* * *
“What is it?” asked Sam when Bela suddenly glanced up.
“I don’t know something just... I don’t know.”
Sam glanced at the watch.
“He’s always punctual,” Dean said as he hoisted his shotgun and stepped out from the children’s ward into the halls of Hell.
Sam finished taping Ruby’s knife to the end of his own shotgun like a bayonet then followed after Dean and Bela who were moving through this new hall.
They reached what looked like a mezzanine or catwalk. Above them an open sky was filled with swirling reds and oranges. On their left, the gaping maw waited for them, kept at bay by an ancient stone balustrade that was broken in some places. To their right and everywhere else they looked, a sheer wall stitched together from human skins of all shades rose up to untold heights. Ahead and behind were dark doorways that looked like they had been cut out of macabre walls, though the floor was at least still stone. From the door ahead, another demon found them. It charged forward but Dean knocked the demon to the left with the handle of his gun then fired. The salt from the blast sent it tumbling over the balustrade and into the void beyond.
“Two behind!” Sam said before driving them back with shots of his own.
“That all you got?” shouted Dean. “I thought we’d at least see your A-game!”
Concerned that Dean’s bloodlust was growing out of control, Sam took the lead with Ruby’s knife. The doorway at the end of the balcony led to a hall constructed entirely of bones – even the floor. No other demons bothered them as they passed through the hall even though their footsteps echoed.
Eventually the passage changed as they passed through a doorway into a hall that was richly decorated with plush carpets and ornate furniture along the wall. The boys started to relax, until they realized that the hall was filled with grotesque art. Paintings on both sides, and sculptures in between, each devoted to the worst examples of man’s inhumanity to man, covered the walls. Both Winchesters looked down at the floor and hurried through another doorway.
This time they emerged on a simple stone bridge surrounded with such blackness that the stone almost seemed to glow. Halfway across, a daeva waited for them, making Dean thankful he had thought to put the holy glasses back on. It charged but a blast of salt knocked it off balance and the First Blade into its skull finished it off. At the end of the stone walkway, several vines hung in the middle of the air. Walking through them, they discovered the vines were an entryway to a huge forest filled with trees. Instead of boughs filled with leaves, however, bodies hung from all the branches.
“We’re close Dean,” Sam said, looking at the map.
“So are they,” said Bela.
Ahead of them, scattered throughout the forest, were dozens and dozens of demons.
Sam and Dean took one look at each other, then ducked behind a tree just before a large rock hit the spot where they had stood, nicking Bela enough to scatter her in a poof of black smoke.
“Ready for this, Sammy?” Dean shouted over the ruckus of telekinetically tossed debris. He fumbled about with his bag to retrieve a few items needed to “greet” the oncoming army.
Sam, a few feet away behind his own tree, shouted his disagreement but his voice was swallowed by the racket. He resorted to shaking his head.
“Too bad!” Dean stepped out and fired into an onrushing black cloud, scattering it, then ducked behind another tree right before a new barrage struck.
Sam, who had also managed to advance a bit closer, pointed to their right. “We need to go that way!” he shouted.
Although he couldn’t hear his brother, Dean gave a thumbs up to signal his understanding as he opened his shotgun. In the middle of reloading it, a demon reached around from behind the tree and grabbed his arm. The elder Winchester pulled the demon around to his side and headbutted it, giving him just enough time to snap his gun close and unload a shot of salt into its face. Free, he lifted the duffel bag to protect his head and ran over to where Sam had been.
Another pause and they ran again, heading right and forward, at an angle to the collection of demons who were charging straight at them. The demonic mass turned to surround the Winchesters’ path. One leapt from behind a tree in front of Sam, and found itself impaled on his makeshift bayonet. As they ran, a loud groan echoed about them. Ahead, a large tree toppled to the ground, pushed over by the demons to blockade the brothers, but Sam and Dean, using their hands, vaulted over it easily.
“Never thought I’d thank Dad for his obstacle courses!” Dean shouted over his shoulder.
“Water!” Sam shouted back.
Dean tossed the last can of holy water to his brother.
Sam grabbed it and shouted, “Ready?”
With practiced motion, Dean ejected two more spent shells from his shotgun and loaded in one of the regular shells he had bothered to bring and replied, “Loaded!”
“Fire in the hole!” shouted Sam. He spun around, threw the can of holy water, and ducked.
Behind them, several demons were jumping and climbing over the fallen tree. Dean spun around just as the can was sailing over their heads. In a split second, he aimed and fired. The can exploded, drenching a large number of demons in holy water, forcing them to their knees in agony.
By now more were coming from their left. Sam fired at two that got close but another wave was descending upon the brothers as they ran out of real estate. Sam reloaded his Ithaca as he ran.
“How much further?” asked Dean. By now he was wielding his Baikal in his left hand and the First Blade in his right.
