Before Dean even had a chance to adjust to what his mind's eye was telling him about the existence of creatures that he could have sworn were extinct, the image was gone from his mind's eye, and he and Sam were plunged once again into a sobering reality of being left to fend for themselves. Shaking his head to rid himself of the image of a stubby little person ambling out of the bushes, he refocused his mind on the task at hand, which was finding food and shelter for them. The problem was that he knew he would not be able to go far in the condition that he was in, and daylight went a lot faster when survival was at hand. Leaning back against the nearest tree for support, the child tried to figure out a way to get up and keep moving. With the pain spreading through his entire body, he figured it would not be long until he would be unable to be of much assistance.
This was the part of the job that Dean had been trained to recognize, and it sucked. What Caleb had grilled into his brain since the time he had been able to understand the job, was to understand when a fight could not be won. This was one of those times when Dean knew that unless someone found them, or they were able to get out of the woods they had been thrown into, they were looking at a fight that could not be won. Whatever was after them, seemed hellbent on either supplying the boys with hallucinations, or giving them images to fit its twisted narrative. Either way, Dean was not willing to give in until he absolutely had to. Sucking on a deep breath, his mind went to what Caleb would do in their situation. The answer was obvious: He would fight, and he would go down trying. The other thing that Dean feasted on, was the mental picture he got of Jim and Bill trying their hardest to find them. He had to fight, and even though pain was telling him to stop, he would not.
Not when he had his brother to think about, who was still so new to the life, but was adjusting remarkably well. And not when his family was searching for them. Hoping against hope Jim and Bill would stumble upon them before they had to endure another night alone, Dean forced himself away from the tree and dug through the bag that held a meager supply of belongings. The one knife was gone, flung into the huntsman's eye, but he knew there was another one stored within the lining of the bag. Digging through the thick interior of the backpack, his fingers shook as he fought to extract the one weapon that would protect them in the event of something else charging at them. Once his fingers closed around the cool blade, he found a small pigstick that he patiently handed over to Sam. His little brother slowly turned the knife over in his hands, examining every inch of its weight and feel.
Ignoring how wrong it felt to be handing his seven-year-old brother a weapon, he struggled to reach a standing position. If he was going to have any hope of keeping them moving, he would need backup. Even if it came in the form of his kid brother who knew next to nothing about the supernatural. Suppressing the gasp that wanted to come out, Dean reached a position on his knees, and he allowed himself to rest. The pain from his wound was nothing compared to the panic that was twisting around his heart, blinding him with instincts that went against what he knew he ought to do. Running his hand down his side, he was not surprised when a sticky substance came off his hand. The blood flow had not stopped since Sam pulled out the twig, and he knew it would not stop until they had something to put pressure on it. Focusing on one issue at a time, he took a soothing breath while he tried to devise a plan.
Staying as sitting ducks was not what he planned on doing. The advice to stay put when lost only applied to normal civilians who had no clue about the other danger that lurked just outside their conscience. For hunters, Dean knew any creature could come along and finish them off. No, it would be better to move along than risk the unthinkable happening. Accepting the hand Sam held out for him, he braced himself for impact, and forced himself to his feet. This time, he was unable to hold back the scream that came from him. The rush of blood that poured down his side momentarily knocked him breathless, but he managed to regain his footing before he fell over. Closing his eyes, he took a second to readjust to his surroundings. The world looked different standing than it did sitting. Not for the first time, Dean wondered where the troll had disappeared to. It had been there one second, and gone the next.
"That was pretty crazy about the trolls, right? I mean, where the heck did they disappear to? Troll-land?" Dean could only imagine where trolls made their home. For some reason, he figured it was not in the sewers or some other grimy place.
Sam tilted his head to the side as they slowly began to walk through the woods. It was disconcerting to realize they were stuck in a place that held no compunctions on testing them to their absolute limits. "Trolls? What are you talking about, Dean?" Just the tone of Sam's voice made Dean come to a screeching halt in his tracks. So sure had he been of what he had seen, that he had only assumed Sam had seen the same thing. Clearly, either he was losing his mind, or they both were.
