Voices churned around her like crows over a battle field. Hungry. Noisy. Determined to have their say.
“They must be stopped!”
“My trees are dead!”
“We cannot allow them to get away with this!”
“The whole town was burned!”
“Children are being devoured!”
“This is not our battle! We should not have to pay for their anger!”
On and on went the words and the anger as one god after another shouted to any who would listen.
Hella, Lady of Helheim, Consealer of the Savior-Son, Daughter of Loki and Watcher of Gods, listened, as she always did with one ear to the words and the other ear, the one no eye could see, to what they didn’t say.
The gods were scared.
Yahweh and his children had scared them.
This should not have been possible.
In all the years since the White God and his Father had come out of the desert sands, and been taken up by nearly half the peoples of Midgard, this was the first time one of their wars had brought so much destruction that it threatened the very balance of everything the gods held precious.
This should not have been possible. Yet here it was.
Around her the gods of a dozen dozen realms cried about the chaos carving up their lands. They had put aside their differences to come to this hotel, magicked back into a state of prosperity by Mercury, in a land most of them knew only as immigrants, brought along with their worshipers centuries ago. Some had never even walked its length and breadth, smelled its uniqueness or tasted its gifts. They were here by the grace of this land’s guardian and trickster extraordinaire Wiskatchekwa.
But Wiskatchekwa was not laughing today.
The High One most honored by the tribes of the area now called Indiana was sitting at the head of the circle of gods, listening. His face was a mask of stillness but underneath Hella could feel the raging current of anger. This angelic war was happening on his lands more than any others’. He was listening now, and would speak later, for all the North American immortals and gods when the time came for council and planning.
“Our people are dying!”
“Who will pay us homage when Yahweh and his kin are done with their games? We have lost too much to their kind already!”
“Our children trust us to keep them safe, but how can we when angels kill angels?”
Hella had seen the dead as they came through her Hall. Converts to the White or not, the great-grand children of her worshipers still made their way to her first to be washed and honored for their sacrifices before finding their way to whichever afterlife their soul desired. And she had shrouded her form in human normalcy to walk among them to see the shadowed forms of dead angels burned like scars into modern roads while the smoke of demons was forced from human bodies. She knew the cost of the current war in all its faces.
Hella turned her half-living glance way from the gods to the book in her lap. It was one of the oldest tomes in her library, older even than some in Odin’s hall. It had been a gift from the Lord Shiva one night after he had danced through her bed. He’d kissed the cold bone of her cheek, waved his hand and it had appeared. He was more fond of magic tricks like that than many gods she knew. When she’d told him as much, he’d merely laughed, kissed her living cheek, and vanished.
There was something hidden in the book that she needed, she could feel it. Her fingers, bleached bone on one hand and supple flesh on the other, itched as they gently turned the large, fragile pages.
She turned another page and stopped, feeling a different urging from across the room. Looking up, she saw Shiva, with his divine partner Shakti beside him, watching her. His ashen skin looked dull and cold in the even in the warmth of the conference room’s artificial light. His eyes were dark and he was not smiling, not calm. He was as disturbed in his own way as the others were.
Hella nodded her head once. Shiva blinked and turned away.
Her hands turned another page before her eyes had moved. As she looked down she saw what Shiva had secreted into her keeping so long ago.
Kin of White Desert Lord fight
bringing ash and blood to Midgard’s fields;
Three shall seal the gates,
golden threads wound tight-wise round
Four Guardians shall hold,
Discordant notes weaving strongest knots
Two sons scarred and strong,
bow not to siren song of wing and claw
Then will the seasons be restored
Till Ragnorak come again.
She read the words over several times feeling her way through their meaning. It was clearly a prophecy of some kind. The tone of the words reminding her of an oracle who was deep in trance. The language was just vague enough to refer to any number of combinations of people, places and times, but it felt right for where they found themselves now. Of course she knew that was part of the trick of prophecy see what you wished to see and not what you needed to see.
Hella raised her head from the page as the voices around her distilled down to one.
“It is those two Winchester boys!” Zao Shen said, candy wrappers scattering as he slammed his fist against the table. “Without them, neither side would have a host to fight over. There would be no battle left!”
“Yes, we know all about this theory,” Loki said.
Hella turned toward her father and stared. Of all the gods he was the most calm. As a trickster there was usually some level of chaos running like a breeze around him while he stood still at the center, but this was more. Hella knew her father well. There was much he was not saying. Not yet, at least.
“Where the Winchesters go, trouble follows,” Zao Shen insisted.
“The Winchesters are not the problem,” Loki countered with a wave of his hand.
“Then what, or who is?” Odin asked. Of all the Norse gods, he had the most respect for Loki’s judgment. Where Hella could see the others shifting in their seats, Odin’s single eye was regarding Loki with curiosity. Any anger Hella perceived from the High One of the Asir, was still tinged with frustration at the angels and demons, not at his blood-brother.
“The angels. Lucifer and Michael specifically.”
“But the demons and ang-“ Zao Shen began.
Loki cut him off with another wave. “I know, I know. The demons kill the angels, the angels kill the demons and everywhere they go they leave death and destruction. Not my point.”
“Then what is your point, father?” Hella asked.
“My point, daughter-mine,” Loki said rising from his seat to wander a seemingly aimless path around the room, “is that all the fighting and the mess is just a symptom of a larger problem. The angels and demons are only fighting because the higher ups in each organization told them too, and the higher ups only told them to because…”
Loki stopped, his back turned to the others.
“Because why?” Hella asked, when no one else would.
Loki pivoted slowly on one heel and looked directly at her. “Because they are bored.”
The room erupted as each god tried to be heard over the other, screaming their anger at having their world used as a playground. Loki continued to stare at Hella, waiting.
She stared back, watching his face, the set of his eyes and the way he held himself – rigid and yet apparently at ease. He wore a mortal form, smaller than his etheric Jotun body. It looked strange to her eyes, almost pixie-like, with its soft brown hair, instead of long black braid. This body had a much shorter and frailer frame than what she had grown up climbing on and running through the woods with. The Loki she knew was a giant of a man, even to her adult self. He was telling her something with every choice he had already made. It was in his clothes, the rough human trappings, and the knife-that-was-not-a-knife hidden within them.
She looked down at the book in her lap, seeing the words of the prophecy once again, puzzle pieces locking into place.
When she looked back up her father was on the other side of the room, whispering in Odin’s ear.
The gods were still arguing but in patches now.
Hella rapped the knuckles of her boney hand on the table before her.
“Father-mine, once again you have chosen to stir a pot that needed no further seasoning,” she said into the silence.
Loki smiled and bowed his head.
Hella went on. “Bored or not, the kin of angels seek to bring about their Apocalypse, which will bring nothing good for any of us.”
Heads bobbed in agreement around the room.
“Each of us carry tales of the end of the world,” the gods around her began to murmur. “We all know that epochs end and new cycles begin.” She paused to look across at Shiva and Kali and then to Zeus, who raised an eyebrow at her before looking away.
“But none of these stories are ever about boredom or merely our amusement. Ragnorak will come when it is meant to come, not because some children have been left alone too long.”
“Your words ring with truth, Watcher of the Dead,” Wiskatchekwa’s gravely voice cut through the rumbles around them. “Since we agree on the problem, how shall we deal with these misbehaving children?”
Hella bowed her head toward Wiskatchekwa and then raised the book from her lap to the table. “There is a prophecy that may hold the key.”
“Of course there is,” Athena said with a roll of her eyes. Hella ignored her.
“It speaks of two sons who will not bow to the lure of wing and claw.”
“Wing and Claw?” Kali asked, then answered herself, nodding her head. “Angel and demon.”
“Yes. If this prophecy relates to this time, then yes. Two men who will not submit to the will of the angels and the demons or perhaps to a specific pair of angels and demons.”
“Lucifer and Michael,” Wiskatchekwa said, ancient fingers clasped on the table before him.
“And you think the two sons are the Winchesters?” Kali asked.
“They are called scarred and strong in the verse. That sounds like Dean and Sam Winchester. The angels and demons have tested and nearly destroyed both men more times than should be possible.”
Loki stepped into the center of the room. “I’ve seen the Winchesters defy both Lucifer and Michael more than once. They were bred to be vessels, yet they refuse to grant either angel permission to use them as hosts.”
“So then that part of the prophecy is complete,” Ghanesha said.
“No,” Hella replied. “If it were, then Lucifer and Michael would not still be a threat. Their apocalypse would not still be unfolding around us.”
“Then what?” The Baron Samedi asked.
“Sam and Dean will give in,” Loki replied. “The angels have seen this. They know it will happen. Sam will give in to Lucifer first, and when that happens, Dean will follow and give Michael his vessel to destroy what has hurt his brother. They know this will happen, and they are waiting for it.”
“Then what is the point of your prophecy?” Ghanesha asked, waving his hands in frustration toward the book.
Hella looked at the elephant god of grace and prosperity. “The point is that it is ours. It is magic the angels do not understand. This is our magic and with it we can change the tide of this battle in our favor.”
“How?” Athena asked, the strategist in her overriding her skepticism.
