They resumed their trek ever downward, keeping an eye on the rooms they passed. Eventually they found one that was empty – of everything. It had no furniture and the floor was cold hard stone. They could see only one way in and out. The trio slipped in and sat down, appreciating a moment to rest though Dean wouldn’t stop fidgeting.
“How long?” he asked.
Sam checked the pocket watch. “Quarter of an hour topside. Down here we’re now at twenty seconds to every one.”
“That would place us near the neighborhood I spent time in.”
Sam nodded. “Man, wish we hadn’t thrown away our food.”
“Wouldn’t have found Famine if we hadn’t.”
“So how do we get to Pestilence? Wait for one of us to get sick?”
Bela coughed nervously. “I... might be able to help.”
Both of them looked at her.
“Given what my... ‘day job’ was in life, they seem to be giving me the ability to ‘steal’ health from the living,” she explained.
“So you’re a disease demon,” said Sam.
“About to be. ‘til you two helped out.”
“So you make one of us sick, and we’ll find Pestilence?” asked Dean.
Bela nodded, disrupting the smoke that now made up her hair.
Dean looked at Sam. “Paper-rock-scissors?”
“You, Dean,” said Bela.
They both looked at her in bewilderment.
“I can sense that you’re already partially injured. Besides I shot Sam once. I would rather not injure him again – especially after he saved me.”
“Can you undo whatever you infect me with?” Dean asked as he started undoing the bandage around his left leg.
“I... think I can,” Bela said as she leaned over the wound. Focusing on a gash along his shin, Bela’s eyes turned solid green before she vomited a yellow pus over the wound. Dean and Sam both had to look away as she worked.
Dean started to talk but was reduced to a coughing fit. “What did you give me?” he finally asked.
“Um... I don’t have that much control...” said Bela.
“What did you give him?” demanded Sam.
“I didn’t give him Ebola,” she said.
Dean looked at the whitening leprosy spot on his left hand. “Just everything else?”
“Maybe not HIV.”
Sam helped his brother to his feet. “Come on, Dean, let’s parade you around and see if he takes the bait.”
Supporting Dean and his gear, Sam led the way out of the room. He checked the map but found no hints as to where to go, so they picked a direction and started walking.
“Bro, you need to lose some weight,” said Sam.
“Go on. Call me Mr. Frodo. Just once.”
“Not now, Dean,” Sam said, though it was already too late, he couldn’t stop himself from a little guffaw.
“Come on... I’ve got the ‘One Blade’, you’re named Sam... do it.”
He punched his older brother’s side and waited for the retaliatory noogie. Instead Dean started coughing up flecks of blood.
Concerned, Sam checked the latest rendering on the map. Behind them and to the right was a large room labeled ‘the Incubator.’ The room between them and it was labeled ‘the Children’s Ward.’
They turned around and backtracked through a tall, narrow hall lined with shards of mirrors and a spongy, red, circular hall that pulsated like the throat of a great beast. Past it they entered a bright, white room with a high ceiling. Bunk-beds, four high, lined the walls to their left and right. Little girl after little girl dropped from the beds, staring at the Winchesters with sullen, angry eyes.
“Acheri demons,” noted Sam. “Hadn’t seen them since Ava was wasted.”
On the far side of the room, a bald, sickly-looking man they both recognized walked through the doorway. “I thought I smelled mortals coming,” said Pestilence. “Dean. Sam. We got to spend so little time together before.”
“Oh we’re all about quality time,” Dean said as he and his brother adjusted their duffel bags and unzipped them.
“He’s right. I was stuck down here for years and never did get to know you,” Sam said as they inched forward. “What’s your favorite movie?”
“I know that,” said Dean, “it’s Outbreak. I’m curious about his favorite book.”
“I bet it’s the Andromeda Strain.”
Pestilence laughed. By now the little girls in the room had either surrounded the brothers, or gathered about the horseman. He smiled as he patted one’s head like a father would to his daughter. “The DSM, actually. I find it so funny the diseases you humans will inflict upon yourselves without any help from me… though demons can be helpful in breaking a mind,” he said, looking straight at Bela.
“Hey! Over here, Sneezy,” Dean said before he started coughing violently.
Sam, doing his best to hide concern for his brother and failing, tried to take over the taunting. “You should worry about us, not some two-bit demon.”
“Oh no, she was to be one of my nurses,” said Pestilence. They looked through the door behind him and noticed there seemed to be several women clad in scanty nurse outfits milling around a throne built of medical equipment.
“You see it?” Sam half whispered.
“Yeah,” Dean said hoarsely.
“A lot of them between us and it.”
“I’ll clear, you run,” said Dean before he lunged forward and stabbed the closest acheri demon. The little girl disintegrated in a cloud of burning coals.
“Really?” laughed the horseman. “You want a round two without your little angel helping you?”
Another demon got too close and Dean sliced her in half with the First Blade. “Huh, I feel better,” he commented, straightening up a bit. “Give us your best shot you overgrown bug farm.”
