The sun neared its zenith when Rischa managed to excuse herself from lessons. While she stretched her wings luxuriously on the wide balcony of the cottonwood tree, with bars of sunlight bathing the village in light in front of her, Rischa got a notion in her head. She knew without a doubt that if Bowman were there, he’d have the same feeling about the day.
It was a good day for flying.
Bowman was probably already doing exactly that somewhere out in the woods. Rischa stepped over the side of the balcony, her dainty wings spreading wide to carry her on the breeze. She decided she would explore, too, like Bowman did.
She was twelve, now, after all. Rischa might not fly much farther than the usual patrol distance most of the time, but her cousin knew the woods better than anyone. He hadn’t mentioned any dangers nearby.
After many days spent honing her gifts in the cottonwood with the ever wise and patient Cerul, everything blended together. Rischa drifted past the pine tree where she lived with her mama and daddy and Bowman, crossing over the stream and out into the woods. She hummed to herself as she banked upwards, cutting through sunbeams here and there as she set her sights on exploring.
Bowman does this all the time and he’s always happy when he returns, she thought. Time to see what the fuss is about.
The beauty of the world surrounded him.
The pristine sands of the desert. The white shine of bone bleached for years upon years. A lizard skittered by, searching for shelter as the sun beat mercilessly down, ripples of heat bending the horizon. A steady wind whipped up, sending sparkling particles into a dusty whirl before settling back down. His skin stung at the feeling, and it was good.
With a flap of astral wings and the ripple of a mirage, he was gone.
The ocean stretched out in all directions. A small island, lost in the endless blue ocean, stood on its own. A lonely seagull called out at the darkening sky above. It had washed up ashore a year back, and found a place to survive.
But no way home.
The water was cool against his hand as he dipped on in. Seaweed wavered in the reflective pool and a fish slipped out for a brief flash to see if the new intruder was food.
Long strides carried him across the island, observing the wildlife that had never seen a human before. The flesh of his vessel allowed him to experience it all in a way he hadn't known in over a millennium.
Is this what Gabriel meant when he told us about the world?
It was a puzzle to mull over as memories prodded at his mind.
Did I fail your test?
I'd make the same call
Between one step and the next, he was gone. The lonely seagull called out and the cry of its plight fell upon deaf ears.
I have questions. I have doubts.
A field stretched out before him, grassy stalks waving in the breeze. It was a peaceful, protected forest. The sun shone down from above, the warm rays more welcoming than the harsh sun of the desert and the deserted island. The grass parted before his path and he brushed a hand over the green stalks.
He could feel it.
Millennia of watching and waiting had made him forget the pleasures of the flesh. The feel of a breeze against his cheek and the caress of the water against his hand. The stinging pain of the sand.
Green eyes stared back at him from his memory, intent and distrusting. They'd given the man no reason to trust, after all. Only ultimatums and decrees.
What am I fighting for, if not them?
But that thought wasn't complete. There was something missing. A link, an explanation for why they fought so desperately. For why he fought, dedicated his existence to. Something beyond the orders left by his Father.
And so Castiel, Angel of the Lord, walked through the forest to see his Father's Creation through mortal eyes.
The tan trenchcoat stood out in the mottled greens like a pit viper among hamsters. In the back of his mind, his duties called. He could feel the location of the Winchesters at all times, no matter how far he traveled in his search. The constant murmur of voices in the back of his mind was pushed to a mere whisper. If anyone needed to talk to him, they would do it directly. He did not need to know everything. Uriel's voice especially ground out a dissonant tone that echoed along the waves of their song.
I am not here to judge you, Dean.
But what was he on earth for? Why did he have doubts?
The noontime sun warmed him from above even as he wrestled with the doubts that snuck up inside him.
The sunlight warmed the many trees of Wellwood and filtered between their branches to the foliage-littered floor below. The green and gold hues gave the shade beneath the trees a healthy, happy look. Birds chattered at one another and squirrels chased each other back and forth.
The morning dew had long since dried in the hot sunlight, leaving the grass and leaves without the jewel-like sparkle of a million drops of water. They were no less beautiful. They gleamed with their vibrant greens, practically glowing in the sunlight as if lit from within.