Hella looked at Loki. Her father smiled and nodded.
“Change the vessel, change the rules,” Hella said.
“Give the Winchesters a third option,” Loki said.
The flashing motel sign was a fucking blessing when it appeared through the pouring rain. Dean couldn’t care less if it was a rat infested- well not hell-hole, but almost anything else would have been fine, by that point. He was just sick of driving in the dark on slick back roads surrounded by long stretches of nothing interspersed with idiot drivers. He wanted a beer, a burger and a dry bed. A nice chick in that bed wouldn’t be bad either, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. He’d take dry and fed over most anything else at this point. So the Elysian Fields motel on some barren stretch of road outside of Muncie, Indiana? Fucking perfect.
The fact that the motel turned out be one of the swankiest joints he and Sam had been to in like ever was just icing on the damn cake.
“Whew. Nice digs, for once,” Dean said looking around.
The place looked like some retro upscale 60’s beatnik heaven with chrome and red accents and pale gray walls. There were weird chairs that he thought looked like something one of Sam’s wanna-be girl friends would have loved – straight out of an art museum for modern freaks. They didn’t look all that comfortable, but they did kinda go with the whole look.
The lack of padding on the couch didn’t appear to be a problem for the couple making out on it though.
Dean looked at Sam and grinned. Sam just shrugged, wringing water from his jacket. It was raining so hard, they’d gotten drenched just getting from the parking lot to the front door. Fucking rain storms.
At the front desk the insanely chipper attendant, dressed as some weird Hollywood-like idea of a bellhop complete with perky little cap, nodded as they approached.
“Busy night,” Dean said, glancing back at the couple on the couch.
The attendant smiled, and there was something in his grin that set Dean’s teeth itching.
“Any port in a storm, I guess,” the attendant said with a smile. “How many nights?”
“Just one.” Dean looked at Sam who shrugged so Dean added, “depends on the rain.”
“Of course.” The attendant nodded and produced a card and pen with a flourish. He pushed them both across the counter to Dean. “If you could just fill this out, please.”
“Yeah.” Dean started on the form and then looked up. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a coffee shop, would you?
The attendant smiled and pointed to his right. “Buffet. All you can eat. Best pie in the tri-state area.”
“You don’t say?”
The hallway was glaringly bright around her. White walls, white floor, white pipes overhead. This far underground it should have been dark and dank but the humans feared the dark so they put lights everywhere, even in their basements. Especially in their basements.
Hella followed behind the silent earth sprite that Mercury had sent to lead her to this meeting. The sprite’s loamy smell and dappled brown skin was like a taste of home and peace among the alien-ness of the concrete around her. Hella longed to hug the sprite to her chest and drink in its earth scent, but she knew it would only hiss and spit at her before vanishing in a flash of claws. Sprites hated to be caught in any way. The fact that they were willingly aiding Mercury as messengers said volumes about how bad things had gotten on Earth.
The sprite stopped at T-intersection and sniffed both hallways, then dashed away to the right. Hella sighed. They were also completely unreliable and utterly predictable.
Hella turned and followed the sprite down the hallway. Several man-lengths down there was a door with a smudge of dirt that might have been a hand print. Opposite was a leaking steam pipe. Ah, Hella thought, so that’s what spooked the sprite, human made steam. She shook her head and opened the door.
The basement room was gloriously dark after the brightness of the hallway and it took a moment for Hella’s eyes to adjust to the change. As they did, she could see that there was a small cauldron on one table with a smokeless fire burning quietly in one corner. Its flames sent shivers of gold and orange up the wall and across the face of the woman Hella had come to see.
The woman sat stock still in a tall wooden chair between the cauldron and a large window. Her clothes were fine linen, dark blue and black, trimmed with what Hella knew would be hand embroidered cross-stitch ribbons. The woman was a Seeress, a Seiðr-kona in the old tongue. Hella had spoken to this particular Seiðr-kona from both sides of the veil on more than one occasion. The woman was good at seeing the visions and speaking only what she saw, not what she hoped to see.
Hella nodded, pleased, then looked over at the window that-was-more-than-a-window, which was the other reason for her visit. Kali and the Baron Samedi stood before the window looking at the view beyond.
In the room on the other side of the two-way glass a body was strapped to a metal bed frame. It thrashed as though trying push its way through something. Its face was contorted, words flowing out as it talked to figures not present in the room. The skin of the body, where it could be seen through its clothes, was gray and covered in lesions, some broken open and oozing a mix of blood and other, less pleasant substances. Its short cropped hair looked singed in some places.
“He looks terrible,” Kali said, giving voice to what they were all thinking.
“Lucifer’s temporary vessel is disintegrating,” the Baron said, not looking away from the archangel twitching on the bed. “It cannot last much longer, especially not if he continues to push it as he has been.”
A burst of silver light flowed through the holding cell illuminating a set of inscriptions painted in ancient Theban lettering on every wall. A second light flared, blue this time, revealing inscriptions drawn in old Norse runes. The light flared a third time, in red and gold to illuminate an array of Sandscript symbols around the room.
The symbols and letters shimmered for a moment and then faded into the walls of the cell.
“The Wards are set,” Mercury said as he popped in beside the other gods.
Kali glared at the Roman trickster but said nothing. The Baron nodded.
“Then let us begin,” Hella said.
Taking a calming breath, Hella stepped over to the Seeress. She touched her hand to the drum that appeared in the air and a rhythm like that of a heartbeat pulsed through the small room.
Hella turned to face the woman in the chair and held her hands out before her.
“Seeress. Old one. Cunning One. By my will and by name, I bid you seek. Follow the visions inward and downward. Travel the path of wisdom and give voice to what you see.”
The one in the chair shivered and let out a sigh. Her glove covered hands gripped the ends of her chair’s arms as her body jerked and her head shot up and back. The veil covering her face slid off just enough to reveal her lips, pinched and chapped around the edges.
“The way is dark,” The Seeress said, her voice distant and insubstantial. “Shadowed and long. Fire blocks the way, rives flood, mountains crumble, children cry and your great hall fills with souls ripped untimely from their bodies.” The Seeress shuddered. “Madness walks the worlds and sorrow follows in its wake.”
The Seeress went silent and it seemed as if the room itself was waiting for her to speak again.
“What would thou knowest, Lady of Shadows?” the Seeress asked at last.
“The one who lies beyond this window, the archangel Lucifer, show us what he dreams.”
The Seeress gasped and jerked in her chair. “Lady, please, no.” Her voice this time was softer, more human, more the woman who knew the danger she faced than the Seiðr-kona who did her Mistresses bidding.
Hella pressed her hands forward. “Tell me what he dreams.”
The Seeress shook her head back and forth hard enough to knock the veil from her head.
Hella pressed in again, her hands clenching in the air. “Tell me, Seeress.”
The Seeress went rigid in her chair, her eyes wide. Her mouth opened and words began to tumble out, just a jumble of mixed up sounds at first then settling into distinct voices.
A man’s voice, rich and haughty saying, “Checking in.”
Another replying, “Lucifer, thanks for coming.”
Behind her, Mercury gasped. “That sounded like me!”
“Yes, it did,” The Baron said.
The Seeress was still spewing voices, the first one again, Lucifer, “ –did right calling me.”
“It’s just, the way the talk is heading in there. It’s... it’s insane!”
Mercury bristled again behind Hella. “I never said that. I swear. I didn’t call him here.”
“You know,” the Lucifer voice said, lazy and sly. “I never understood you pagans, always fighting, always happy to sell out your own kind. No wonder you forfeited this planet to us. You are worse than humans. You’re worse than demons. And yet you claim to be Gods.”
There was a crack followed by a thud, like a something heavy falling to the ground.
“And they call me prideful,” the Lucifer voice said.
“No, you did not call Lucifer here,” the Baron said into the silence. “If you had, that would have been your vessel’s real neck he had just snapped.”
“So he’s dreaming that he just killed me?”
The Baron looked through the window at Lucifer’s twitching body. “Dreaming, hallucinating, praying. Take your pick. As broken down as that vessel is, it could be any or all of those.”
Hella turned back to the Seeress. “Be my eyes, young one. See what Lucifer sees and alert me if he should break from his dreams.”
Hella took one of the Seeress’ hands, turned it over and placed a clear crystal in the woman’s palm.
The Seeress shivered. Her fingers clutched at the stone. At last she nodded.
“Sam, unpucker, man,” Dean said setting his pie on the table and sitting down across from his brother. His brother who was dragging a fork through a nearly full plate of food. “Eat something.”
Sam looked up, that damn I’ve got a bad feeling crease between his brow. “We should hit the road, Dean.”
“In this storm? I-it’s-“
“It’s biblical. Exactly. I-it’s friggin’ Noah’s ark out there, and we’re eating pie.”
“How many hours of sleep did you get this week?” Dean asked, pushing his pie away. Damn it now he wasn’t hungry for pie, how the hell was that even possible? “What? Three? Four? Bobby’s got his feelers out, okay? We have talked with every hoodoo man and root woman in 12 states.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not giving up.”