“Fine,” said Pestilence. “No long, drawn-out suffering this time. You will die – now.” Flies and mosquitoes, surrounded by a noxious green and yellow cloud, spewed from Pestilence’s body. The brothers dropped their bags to the ground and ducked right before the clouds of bugs and diseases covered them.
“Bring the recruit here. Painfully,” Pestilence said with a dismissive wave of his hand as he turned back to the throne room.
The little girls advanced towards Bela.
Sam and Dean burst from the cloud of disease and insects still swarming about. Both of them were wearing gas masks they had purchased from a military surplus store. In their hands they held the gas cans of holy water. They took the offensive, charging at Pestilence and driving back the archeri demons that got in their way. The girls shrank back, crying in pain, and leaving a clear path to the horseman.
Dean was through the doorway and into the Incubator first, swinging the can at the demon servants that closed in on them. Behind him, Sam knelt down and pulled out a canister of salt, spreading it across the door’s threshold before any of the acheri could follow.
“Done!” he shouted.
Dean tossed the holy water over his shoulder to his brother. Sam caught the can as Dean stabbed a demon that got too close.
“Ladies, there’s two ways this can go down,” Dean said, his voice echoing a bit from the confines of the mask. “I’d enjoy either, but you’ll only enjoy one of them.” Another demon charged and he decapitated her. “Poor choice.”
Sam followed his brother’s steady advance towards the throne using the holy water and Ruby’s knife to keep their back cleared.
“Aren’t you clever,” Pestilence said, suddenly appearing before Dean. He ripped the gas mask off with one motion and breathed into Dean’s face.
Momentarily stunned, the elder Winchester stood there a moment, trying to regain his wits. Then he flipped the First Blade over and stabbed another demon. His arm glowed as the demon disintegrated. “All better,” Dean said with a smart-ass expression.
Pestilence swung a wide punch. Dean blocked it with his left arm and buried the Blade into the horseman’s gut.
“Stop toying with him and get this done,” Sam said with his customary annoyance towards his brother’s showy ways.
“I agree,” said Pestilence. He grabbed the shoulder of Dean’s jacket, picked the human up and slammed him onto his back. “Looks like I’ll have to use the traditional method.” The horseman straddled Dean and began pummeling his face.
Dean yanked the First Blade out of the horseman’s stomach and stabbed him again in the side of the neck.
“Try again,” Pestilence said, raising his fist.
“Like this?” asked Sam. While Dean had been distracting the horseman, Sam had made his way to the horseman’s throne. It was built of numerous medical instruments from both ancient and modern times, all as rusted and useless as the components of Famine’s chair. Pestilence’s crown looked like one of those head-mirrors used for years by doctors, except it had a pale green jewel in the middle of the mirror.
In fighting to this position, Sam had passed several tools laid out on a table, and picked up an old, blood covered bone saw. It had obviously been used by Pestilence and his helpers for purposes Sam tried not to think about. Once he’d gotten his hands on the crown, Sam cut one side of the strap holding the mirror, when Dean stabbed Pestilence’s neck. Unsure if his brother could survive much more punishment, Sam taunted the horseman again.
As soon as Pestilence’s eyes were on him, Sam used the old saw to cut the mirror free from the crown on the other side. Immediately the mirror surrounding the green gem began to melt and warp into the shape of a ring.
“Kill him!” shouted Pestilence. One of his demonic nurses raced towards Sam. With his hands fun, Sam threw the old bone saw but it glanced off her with no effect.
Dean twisted Pestilence off him, yanking the First Blade free. “Get down, Sammy!” Sam ducked just as Dean threw the Blade. It hit the demon full on the chest just as her claws got close enough to scratch Sam’s face. Ignoring the burning sensation of the cuts, Sam pulled the other two rings from his pocket and joined Pestilence’s to them.
Dean stood over the prone, weakening horseman. The demon nurses were shrinking back from the brothers or standing at the door, begging to leave but stymied by the salt line. Dean knelt beside him and said, “Looks like I’ll have to use the traditional method.” Pulling his fist back, Dean slugged Pestilence as hard as he could, causing the horseman to shatter into a million dead flies on impact.
“Makes us two for two,” said Dean, a bit smug.
“I did most of the work,” Sam countered. He then handed back the First Blade saying, “You dropped this.”
They looked around the room at the nurses cowering from them or trying futilely to escape over the line of salt.
“What should we do with them?” asked Sam.
“Oh you know my vote,” Dean said with glee as he raised his knife.
While screams echoed around him, Sam returned the masks to their duffel bags and checked the other supplies, tossing out empty cans of salt and holy water as he found them. When the room fell quiet, Sam stood up and held out Dean’s duffel for him.
“That’s the second most fun I’ve ever had with nurses,” said Dean.
“Dude, we’re in Hell, not porn,” Sam scolded.
“That reminds me – Bela!”
They ran out of the room, only to find her standing in the middle of the empty ward, glaring at them.
“What happened to the kids?” Dean asked, looking around.
