The full moon bore solitary witness to the activities perpetrated beneath her cascading light. All was not right with the world, or more importantly the Words.

She could only watch as smoke trailed upwards from braziers set at the four corners of the compass. Frenzied, stifled moans mixed with the sound of a droning yet musical chant. A thin flint dagger glimmered under her light as it was raised high.

There was a moment of shocked utter silence.

A swift stroke down was followed by a muffled scream.

The rising scent of blood was carried away on a gentle breeze as Words unraveled and were changed.

This was not how things were meant to be. The moon wept.

-----------

Dean sat behind the wheel of the '67 Impala, eating up the miles down I-35. Depending on the location, it was two to three lanes of pure driving bliss as the highway cut south through the state of Oklahoma. Normally, zooming down this kind of highway in Baby, her 275 hp V8 cranked to optimum speeds, would have had him grinning from ear to ear. But even that simple pleasure had grown stunted and muted, as if it were something long dead and forgotten. Nothing felt like it should anymore.

"I think I found us a job."

Dean threw a questioning glance in his brother's direction, the other too busy on the laptop to notice. Sammy didn't look so good, kind of gaunt. His lanky frame sat half slumped in the leather seat, his dark brown hair in his eyes. Dean knew his younger brother wasn't sleeping well. Hadn't been for weeks. Sammy tossed and turned all night as if hunted, waking up looking more tired than when he went to bed. It wasn't the same as the nightmares and insomnia he suffered from the first few months after Jessica was killed in 2005, but it was affecting him just as badly. Faint frown lines hung around Sam's usually expressive mouth, his eyes darker and duller than they'd ever been.

When was the last time he'd seen his little brother smile? Truly smile? Heck, when was the last time he'd felt like smiling? Everything had become so dark in the last year. When their father died, it was like they started down a broken carnival slide with no way to get off.

And then to top it all off, there'd been the thing with Madison. How he wished his brother had let him take care of her for him. He knew it was eating Sammy up inside like a cancer and there was nothing he could do to stop it. But they'd had no choice. She was a werewolf, and though they tried, there was no cure. She would have been a danger to herself and everyone around her.

Dean had liked her. Madison was spunky, beautiful, and smart. Sam did too. Heck, him just showing any interest in a female after Jessica was a miracle. Made a brother proud to see he was able to take it to the next level. Sammy had fallen for her hard and fast too. That kind of chemistry didn't come around everyday. But then his brother had been forced to kill her. Madison asked him point blank for him to be the one.

Sammy was usually the touchy feely one, but after this he'd clammed up tighter than a force field on a starship. How the heck was Dean supposed to help his brother deal? He wasn't cut out for this crap. Hell, he could hardly take care of his own issues, let alone help someone else deal with theirs. But sooner or later, something was going to give. And he was sure the fallout wouldn't be pretty.

His brother started talking again. "They've recovered four bodies from the Trinity River over the last month down in Dallas. The cops think there might be more. All of the victims have one thing in common so far, their chests were forcibly opened and the hearts are missing."

Dean felt a trickle of apprehension. "You think it might be werewolves again?" He sent a guarded glance in his brother's direction. Reminders of what went down with Maddy was not what Sam needed right now. Not to mention what had happened to him the last time they'd been in the Lone Star State. One moment he's going out for burgers, the next Meg has him tagged as her latest meat puppet. Sammy's emotional plate was already more than full.

His brother frowned at Dean's question, his jaw tightening for a moment. "Time of death is inconclusive, but I would say no. They've pinned the deaths close enough to tell they weren't all during the times of the full moon."

Yes, more than filled, overflowing. "How about we skip this one. We can call

Ellen and have her give it to one of the other hunters at the Roadhouse." Dean's grip tightened on the steering wheel. "I know we never did look into that Chupacabra Gordon mentioned way back, so maybe it's time we did. Could be fun." Gordon was another sore subject, but at least one they took care of. With any luck that sucker would be in prison for years to come, if not forever. Just thinking about him made Dean grip the steering wheel even harder. Crazy bastard.

"No. We're closer." Dean couldn't make heads or tails of Sammy's tone. "Anyway, we'll be able to tell better than most if it's a lycanthrope. We already have what we need if it is and we know what to do about it." The muscle at Sam's jaw line jumped, his gaze flat.

"You sure about this, Sammy?"

"Is there something you're trying to say, Dean?" Sam wouldn't look at him. The muscle at his jaw line jumped again.

