The morning was mild for this time of the year. A few umbrellas bobbed over the street, almost unnecessary in the soft drizzle. A tram came into view, long green shape winding around the corner and to a halt. The rain had stopped before the tram gave a ring and continued its path until it was out of sight. The black hands were nearing their mark. Piercing eyes turned away from the people setting up the stalls on the cobble stone square overlooking the tram station and swept over the facades of the rows of narrow houses climbing up the hill behind it.
A wind picked up and the flags hanging off the posts swayed lazily. The wind circled over the square and a bunch of pigeons fluttered upwards, over the museum and over the red umbrellas of the café to take their seat on top of a building. A newer one. Why the pigeons preferred this flat roof and the round plastic letters of the signs adorning the concrete over the unevenly sloping roof of the museum remained confusing. But those were pigeons and pigeons in this city knew to be careful about where they set their claws and turned down to rest. It was not unkind to them, but they knew not to trust the thing which made the wind rise and the city take a slow and strong breath of air into its deep, deep lungs.
Everything was silent and the black hand gave a shake before it jumped into action.
The moment of tension passed, the bells around town started chiming, the black hand of the clocks on the square reached their goal. The magic returned for another day.
It was ten o’clock on Thursday morning, it perched on the roof of the old church, peering up into the clouds, and the city came awake.
Sam stared at the mess in the main room with mixed feelings. Dean was sitting at the table, with his eyes closed and rubbing his forehead with shaking fingers. There was still one book open in front of him, but all around him books and an occasional lamp were strewn about the floor. Sam understood his frustration and didn’t hide his anxiety as well as he hoped he could, but still… Someone had to keep it together.
“You’ve lost a battle against the lamp?” Sam asked and set his plastic bags down on the table next to Dean’s. Fortunately Dean’s fit of rage hadn’t greatly touched his work station. His laptop was still intact and so were the books even though some of his notes had been cast to the floor and his mug lay in pieces against the far wall.
“Shut up, Sam.” Dean said, his voice raspy and low. Sam did and just continued unpacking. He grabbed a beer and handed it to Dean. Dean stopped his constant rubbing motion and let his hand drop. He groaned and shifted until his joints popped and then he reached out for the beer. “Any luck?” Dean didn’t raise his head to look at Sam, keeping his expression neutral. There was no reason to get his hopes up and Sam didn’t really have anything good to tell him.
Dean just shrugged at Sam’s helpless silence and the jerky shake of his head. He drained the beer and then crushed the can. He quirked his eyebrows up before he heaved himself out of his chair with a groan: “Well, that’s what I guessed.”
“Dean, there has got to be something out there. We haven’t even gone through all the books yet. Charlie’s still trying to decode that demon lore book. Maybe there’s something in there.” Dean dragged his hand through his hair, making it stick up all over the place.
“And maybe there isn’t, Sam. Maybe you’ll just have to face the fact that this is branded in my soul,” he said harshly and Sam tensed. They’ve had this argument increasingly often over the last year. “We’ve tried everything, man, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. So what we’ve got to do instead of running around like-“
“We’re not giving up on this,” Sam interrupted sharply, glaring at his brother. Dean met his eyes for a moment but then he lowered his head and shook it. “Dean, we’re not giving up at all.”
“Yeah,” Dean said, chuckling mirthlessly and Sam narrowed his eyes. “We’re just doing the wrong kind of damage control.” Sam clenched his fists on top of the table, wondering about the measure of satisfaction it would cause him to send his books flying down to the floor in a fit of anger just like Dean had previously.
Luckily for both of them the tense silence was interrupted by the ringing of Sam’s phone. Sam cast Dean a quick look, seeing his brother slump back against the edge of the table, the fight temporarily having left him. It wasn’t a good sign, but maybe it was better than him fighting Sam in case they had to go down… well… that road.
He pulled the phone out of his back pocket, relieved to see Bobby’s name come up on the screen.
“Bobby?” He couldn’t help sounding hopeful because if there was one person to find the missing puzzle piece it had to be Bobby. “Any good news?”
“I might have something for you.”
Of all the shitty things that have happened to Dean in the last… well 30 years give or take, this one probably took the cake.