“The other side of them,” Sam said, coming to a halt.
Behind a gathering of demons, Dean could make out two thin, tall trees that each had a branch pointing to the other, forming a crude doorway.
More demons arrived from their left and behind them until the Winchesters were surrounded.
With resigned frustration, Sam and Dean threw their shotguns on the dirt.
“Any last words, Winchesters?” hissed one of them.
“Just one,” said Dean.
“Catch!” shouted Sam.
As one the boys pulled off a sphere hanging from their belts. Sam threw his towards the tree-framed doorway, as Dean threw his in the opposite direction. The demons, ignorant of what they were, watched the spheres as they sailed over their heads. Sam and Dean both pulled out their pistols and fired.
The demon bombs exploded right over the heads of the demon army. The brothers grabbed their shotguns and ran as fast they could. The demons to their left and right were mostly out of the blast zone, but the light of the explosion was so bright they were blinded.
Sam and Dean sprinted between the pair of petrified trees and found themselves on a stretch of beach surrounded by towering rock cliffs. Sam dropped his bag, and fished out a can of salt.
“Hurry up!” shouted Dean, readjusting his weapons.
Black smoke with the face of a woman streamed through the doorway as Sam started to pour out the white granules that made an impenetrable barrier. One demon jumped across as Sam finished the line, but Dean greeted it with the First Blade.
The demons amassed on the other side of the doorway, glaring at them.
“We could scrape a small opening in the salt line and let you through one at a time,” Dean said, waving the First Blade where they could see it. “Who wants to be first?”
The demons looked at each other. Realizing they couldn’t reach their prey, they all slowly backed away, deciding it was better to admit defeat than die in a hopeless fight.
“Bela, how are you... oh,” said Sam.
Their ally was partially standing there, her left arm gone completely and numerous wounds leaking black smoke from her right arm, left stump, and torso.
“One of your bombs kind of caught me,” she said.
“Why are you still here?” asked Dean. “Get out. Leave this place.”
“I’ve watched two horsemen beaten in one day,” she laughed. “You think I’d miss you two trying for a third?”
Sam checked the map. “He’s close.”
“How close?” asked Dean.
The beach they stood on was rocky. A few feet away, an ocean of blood lapped at the shore. Past the waters an orange glow filled the sky as if the sun was setting, but all three of them knew that light was from the fires of Hell. Across the beach they could make out a door cut into the far rock face like the one they had just barricaded. Sam pointed at it and said, “Through there is his throne room.”
“Let’s not keep a horseman waiting,” said Dean
They crossed the beach, Bela limping behind them. They passed through the doorway and entered a large, open room. All around, everywhere they looked, the room was covered with names. On the walls, the distant ceiling, the numerous columns, and even on the floor, in all kinds of language, were names. The Winchesters found themselves drawn to examining it, curious if they might see a name they recognized – in a language they recognized.
“It’s the names of everybody I’ve killed.”
Sam and Dean turned to face the being that had spoken. In the middle of the room, sitting atop his throne, was War. He looked just like the last time they had seen him except this time he was wearing on his brow a circlet of pure gold, with a blood red stone in the middle. His throne was made of weapons from every era of history. From swords to primitive spears, from guns to bows, even the remains of missiles and tanks could be seen in his chair, down to a simple rock serving as one of the feet.
“I must congratulate you two on being so clever.”
The brothers took a step forward and to the side, slowly moving into flanking positions.
“I mean, Famine is easy to find, even by yourself. Pestilence... a bit harder. The trick is finding him before you die, but me? How do you get War? As I’ve felt the two of you incapacitating my brothers, I almost laughed. You could never reach me. To start a war with just the two of you would be your demise. How could you ever get here?” The horseman paused, examining them. “Bring all the angels into Hell and pick a few fights yourselves. I admit, I didn’t see it coming.”
“Surprised you didn’t invite any friends,” said Dean.
“I’ve been watching you since you fought Pestilence and his minions,” said War. “I thought the demon army I nudged in your direction would add you to my wall but if they couldn’t...”
“You knew we were coming, and you didn’t bother gathering all of Hell to defend yourself?” asked Sam.
War looked at the weapon in Dean’s hand. “If you look by the door,” he said, pointing there, “you will see the first name written in this room: Abel.”
“Cain and Abel… a war?” asked Sam.
“A single act wiped out a quarter of the world’s entire population,” said the horseman. “Some might disagree but oh yes, the first brothers were also the First World War. The weapon used – the first weapon – was my inspiration. It is my nephew. I feel the power it takes with each life. Had I brought any others here it would only serve to make your brother stronger.”
“So we doing this?” asked Dean. “You going to try and make me and my brother fight each other or something?”