“Nobody’s giving up. Especially me. We’re gonna find a way to beat the devil, okay? Soon. I can feel it. And we will find Cas, we’ll find Adam. But you are no good to me burnt out.”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay,” Sam said at last.
“Come on, we’ve actually got the night off for once. Let’s try to enjoy it.”
The hostess, a cute young thing with a long blonde pony-tail bouncing down her back and the brightest spring green eyes Dean had ever seen (too bad she looked young enough to be jail-bait), came by with another slice of pie for each of them.
“Dinner’s on the house gentlemen.”
Sam’s head popped up and then swiveled to Dean. They never got comped at restaurants. Not without a damn good reason, or rather, usually a damn bad reason.
“That’s very nice miss, but –“ Sam said.
“Not a problem.” She smiled and Dean could swear he could smell fresh grass. Her name tag said: Kore, weird. “Oh, and this is for you as well.”
She slipped a note out of her apron and onto the table between them then turned and walked away.
“What was that?” Sam asked before Dean could.
They both looked at the envelope on the table.
“I guess we should open it,” Sam said.
“Just one night. One damn night off.”
“It could be something good.”
“Really Sammy? Really? With our luck?” Dean asked.
Sam looked away and then back to the envelope. “No, you’re right.”
Sam grabbed the note and tore it open quickly. The pale cream paper fell away with a soft sigh. Inside was a card. It looked hand made and hand written even. All fancy gold lettering and shit.
Sam read the card aloud: “The honor of your presence is requested in the Orange Blossom Ballroom. Eight pm this evening.”
“What the hell? The honor of our presence?” Dean said with a scowl. “Since when do demons, or angels for that matter, request anything? Last I checked they were too busy talking over us to bother with asking nicely, let alone write it up with little swirly letters.”
Sam shook his head, his eyes still on the card. “No idea.”
Dean looked at his watch. 7:45pm “Shit. Of course.”
“So, do we go?” Sam asked.
“Do we have a choice?”
They both looked around the very crowded restaurant. They were surrounded by targets and hostages. Whoever set this up had planned things very well.
The doors to the Orange Blossom Ballroom opened as Dean and Sam approached. Dean could hear voices coming from just inside, more than he wanted, but nothing distinct and hopefully not more than they could handle.
Just on the other side of the doors, two men stepped in front of them wearing … costumes of some sort. Long shirts without buttons or zippers any where Dean could see and trimmed with thick bands of twisty stuff at the hem, wrists and collar. They were hairy fuckers with beards and long braids, which should have made them look really girly but only added to their overall bad-ass-looking-ness, that and the very big swords strapped to their backs, the hilts of which showed just over their shoulders.
“Whoa… back off there sons of Conan,” Dean said, hands up to ward the Viking boys off and to show he was (mostly) unarmed. “We were invited.”
“Uh, yeah.” Sam held up the card.
“It’s alright,” said a voice from the far side of the room. Dean couldn’t see who it belonged to with the bulky boys in his way, but it sounded female and sexy.
“Hugin, Munin,” another voice, male this time, cold as a wind and gravelly like a favorite grandfather, “let them pass.”
The two guards turned and each took one step back, just enough to let Dean and Sam walk between them and into the room. Nice. Dean smirked as he walked past.
“Welcome, guys.” A third voice said, this one from behind Dean and Sam, startling them both, though Dean would deny that until the end of days (no matter when that actually turned out to be). They turned at the voice and Dean shook his head.
“Trickster, we shoulda figured…” Dean said.
“Well, yes, you probably should have. But enough about me. How do you like our little party?” Trickster said, spreading his arms out and ushering them both into the room.
“Lovely,” Dean growled glancing at the red draped walls, the circle of tables with their little glowing lamps, perfectly placed pens and army of glaring faces.
“What’s going on?” Sam asked. “Who are all these… people?”
“Tsk, tsk, Sam,” Trickster said. “I expected better of you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dean asked.
“Look around you Dean, Sam, don’t you recognize the august company you are in?” Trickster turned in a circle, arms out stretched.
“Sorry,” Sam said, shaking his head. “No. Should we?”
“Sam. Sammy… You are surround by gods and you don’t even recognize it. That is a sad state of affairs my friend.”
“Gods? As in plural?” Dean asked.
“Yep. Gods. Multiple, more than one. Many. All predating that dude you’re so fond of too.”
“Great, pagans.” Dean groaned.
An angry mutter spread around the room.
“I’d be careful about what you say about Pagans there, Dean, my boy. These folks are a teeny bit more powerful than what you are used to.”
“Oh yeah? We’ve dealt with our fair share of Pagan gods before.”
Someone to Dean’s right laughed.
“You think that’s funny?”
A tall guy, all pale skin and hair that looked like it was nearly glowing it was so blond, stood up and walked slowly toward Dean. His white shirt was crisp and fit him like it had been made just for him and no one else. The buttons, brilliant, dazzling things of crystal or something, pulled Dean’s eyes to them and wouldn’t let go.
“You have dealt with fools and peasants,” the guy said, and suddenly he was a lot closer than Dean had been expecting, lost in the blazing flash of the guy’s fucking buttons. Dean took a step back and then swallowed a curse. “You have not dealt with us.”
“Who are you?” Sam whispered, one hand on Dean’s shoulder.
“That, my friends is Apollo. The old show off.”
Apollo scowled at the Trickster and then nodded his head at Dean and Sam.
“Apollo, as in Greek god Apollo? Helios god of the sun, the god of prophecy and music and heck… civilization?”
Dean choked. “Civilization, really Sammy?”
Sam nodded and waved his hands at Apollo. “Ah, yeah, according to the Greeks Apollo invented culture, cities, the entirety of what we think of as civilized life.”
Dean nodded, dizzy, and looked at Apollo and the Trickster. The Trickster was grinning. Apollo was looking regal and smug, the bastard.
“Not all of it,” Apollo said.
“Great. So, what does this have to do with us?” Dean asked, folding his arms across his chest. He was grumpy and not nearly ready to play nice with any of these pagan gods no matter how strong they thought they were.
“You, are the problem, Dean and Sam Winchester.” Apollo said.
“Now wait just a damn minute!”
“No!” Another voice, female this time, cut through the room like a knife. Dean and Sam both turned toward the sound. A slender woman with rich brown skin and deep brown hair was standing at the far table. Her red blouse was cut enticingly low, but the look on her face was enough to stop even Dean from considering asking her out, though her curves gave him more than a few ideas.
“No,” she said again, softer, though no less powerfully. “We will not wait, Dean Winchester. We have waited long enough. It is time that you waited and listened.”
Dean started to say something but Sam slapped a hand into his chest.
“We’re sorry. Dean’s sorry. We don’t mean any disrespect –“
Dean pushed against Sam’s hand, trying to get him to stop being an idiot. “Sammy, what the hel-“
Sam pushed at Dean’s chest and turned to face him.
“Dean, shut up! If you haven’t noticed there are a hell of a lot of them in this room and only two of us.”
“Well, okay, you might have a point there.”
“Just- let me do the talking for a bit, okay?”
“Fine.” Dean tossed his hands up and stepped back. He didn’t like it, but sometime’s Sam was better at this kind of thing than he was.
Sam turned back to the woman in red. “Sorry. My brother’s a little tense with all that’s been going on lately. We both are.”
“Of course, of course,” the Trickster said from behind them. “Here,” there was a popping sound and two chairs appeared. “Have a seat.”
“Um, okay,” Sam said.
Dean twitched when the chairs appeared, but since it looked like they were in for a long conversation, he sat down when Sam did.
Sam turned back to the woman at in the swanky red shirt. “So, why are we here? And… I’m sorry, but who are you, exactly?”
“Like most in this room I have many names. You may call me Kali.”
“Kali? As in the Destroyer, Kali?”
“Yup,” the Trickster said, leaning in between Sam and Dean to whisper in their ears.
“Loki, enough!” Kali said.
The Trickster stood up and when Dean looked up at him, he was grinning. “Loki?” Dean asked.
“Like the lady said, we all have many names. Loki is one of mine.” He shrugged.
“Um, so… “ Sam said. “Loki, Apollo, Kali. That’s three different pantheons right there. I take it this isn’t your every day run of the mill gathering.”
“He catches on quick.” Someone in the room said. Dean couldn’t tell who it was. Sam bristled but didn’t reply.
“Which means you are probably all here because of what’s going on with the angels and demons.”
“Wanna try for three out of three?” Loki asked.
Sam looked over his shoulder at Loki and then back to Kali. “And because of us.”
“Very good,” Kali said.
“So, what?” Dean asked. “You’re here to tell us give in to the Hardy Boys and get this show on the road? Or are you just going to kill us so you can watch the other team run around and cry about their missing toys?”
“Hmmm… now that you mention it, killing you has potential…” Kali stepped away from the table and stalked toward Dean; her long legs flashing through the slit in her body-hugging black skirt.
“Kali…” yet another voice, a woman’s this time, cut in. “No killing the Winchester boys. We agreed on that.”
Kali scrunched up her nose. “Where is the fun in that?”
“There’s plenty of fun to come, if the boys agree to our plan.” The voice was closer now, and Dean had to fight not to turn and hunt for its source. His eyes were locked on Kali as she paced toward him like he was dinner.
