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Cold was not the word to describe the bottom of Hell. Cold would have been an improvement. Absolute zero would have felt like a heat wave down here, and Sam idly wondered if that’s why time was different down here. Despite having fallen into the deepest pit of Hell, the Winchesters hit Hell’s floor without injury. It looked like an entire sea was frozen here, stretching infinitely in all directions although there were great cracks in the ice as if it had been broken once. Above, the sky looked like solid rock pressing down close enough that Sam thought he could reach up and touch it, but the ceiling always seemed to be just beyond his fingertips. Likewise, the great maw that had led to here always seemed to be overhead, no matter how far they walked in either direction.
“Are we getting anywhere?” Dean asked with heavy frustration.
Sam looked around. “If this is truly infinite, then by definition we can’t.”
Dean stomped on the ground a few times. “Hey! Dickbags, can you hear us? Open up and give us our brother back.”
Sam thought it seemed to grow lighter beneath their feet a moment, but he couldn’t be sure. If either archangel could hear them, there was no sign of it.
“How we doing?”
Sam pulled out the pocket watch and checked. For a moment he wasn’t sure if it was still working, but finally he saw the second hand move. “It is several minutes between seconds, maybe even an hour,” he said. “We’ve got at least six months... maybe years before Death takes back his ring.”
Dean looked up at the maw of Hell again. “We might need that time to get out of here. Let’s get this done already.”
Sam pulled out the configuration of rings from his pocket. The three rings of War, Famine and Pestilence, joined and pointing towards the ring of Death. “I guess we can try it like before. Toss them anywhere and say the words.”
Dean shrugged. “No telling what will happen, Sammy. Then again…”
Sam turned around and saw the small hole in the ground that had drawn Dean’s attention. Part of him wondered if it had always been there and they didn’t see it, or if it had appeared when the rings were readied. It was only an inch deep, and perfectly shaped like the configuration of the rings.
“Yahtzee,” said Dean.
Both Winchesters dropped their duffel bags and opened them. Dean pulled out a rigging of wires like the ones used by demolition teams as Sam withdrew a couple of bottles. While Sam prepared the ground, Dean pulled the supplies a few steps away.
“Ready?” he asked his brother.
Sam brandished the demon knife then handed the conjoined rings to Dean.
“Dude, you sure?”
Sam nodded. “I did it last time. You get the honor today.”
Dean took the rings in his left hand, readied the first blade in his right, and knelt beside the keyhole they’d found.
Sam took a few steps back and nodded that he was ready.
Dean placed the rings into the indention and said, “Bvtmon Tabges Babalon.” He was startled as the rings suddenly turned a bit, as if a portion of the ground had just loosened. He rotated the rings counter-clockwise until they started spinning on their own. Light brighter than the sun, a kind they had seen once before in their lives, poured from the midst of the rings until they were swallowed by it, yet still the light continued to grow.
“Be ready, Sammy! No plane this time!” Dean shouted over a roar that shook Hell itself.
The light dimmed such that they could look back. A gap had formed in the ice. Everything in every direction was being pulled in and swallowed into the gap, as if the gravitational force of a black hole was just beyond their view. They had seen something like this just one other time, on that fateful day. Beside the gap, as if just tossed out, a figure lay prone on the ice.
“Adam!” Dean cried out, racing over. “Adam can you hear me?”
“Dean...” moaned Adam.
“It’s ok, man, we’ve got you.”
Adam’s hand grabbed Dean’s throat. “No. We have you.”
Unable to breathe, Dean stabbed the First Blade into Adam’s chest. His half-brother yelled and tossed Dean aside like a misbehaving kitten.
The eldest Winchester hit the ground with a sickening crack, dislocating his right shoulder and at least bruising a few ribs. Struggling to breathe, he got to his feet, facing the being that wore Adam’s face.
“The First Blade? Really?” asked Michael.
“So you’re still in there,” Dean said, stumbling a few steps as his body protested the very act of breathing.
“Show me gratitude. Had I abandoned your brother in the cage, there would be nothing left for you to fail to rescue.”
Dean raised the weapon as much as he could, taking a few more steps to the side. “Hang on, Adam, we’re getting you out of this.”
In the span of a blink, Michael was inches from Dean, grabbing his neck and lifting him up. “After you tried stabbing him? Did you honestly think the Mark of Cain would kill an archangel?”
“I was hoping it wouldn’t. We just needed to distract you.”
Michael looked past Dean and saw Sam standing there. Before Michael could react, the younger Winchester stomped on a detonator, sending a spark through the laid wire that ignited the circle of holy oil surrounding Michael. Flames leapt up, striking the arm that held Dean. The angel screamed as that arm disintegrated past the elbow. Severed from the angel, Dean tumbled into the hole in the floor of Hell.
“Well done, Sam,” Michael said, stepping as close as the flames would allow. “What’s your plan now? The cry of my brother will summon every demon and foul thing that serves him to here.” Light and particles began streaming from the stump of his right arm. Soon bones, muscle and skin could be seen forming. “You will beg to be on this side of the flames with me.”
“Thanks for healing our brother,” Sam said, once Adam’s right arm was whole again. He pulled out a piece of paper and said, “Now listen close, Omni potentas Dei potestatum invoco – Omni potentas Dei potestatum invoco – Aborbe terran...”
* * *
Dean didn’t care that the ground was cold and uncomfortable, he just wanted to stay there, laying on his face, forever and ever. However Sam was in trouble, so like every morning, Dean hauled himself to his feet.