“Oh come on, man, why are you so vehemently against this?” They’d been arguing in circles for the last two days and Dean felt like Sam was starting to sound like a broken record. But maybe so was he since they were both being increasingly stubborn about what they wanted (which might be the same thing but the execution clearly went in totally different directions). Sam stuffed a book that he certainly wouldn’t need into his suitcase. Suitcases. Since when did the two of them actually own anything that wasn’t a duffle bag?
“Why? Well maybe because this sounds like a freaking dead end and I don’t have to cross an ocean to figure that out!” Dean argued back, hands firmly crossed over his chest and demonstratively not moving one muscle to help. He was sure Sam had already packed his crap for him anyway. Sam groaned in exasperation, but chose to first force the suitcase closed before he answered.
“You don’t know that, Dean! We’ve chased down every lead we could so far, so we’ve got to look elsewhere for-“
“Not in fucking Europe!” Dean shouted and Sam’s mouth snapped shut, but the narrowing of his eyes signaled that he was far from done arguing his case. Dean uncrossed his arms and balled his hands to fists at his sides. “Do you know how long this might take? Do you really think this is worth wasting weeks? Do you even know how close May is?” Dean wasn’t proud of it but he was glad to see some of the fight draining out of Sam just like that. Somehow the same exhaustion which made his brother look older than he really was, was pulling at Dean’s chest. He sighed deeply and shook his head.
“I know how close it is… Believe me, I’ve been keeping track of every day,” Sam said quietly, more to himself than to Dean. Then, slowly, he resumed sorting through the things that he hadn’t packed. Dean watched him until finally Sam was ready to carry the suitcase to the garage. Dean didn’t follow him, but instead sat down heavily. After a moment of hesitation he pulled the files close. Bobby hadn’t found a whole lot for them to go on and they were still waiting to hear back from Bela since magical objects were her area of expertise. The Men of Letters library had very little to offer either so Dean felt that not wanting to go off into the blue on a hunch was justified.
“Basilisk eggs,” he snorted and opened the thin manila folder to read the sparse information once again.
“Catalogue of Men of Letters Bestiary – B
Basilisk. (Mythological great beast, extinct)
Like with most creatures that found their way into popular knowledge, imagination mixed liberally with fact. No Man of Letter has come into contact with this beast and only second hand tales are available.
It was suggested that Basilisks exist in various forms, with their king making its nest in the bellies of cities (see Cuthbert Sinclair’s encyclopedia of creatures -> great beast) while smaller Basilisks are nothing more than dangerous animals that have only a fraction of the magical merits of its king. See entries for minor basilisk: scales and minor basilisk: crown.
The species in general has been hunted for their bodies which have magical properties and it’s assumed that this drove them to extinction.”
“They don’t even say anything about basilisk eggs,” Dean complained when Sam was back. His brother wiped his hair out of his face with an air of frustration.
“Sinclair’s encyclopedia does, Dean. There is ample evidence that the eggs have magical properties, which can repel demons, free you from any curse and break a devil’s hold over you. I think that’s what we need,” Sam said and grabbed the folder from underneath Dean’s elbows. Dean shouted in protest but Sam was already flipping the folder shut and stuffing it into a bag.
“Yeah maybe, but have you missed the part that says ‘extinct’?” Dean asked tersely, pushing himself away from the table and getting up.
“Rufus is sure that he crossed a basilisk and both Bobby and I trust Rufus’ judgement,” Sam argued and Dean had heard it a thousand times. Dean didn’t need to walk around like a tiger in a cage for Sam to know that he was being difficult because he was nervous.
“I might never see this place again, you know that?” he finally said and it felt like a punch in the gut to admit to it. He shoved the feeling deep down. “If I get into that plane it might crash or we’re stuck there until May and then I’ll be stranded in a place where I don’t even speak the language to flirt with the ladies,” he complained loudly but both he and Sam knew that this was him giving in to Sam’s wishes. When Dean looked up he saw a bright grin on Sam’s face and that almost made the icy dread in the pit of his stomach worth it. Because he wasn’t really joking. He didn’t want to leave.
“The plane won’t crash and you know it,” Sam told him, “you won’t die before the ten years of your deal are up.” Dean rolled his eyes.
“A small comfort,” he muttered and followed Sam to the garage, trying not to think of this as good-bye.
One of the major flaws in the Winchester’s planning was that neither of them were adequately prepared for a hunt outside of North America. They knew nothing about hunting networks, nothing about how to access the libraries, how to get weapons, where to get ingredients. Both might have skills in non-English languages and had mastered Latin long ago but this was terra nova. And they were totally out of their depth.