Scents of pine and maple mixed with that of the rain soaked earth. The ground was soft and springy and the dappled sun danced across it. Flowers opened their colorful faces to the day, joyously reaching upwards.
Rischa landed among a bed of fragrant wildflowers, gracefully tucking her wings to her back while her shoes settled on the mossy forest floor. The flowers and the grass both stood taller than her, and they ringed her vision when she peered straight up. Rischa’s eyes shone like liquid gold as the sun warmed her face.
It truly was a gorgeous day, and Rischa was glad she’d taken the chance to get out and enjoy it. She knew well that she’d need to return to her lessons tomorrow, but for now, her companions were the wildflowers and the butterflies that floated around them.
Rischa held her arms out to the sides, her fingers splayed wide, and laughed. The sun on her skin and the breeze tousling her wings and the flowing fabric of her tunic sent a thrum of energy through her.
She was no stranger to the feeling. It was life and the simple beauty of it. Rischa knew better than almost anyone how truly amazing the magic of life was. Her connection with the Spirit ensured it.
Out here, among the trees and flowers and the wind, all on her own, Rischa thought she might have a better understanding for why Bowman couldn’t stop flying. He didn’t practice his Prayers very much, but flying filled him with the same feeling, Rischa justknew it.
The girl wove her way among the flowers, picking up petals or leaves here and there to brush a hand along the soft foliage. The sweet scent attracted bees and butterflies above, and Rischa watched the insects drift from flower to flower. They were happy for the nice day, too.
Her shoes pressed lightly in the moss as she wended her way through the flowerbed, and eventually Rischa began to hum again. Her singing voice was strong like her mother’s, clear like a bell and living up to the Songbird name.
A directionless tune floated past her lips and Rischa danced softly among the flowers, letting her connection to the Lady of Life open like she was welcoming a friend. In truth, she was. Her braids, intertwined with supple green blades of grass, flew in the air with every turn as she frolicked.
It was when Castiel decided to leave the forest behind that he heard the song.
He paused, his wings outstretched for flight, and tried to listen harder. The wind rustled feathers that no human could see unless he let them, briefly trying to lift him away from the ground regardless of his wishes.
The song was haunting, but earthly. It wove a distinct contrast to the song of the angels that always remained in the back of his mind, their own way of communication that stretched beyond the barrier of space. It was the only way they could stay in touch as a race when the mission called for them to be on the other side of the planet, sometimes for years upon years on end. He himself had not returned to his home in heaven in over a millenia, serving at his brothers and sisters side without complaint.
Curiosity made him fold his wings back down into nothingness.
There were no humans close by in the forest. All he could sense was some campers near the human lands some miles away. They would never know he had been in the area, and he wanted to keep it that way. His directionless wanderings while he tried to unravel the contradicting lines of thought would not be disturbed by the people he was supposed to be protecting.
With all that in mind, he continued his march through the forest. This time, he had a direction and a purpose. To discover what was out in the serene landscape.
Not far away, the singing faltered and stopped. Rischa halted her dancing and stared at the ground with a concentrated frown. It was faint, but it grew a little each time. She knew that feeling. Rhythmic tremors in the ground accompanied every visit from a human.
She almost fluttered into the air to greet them, thinking that soon one of the few human allies to Wellwood might stomp into view. They were giants, but Rischa had always been able to tell that they were good. Her wings were unfurled before she realized something.
She could feel the approach not only in the ground but in traces of the aura around them. Her brow pinched in deeper concentration. Normally, the closer someone came to her, the better she could make sense of the feelings that danced around them. Whatever giant approached only became more confusing.
Rischa thought of her time spent in the hands of a madman. Even his emotions weren't anywhere near as chaotic as whatever she was getting from the newcomer. She looked up, between stalks of grass and flowers, and tried to see who it was.
He was easy to spot. Pale skin, disheveled black hair, and a long light brown coat ensured that the human would never blend in among the trees and grass. Rischa's breath quickened. The stranger walked with a steady gait right towards her.
Humans' long legs carried them swiftly. This man was no exception. Rischa didn't want to risk revealing herself to him, so she stayed on the ground with her heart fluttering in growing uncertainty and worry. The fact that she couldn't read his intent among the swirling maelstrom of his aura made her feel blind. It had never happened before.