Kali stopped in front of Dean. She placed her hands on his shoulders and leaned in, eyes locked with his and he could feel himself drowning in her black gaze. He wanted to fall, wanted to sink into whatever lived deep inside those eyes. He didn’t care what the consequences were, he just wanted.
Dean barely registered the sounds as words. He was so deeply caught he couldn’t think.
“Release him.” The voice said again. And then Dean could breathe and see and hear.
“Dean! Dean! Are you okay?” Sam was thumping him on the back.
“Yeah. Fine. I’m fine. What the hell?”
“Kali, behavior like that will not help the situation,” the other woman said. She stepped into Dean’s line of sight, one hand resting on Kali’s shoulder and Dean had to shake his head.
Dean wasn’t sure he was seeing what he was seeing. The woman was strange, and given everything Dean and Sam had seen in the last few years, that was saying something. Half her body was beautiful, pale flesh that looked soft and young gliding over slender limbs. The hair on that side of her head was glossy black and flowed down her side, curling over her shoulder to disappear in the shadows of her black shirt. That was not the strange part. The strange part was the other side which was all bare exposed bone – Dean could see her skull and collarbone and the bones of her fingers - and snow white hair. Riding the edge between bone and flesh there was a line of raw bloody skin.
Dean shivered. She was beautiful and terrifying.
“Amazing, isn’t she?” Loki whispered in Dean’s ear. Dean whipped his head around and starred at the trickster. Loki nodded at Kali and the new woman.
“Um,” Dean said. “Yeah.”
“My daughter. Hella.” Loki smiled and it was possibly the most genuine expression Dean had ever seen on the guy’s face.
“Wow.” Dean said, feeling really brilliant. “Wow. Daughter. Wow. I um. Didn’t know you had kids.”
“Several,” the woman, Hella, said. When Dean looked over at her, the fleshy side of her face was turned up in a smile. “I’m the most, hmmm… normal looking- shall we say?”
Loki coughed. “Three wolves, a snake and an eight legged horse are perfectly normal.”
It sounded like an old argument for the two of them and Dean’s neck was getting sore bouncing back and forth between the grinning faces.
“About the not killing us?” Sam put in.
“Ah, yes,” Loki said, before nodding to his daughter. “After you.”
Hella shook her head and Dean could see fondness in her strange eyes.
“Unlike some,” Hella looked at Kali and then around the room to some other faces. “I am not interested in your deaths.”
“Nice to know someone’s not.” Dean said.
“Dean!” Sam smacked him on the arm.
“Not to worry, Sam. I do understand your brother’s attitude. It can be difficult to constantly have to deal with people who are not pleased with your existence.”
“Ah, okay.” Sam nodded. “So, can you explain what’s going on and why we are here?”
“You are here because Lucifer is here,” Hella said.
Dean burst out of his seat.
“Sit down Dean,” Loki said, pushing Dean into his chair. “Luci is locked up tighter than the two of you. Trust me.”
“That is not you’re concern at the moment,” Kali said.
“Like hell its not!”
“Dean,” Hella said, her flesh covered hand out toward him palm up, a peace offering. “Hear us out. Please. If you don’t agree with us when we are through, I will personally take you to Lucifer and leave you to work out your differences with him as you see fit.”
“Why?” Sam asked before Dean could.
“Because I believe that once you hear what I have to say, you will agree with our plan.”
“So,” Sam said, settling his weight more evenly over his hips. He fought the urge to tug at the hem of his jacket and stuck his hands in his pants pockets instead.
The crowd of gods had dwindled to just Loki, Apollo, Hella, Kali, a god introduced to them as the Baron Samedi – who was another dead looking guy in a tux with a purple vest and bow tie. He had a tendency to tug at his white gloves which made Sam wonder what his hands actually looked like. There was also an old man with wrinkled skin the color of aged leather and bleached hair tied into braids that hung down either side of his head. They’d said his name three times and it still sounded like a really strange version of Whiskey with extra letters. Dean was hovering, while trying not to look like he was hovering, against the wall near the old man, though the guy seemed safe enough sitting in a chair and watching as they all talked. He nodded his head occasionally when one or the other of the Gods turned to say something directly to him, but other than that he was quiet.
After explaining the prophecy at length and getting Dean to agree to hold off killing any of the gods present, and all of the gods present to agree not to kill Sam and Dean for the duration, the other gods had then agreed to leave the Winchesters to the current assortment of gods and gone to the other side of the room to talk amongst themselves.
“This prophecy stuff is fascinating, but what has it got to do with us?” Sam said, only to have Dean cut in, as usual.
“Yeah… what the hell? I mean, even if we agree with you that it refers to Sammy and me, which I am not saying I do, what are we supposed to do about it?”
“You are the key to each prophecy. Theirs and ours.” Apollo said.
“Why us?” Sam asked.
“Because your family line was groomed to be the vessels for Lucifer and Michael. That makes you integral to their plans, which means we need to deal with you in order to put ours into action.”
“You still haven’t explained what this magical third option is.”
Hella looked to the Baron and then to Loki. Sam watched as Dean managed not to bristle when they both nodded at her. He knew Dean hated feeling like they were being played and they’d been being run around in circles for months now. Everything was starting to look like a game to Dean. And to Sam, when he was honest with himself.
“We make you unacceptable as vessels for the angels,” Hella said.
Sam looked at Dean with a raised eyebrow.
“You don’t mean killing us.” Sam said.
“No,” the Baron said. “We mean change you and your blood line so that Lucifer and Michael can never use you or your family again. Ever.”
“Um. Okay. And how do you propose to do that?”
“We will change your blood and bone just as Lucifer did,” the Baron said.
“No way!” Dean said.
“Hang on Dean,” Sam said, holding up a placating hand.
“No. There is no way you are going through that again. Once wasn’t enough for you Sammy?”
“It would have to be both of you,” Hella said.
“No. No way!”
“Dean, think about it. What if they’re right?”
“Sam you can’t honestly be considering this?”
“Maybe. If it gives us another way. If we can stop what’s coming. How is that a bad thing?”
“Gods Sam! Gods changing our blood. Turning us into monsters. You’re already …” Dean stopped.
“Say it. I’m what? A monster? A demon because of what Lucifer did?”
Dean just stared at Sam.
“And if what they’re offering can change that?”
“What if it can’t?!”
Dean glared at Sam and Sam stared back.
The silence in the room was a living thing. Even the gods were quiet. Nothing moved. No one breathed. Everyone waiting for Sam and Dean to break or scream – anything to change the tension to something tolerable.
“Dean…” Sam said at last, reaching out with one hand to his brother, needing him to do this with him.
“Fine. Fine!” Dean whirled around to face Hella. “But you show me. You do it to me first. I wanna know exactly what is going to happen before I let you touch Sam.”
“So how is this going to work?” Dean asked, he sounded nervous all of a sudden.
“Three gods have stepped forward to accept you into their linage,” Kali said.
“Three?” Sam asked.
“You, Dean and your brother Adam.”
“It must be all of your blood line to ensure that the angels have no further access to their vessels.”
“Right.” Sam nodded. “So, um. Which gods are we… which gods will we be, um… working …”
“Vessels for?” Loki offered.
“You Sam, will be a vessel for Gwyn ap Nudd,” the Baron said.
“Gwyn ap Nudd, he is of the old Welsh lands. Many call him the Lord of the Hunt but he is also known as the Lord of Annwn, the Otherworld – what the ancient Celts called Death.”
“What is it with you people and death gods?” Dean grumbled.
“Someone has to look after all of you when you die,” Hella said with a smile.
“And Dean? Who will he, um, be the vessel for?”
“Tyr, God of justice in the Norse lands,” Kali said.
“Justice?” Dean asked, his eyebrows reaching for his hair line.
“It seemed fitting,” Apollo explained. “The angels marked you as Michael’s vessel, champion of the White Christ and his Father’s might and right, at least as they understand things. Many of our council believe that Tyr will blend well for similar reasons.”
“Reasons? What reasons?”
“You are loyal.”
“Almost to a fault,” Loki quipped.
Sam saw Apollo flick a glance at Hella, and Sam’s eyes were caught by the look on the goddess’ face. The muscles of her human, living side were tight, almost as though she were holding in words by sheer force of will. He looked at the other gods and noticed that there they were pointedly not looking at her.
“Loyal,” Apollo continued as though he’d never looked at the face of anger, “dedicated, honest when it serves your purpose – which is always for the work you are committed to doing.”
“And all that makes me a good vessel for a god of Justice?” Dean asked.
“Okay.” Dean nodded his head. “So, where do we start?”
Hella looked over her shoulder to the waiting crowd of gods. Sam followed her gaze and saw a giant of a woman step out of the shadows, bow her head in Hella’s direction and then leave the conference room.
Hella turned back to their little group.
“Tyr has been called.”
“Who was that?” Dean asked.
Hella raised her only eyebrow.
“The woman. Giant. Person in gray that you did the silent communication thing with just now. Who was that?”
Hella starred at Dean for a long moment then took a breath. “That was Modgud, my Gate Keeper.”