Bela lifted her metaphorical shirt enough to show the gash in her side where black smoke poured out instead of blood. “The ‘occupants’ of the children’s ward were torturing me while you two had your fun, but then they just... stopped… and ran.”
“Guess they didn’t want to tussle with the guys who kicked their boss’s ass,” said Dean with a smile.
“Here let me heal you,” Bela offered. She placed her hands beside Dean’s head and closed her eyes. After a few seconds, her brow knotted in frustration.
“You seem... practically well. There’s almost nothing to take back.”
“Yeah apparently the First Blade... keeps him alive or something,” said Sam.
“That’s not... disturbing,” said Bela. “Well if I’m following your mad plan, there’s one more bloke you want to visit.”
Sam pulled out the pocket watch. “We’ll see him in about... two minutes.”
“What happens in two minutes?”
Dean put away the First Blade and took his shotgun out of his bag. “We show these sons of bitches why you don’t fuck with Winchesters.”
Castiel took a deep breath and knocked on the door. It still took all of his self-control to practice patience. None of them were as fast as they once were since they had to do everything at the speed of any other mortal. Still, after so many centuries of being able to move at the speed of thought it was agonizing having to waste seconds waiting for someone to come to the front door.
The door opened a crack and a petite young Jewish girl looked out. “Hello?”
Castiel took a moment to look past the body before him and see if it was a normal human or the vessel he was seeking. “Hello, Nuriel,” he said once he recognized her.
“Castiel, have you come to kill me?” she asked, her voice trembling.
Cas sighed. He knew why so many feared his presence – it was for much of the same reason why those who knew them feared seeing the Winchesters at their doorstep. Still the guilt and pain of their fear weighed heavier upon him than gravity upon his wingless form. “Far from. I come offering hope.”
“No one believes in any hope you offer,” she replied.
“It is the hope of purpose.”
“So now you lead us?”
Castiel sighed and nodded before explaining that two crazy, stupid humans he knew were going to try something crazy and stupid. Though she doubted him, he held up an old revolver once made by Samuel Colt himself.
“So you could do it,” said Nuriel. “Still doesn’t answer why.”
Before Cas could speak, someone to his right said, “Because it’s what we should do.” The dark-skinned man stepped into Nuriel’s view and challenged her with his glare.
“J-J-Joshua,” she said. She struggled to find something to say before finally blurting out, “Is this what Daddy wants?”
“Maybe, maybe not. But it’s what’s right.”
Nuriel looked at Joshua then at Castiel. Back and forth several times as if she wasn’t sure they were who they appeared to be.
Finally she stepped out of the house, shutting the front door behind her. “Who else is coming?”
Castiel inserted the Colt into the Demon’s gate and took a deep breath. Something... something was missing. He padded down his coat but all the items he was supposed to bring were here. The angel turned around and looked behind him at the mass of his assembled siblings. Just under ten million of them remained, yet here they all stood, each in a vessel, behind him in Montana. Something was wrong here. If Dean or Sam were beside him, they would know what it was. Everyone was just standing there, looking at him.
Then he remembered one of those movies they forced him to watch along with them. “Ah, this is where the epic speech goes,” he said half to himself, as if the brothers were right there.
The angels closest to him looked confused, except for Joshua who nodded in agreement.
“Brethren!” Castiel said with his heavenly voice to make sure everyone could hear him. “I know that many of you are frightened. Frightened of what lies beyond that door! Though many of us have fought on that battlefield, never has Heaven been weaker, nor Hell stronger! We have not our wings! Our grace is fading! So why are we here?”
He let the question linger in the air, and could hear mummers echoing him.
“Because we have fallen!” he shouted, silencing all. “Because we lost our way! We heeded not the words of our Father but grew discontent at the tasks left to us! No more! Tonight we reclaim our heritage!”
Castiel withdrew his angel sword and lifted it into the air. The blade seemed to glow but he figured that was a trick of the moonlight. “Tonight we remind Hell and all of creation: we are the warriors of God! We! Are! Angels!”
One by one the rest of them lifted their own swords in salute, chanting their Enochian war cry that hadn’t been heard in several millennium.
With their cheers at his back, Castiel turned around, shifting his weapon to his left hand and reaching for the Colt. “Now we are ready,” he said to himself before turning the Colt.
The great iron doors flew open, the winds of Hell assaulting them. Castiel and the throng were driven back a step… then two, but he dug in his heels.
Smoke whirled up from the pit beyond, seeking freedom, but Castiel reached out and grabbed it in his hand. The smoke writhed in his grasp but Castiel’s power forced the demon into a semi-coherent form before he drove his blade into the thickest point of the smoke.
A great cry shook the tombstones as the demon disintegrated in fire. The first blood was theirs.
Castiel turned back to face the pit, its fierce wind whipping his long coat about him. His heavenly eyes could see the ethereal forms of hell-hounds and daevas crawling out of it, hungry for angel flesh.
With a roar that shook the earth and heavens, Castiel charged forward, with nearly ten million angels on his heels.