Rischa had no way to find out if this giant had ill intent or not. He definitely had a look about him that confused her. The look on his face spoke of experience, but experience with what she could hardly begin to fathom. He was coming closer.
Bereft of her usual gift and the calm it provided, an instinct to hide came roaring into her head. Rischa didn't know what else to do. She shuddered and tucked herself among a thick tuft of grass and flowers, relying on her wings and clothes to conceal her.
Castiel paused for a moment to take in the world around him. The song had vanished, swallowed by a warm breeze as it rustled through the grass. His search had stalled for a moment as he sought a new direction.
Humans weren’t close to him in the forest, and the song voice had been soft for one of them. Not many could hope to duplicate such a sound.
With that in mind, he turned his search inward, letting his sense slowly surge forth as he collected himself at his center. Part of having a vessel meant his normal senses were dampened, but he could still reach out if he concentrated, the same as he could still fly if he wanted to. It was how he kept in touch with his brothers and sisters, and kept a steady eye on those Winchesters even as they insisted on getting into constant trouble with what Uriel deemed as unimportant little wastes of time.
His search ended as he heard an out of place rustle in the flowers and the grass. It was caused by no animal, and as he listened closer, he could hear the steady beat of dainty wings. Castiel twisted in place, staring right at where the sound was coming from.
Rischa had to clap her hands over her mouth to avoid letting out a cry of alarm. He can't see me ... can he? Her eyes were fixed on the giant's face above. She still couldn't make sense of anything she read from him. All she knew was that he'd whirled and turned his striking blue eyes right towards her.
She didn't know what to do. Rischa had only ever met a few humans before. One was nice to her without question. Another had nearly crushed her in his hand. This man could do either.
Rischa was all alone in her decision. She had stupidly thought she'd be fine coming out here on her own. If things turned out okay, she could laugh it off with Bowman later. But if they didn't and this giant wasn't one of the good ones, anything could happen. He could try to take her away.
Rischa kept her hands over her mouth to hide the sound of her frightened breathing, and remained as still as she could among the flowers. She couldn't risk flying away; she wasn't fast enough.
Castiel was contemplative. He still didn’t know what he was dealing with, but it didn’t seem dangerous… not in the way a witch or a ghoul was, or even a human could be. All of those could cause damage whether they meant to or not.
“I know that you’re hiding, little one,” he said to the field at large. His piercing blue eyes didn’t waver. More than once, that gaze had made lesser men look away from him. It also served to rile certain humans up when they refused to relent. “But I don’t recognize what you are.”
Rischa's breath caught. She blinked rapidly, casting around in her mind for an explanation. She wondered if maybe the man had seen her dive for cover. But then again, he might have just come right for her if he did.
What she did know for certain was that he hadn't made any moves against her, despite knowing she was there. Rischa lowered her hands from her mouth and took a deep breath. She couldn't make sense of the intent around this man, but she had to hope that she wasn't in as much danger as she originally thought. She couldn't feel anything malicious about him, at least, even if that gaze was powerful and intimidating.
Before she could scare herself out of it, Rischa reached out a hand and pushed some grass aside so she could lean forward, her face framed by green and the soft pastel colors of the flowers around her. "I ... I don't recognize what you are, either, so I guess we match."
Castiel's piercing blue eyes found the tiny girl that was peering out at him instantly. Her size, though not unexpected from what he'd sensed, still caught him off guard.
"I am Castiel," he introduced himself levelly. "An angel of the Lord. I thought I was familiar with all of my Father's creation, but I may have been mistaken." His brow furrowed. Not knowing seemed to be a theme of his time on earth in this new vessel. He didn't know what to do with the Righteous Man, he didn't understand Uriel's resistance to working with the humans.
And now he didn't know what he was looking at, bare feet away.
Rischa leaned out further, confusion on her face. She glanced over the tall man, but his appearance didn't help explain any of his words. With a sigh, she ducked back and let the grass spring into place again, concealing her. But in a second she rounded the patch to take a few hesitant steps forwards, timidly staring up at Castiel.