“She’s Jotun,” Loki said from behind them. Dean and Sam both turned to look at him. There was something in his voice that made it sound like there was a really long story behind that word.
Loki looked back at them. “What?”
“What’s a Jotun-thing?” Dean asked.
“Jotun. Giant. Same thing.” Loki waved his hands in the air dismissing the topic.
Dean looked from Loki to Hella and back. “What am I missing here?”
“Nothing,” Loki said, glaring at Hella.
Dean turned to Hella.
“The Jotun and my father have a long and… colorful history. He is part giant himself.”
“Huh. You don’t look it,” Dean said with a smirk.
“So, if you – pagan gods, I mean,” Sam said, “take vessels just like the angels do…” he trailed off looking at Hella.
Hella gazed calmly back at Sam. “I wont smite you, if that’s what you’re worried about, Sam. Ask your question.”
“Um. Right.” Sam took a deep breath. “Um, why do you look the way you do? I mean… couldn’t you…”
“Choose a different form?” Hella asked.
“I could. I have.”
“So why the spooky costume?” Dean asked.
“This is who I am.”
“But the vessel?”
“Choose this path.”
“I don’t understand,” Sam said.
“Our vessels are not like the angels. We don’t take them and hoard them until their life force bleeds away. We nurture and cherish them. Sometimes, in rare cases, we keep them well past the point of the body’s natural life expectancy.
“This vessel is the body of my priestess. She walked the earth more than nine hundred years ago.”
Sam starred at Hella, stunned. “But the whole half life, half death thing…”
“A choice she made on my behalf. I did not ask this of her, but when she offered the transformation of her physical form to match my own, I took the gift as it was meant.”
“Um. Wow,” Dean said. “So… nine hundred years. How? Where? “
“She has a dwelling that is kept safe by the grace of my magics. She views the world much as you do, through the internet and television, when she is not resting.”
“That’s. That… “ Sam stopped. He had no idea what to do with this information. “Are you expecting us to be like her?”
“No,” Hella said simply.
“So then what?” Dean asked.
“You will host your god once every year or so to ensure that the connection remains strong and the magics hold true. Once the apocalypse is truly past, you should be able to go for longer periods between in-habitations, if you wish.”
“If we wish?”
“Yes, damn you!” Loki shouted. “This is a gift Dean. A grace. Not many people are offered this opportunity. Stop treating like they are going to eat your soul.”
“Father – “
Loki spun on his heal and stalked away from them.
“Dean, Sam, please understand, while we do need you for the prophecy and to ensure that this madness ends, what my father says is true. This is a gift. It is not meant to hurt or harm you. Along with your willingness to be vessels to the gods comes their protection and their assistance in your life and your work, should you wish it.”
“So Tyr and Gwyn would help us fight demons.” Sam said.
“To a degree, yes.”
Dean pursed his lips. Sam could imagine what he was thinking. It was a hell of a lot of information to take in at once.
“He’s here,” Loki said just as the doors to the conference room opened.
Light filled the room, blazing into every corner and pushing the shadows into the hallway. Wind followed, blowing around them with the scent of pine and wood smoke. A wolf howled and a bird cried out- deep and commanding.
“Just relax. This wont hurt a bit,” Loki said, pressing Dean deeper into his chair.
Sam’s hand was on Dean’s other shoulder, a reassuring weight as the light coalesced into a shimmering body-shaped form in front of them and hovered.
“Try to relax Dean,” Hella said. “The more you can loosen up and allow yourself to be open to his presence the easier this will be.”
“Close your eyes,” Loki whispered, and when Dean turned to look this time the trickster’s face was solemn, his eyes dark with concern. “I want this to work as much as you do, perhaps more.”
“Think of a door and imagine yourself opening it wide to allow Tyr to enter and then step back and let him in.”
“That’s it?” Sam asked.
“That’s all, in theory. In practice it tends to be a little more… complicated.”
“Right,” Dean said, and then turned back to the glowing form of Tyr. “Let’s do this.”
Dean closed his eyes. He did his best to settle his body, fighting against all his instincts, against the screaming in his head that told him to run. He felt his hands tighten on the chair arms, took a deep breath and forced his fingers to let go. He took another breath and rolled his head around on his neck trying to loosen up his muscles.
“That’s good,” Loki murmured.
Dean ignored him and kept breathing.
He felt it the moment the energy body touched his skin. It was like being hit by lightning or ripped through with an electric current. He flinched away from the point of contact and then made himself move back into range.
Tyr touched him again.
This time Dean was ready for the shock. It still hurt, but the pain passed into something tolerable, a buzz that hummed along his nerves. Tyr’s energy moved along Dean’s body, pressing inward. With it came images and sounds, smells and sensations. It was all muddled at first, flashes of color and noise, a smell he could almost name. Gradually the sensations became more distinct.
Dean was standing on a high point surround by pine trees that had never seen the blade of an axe. He knew they hadn’t just as he knew the soil beneath his feet was across the ocean in Norway. He knew it because it was Tyr’s knowledge.
“This is my home.”
Dean turned at the voice. Behind him was a man about his height with broad shoulders and a sunburned face. He had long auburn hair tied in braids that fell to his waist and a beard tied off at the point with a gold clasp-like thing. He reminded Dean of Bobby, except for the weird clothing and hair. He had the same feeling of “family” that Bobby always carried.
The man nodded.
“Where are we?”
“A place between. A place to meet and exchange vessels.”
“So what? I would hang out here while you go play in my body?”
“A crude way of looking at it, but essentially accurate.”
The trees around them shivered and then bent as a strong wind whipped past Dean, tugging at his jacket, carrying the smell of a storm rushing in from the ocean. It was invigorating and terrifying.
“In a forest?”
Tyr looked around, his lips turning up at the corners just a bit. He looked at home among the trees, almost happy. “There are other places in my world that you will be able to visit while you are here. My hall, Odin’s even if you wish. You are not a prisoner here.”
Clouds were filling the sky, the storm was coming closer. The smell of rain and lighting filled Dean’s senses. A moment later lighting flashed across a nearby mounting. Tyr glanced back to watch as several more strikes crashed along the ridge, then turned back to Dean, a look of concern flicking across his face.
“You are troubled,” Tyr said.
“What? No.” Dean shook his head, then stopped. He was, this whole thing felt wrong. “Yes.”
Tyr frowned and said something in another language, harsh and full of consonants.
Lighting crackled, closer this time and moments later thunder followed. Then, just as Dean was explaining to his nerves that everything was fine, the ground under them rocked and Dean had to fight to stay upright.
“A mind quake. You are rejecting the connection.”
“I’m not trying to, I swear.”
Tyr shrugged. “But you are. I warned the others this was not a good fit.”
Dean had to shout now to be heard over the thunder and wind. “Why would you say that? They said you were a god of justice and stuff.”
“That is not what you need.”
The ground tore around them sending Dean to his knees. Trees cracked and toppled. Dirt and rain filled the air, obscuring the sun.
“I am sorry,” Tyr said.
There was a clap of sound, like the earth opening up to swallow him, and then Dean was back in the Conference room, eyes open, heart hammering in his chest.
The glowing form of Tyr bobbed in front of him, it turned, motioned something at Hella and Kali and then vanished leaving the room feeling dark and cold.
Hella paced the hall with Kali, each lost in thought, when the resonating crystal, the mate to the one she had given the Seeress, vibrated in her pocket. She pulled the stone out and blew across its surface.
“Lady,” the wavering image of the Seeress said, “there is something you need to see.”
“I’ll be there is a moment.” Hella slipped the crystal back in her pocket and looked over at Kali. “Want to come with me?”
Kali shook her head. “Someone has to stay and deal with these fools.” She waved her hands at the door to the Orange Blossom Ballroom behind them.
Hella nodded. “Perhaps this news will help.”
A short walk through the motel later, and Hella was standing beside the Seeress once more.
“What do you have for me?” She asked.
The Seeress shuddered and lifted her head. Her voice was raw and lifeless. Hella cringed at the sound, the work was taking a far greater toll on the woman’s human body than they had counted on. She would need to have her healers watch over the Seeress when this was done. The woman deserved nothing less.
“Lucifer. He speaks in riddles.”
“He dreams of blood and death, of killing gods as though his power were unstoppable.”
Hella nodded to herself, the Seeress had slipped back into trance, barely aware of Hella now that she had begun to speak. “This we knew. What has changed?”
“Who he speaks to.”
“Show me.” Hella took one of the Seeress hands within both of her own and followed the thin chord of the woman’s consciousness into the maelstrom of the Otherworld and through the gateway into Lucifer’s thoughts.
As she watched, a tall man in a tuxedo wearing a bright red name tag with “Baldur” written on it stepped in front of a woman she recognized as Kali’s current vessel.
“You think you own the planet?” the dream Baldur said. Hella shook her head in fear and amazement at the idea of Baldur ever leaving the safety of her hall for a conference of gods. The thought was insane.
Baldur straightened his back and glared at Lucifer. “What gives you the right?”