"You...you're telling me that you didn't see those-those little goblin-looking suckers coming out of the bushes?"
One look at his brother's perplexed face was enough to convince Dean of the answer before Sam could even voice it. Shaking off the confusion that was now coursing through his system, was nearly impossible when he was convinced of what he had seen not an hour before. Sam fell into silence as he contemplated the absurdity of what his brother had claimed he saw. The silence gave Dean time to consider the endless list of possibilities of what could be going on. The first option was that the blood loss was making him woozy, and see things that had already been in his mind from what Sam told him. The other option, was that there was another player in town. That was the more likely option, and Dean could only guess who (or what) it could be.
"The only thing I saw was you talking to yourself," Sam answered, breaking the long silence that had fallen across them. "I never saw any trolls." He paused, fingering the knife Dean passed to him. "Are trolls real?"
"Yeah, sure. Just like Dracula is."
Dean tended to believe in things he could see with his own eyes, and what had been passed down to him through the generations of hunters. Vampires? Trolls? That was not something either of his guardians had ever encountered before, and they had seen a lot. Letting that sentiment hang between them, Dean took a tentative step forward to test his ability to walk. To his surprise, his body did not buckle under the pressure. His side injury was still agonizing, but it was bearable. Gesturing for Sam to follow him, the first order of business was to find food. He only had a small orange slice that had quickly been devoured by the two of them, and their bodies were crying out for sustenance. The problem was that Dean had no clue what there was in the woods to eat or hunt.
Casting a careful eye on his brother, he was stunned at how well Sam seemed to be handling their bizarre turn of events. Normally outspoken, he was quieter than normal, but braver than Dean had ever seen him. It gave him the mental fortitude to keep going despite his every instinct telling him to stop and rest for awhile. As he led them both through the woods yet again, he could not help but wonder where Jim and Bill were. By then, he knew they had to know that something was very wrong. And if he knew them like he thought he did, they were doing all they could to find them. Hoping it would be sooner than later, he cast a weary eye around the immediate environment, which boasted nothing but empty wilderness.
"Dean...I'm hungry." The way Sam said it, as though he was nervous of making fuss about anything while they were in the predicament they were in.
"I know...we'll find something, okay?" Giving Sam a reassuring shoulder punch, he hoped his voice and actions were able to hide how worried he was. He had seen nothing to indicate there was edible food, and they had run out of the only nourishment they had. Not only did he need something to keep guiding them through this bizarre situation, but Sam needed something before he crashed and burned.
"What about...what about mushrooms? Mrs. Gillman said they were yummy to eat." Bending down, Sam examined a large mushroom that was peeking out of the ground.
Casting a wary look at the food, Dean changed course and stared down at the food. He was careful not to push his body to lean down to examine it, knowing that would not benefit his injured side. The mushroom looked appealing to the eye, but he knew that appearances could be deceiving. Bobby had long taught him that certain vegetables that grew in the ground, could either be healthy to eat, or deadly. Searching his mind for what this brand of mushroom was, he knew it was not the deadly kind, and could be used for food. Giving Sam a nod, the child eagerly ripped it up from the ground and was about to dig into the rare delicacy, before he took hold of himself and tore a chunk off for Dean. Giving him a grateful smile, Dean forced the unappealing food down his throat. He was not one to eat 'bunny food' as he coined it, but it would do in a pinch.
The mushroom had been gone before they even had a chance to enjoy it. Now came the prospect of either coming across another mushroom, or bring forced to make do with whatever they could find in the wild. Lazily grabbing a branch, the rough bark rubbed against his palm. Dean would never voice the thoughts that were going through his mind to his little brother, but he was scared. It had been hours since he had last seen Jim and Bill, and the day would be gone before they knew it. In that case, they would have to spend another treacherous night watching out for anything that might come out in the dark. Sam had not mentioned multiple huntsmen, but anything was possible.