"Castiel, my name's Rischa Songbird," she greeted, offering him a polite curtsy. Her hands clasped in front of herself then, and her wings fanned slowly open and closed. She refrained from taking flight for the moment, though the temptation was strong to put herself closer to his eye level.
"I don't know what an angel is," she confessed sheepishly. "But I guess there's a lot of people out there who don't know what a wood sprite is, so don't feel bad." All of that said, Rischa smiled a more genuine smile, though it was still shy.
“Wood sprite,” he repeated, almost to himself. He wondered distantly if hunters had ever run into wood sprites. It wouldn’t be the first time discovering something not of his Father’s Creation. The other gods and goddesses were always up to trouble back in the days when their powers were stronger. The coming of Jesus had weakened that, allowing the other gods to be chased to the corners where they belonged.
This small girl didn’t feel anything like they had, though.
“Angels are protectors of Mankind,” he informed her kindly. “We watch over the world. I have been with my garrison since Creation. Though I have never met any ‘wood sprites’ before.”
Rischa nodded thoughtfully. She still couldn't make sense of the aura around Castiel, but she began to think that it might be part of his nature to be that way. It was strange, but she could still be as polite to him as he was to her.
Tired of craning her neck back to look at him, Rischa spread her leafy wings and, with a few flaps, got herself into the air. She flew in a tight, measured spiral upwards until she could over closer to Castiel's eye level to continue their very strange and interesting conversation.
"I don't know how long ago the world was made, but I guess that would mean you've been here a very long time," she surmised. "But I think we try to stay hidden on purpose. The humans are very big, after all."
Castiel nodded, watching the small girl flutter with curious blue eyes. “They don’t mean to be,” he said in return, thinking of the humans he was most familiar with. “It is simply how they were made.” Even Jimmy, whose body and mind he shared, was interested in the tiny girl that revealed herself to them. Dean and Sam would be the same, though it was questionable if their interest would be so innocent. Hunters saw the world through shaded lenses of danger, and could act precipitously if they thought they needed to.
“Humans have grown taller as time went on,” Castiel mused out loud. “I remember a time when anyone who stood over six feet tall was considered a ‘giant,’ though humans love to exaggerate, even back then.” The battle of David and Goliath was particularly interesting in modern context considering the ‘giant’ had only topped out at 6’5”. Time and legend had grown his stature with every telling.
That made Rischa giggle. "Well, I would have to agree with them even now," she admitted. Indeed, though she'd grown some in the last few years, Rischa was small like any sprite. She doubted she'd stand as tall as Castiel's finger if they were to compare. She only stood at three inches, and doubted she would reach the lofty four.
She inched just a little closer, more at ease with each passing second of simple, easy conversation. Castiel might not be human, and he might be very tall regardless, but he was nice. He hadn't once grabbed at her, and he didn't seem like he was going to, even though Rischa couldn't read his emotions like she could most people's. They were saturated and foreign, like colors she'd never seen before and for which she had no name.
"I'm not sure why sprites are small, either," she mused. "I don't know if we've gotten bigger or smaller over time. But my cousin Bowman is a lot taller than me. A whole inch, actually."
“Every creature has its place,” Castiel said. “A hummingbird will never grow the size of a bear.” He regarded the tiny sprite with unblinking curiosity. Such a fragile creature, yet so welcoming. Humans were suspicious by nature, even of each other. Not once had Castiel managed to truly gain Dean Winchester’s confidence. Every move he made just seemed to make the hunter more wary of him.
“Are there more like you?” Castiel asked. “In other places?” He had to wonder if he should warn his brothers and sisters of these peaceful people. Angels could be heavy handed on occasion.
Rischa smiled and nodded, thinking nothing of revealing others to Castiel. She got a strong feeling that she could trust him not to bring them to harm. It could have been simple intuition, or her growing used to the readings she could get from him. It could even be the Spirit Herself telling her something about him, but Rischa trusted him.
"I'm sure they're all over," she answered, thinking of what she knew of the other sprites. "There's other kinds of sprites, too. The Spirits made us and we do our best to take care of everything. Us wood sprites take care of the plants and things, and, um, I think water sprites try to keep water clean!"