Lucifer stepped up to Baldur, raised his arm and pushed a knife into Baldur’s chest. Before Hella or Baldur knew what had happened, Lucifer pulled the blade free and plunged his other hand into the wound, ripping Baldur to pieces.
“No one gives us the right, we take it,” Lucifer said as Baldur fell to the ground with out a sound.
Even knowing it was a dream, Hella gasped and had to fight to stop herself from reaching for Baldur’s body.
Hella forced herself to look back at the shimmering vision. When she did she saw a flash of fire bloom along dream Kali’s arms. A moment later Kali hurled a burst of flame at Lucifer only to have it vanish leaving Lucifer unharmed. Lucifer in turn smashed his fist into Kali, sending her flying across the room.
“You okay?” Sam in the dream said to his brother.
She watched, unsurprised as dream Loki popped in between the brothers and snarked at Sam.
“Not really. Better late then never huh?” he said and handed Dean a DVD case. “Guard this, with your life.”
Loki stood and pointed at Lucifer, blowing him back and away from Kali.
“Lucy, I'm home,” Loki said, pulling a sword out of his coat and reaching for Kali. “Not this time. Guys! Get her outta here.”
Dean and Sam took Kali from Loki and ran out of the room.
“Over a girl. Gabriel, really?” Lucifer sighed. It was the sound of exaggeration and pity. The sound of someone who thought they understood everyone’s motives and had all the answers and all the power. But it was the name Lucifer used that stopped Hella’s heart cold.
“Gabriel,” she whispered, her mind blanking. She missed the next words. It was her father calling Lucifer brother that brought her mind reeling back to the moment.
“-my brother. And I love you. But you are a great big bag of dicks.”
“Wait, what did you just say to me?”
“Look at yourself! Boo Hoo! Daddy was mean to me, so I'm gonna smash up all his toys.”
Lucifer growled. “Watch your tone.”
“Play the victim all you want. But you and me? We know the truth. Dad loved you best. More than Michael, more than me. Then he brought the new baby home and you threw a big temper tantrum. Time to grow up.”
The vision went dark and Hella drew her thoughts out and back along the Seeress’ consciousness into her own body and the viewing room. She hugged her arms to her chest, colder than she had ever been in her life.
“Oh father,” she said. “Why?”
The Winchesters were fighting when Hella returned to the conference room. Hella raised an eyebrow at the Baron as she approached. He shook his head and offered her a chair. As she sat, he laid a gloved hand on the back of her neck. With a few gentle strokes of his fingers the building tension in her skull was gone.
“Thank you,” she whispered, looking up over her shoulder at him.
“My pleasure.” He nodded his head toward the brothers. “You will need all the strength you possess to help us through this battle.”
Hella closed her eyes. He was right as usual. More than he knew even. She took a deep breath, opened her eyes and focused her awareness on the two angry humans before her.
The Winchester brothers were standing a table length apart glaring at each other. Dean’s hands appeared locked in place – folded across his chest, while Sam’s were in constant motion, as if gestures could sway his brother to his cause.
“You’re not doing this Sam.”
“Yes, I am!”
“No, you’re not.”
“I’m not a child, Dean. I can and will make choices for my own life.”
“Not this one!”
Sam’s face softened and his shoulders relaxed. It was clear that the two had had this type of argument more times than either could count.
“Dean – we need to do this.”
“Sammy…” Dean’s voice held a note of desperation in it now.
“Trust me. Please?”
Dean and Sam stood unmoving for a long moment and then Dean turned away, his whole body pulled inward, his energy fearful and resigned. Hella wished that she could reassure him, but she knew his type. They only trusted what they could see, smell, taste and touch. He would have to learn all his lessons the hard way, just as Tyr had predicted.
Sam watched Dean for a moment then turned to Hella where she stood beside Kali and the Baron.
“So, Gwyn. Is he the right choice for me?”
“He is,” the Baron replied.
“But Tyr wasn’t for Dean.”
“How do you know this will work this time?”
“Because I do.”
“Not good enough,” Sam said, as Dean turned, his mouth open to speak.
The Baron looked at Hella and Kali and then to Loki, who nodded. The Baron looked back at Sam.
“Gwyn and I hold similar positions within the worlds. We watch and guard the dead. This allows me, and Hella,” the Baron inclined his head toward her, “to see the threads of death and life after death better than others.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“You were marked by Lucifer, who, while an angel, has become one who walks with death. Angels and demons are each connected to the energy of the after life, Lucifer, by the nature of his fall, even more so.”
“So you are aligning Sam with someone similar to Lucifer,” Dean said.
“Yes,” the Baron replied.
“Great, just great.”
“No, wait,” Sam said. “It makes sense. If I’m already tainted with demon blood – blood connected to death, then it makes sense that I would be a good vessel for a death, um god.”
“Exactly,” Hella said.
“But you said this Tyr guy was a lot like Michael. Why didn’t aligning me with him work?”
Kali and the Baron turned to Hella, she looked at Dean and took a breath. She had warned them, but they had not listened, now it was up to her to explain their failure to Dean.
“Because your blood was never changed, never tainted by angel or demon, you need to be aligned with a power who matches you, not Michael.”
“And Tyr doesn’t match me?”
“Then who does?”
Hella paused, still uncertain how Dean would react. She knew she was correct, as was the god in question, but Dean was a wild card. “Dionysus.”
She watched Dean blink and Sam suck in a breath.
“Dionysus, he is the Greek God of wine,” Hella replied only to be cut off by Loki.
“You’ll like him,” Loki said, grinning. “He’s big on sex and drugs and rock’n roll.”
“Also madness and agriculture,” Kali added.
“Madness? What the hell does that mean?” Dean asked.
“Ecstatic madness,” Loki said. “The kind of thing that happens when you’ve had too much to drink and been out with too many friends but right before the hangover sets in.”
“Relax, he’s perfect for you.”
“Father, enough.” Hella waved her hands and all the gods stilled. “Our goal is to get the Winchesters to agree with our plan, not antagonize them into the next millennium.”
Loki shook his head. “You sound like your mother.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, and tell her you send your love when I next speak with her. Can we continue?”
“Dean, Sam, now that you know what we propose and who you will be aligned with,” she looked at the other gods gathered beside her, “properly this time. Do you agree to work with us to stop Lucifer and Michael?”
Sam looked at Dean. Hella watched as his body leaned towards his brother and he pleaded with his eyes. Dean remained still and closed off, his head down, arms once again crossed over his chest. When Dean looked up at Sam without anger or fear Hella knew they had won. Apparently so did Sam.
Sam turned to Hella even before Dean spoke a word. “We’ll do it.”
Hella turned to Dean, she needed to hear him say the words, needed him to say them for himself. Dean nodded.
Hella waited. He shrugged and then tossed his hands out.
“Fine, yes. Okay? Is that what you want? I agree. We’ll do it.”
“Thank you.” Hella looked around at the other gods then back to Sam and Dean. “Let us begin.”
Once again Dean found himself standing in the middle of a green and growing landscape. This was different though, this one was warm and closer to home. Still not in America, he was certain of that. Given that Dionysus was a Greek god it made sense when his brain and senses supplied him with the word Greece. It was a little weirder to know that he was standing on an island called Naxos, especially since he’d never even heard of the place before. Still, it was beautiful. Warm and sunny and like the promise of the most perfect day of summer.
Everywhere Dean looked were rows and rows of grape vines, all of them bursting with purple and pale green fruit looking like they couldn’t wait to be picked. The light was golden and low on the horizon, the air warm and heavy.
“Do you smell that?”
Dean turned his head. Behind him was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. Nearly Sam’s height, broad shouldered, long legs, thick, long dark hair that glinted with copper streaks as he walked toward Dean. His face was creased with laugh lines and dusted with the first shadow of a beard along his jaw. His nose looked like it had been broken at least once. His eyes… his eyes were the color of honey and held Dean until he forgot to breathe.
“Wh… what smell?” Dean finally managed.
“The earth, the soil and the leaves, the loam and roots. The rain and the sun and everything that makes wine even possible.”
The man laughed, full and rich and intoxicating. “Look around you Dean. This. This land. These grapes. This sunlight. All of this. This is what you are fighting for - working so hard to save.”
Dean looked at the man and then at the view around him. Suddenly it was all too quiet. He could imagine the shadows moving and just thinking that meant he had to focus to keep from twitching and reaching for the gun he didn’t have with him. His life was not supposed to be soft light and gentle breezes. It just wasn’t.
The man sighed and stepped closer. Dead stepped back.
“Look – whoever you are…”
“You know who I am.”
Dionysus nodded. There was warmth in his eyes, but his face remained passive, waiting.
“I don’t know what your game is…”
“I don’t have a game. Not with you.” Dionysus held out his hand, palm up. “You know me, better than you think you do. I am the aching heart that you push aside with every breath. I am every death you have taken for your brother and every tear you have refused to shed for your mother. I am your anger at your father and your guilt for that anger. I am everything you refuse to acknowledge about yourself.”
“What the fuck?”
Dionysus took another step toward Dean. “I am everything you indulge in, all the drinking, all the women, all the food. All the killing. I am the madness you willingly give yourself over too and the pleasure you crave at the core of your being.”