Almost tripping and falling down a short incline, Dean righted himself and ignored the burning pain in his side. It had been hours since his impalement, and the blood loss was stable. Not sure how to take that, he decided to take it with a grain of salt. Until his family had a chance to examine him, any number of things could be going wrong with his body. Not particularly keen on dwelling on that topic, he searched his noggin for something to break the silence that had fallen across them. Sam was busy inspecting the sky, and making occasional comments about the wild food he had learned about in school.
"So...are there anymore huntsmen creepers?"
Sam shook his head. "No. I mean, not in the game, anyway."
Not for the first time, Dean wondered what could be perpetrating these board game murders. Any number of things could be the target, from a spirit who died bloody, or any number of demonic bad guys that found personal enjoyment from watching other people suffer. Banking on the latter, Dean wondered how he would kill it if he came across it. All his years of training had prepared him for something like this, but he had never actually done it before.
"You know...I keep thinking about what Caleb would do if he were here right now."
The thought had never left Dean's mind, and it was a question he often revisited when he had a moment to breathe. It was in these kinds of situations that Dean found himself missing his confidante and guardian more than ever. He would know what to do, he would know how to get them out of the situation they were stuck in, and he would always make sure both boys felt protected and safe and loved. Taking a breath to ward off the angry clench that came across his heart, he directed his gaze to his little brother. Sam was deep in thought over Dean's statement, and the older brother knew he was processing everything in his own way.
"I miss his hugs. And his voice." Caleb's hugs were always guaranteed to be rib-breaking, and his voice was always so soothing to make up for whatever situation required one of his heart-to-hearts with Sam and Dean. It was those little aspects of Caleb that had snowballed into something big for both of them.
"I never let him hug me. I mean, sometimes he would just because...but I just miss our kickass training sessions. And our jobs together."
Sam nodded. "When can I go? On a job?"
That was the question Dean hoped Caleb would be around to answer, but luck had never exactly treated him well. "Um-"
Whatever he had been about to say, was interrupted by the matronly-looking woman that flitted by him and Sam as though she were weightless. Casting a look at his brother to make sure he was seeing the same thing he was, there was no doubt Sam was experiencing the same thing he was. Every voice inside him was screaming at him not to follow this woman, but there was no denying the pull Dean felt as the woman paused and looked back at them, as though waiting for them to follow. Reaching down to grab Sam's hand, Dean swallowed hard and wracked his mind for where he knew this woman from. He knew he did, but the details were foggy. Shaking his head, he slowed his pace when they reached a thick cacophony of trees. The woman, however, flowed through them as though she had done it a million times before.
Barely managing to catch himself before he fell headfirst into a thick mud puddle, he shook off his shoes and kept following the woman. She seemed to know where they were going, and that was the only clue Dean had. For some inexplicable reason, he found himself trusting her, a complete stranger. Unsure what that meant, and if she had managed to pull one over on his brain, he made sure Sam stayed tight to his side. Sam seemed to have no problem staying close to his brother, and looked around at the new environment they were being led through. Instead of open space, they were condensed in a cramped forest of trees that scratched and bit at them every chance they got. Studying Sam's face, he saw a spark of recognition fly across his face.
"That's-that's Gramma Nutt!"
Sam looked at Dean as though he could not believe what he was hearing. "From Candy-land!" Sam studied his brother closely. "You've never played Candy-land?"
Dean shook his head, thoroughly enjoying the look on Sam's face. "No, I was uh, more into Battleship."
"I...I don't know you," Sam grumbled, mimicking such an exact expression of his older brother that Dean had to laugh.
The two brothers did not have a chance to speak after that. Gramma Nutt had led them through a thick opening that concealed something colorful on the other side. His interest piqued despite himself, Dean pushed through thick vines that tried to beckon them back. Looking down at his feet when they met something crunchy, it only took him a second to realize he was standing on a Graham-Cracker sidewalk. Glancing around at the spectacle that was this new environment, he would take it over the woods anytime. Taking a slow step forward, his hand snagged a licorice branch that he easily popped in his mouth. To one side, was a winter utopia where he knew the Queen Frostine lived, and the other side was home to a gumdrop-shaped dome where he remembered one certain character resided.