Rufus (who apparently was home everywhere and had his connections all over the globe) had been kind enough to arrange lodgings for them with a friend of a friend of a relative, who spoke some words of warning (or welcome?) in French and then handed them the key. Getting there with a taxi had been relatively easy (if not surprisingly pricey) but now they were on this foreign continent, surrounded by people speaking a foreign mumble jumble.
“You know, it could be worse?” Sam asked and rubbed his sleeve against the window until he could look outside at the beautiful view of the next building’s wall.
“Worse than being in a country where they speak French, in a tiny ass hut where you hit your head every two minutes, located directly next to a sex shop?”
“Most people speak German here,” Sam interjected but Dean only glared at him. “Besides, it’s not so bad. When do you get the chance to stay in a house built in the 15th century?” Dean frowned because he really didn’t care about that. Living in the bunker was historical enough for him, but he let Sam have his two minutes of geeking out.
“Okay. So according to Rufus the creature showed up… uhm,” Dean bent over the map spread out on the table, trying to make sense of it. But after 3 minutes of staring he gave up. If he could figure out how to get the internet running this would be way faster.
“Dean, let’s just wait to meet Rufus. You’ve puked so much on the flight you must be totally exhausted,” Dean heard Sam say, but he just flipped him off and looked at the name of the place again where they were supposed to meet Rufus before he travelled off to God knows where to hunt God knows what. He was still glaring at nothing in particular when he heard the sound of wood cracking and Sam curse. He looked over his shoulder, not even trying to hold back the grin when he saw Sam rub his forehead. He had opened the door to look out into the street again. It was still quite early in the day and next to a couple of kids walking or pushing their bikes up the hill nobody seemed to be about. There was a bridge close by which crossed over the Rhine and Dean could hear the sound of a tram rattling by. The house shook slightly and Dean already felt a headache coming.
“We’re due to meet Rufus tomorrow shortly before ten on…”
“Right. So that leaves us with plenty of time to just do some sight-seeing, figuring out what is where?” The questioning tone made Dean look up from the laptop he had just pulled out of Sam’s bag. Sam was looking at him with big, pleading eyes, signaling to Dean that his brother only had his best interests in mind. Dean resented constantly being the object of all the concerned pitying looks.
“You can go sight-seeing all you want. I’m here to work. And the sooner I get my ass back in my car and my feet back on American soil the better,” he said grouchily even though he was being difficult on principle alone. He had no idea where to get food, but food was always a good idea. Maybe there was a diner around somewhere. If they even had diners in this joke of a country.
Oh how he dreamt of darkness.
Of the taste of sulfur closing in on him with the ticking of the clock.
They had passed the square where they were to meet Rufus on the previous day. They had followed the road leading away from the Rhine. This time of the day the pedestrians only rule didn’t yet apply, but there was just one vehicle that made Dean and Sam step to the side.
Basel, they had found, was surprisingly manageable for being one of the biggest cities in the country. Sure, it probably sprawled out into suburbs, but the core was contained. Sam had wanted to explore, to also head over to the other side of the river, but Dean had vehemently refused to do more than the bare necessity (which was eating and grumbling) and Sam acted like a puppy with abandonment issues and didn’t want to leave his side.
They didn’t return to that one diner they had found for breakfast because the price of a diner here came quite close to what Dean had to pay for a not too shabby restaurant back at home (not that he ever visited not too shabby restaurants unless Bela was paying out of gratitude or pity).
They ducked into one of the few open, promising looking shops and grabbed something cheap for breakfast that hardly satisfied Dean’s need for something substantial. Sam shot him an irritated look while he fumbled with the foreign currency and then he joined his brother outside. From here they just had to cross to the other side of the street, duck under the red umbrellas of a café, and ascend a couple of steps to be on the elevated, cobble stone platform that made up Barfüsserplatz. Dean squinted towards the pole holding a clock. It was a quarter to ten and it was a grey morning, not exactly cloudy but there seemed to be a haze of fog making the sky look milky white.
“There you boys are,” a familiar and welcome voice called and Dean swallowed the rest of his chocolate croissant (hardly a warrior’s breakfast) before he pulled his mouth into a wide grin.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes, Rufus,” Dean said and Rufus laughed. They exchanged brief greetings before Rufus cut straight to business.