Dionysus’ words cut Dean open, spilt him deeper than any angel’s words or demon’s actions had ever done. He felt raw and exposed. Naked in front of a mirror.
“Who the hell are you?”
Dionysus just looked at him, his eyes soft and knowing, all of Dean’s secrets playing out along their golden depths.
“No. No. I can’t do this.” Dean shook his head backing away.
“You already have,” Dionysus said, and his voice sounded sad to Dean. When he looked, there were tears on the sunburned cheeks.
“Why? Why me?” Dean asked, his voice breaking.
“Because you are me.”
“No.” Dean shook his head crying, his heart breaking into shards. His legs gave out and warm strong arms caught him as he fell. He broke and reformed over and over and over again. Each version of himself stronger and weaker by turns. Every lie he had ever told danced before his eyes, every fuck he’d had, every woman he’d loved, every man he’d looked at and hid from in shame. Every kiss, every punch, every kill, every angry word. Everything that Dean was spiraled into the space between them washing away and back.
As the waves of visions flowed out, they returned with memories that were not his own. Images of women dancing along tree lined paths, winding their way through forests and into hidden groves to sing praise songs to Dionysus. He saw men in priests’ robes offering wine and fruit at altars to their god. He watched as Dionysus sat alone and crying on a hilltop.
“What for?” Dean whispered.
“My father,” Dionysus answered quietly, rocking Dean in his arms. “Zeus.”
“Does he love you?”
“I don’t know.”
More images flowed between them. More of Dionysus’ memories offered in exchange for Dean’s. His half brother coming in stealth to a grove, only to be ripped to pieces by their mother for his betrayal. Men hunted for loving other men and finding peace in Dionysus’ arms and in his temples.
“I don’t know if I…”
“Shhh. I know.” Dionysus stroked a hand along Dean’s cheek. “You don’t have to know anything right now, only that this is where you belong. Where you have always belonged. You are safe now.”
Dean stared at Dionysus for a long while taking in every nuance of his appearance, every sensation building in the base of Dean’s gut. It was something so different, so out of practice. He hadn’t felt it since before his Mom died and his life went to hell.
Dean swallowed a sobbed, nodded and tucked his head into the crock of Dionysus’ neck.
“Don’t leave,” he whispered into Dionysus’ shoulder.
“Never. Never again.”
Dean felt Dionysus press a kiss against his hair and the god’s arms wrap warm and tight around him.
It was too much.
It was everything he needed. It was everything he had been craving. Dean let go and cried.
A howl echoed around him. It was answered by a dozen or more calls, wolves or dogs, Sam couldn’t tell, howling back and forth. Echoing all around him. And under the sound of the wolves or whatever, Sam felt more than heard, the pounding beat of hooves thundering toward him.
The howling came again, from behind Sam and from in front. It was everywhere. Not echoes now, but true callings and responses from real animals that sounded way to close for Sam’s comfort.
Sam was standing on the edge of a forest. It was dark with only a crescent moon, winking out from the clouds. No lamps or campfires, no stars, not even a damn flashlight. Fog coiled around his legs and snuck under his jacket. It was the worst kind of night: cold and damp and freaking spooky even with out the howling.
The ground shook.
Sam looked to his left as the darkness formed itself into a hoard of creatures riding toward him on horseback. At its head was a man in dull black armor with a helm of many tined antlers. His horse was taller than any of the others and blacker than the shadows and its ears were red. Racing in and around the horse’s legs were sleek white dogs with red ears like the horse’s.
The lead rider raised his arm and the whole pack slowed to a walk and then stopped a few lengths away from Sam.
Sam watched as several of the riders, including the leader dismounted but only the leader took off his helmet and walked toward Sam.
Sam didn’t know if he was supposed to bow or what. How the heck did one address a god? And one who showed up like that? Sam had no idea. He watched and waited as the god approached and finally nodded his head when Gwyn stopped in front of him.
“Hello,” Sam said.
“You stand in the face of the Hunt and do not run. That is either very brave or very foolish.”
“Um, well. Both? I guess.”
Gwyn laughed and it sounded like the pounding of hooves.
“Running tends to just get things chasing me and I’m kinda sick of that and well, I was invited, so…” Sam shrugged.
“Indeed.” Gwyn nodded and then waved toward the trees behind them. “Come, walk with me.”
Sam fell into step along side Gwyn. They walked in silence for a ways, Gwyn apparently content to leave the talking to his dogs who followed by leading them along the path.
A few quiet lengths under the trees and Gwyn paused, flipped his cloak over one shoulder and looked at Sam.
“Ask your questions Sam Winchester,” Gwyn said with a smile.
“As loud as your thoughts are racing, I suspect the Cailleach could hear you in her barrow.”
“I’m sorry, who?”
Gwyn waved a gloved hand. “Never mind. Ask me what you will. I will answer.”
“Um, okay. You are Gwyn ap Nudd, the Welsh god I’m supposed to do the… ah… work with? Right?”
“So the Baron, um… Samedi said that you and he do similar things related to the dead and death, kind of like Hella.”
“What does that actually mean, exactly?”
“We guard and guide and care for the dead. Every human culture has its ideas about what happens after you die and in nearly all of them there is a guardian or a watcher for the spirits. No one wants to believe that they will die and simply disappear without a thought or a care. Even Yahweh and his children, all their stories include tales of those who watch after death. Some guard the good folk, some guard the bad.”
“But who decides who’s good and who’s bad?”
“Exactly.” Gwyn waved one gloved finger in the air. “My children, the ones you call pagans, look at the world differently. Life and death are not about who did something right or wrong. Life is a journey and so is death. Each offers lessons and choices and opportunities. The fact that your physical body is no longer breathing is not all that important. Nor is the fact that the rules of matter and energy are different in the Otherworld. Death is an adventure just like life.”
“An adventure? Death? Really?” Sam had to crack a smile at that. He’d never ever heard death referred to as an adventure before.
“Yes,” Gwyn said and then smiled. “I know it seems odd to you, but… it is what they, and we believe.”
“So, if I work for you-“
“With me. This will be a partnership, Sam. We will work together.”
“Okay. If we work together on this. If I become your vessel, what then?”
“Then you get an adventure like few ever have the opportunity to- alive or dead. You would come here,” and Gwyn opened his arms wide to the forest around him. The dogs bounded and danced around Gwyn and Sam as though they understood what Gwyn was talking about. As Gwyn turned in a circle they chased his cloak, raced off into the trees and came back and raced off again, barking and yipping the whole time.
“You would sit in my hall.” Gwyn waved one hand and an image of a crenellated fortress appeared before them. Along the battlements torches burned and at the gates soldiers stood guard in helmets with feathers and horns and other crests that made no sense to Sam. The image shifted and Sam saw inside the castle to a Great Hall where a large table was set for dinner.
Gwyn waved the images away and turned to Sam. In his hands he now held a large leather bound book. He offered it to Sam with a grin. “And if you wished, you would listen and learn about my world and my work.”
Sam gapped at the book in Gwyn’s hands and reverently stroked the cover before lifting it into his arms. There was an antler crest on the front and below that were a set of slashes with cross hatch marks. Sam ran a finger across the marks. “What does it say?”
“It is written in the old script, Ogam. It says Brenin chan 'r twyleth teg, Arglwydd chan Annwn”
“Which means what?”
“King of the Fair Folk and Lord of Annwn”
“The Fair Folk? As in fairies?”
“The very same,” Gwyn glanced at Sam, his face unreadable. “Now do you understand why, with our help, you and your brother can put an end to this ridiculous fight the angels have brought to earth?”
“Yeah.” Sam smiled, filled with hope for the first time in a very, very long time. “Yeah, I do!”
Silence settled over the conference room. It was broken only by a few scattered scuffles and sighs as gods all around the room regained their feet in the wake of Gwyn and Dionysus’ divine entrance. The lights flickered, dimmed, flared and then went back to normal.
Hella brushed her hands along the front of her skirts, more nervous habit than a need to clean anything off them or the fabric. Beside her, the Baron flicked bits of dust off the sleeve of his tuxedo and Kali fidgeted with her belt of silver skulls.
In the corner, her father leaned against one wall attempting, she was certain, to look calm and unconcerned. Each of them, Hella knew, were in fact as nervous as a pack of humans at a cannibal convention.
In the center of the room the bodies of Dean and Sam stood rigid and bathed in light.
No one moved. No one spoke.
They all waited. Waited to see if their hopes would be fulfilled and the vessels would be accepted. Waited to know if they were really as strong as they all believed themselves to be.
Dean shivered. His head dropped backward and Hella thought she saw tears on his cheeks. Beside him Sam took a deep breath. His arms reached out to hold something and then an enormous smile lit up his face.
Hella let out a sigh. Something was working. Neither man had been tossed out of the meld yet and both were having emotional reactions to the meetings. That was always a good sign.
Minutes inched by and nothing further happened. Sam and Dean remained the same, sometimes shifting or making some minor movement, but never coming back enough to indicate that the bonding process was complete.