Before him was a plain, beige wall. Against it rested a simple metal bed with a stained mattress. To his left was another plain, beige wall. Looking right, he saw a third plain, beige wall. Nothing distinguished one from another except for the bed against the wall in front of him. Looking behind, Dean saw a doorway open, the blood-red light of hell pouring from it. He spun around.
“What the Hell…” Dean had just turned his whole body completely around to try and face the doorway back to Hell, yet once again he was facing a plain beige wall. Against it rested a simple metal bed with a stained mattress. He looked left and right, and again there was nothing but the plain, beige walls. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the open door had remained behind him. He turned to the right ninety degrees, so that the door should have been immediately to his right, yet all he could see when he looked right was the bed. To his left, was another plain wall. Behind him the door waited. He spun to his left and right as fast as he could, yet no matter which way he turned, the door was always behind him. Keeping his eye on the bed, Dean walked backwards until he felt something hit his back. Taking a deep breath, Dean spun around and took a quick step forward.
Dean smashed into a plain beige wall. On his right, was a simple metal bed with a stained mattress. To his left, was another wall. Just behind him, he could see an open door. He walked over to the bed and touched it, confirming that it was real, and he wasn’t dreaming. He tried to lift it, but the bed wouldn’t move. The mattress couldn’t even be shifted from its position on the bed springs. Again, keeping an eye on the bed, Dean backed up until he was sure he was over halfway across the room. Then taking a deep breath he turned and jumped.
Before him was a plain beige wall. Against it rested a simple metal bed with a stained mattress. Dean tripped over the bed, tumbling onto it at full force. Bracing himself against the wall, Dean moved himself into a sitting position where he could clearly see, across the room, an open door with the blood-red light of Hell streaming through it.
“Maddening isn’t it?”
On the other end of the bed sat Lucifer, wearing the face of Nick.
“But then, how else do you expect a cage for an archangel to work?”
“Can’t leave?” Dean asked, unable to hide the hint of joy in his voice.
“Sure, I’m hiding my true form from you since I don’t want your eyes burned out today, but without your brother or any other vessel, that door is too small for me to fit through.”
“But I can,” said Dean.
“And my brother, pulled as he was by the common bond you boys share. You always need outside help to leave. Without the proper key, it’s impossible to get out once you’re in. Unless...” Lucifer pointed up.
Dean looked at the beige ceiling and noticed a circular indention in it. Cracks formed several diameters across the circle, leaving the whole thing divided up into slices like some perverse pizza. Without even counting, Dean was willing to bet there were sixty-six slices up there.
“Sixty-four, actually,” said Lucifer. “The first seal unlocks it. The rest remove one of those ‘slices’. The last seal lowers a lifeline to pull me all the way out of Hell.”
“Sucks to be you, doesn’t it?” Dean said as he stood up, and backed away from the bed.
Lucifer lounged upon it. “Oh I don’t know. Since stuck back in here, I’ve always had a Winchester to play with.”
Dean started rolling up his sleeves. “Bring it on, pretty boy.”
“Oh please, you think I don’t know you have my mark? Or the First Blade? Wait… you left that outside. Oh well, it does you as much good out there as it would in here. I mean, did you really think I would make something that could kill me?” Lucifer stood up and began advancing slowly. “Then again... with the Mark of Cain, you might survive being my vessel. I wonder what would happen if Michael and I both crawled inside you. It would be a wonderful family bonding moment.”
“Don’t say that, Dean. We’ve got an eternity together.”
Dean had a sense of deja-vu as he felt a hand grab the back of his jacket collar and pull him backwards. Time slowed to a crawl as he fell backwards. A storm raged about him, with thunder and lightning and wind that made him feel like he was suddenly in the middle of a massive hurricane.
Dean, let me in! said a voice in his mind.
Yes. Be my vessel or you and your brothers will never escape Hell.
Sure, but I get to pick the music.
The storm poured into him. The thunder became his bones as he felt lightning become his veins. The power was incredible. He felt like he could do almost anything! Then his ears heard, “Omni potentas Dei potestatum invoco...”
Oops, ride’s over, bitch.
Dean couldn’t hear Michael’s protest over his own laughter as the archangel poured from him just as suddenly as they joined.
Sam finished hauling his brother out of the hole as Michael was evicted, the archangel’s true form pulled back into the cage by its vindictive brother.
“Chdr bvtmon tabges babalon!” shouted Sam.
The light vanished as the hole in the floor of Hell closed. The indentation holding the rings of the horsemen was all that remained. Sam picked up the rings and considered them. The horsemen couldn’t be killed, nor could they be separated from their rings forever. He pulled the rings apart and tossed War’s, Famine’s, and Pestilence’s as far away in random directions as he could throw. Maybe trying to retrieve them would occupy the horsemen and demons long enough for him and his brothers to escape. Death’s ring, he put in his pocket.
Both of his brothers lay on the ground.
Kneeling beside Dean, Sam lifted his head and gave him a light slap saying, “Hey, how many of you are in there?”
Dean coughed and held up his index finger.
“Using me to funnel Michael back into the cage, through a hole he was too big for was ingenious,” said Dean, “and your timing: impeccable.”
“I’m just glad you remembered to say yes even if you went in ahead of schedule.”
“I knew you had my back,” Dean said with a smile as he got to his feet. “The First Blade?”
Sam nodded. “I tossed it into the cage.”
Dean let out a sigh of relief. “We done here?”
They both looked at the unconscious form of Adam.
“Yeah man,” said Sam. “Nobody’s been left behind.”