“I’ve just been coming through here on my journey, stocking up on some stuff,” he said, “when I came across this.”
“What exactly is this, anyway? Why are we meeting here?” Sam asked and looked over his shoulder. It was a fairly public place and they stood out enough in their dress and language to draw attention. Rufus however seemed undisturbed. He checked his own watch and nodded to himself.
“It’s almost time. Just shut your traps and keep your eyes open.” Dean shot his brother an unimpressed look, before he pushed his hands into the pockets of his jacket and gazed about himself. Nothing was out of the ordinary; a couple of pigeons were pecking at some crumbs that had been left behind by the wooden benches on the other side of the square. Behind him rose a building that looked pitifully asymmetrical and a woman was currently cleaning the glass doors leading inside. Dean couldn’t perceive much beyond a darkened interior but from Sam’s babbling yesterday he knew it to be an old church turned into a history museum. Nothing suspicious was going on, not that it was easy to tell apart human from monster, but Rufus eyes weren’t focused on anybody, instead he checked his watch again. Dean was about to ask if a ghost tram would tucker around the corner when the clock stroke ten and he felt it.
A shiver went through him like the soft caress of fingers brushing over his shoulders. He suppressed a gasp but took his hands out of his pockets to grab for his knife. Rufus reached out to stay him and Dean relented with a frown. The wind picked up and ruffled Sam’s hair. The pigeons suddenly took flight and then a bell started chiming its melody and a booming bell rang ten times. Something was happening, Dean held his breath and then the wind stopped and the strange tension passed them by. Dean could breathe easily again.
For a moment he was dazed, confused and there was just the faintest ringing in his ears which soon faded into nothing, like the chime of the bells.
“And?” Sam asked, his face a mask of confusion. Dean looked past him and up at the clock. It was barely a minute after ten. “What was it?”
“You’re the psychic among us, surely you will have noticed that there was a sudden influx of power in the air,” Rufus huffed and Sam lifted his eyebrow. If Rufus was surprised that Sam’s powers didn’t allow him an insight into what had happened, then he didn’t show it. He merely turned to Dean. “What about you, son? Is hell closing in already?” Dean made an unhappy noise in the back of his throat, but then he looked around again. Behind him the door of the museum punctually opened for visitors.
“It’s all still pretty hazy. I only felt some…” Dean lifted his hand to rub his chin, trying to call the sensation back into memory. What had it been? Surely that brush across his shoulder hadn’t been real. He dropped his hand and shook his head in frustration. “I don’t know. Some energy I suppose. Nothing concrete or corporal. Not like a ghost. Bigger somehow, less dense.” Rufus nodded along.
“How can you two notice that? I just felt the wind,” Sam complained, clearly upset, but not too much otherwise he wouldn’t be whining. Dean tried to find some amusement in it.
“Well, I guess that means that we’re not dealing with any hell business, right?”
“You know what we’re dealing with,” Rufus reminded him and when both Winchesters looked at him, he sighed and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Let’s get a cup of coffee and talk it over before I have to be gone.”
“Why do you have to be gone anyway? Isn’t this important?” Dean dared to ask even though he knew it was hardly a good idea to bully Rufus into anything.
“Do I look like I don’t have other important shit to do?” Rufus asked, leading them away from Barfüsserplatz, around the right side of the church. Dean lifted his head, looking up the pale façade with its narrow, high windows and then the roof. The sun reflected off it oddly, making Dean feel like there was a flicker of a shadow that wasn’t supposed to be there. He still stared at it, until he was forced to look where he was going. Rufus guided them past old grave stones suspended on a wall and then out into one of the main streets again. There was a Starbucks up ahead and Dean momentarily felt a sense of fond irritation – at least that was the same as at home. But Rufus didn’t lead them there and instead turned into a side street and into a smaller, quieter place. They took seats in low armchairs in a bit of a hidden corner. There were some other patrons, reading the newspaper and magazines. Rufus ordered for all of them, though Dean was sure that he would have managed to order a coffee for himself.
“When I first noticed it I thought spirit. It was close to a church and until last century this was where the poor lived too. Terrible conditions, cholera outbreaks, the works. But then there was no drop in temperature, no EMF. It wasn’t demonic either. There actually was nothing to suggest there was something. Just my gut feeling.”