Hella was about to inspect the brothers when Wiskatchekwa rose and walked slowly toward them. He stopped in front of Dean first, passing a winkled hand in front of Dean’s closed eyes then down along, but not touching, Dean’s chest. The elder nodded, satisfied with whatever he read in Dean’s energy and moved on to Sam. He repeated the motions in front of Sam’s eyes and then down Sam’s chest. Again he nodded, apparently satisfied. Wiskatchekwa stood for a long moment then, his eyes closed, his lips moving silently. When he stopped, he opened his eyes, stepped back and clapped his hands three times.
“The vessels have accepted the transfer,” Wiskatchekwa intoned. “The blood has been transformed. The bones have been rewritten.”
Dean’s head came up and his eyes snapped open, but as Hella looked, it was clear that Dean was not looking out from those golden glowing pupils. Sam’s eyes opened as well, his irises swirling with shadows, never settling on black or gray, never staying still.
“Dionysus, son of Zeus, do you accept the vessel Dean Winchester?”
Dean’s face grinned, lazy, like a cat curled up on a sun-warmed window ledge. “Oh I most certainly do accept Dean.”
“Gwyn, son of Nudd, do you accept the vessel Sam Winchester?”
Sam’s body adjusted his weight, taking a warrior’s stance, balanced along his spine and centered over both feet, with one hand resting at his hip, where his sword belt would be. Sam’s face did not smile per say, but it did lighten and lift. Hella could feel the contentment radiating from him, and as she looked with her inner vision, she saw Sam’s contentment as well.
“I accept the vessel Sam Winchester as my own.”
Wiskatchekwa nodded and then clapped three times facing the two god vessels, turned to face the opposite direction, where the majority of the other gods were standing, and clapped three more times.
He bowed his head and said, “it is done.”
Hella watched as Dionysus in Dean’s body and Gwyn in Sam’s stepped into the observation room and up to the viewing window. Four of her fellow gods, the Baron, Kali, Loki and Wiskatchekwa followed behind.
Wiskatchekwa stopped, his lined face shocked into emotion at the sight of Lucifer in the other room. The fallen angel was even more broken and haggard than when Hella had last looked in on him.
“How much more can the vessel survive?” Kali asked, her voice soft and remarkably gentle.
Dionysus answered, equally quiet. “A week or two, maybe a month if he’s careful.”
“We should kill him now. Be done with this madness,” Kali said.
Gwyn shook his head. “He would only find another vessel, one we did not know as well. It would make the next part of the prophecy that much more difficult for the Winchesters.”
“What do you propose then?” the Baron asked.
“Set him free.” Gwyn replied. “Let him believe his visions are true, for now. That he has killed us and accomplished his goals this night.”
“And then?” Hella asked.
“Three shall seal the gates,” Dionysus quoted. “Golden threads wound tight-wise round. Four Guardians shall hold, discordant notes weaving strongest knots”
“But which gates?” Kali asked, looking around at the others in the room. “There are dozens of gates the prophecy could be referring too. We each have gates between the worlds, most of us guard or know of guardians for powerful gateways. How are we supposed to determine which one to seal?”
“The gates Lucifer and Michael use,” Loki said, stepping out of the shadows to stand with the others.
“Explain.” the Baron said.
“It is time, father.” Hella looked at Loki. He stared back at her as he always did, but this time he was the first to look away.
Wiskatchekwa steepled his long fingers under his chin and gazed at Loki. “You have had your reasons for the games and riddles you have played, trickster-spirit, but we are at a time for answers and truths. Speak what you have been hiding. Let the bones fall where they may.”
Loki took a deep breath and nodded. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the sword-that-was-not-a-sword. “You know what this is.”
“An angel’s blade,” Kali said on a sigh.
“An archangel’s blade,” the Baron countered, his gloved fingers twitching at his side.
“Where did you get it?” Kali asked.
“It’s mine. I’ve had it for… oh, a long time now. Hard to say really. You know how time is.” Loki shrugged.
“Yours,” the Baron said.
“Who are you?”
Loki slid the blade back into its sheath, dipped his head then raised it up and looked at Hella. “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she said.
“I’m kin to Lucifer, the archangel known as Gabriel.”
“Then how can you be her father?” Kali demanded, pointing at Hella. “She was born before Yahweh and his kind could crawl!”
“It’s complicated.” Loki answered Kali, but he addressed Hella. “I am still your father. I am part Jotun, just as the tales tell, and part angel,” he said with a shrug then spread his arms wide. “And all trickster.”
Tension buzzed through the room. Loki watched Hella. Hella finally looked away, unable to look at her father and take in what he was saying at the same time. Kali and the Baron shifted where they stood, clearly uncertain how to deal with Loki who was also Gabriel.
Then Wiskatchekwa laughed, full bodied, loud and infectious.
“You are the trickster-spirit Coyote if ever I saw you.” Wiskatchekwa said, his face nearly split in two by a smile. He clapped Loki on the shoulder. “Good to have you on our side of the game! Not against us!”
“Well,” Dionysus said. “Now that we have that settled, care to enlighten us about this gate that your brothers have been using?”
“It’s in a cemetery near Lawrence Kansas.”
Loki shrugged. “Its practically the exact middle of the battle ground. Plus there’s an actual piece of Christ’s cross entombed in the mausoleum that forms the base of the gate. Makes it pretty much the holiest place in all of North or South America for that crew.”
Hella laughed. “And I wonder who conned them into believing that old con job?”
“I had nothing to do with it. Besides, it really is real. I had to vouch for it when the gateway was opened up half a millennia ago.”
The other gods blinked and starred at Loki.
Loki held his hand up palm facing out, fingers splayed into a “v”. “Scouts honor.”
“You were never a scout,” Wiskatchekwa said with a sly grin.
“So we go to this gateway and seal it shut and then its all over, right?” Kali said.
“I do not think it will be that simple,” Gwyn said shaking his head. “For one thing, neither Lucifer nor Michael can remain on the human’s side of the gate if earth is to be truly safe.”
“Which means,” Dionysus continued. “They will need to be sent home, formally, through that same gate, before it is closed.”
Hella looked at Dionysus and Gwyn. “Do your vessels understand that their days of fighting demons and angels are not yet over?”
The two gods looked at each other and then back at Hella. Gwyn nodded as Dionysus spoke. “They do and they are in agreement that this work must be done for the safety of everything they love and all that they have fought so long and so hard for.”
“Will you two taking them over be enough to keep them safe?”
“Only time will tell,” Gwyn said when Dionysus did not reply.
The door to the Impala slammed shut as Sam slid into the passenger seat. Dean didn’t look over. Didn’t even acknowledge his brother, he just gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles went white.
Everything felt cold and dark around him. Dark car, dark seats, dark world. Nothing was warm any more. Nothing smelled right. Nothing felt right after…
“Hey man, you okay?” Sam asked, one hand on Dean’s arm.
Dean stared at Sam’s fingers, they were long and pale, so different from Dionysus’. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
“You wanna start the car then?”
“Oh, yeah.” Dean forced himself to laugh, to move his hands down off the wheel, to turn the key in the ignition. “Definitely time to blow this joint.”
They were a few miles out of town when Sam turned off the radio and looked at Dean.
“You wanna tell me what’s going on?”
“You, Dean. The whole death grip on the wheel and the silent treatment. I thought you were cool with what we were doing. With the whole Dionysus and Gwyn thing.”
“I am,” Dean said, too quickly. “I am.”
Dean sighed. Sammy was too damn observant for both their good. “You and Gwyn. What was it… What did it feel like?”
“When I was his vessel?”
Dean nodded. “And before. Did you meet him somewhere?”
Sam looked away, watching something beyond the widow. “I was in a forest and the Wild Hunt was there.”
“Wild Hunt, it’s what Gwyn travels with. Riders on horse back who travel the land collecting the souls of the dead to take them to Annwn – the Otherworld.”
“And he was there on his charger, a massive black horse – bigger than any I have ever seen. Beautiful and terrifying. And then he and I were walking in the woods just,” Sam shrugged, “talking. He told me about himself and Annwn and the hunt and what it would be like to be his vessel and what I would get out of it. It sounded- right. Like what I wanted. Almost...”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t know, maybe like… like something…”
“Like something you had been looking for all your life but didn’t know it?”
“Yeah,” Sam sighed. “Exactly. How did you?”
Dean just looked at Sam. Sam’s eyes went wide. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Dean said.
“So, we did the right thing?”
Dean thought about the sun warmed grape vines and Dionysus’s arms around his chest and nodded. “Yeah, we did the right thing, Sammy. We did the right thing.”
Something unclenched in Dean’s chest, the world around him felt a little warmer. As he peered over the dash board he could see the sun. It wasn’t as awesome as the sun on Naxos, but maybe when all this demon hunting was done he could take a trip and visit the Greek islands. Dean snorted. Him? On a trip anywhere, let alone Greece? That he was even thinking of such a possibility said a hell of a lot about how much his world had changed in such a short period of time. Yeah, maybe these pagan gods weren’t so bad after all.
Dean leaned over, flicked the knob on the radio and turned it up loud enough to make Sam wince, hell he could put up with the noise for once! Then with a grin, Dean hit the accelerator. They had demons and angels to hunt.