I pissed him off.”
“I don’t know, all right. Why did he throw you in here?”
“He didn’t say.”
“This is weird.”
Sam nodded, looking around at the enclosure. They kept moving, since Cas seemed to think it was important. The ground never changed. It was very close quarters though. Sam had to walk sideways. “It definitely goes down as one of the stranger things we’ve ever dealt with.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Better than out there.”
“I mean, what am I, a zombie? Walking through hell oblivious?”
“I want out.”
“Not going to happen.” Sam smiled then, and even laughed at Dean’s discomfort. “He isn’t going to listen to you. Just be glad he didn’t knock you out and throw you over his shoulder.”
Dean recognized that Cas wouldn’t be swayed, and definitely didn’t want to end up out cold. He wouldn’t put it past the angel to do it too. He didn’t like it though and said so again.
“Honestly, I don’t know how much more of it I could have taken either, Dean.”
“So the two of you decided this was the plan? What if he’s completely fried by the time we get to the cage? What then? Doing this limits our options to get out to just one way, saying yes.” Sam cast him a look. “Oh I get it. You’ve already decided that’s the plan.”
“Just slow down a minute. Cas decided this part. He’s the last person who wants either of us to say yes, so I think he’s keeping all that in mind for when we get there. And I haven’t decided anything. I just don’t think it can be avoided. The Darkness has taken heaven. It’s trying to take hell. Nothing will stop it if it does, and the new world order will just suck for everyone left, including us. Do you have another plan? A different plan?”
Dean grudgingly admitted that he didn’t. Not one that was really viable.
“All this is just a bit above our pay grade,” Sam said.
“Just a bit.”
Dean heaved an annoyed sigh at the entire mess. They kept walking, mostly in silence though after a while Dean tried lightening the mood by cracking a few ridiculous jokes.
“What did the green grape say to the purple grape?”
“Please stop,” Sam said after a long string of not very funny ones.
“Breathe damn it, breathe!”
Sam laughed, more because Dean was being annoying on purpose, so he kept going. “Two guys walk into a bar. The third guy ducks … What did one hat say to another? You stay here, I’ll go on … ahead. Oh and how about this one—”
“Hey Cas,” Sam said. “I think I’ll take my chances out there.”
“What is it?” Cas said, appearing beside them.
“I slept with a woman who cooked a ton of pasta last night. She gave me … carbs.” Dean grinned at him.
Cas paused in the forward march, his eyes narrowing. Dean wasn’t sure he got it. He only rolled his eyes and disappeared as quick as he’d come. That made Sam laugh again.
“God, stop it!”
Sam threw his head back. “Ya who?”
“Sorry, I prefer google.”
“I’m not doing it.”
“King Tut,” Dean said and nudged him. He was pretty sure Sam knew the answer to this one and all the other ones for that matter because he’d heard every single bad, stupid, inane joke Dean had ever told. “King Tut-key fried chicken!”
Sam laughed and Dean laughed with him. They were still laughing when the golden glow ebbed around them and they were back in terror filled halls. The sound of that laughter carried, a sound not heard before in the depths of hell and for a moment there was silence. A breath of air moved across them that wasn’t filled with a putrid stench. And there was light.
There was Cas, glowing like a candle, powered up to the point the air vibrated around him, and he was looking at them, as he sometimes did when he was pleased about something, maybe with them, smiling at them. He shook his head and nodded over his shoulder, his amusement lessening.
“This is the seventh level,” he said toward a solid wall of black. They couldn’t see anything. “Sam, you should—”
“No Cas,” he said and glanced at Dean. “I’m good. We’ve got this. Listen.”
They waited for him to go on but Dean realized he meant to actually listen. “To what?”
“I can hear him.”