Dean swallowed hard. Yeah, Sammy wasn't dealing at all. Maybe he could get something out of his system if they took the case -- if they were lucky. "Not me, man. Let's do this thing."

Dean opened the door to the motel room and hesitated at the threshold. Talk about over the top. He supposed the owners didn't want any visitors to have doubts as to what state they were in. It was worse than the one they stayed at in Richardson. If the gaudy wallpaper with riding cowboys and Indians, the lampshades with ropes coiled about the stands as if they were cattle, or the fake six guns in the room divider didn't do it, the beds in the shape of wagons, including wheels and giant fake longhorns decorating the footboards would have done the trick. This was Texas all right – yeehaw.

"Holy crap. And I thought the room with the disco theme was bad." Sammy's face twisted with distaste.

"Guess we couldn't expect anything less from a place called The Corral, could we? We're lucky there's no free roaming cattle in the parking lot." Dean gave his brother a lopsided grin.

Sam just shook his head and went on inside. "Maybe we should have stayed at La Quinta."

Dean shrugged. "This was closer to the action, dude. And more of the no-tell-motel type."

His brother threw his bag on the far bed, claiming it for his own, and sighed. "Whatever."

"I'll go get the rest of the stuff." Dean set the keys on the nearest dresser and stepped back outside, the grin still lingering. He knew most of the places they stayed at were rather trashy, and some outright weird, but oddly enough as strange a life as they had growing up, these places had come to feel like pieces of home to him. Nothing would ever take the place in his heart of their house in Lawrence, but these dinky rooms had come to be the next best thing.

His grin faded as he noticed an old woman running her hand gently over the Impala's side. He'd parked it in the middle of the lot, the slots before their room already taken.

The stranger's red chocolate skin made him think she might be Mexican, until he caught sight of her round face and its unusual flat nose, which marked her as something else entirely. Her braided hair was black, except for a white stripe, like a skunk's, which ran down the middle. Her clothing was also like nothing he'd ever seen before. She wore a loose woven blouse of white, yellow, red, and black. It was tucked into a wraparound skirt that almost resembled a tube and was of the same colors. It was the same for the backstrap woven belt. Long ribbons were woven into her braided hair. Shapes in the same four colors were on the shirt, skirt, and belt, figures that might be moons, snakes, cats, women, and jars. At her neck, she wore a jade necklace in the shape of a serpent. She also wore a white shawl trimmed in black and an apron in black, woven with white shapes that strangely enough seemed to look like bones.

The woman sensed his stare and glanced up from the car. Her dark gaze pierced Dean where he stood. "Ba'ax ka wa'alik, young one."

He couldn't meet the look for long, though he didn't know why. Not normally one to respect much of anything, his instincts told him this was someone to show deference to. It just wasn't something he knew how to do very well. "Ma'am?"

She gave him a soft smile, showing pearly white teeth. Her hand continued to caress the Impala. "Black, the color of the west. Yet the beast is named for a creature from the east. A peaceful creature, the antelope, but this one has much fire, more like a great cat's."

Dean approached, wondering what this was about. He didn't think the woman dangerous; he was normally pretty good about that type of thing, but he knew she wasn't exactly safe either. He didn't entirely understand what that meant.

"Opposites that coexist in the same essence." Her gaze met his again. "Much like you, I think."

This time he couldn't look away. It was like drowning in warm, embracing darkness. "Can I help you?"

"Perhaps." She moved to stand before him and though she was at least half a foot shorter, Dean didn't feel bigger. She studied him from head to toe as if reading all there was to be said of him. "Nurturer, warrior, protector. Your eyes too speak of your hidden nature. The hazel showing as green today -- the color of reflected light in certain eyes."

"Who are you?" Speaking took effort. There was something mesmerizing about the old woman, and something that spoke of true antiquity, which was ridiculous. She didn't seem any older than a nice seventy-five.

"I have many names. Many lives… Many roles…" The old woman's face seemed to flow as she spoke, her words weaving inside him, through him. The lines of age dropped away revealing an exotic glowing beauty. Her right hand rose toward him. She moved his bronze amulet to the side then rested her palm on his chest. Dean could feel his pulse beat faster at the touch, an odd pressure building inside him.

He forced himself to speak again. "What do you want?"

She smiled at him again as if having waited lifetimes for that one question. "A sacrifice of the heart."