His mouth hanging open despite his efforts to control it, he almost choked when a chocolate fly flew down his windpipe. Gramma Nutt had gone ahead of them, and was patiently waiting for them to enter a Ginger-bread themed home. Knowing better than to enter a stranger's domain, Dean paused in his steps, but was quickly pulled along by his little brother. Not sure what harm could come from checking out literal Candy Land, he allowed himself to be steered down the graham-cracker path to the home that smelled exactly as it looked. Wondering if any of the features of the house were edible, Dean tried a thick gumdrop that was shaped out of several to form a window.
The window trembled at the intrusion on its foundation, but quickly regenerated the lost gumdrop. Dean did not have time to marvel at this oddity, the older woman was ushering them inside the home. Taking a second to adjust to his surroundings, it was hard to know where to look first as the child took in everything that the house was. All of the furniture, all of the accessories in the house were all made of candy-like fixtures. Slowly shaking his head, Dean looked back at his little brother, who seemed speechless with awe. Not able to fixate on what he was seeing, Gramma Nutt had put her wizened hand on Dean's back, and was leading him and Sam through a chocolate door that led to the kitchen. Inside this room, Dean's stomach rumbled as his mind beheld all sorts of brands of candy being mixed and stirred in oversize pots, and machines bigger than he and Sam, were pressing Kit-Kats into their shape.
A young woman was manning the controls of the chocolate-making business, and also had herbs swinging off her lollipop-colored dress. Fixing his gaze on this young girl, he did not have long to focus on her before Gramma Nutt pushed him down on a table made out of what looked like frosted animal crackers. Fingering the sweet frosting that coated the top layer of the table, Dean's eyes found Sam's as the grandmotherly-looking woman hummed a jolly tune, and accepted the herbs that the young girl passed to her. They smelled familiar, and he knew the guys were known to use certain healing herbs to prevent a sticky trip to the hospital.
"Um, what exactly are you doing?" Dean demanded, when the woman grabbed a pair of scissors made out of Life-Savers.
"Oh, dear me." Gramma Nutt tsked disapprovingly. "That wretched huntsmen."
Watching carefully as she cut along his shirt to expose his injured side, the sight of it almost made him want to vomit. Turning his eyes away from it, he focused on his brother who was studying the young girl who was now coming up on Dean's other side. Even though Dean had never played Candy-Land, he knew plenty of kids his age who had tried it when they were younger. This girl, she was familiar, and he knew she ranked high on the hierarchy of candy-land.
"Are you-are you Princess Lolly?" Sam gasped, his eyes almost doubling as stars.
Lolly giggled. "Yes, I am. It's sweet of you to notice."
Sam nodded silently. "What are you doing with my brother?" He had pushed his way through Lolly and Gramma Nutt, and was staring with a look of mingled horror and alarm at Dean's side. Most of the blood had ended up on either his shirt or his side, but it was the wound that Dean found himself transfixed on. It was a perfectly rounded hole, and it was still oozing what it could of the blood.
"We're healing him, of course, dear," Gramma Nutt explained. "Just a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and he should be good as new." Her hands flitted around the area to search for what she needed. "Some lavender to induce calm, dear, because I can tell you're one of the jumpy ones." She smoothed a small amount of lavender lotion on Dean's arm. The effect of it was immediate, but not enough to completely induce calm. "And a little of this special concoction that Lolly was kind enough to make."
Clearly, this gel was the grand finale of what they were trying to do to heal him. Dean watched as a sickly sweet paste was spread over his side. It burned, but not in a way that caused him any further discomfort. Bending his head down, he could not resist watching as the wound slowly started to close. On his other side, Lolly was breaking apart a piece of chocolate that she then ground up into a drinkable solution. Not able to argue against drinking straight chocolate, Dean downed the drink, and found his senses start to become sluggish, as though sleep was being forced upon him. This was wrong, and he fought against it with everything he had in him. Blinking, his vision blurred, he noticed Sam smiling down at him as though he were being ridiculous.
I'm baaack. Well, my mind forced me to take a long break, so that was long overdue. Anyway, what in the world is happening with our boys?!