Castiel pursed his lips as he thought that over. “So you are caretakers,” he surmised. “Guardians of your habitat. My people do not live on earth, but we have our own duty, given by our Father at the time of Creation. We are to guard over mankind, watching for the end of days. And we are…” He trailed off, remembering his conundrum from earlier that very day.
Fighting for humans while fighting against humans. Angels sent to destroy entire towns while claiming to be protectors. Dean and Sam digging their heels in and putting their lives on the line to protect a town of humans against Uriel’s wrath.
“Protectors,” Castiel finished, firming his own conviction. “Helping those who can’t help themselves.”
Rischa beamed at him. "Oh, that's very good of you, Castiel," she told him. "Thank you. I'm sure you work very hard." Rischa couldn't tell yet what Castiel even was, but she was getting a sense that, though he looked human, there was a lot more to him. That part of him was what made him so incomprehensible to her empathy. The Spirit might be able to understand, but Rischa had no frame of reference.
That certainly wouldn't stop her from being kind to him, after he'd been so kind to her. She meandered back and forth in the air, her leafy wings carrying her in a simple pattern. "I guess we try to do that too. Trees can only do so much to protect themselves after all!" She giggled. "We make sure they stay happy."
“It’s good to do your duty,” Castiel agreed. “If only all the angels would remember that. I think sometimes even we need a reminder of what we’re fighting for. Why we’re fighting. The humans are a good reminder. They’re always so determined, no matter how short their lives are. They take a stand in the face of the impossible, even when it means they stand against us.”
He looked around at the peaceful forest that surrounded them, an idyllic scene so different than his recent battles. The memory of sitting out in a park with Dean only the other day and watching the children play around on the playground came to mind. Without the hunter, all those kids would have been caught up in Uriel’s blast. Dean had spent that afternoon watching what had been saved by his and Sam’s determination, and Castiel had joined him.
I was praying that you would choose to save the town.
“Hopefully the humans don’t interfere with your purpose,” Castiel said to the girl. It wasn’t hard to imagine someone as small as her being snatched up. Not all humans were good. Even those like Dean and Sam would grab first, ask questions later. The unknown was feared, and a sprite like her was unknown to even Castiel.
Rischa nodded, a look of concern passing over her face for only a second. She had heard plenty about the humans that were dangerous. Before that, she had met one whose face still made her shudder if she thought of it. Human hands, so huge and powerful, could crush her easily, as that man had demonstrated once.
"I don't think most of them would try," she decided after her pause. "Even ... even if a lot of them would try to catch us first, I don't think they'd want to be mean once they realized what's going on. Humans do their best just like anybody."
Rischa had to smile faintly at the memory of Jacob's first time in the woods. He and Bowman hadn't exactly gotten along then, but now they were, without a doubt, best friends.
"It's hard sometimes to see eye to eye when people are so different, but I guess that just means we gotta be careful and patient, right?"
“We do,” Castiel agreed with the tiny sprite that fluttered in the air of the forest. “And when they stray from the path, we can be there to remind them. To help them understand.” Perhaps he could find a way to understand Dean. One day. Until then he would continue to watch over the Righteous Man. Dean had a destiny, whether he admitted it or not.
Rischa smiled brightly. She couldn't be certain with the strange way Castiel's emotions echoed around, like a foreign tune with instruments she'd never seen before, but she thought something might have shifted. It might be resolve, or it might be something else, but Rischa chose to be hopeful.
A bird's call caught her attention and Rischa glanced up at the sky ruefully. She had been out for a while, and while she was very happy to make a new friend, her mother would want her to come home soon. "I should probably head back before someone worries about me," she said regretfully. "Castiel, if you want to, you should come and visit us someday. It'd be fun!"
“If there is ever time during the fight, I will take another walk,” Castiel responded. He tilted his head back to stare at the sun one last time. The calls in the back of his mind came to the fore, a staccato beat of Uriel’s frustration hitting him first. Already the other angel was berating him for missing out.
Castiel had not sought Revelation as he had. Now he would have to take their orders through the other angel.
“Farewell, Rischa Songbird. May we meet again.” With that, his own wings fluttered and took hold, and he vanished. The warmth from the sun left his cheeks and he returned to the dark fight he’d sought respite from.