“While you’re wearing holy glasses?” asked War. “Illusion would be wasted. No I shall remain here.”
Both Winchesters glanced at each other and reached an agreement that didn’t need to be spoken after years of fighting together. They advanced.
Before they could get within an arms’ reach of the horseman though, several weapons on the throne came alive and jutted out. Sam and Dean were faced with a wall of spears, swords, and pikes all forming a deadly barrier between them and their target. They both tried to push or climb through, but the weapons moved in unison with them, cutting both.
They retreated back, and the weapons tucked back into place on the throne.
“Don’t even try,” said War. “You humans have invented enough weapons for me to stave off any number or kind of foe.”
“So... you’re just going to sit there?” asked Dean.
“Until you leave or die of old age,” answered War.
“While we’re waiting,” said Sam, “why is your crown gold? I understood the others but...”
“My crown is the first and last cause of war: greed.”
“I know something about that.”
Bela, who had snuck up behind War, grabbed the crown with her remaining arm and tossed it at Dean.
“What?” shouted War in shock.
“Guess an unarmed, one-armed demon is harder for you to notice,” said Sam.
“Anything to say about this?” asked Dean as he used the First Blade to cut the jewel free from the crown. Before War could stand, Dean tossed the red jewel to Sam. As it sailed through the air, the tattered bits of gold attached to it twisted into a ring shape right before Sam caught it. He added their new prize to the ring configuration; famine, pestilence, and war, all pointing and joined together by death.
“Now I suppose you’ll break my current form like my brothers,” said the horseman. “Make me spend a few years reconstituting myself.”
“I don’t we need to,” Dean said, before turning around and walking away.
“This isn’t over!” shouted War.
“It is for today,” said Sam.
The three of them backtracked in silence, crossing the beach of the blood ocean and back through the now empty and quiet dead-forest. They crossed the stone bridge that hung in the black void and hurried through the hall of grotesque art. Once past the hall of bone, and on the mezzanine Dean finally had to ask, “How much further?”
Sam looked at the map but couldn’t figure out an answer.
“Where you boys headed now?” asked Bela.
“To the bottom. The pit,” said Dean.
“If we can ever make it there,” Sam said with frustration.
“Fastest way down… is to jump,” said Bela, pointing at the maw before them.
Dean and Sam both considered it.
“Really?” asked Dean.
Bela nodded. “Any other way would take... ages. That way… even that way may take a while if you have no connections—”
“Trust us, we have connections to the pit,” said Sam.
They stood in silence.
“You coming with us?” asked Dean.
“That... I will pass,” Bela said with a mournful smile. “So… you boys want to finish me off here? Save me an eternity of torture?”
Dean looked at the First Blade in his hand, making Sam a bit nervous. He placed his hand on his elder brother’s shoulder and said, “She helped us. A lot.”
Dean sighed. “Yeah. Go on, get out of here.”
Bela looked around. “Uh… how?”
Sam and Dean looked at the map and compass Sam was holding, then at each other. Sam handed the items to Bela. “The white end of the compass points the way out of Hell,” he said. “Head up, see if you can find an angel to help you get out.”
“Won’t they kill me on sight?” she asked with bitter laughter.
“That’s your problem,” said Dean. “If you get one to talk, tell them you’re in the family business. They should ask you what that is. You then tell them, ‘saving people, hunting things’.”
“If you make it topside, look for Crowley,” said Sam.
“Crowley? The Crowley?” asked Bela. “Well this day just gets better and better.”
“He’s formerly ‘the’ Crowley,” said Dean.
“He knows how to cure demons and is cured now himself. He should be able to help you out,” explained Sam.
“Then… I guess I’ll try getting out of here,” Bela said with the first genuine smile they had ever seen on her.
“Good luck,” Sam said, giving her a hug which she returned with a kiss on the cheek.
Dean reluctantly gave her a hug too, which she repaid with a kiss full on the mouth.
“It’s been fun,” she said waving goodbye.
The brothers waved back as they watched her go. Once alone, they looked over the edge at the bottomless chasm.
“Maybe we should take the long way,” said Dean.
“How without a map?” asked Sam.
Together they backed up as far as they could. Grabbing each other’s shoulders, they ran forward and jumped.
Almost instantly, Sam and Dean slammed into the ground.
“Ow! Sammy? Sammy you ok?”
A groan answered Dean. “Yeah. Bruised, but ok.”
“Weird,” Dean said as he stood and dusted himself off. “I really thought we’d fall longer than that.”
Sam stood, wincing as he wiped some dirt from his face and touched the scratches on it. They were standing on what looked like stony ground that was mostly flat. It stretched in front and behind them for what seemed like forever. The distance in front of them was pitch black. Behind them, the sky glowed orange and red. Looking to the left and right, Sam could eventually make out where it looked like the ground sloped gently upward on both sides before fading from sight. Looking closer, Sam saw that on the ground and various points on the slope were gaps of various shapes that opened up. “Dude,” Sam said as the truth of it all dawned on him. “We’re on the side of the tunnel. This is the Maw of Hell.”