“So what makes you think basilisk? The Men of Letters library says their extinct, like the phoenix for example,” Dean said and Rufus sipped his coffee, not answering immediately. It gave Dean a moment to think back to the feeling. If this were his case, what would he even do? He knew that some magic and supernatural events left energy imprints. This is most likely what he felt, rather than the being itself.
“I wasn’t sure at all what I was dealing with. I thought maybe a fairy or some kind of not necessarily bad indigenous thing. So I did some research, stuck around for a while and I did notice a pattern of kind,” Rufus continued at last.
“The time. Ten o’clock on a Thursday morning,” Sam added, receiving a silent nod in reply. “So maybe it’s a ghost after all? Or an echo?”
“Or a pagan god maybe? Do they have pagan gods here?” Dean wondered but before either could react he continued: “were there consequences to the energy discharge?”
“Yes and no,” Rufus hedged and put a notebook on his table. He flipped through it, checking dates and graphs and newspaper clippings. “No negative consequences I can really speak of. Actually, almost nothing at all. No demonic omens, no freaky deaths, no vengeful spirits. For a country that still burned witches at the tail end of the 18th century, this place seems surprisingly docile.” Dean bit back a laugh. Rufus’ displeasure at this place being too clean of supernatural entities was quite amusing. It’s almost as if he was personally offended that there was nothing to hunt.
“So pagan god seems like a good guess,” Sam summarized, “but that means that there’s got to be a sacrifice of some sort. Maybe even frequently if that magic repeats every Thursday.”
“Nothing I could find, but it doesn’t have to be a conspicuous sacrifice if whoever is doing it is good at what they do. This town has Celtic roots, so I tried to find something. There’s not much left of it, but I did go visit a Celtic tomb close-by to see if there’s any funky business going on there. But no.”
“Doesn’t mean that there’s nothing going on, right?” Dean suggested, balling his hands into fists. A pagan god would be relatively easy to deal with. They had killed enough of them to know the drill by now. He had to remind himself that this was not a case where killing the bad guy was the main incentive.
“But it’s not a pagan god, you actually called us here because you’re thinking that we’re dealing with a basilisk,” Dean observed.
“Yeah, I do… Because after the pagan god trail led nowhere I thought about other things that can protect. Have you guys actually kept your eyes open while walking around?” Rufus asked and the question made the Winchesters look at each other in confusion. “Seen any green fountains? Small things, more like a statue with a small basin.”
“Oh, right, yes I do remember seeing something like that,” Sam said even though Dean was still frowning. “What is it?”
“A basilisk,” Rufus answered. “Basel has a number of basilisk legends and I think that it might be because it was one of the Great Beasts. Protectors of settlements. Though, you know, not always the wholly good kind.”
Great Beasts. Dean remembered tracing the term with his fingers countless times.
“Monsters that raise to the kind of power that pagan gods can have,” Dean muttered, interrupting Rufus explanation. He felt two sets of eyes on him, but he was looking down into the cup of coffee. “Human settlements have often managed to thrive where a Great Beast chose to settle down. Sometimes a Great Beast only chose a city after it had been established. Great Beasts can make a town prosper, but they can also bring great calamity.”
“Exactly,” Rufus said with an approving tone and Dean finally looked up to roll his eyes.
“Hey, I do research on occasion,” he complained and got an amused snort from Sam for it. “So you think that basilisk is still here?”
“I don’t know. Something is certainly here. If it’s the Great Beast or just some offspring, I can’t tell. But thinking about the lack of supernatural activity here, I do think that we’re dealing with something powerful. And that’s why I called Bobby. I hope this is something for you two.” Dean could hear the regretful, heavy tone his voice had taken on and he looked up into Rufus’ face. There was no reproach there and no obvious pity, but the atmosphere had turned sorrowful anyway. Dean couldn’t help withdrawing slightly, feeling apprehension hit the pit of his stomach.
“Yeah… Thank you,” he managed to say and hoped that it would be over now. He really didn’t want to think about this right now.
“So we’ve got to find out where that thing is and capture it? Or just go into its lair to… hope there are eggs to steal?” Sam asked and Dean saw Rufus shrug. He sighed, because he knew that this would be a difficult case and he wasn’t sure if it was even worth it. He raised his eyes beyond the table and looked out of the window just to catch a flicker of something tan colored slip out of view. A trench coat maybe? Dean turned back to his coffee, stirring the silver spoon in its dark, quickly cooling liquid.