Dean looked around for a second. “Shit! We have to walk to the pit?”
Sam gave his usual ‘what-do-you-want-me-to-do-about-it’ expression and shrug of the shoulders.
“I’m surprised we haven’t seen Abaddon by now,” said Dean. “What do you got to do to get a bitch’s attention in this place?”
“Maybe Cas and his pals are doing their job.”
Dean chuckled. “Yeah, it’d be nice to have them be dicks to somebody else for a change.”
Sam was about to reply but his voice was drowned out by growing rumble. They both looked for the source of the noise when Sam realized his glasses had been knocked off by the fall. He was grateful Dean still had his on because from Dean’s stance, he had obviously spotted the oncoming danger. Unable to explain over the deafening noise, Dean just grabbed his younger brother and shoved Sam to the ground before using his own body to shield Sam. Without seeing or hearing them, the boys felt the passage of thousands, maybe millions of demons streaming towards the higher levels of Hell.
After several tense minutes, the last of them passed and the boys stood up.
“I guess Abaddon called in the cavalry,” said Sam.
“I’m just glad none of them bothered us,” said Dean.
“We should thank Cain for my cologne.”
“Yeah, if he was still alive.”
Gathering their things, Sam and Dean started walking towards the dark end of Hell.
And they walked.
For a while.
Quite a while.
“Sammy, we making any progress?” Dean finally asked as he threw off his bag and sat down.
“Sort of. Hell’s big. At a walking rate of two to three miles per hour, it could... take a while.”
Dean glared at his brother. “How long, Sam?”
“Well twenty hours in a day, giving us four hours to rest, that’s sixty miles in a day... a few... thousand years. Maybe. If we’re lucky.”
Dean sighed. Sam knew how he felt. They were too close to the end of their task for them to only fail now. “Wait...” said Dean, wearing that expression he got when he had an idea. “Bela said this place works by ‘connections’, right?”
“Right. My connection to Lucifer, your connection to Michael.”
“If... you don’t want to do this...”
Sam held up his hand and with a smile said, “No chick flick moments. Besides. I need to do this.”
Sam closed his eyes. Once upon a time his soul and the essence of Lucifer had shared first a body, then a cage together. Though he rarely tried to think about it, Sam knew that deep down, there was a scar – no a brand – on his soul from the fallen archangel. It was that part of him that liked the sheer power being Lucifer gave him. It was the root of all his rage, all his envy, and all his pride. When he stopped fighting it, when he gave into it, Sam could feel that it wasn’t an insurmountable distance between him and Lucifer, they were within arms’ reach.
Before he realized it, Sam’s feet left the ground, and with his eyes still closed, he plummeted to the pit of Hell, his brother hanging onto him.
“Why did you summon me here?”
“We had a deal.”
“I know and I can feel that Abaddon isn’t dead yet, so why are you here?” said Cain.
“We’re going after Abaddon,” said Sam, “and if we don’t make it back...”
“It’s time to return your last videotape, Mr. Bateman.”
Cain looked at both Winchesters. “How... are you going to kill Abaddon?”
“Like I said, we’re going after her,” said Sam.
Cain’s eyes narrowed. “Into Hell? Are you going after Abaddon in Hell?”
The Winchesters nodded.
“Can’t be done.”
“Oh we’re going to try,” said Dean.
“You have a plan?”
“Almost,” said Sam.
Dean smiled as he pointed at Sam and said, “His brains, Fezzik’s strength, my steel.”
Cain just looked at him in confusion. “So little I understand about kids these days.”
“Sammy, it seems cruel to gank a fella that hasn’t watched the Princess Bride yet.”
“No you’re right,” said Cain. “You should kill me now before you jump into Hell and squelch on our deal.”
“You don’t think we can do it,” said Dean.
“I know you can’t,” said Cain. “If you make it in there alive, you won’t stay that way.”
“Don’t suppose you have... any tips on surviving,” Sam said in a half apologetic, half pleading tone.
Cain laughed. “You have any idea what two mortal bodies are going to smell like down there? Demons are going to be all over you.”
Both Winchesters pulled down their shirts enough to reveal their anti-possession tattoos, though Sam’s looked a little newer.
“That will help. But it won’t cover up the smell.”
“What will?” asked Sam.
“A ‘perfume’ made of sulfur and blood and... Actually Dean might not need it. With my mark he probably smells like a knight. Sam, you should just sit out.”
“Not an option,” they both said simultaneously.
“O...k. Sam, let me show you this recipe then we can get on with my death so you boys can get on with yours.”