And the Air Shall Stand Red

If it were up to Sam, they'd be halfway to New Orleans. But there was something going on in Philadelphia besides the rain – Winchester business with a side of ritual killings – and Dean wasn't leaving until they figured out why a girl covered with triskeles and triquetras had a Zoroastrian symbol carved into her back.

Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine but I'd make Dean wear his boots all the time if they were.

Overall Rating: M (Language, Mild Gore, Adult Themes)

Overall Pairings: Dean/OFC, Sam/OFC

Miscellaneous: Spoilers up to 3.04.

Betas: emgrace graciously provided feedback and help with grammar, pointing out situations where I needed more details. hhhellcat asked me all of the hard questions, keeping my plot focused and finding the holes when I was too close to the story to do so. theemmer provided encouragement and much support, regardless of how slowly I was writing this story. Special thanks to embroiderama, who kept me sane. The good parts are all them. The mistakes? Those are all me.

Chapter Four: No Eyes Shall Ever See Again

And their dance for the unholy arrival
As the warlord appears in crystal views,
No eyes shall ever see again.

Dean had a way of making bad ideas sound like the world's best plan after four beers and two baskets of hot wings. That would have been bad enough but Dean's plans always sounded simple. Last night he had Sam believing that they could just waltz into the investigating team's precinct pretending to be reporters and some girl in the records room would open up the doors and let Sam rifle through the file cabinets while Dean leaned over her desk making small talk.

Dean was so enthusiastic about the whole damn thing that Sam didn't have the heart to tell him that their faces were probably plastered all over some wall of FBI suspects in a back room – hell, one look at their police records and someone would be clapping handcuffs on Dean's wrist before he realized it wasn't a chick in a police uniform.

Sam went along with it, anyway. Until they had real information about the more recent crime scenes, there wasn't much that they could investigate on foot. And it kept Dean from making more jokes about manila folders.

"This freaking blows," Dean muttered, tugging at his collar. "Whose idea was this anyway?"

"Yours." Sam couldn't keep from grinning.

"I'm pretty sure my plan to score intel didn't include wearing goddamn granny glasses." Dean glared at Sam, the sprinkling rain dripping off the cheap reading glasses they had picked up at Wal-Mart. He rolled his eyes. "Who the hell is going to go for a dude in glasses? Especially after what you've done to my hair!"

"I haven't done anything to your hair."

"It's raining."

It hadn't stopped raining since they hit Philadelphia three days ago. According to the newspapers, it had been raining for weeks – usually a slow drizzle interspersed with larger thunderstorms. Sam had tried correlating weather patterns to the murders and moon phases, setting up his copy of Ash's wonder program to do the job before going to breakfast.

"That's what your umbrella is for, doofus." Sam's umbrella was slung over his shoulder, just high enough to cover his head without interfering with his peripheral vision.

Dean snorted. "And look even more like a dork?" He gestured towards Sam's old Highlander umbrella. "You've been carrying that thing around since junior high. Duncan MacLeod just wasn't that cool, man." His eyes lit up.

"At least we don't look like fugitives."

That was an understatement.

Even though he refused to use his umbrella, Dean was wearing a suit while carrying around a briefcase for the records they were hoping to snag from some cute policewoman. Dean was sober – and still completely adamant that he was going to flirt Sam's way into the records room as soon as they walked through the front door of the precinct. Dean looked more like a stockbroker than a reporter – especially when the shock of lightning through the sky brought Dean's umbrella up and the thunder threatened them with another storm.

"We look like white collar criminals," Dean observed, catching their image in a passing window. "And why did we have to leave the car at that goddamn shopping center?"

"It's not exactly inconspicuous."

"That's the point, isn't it?" Dean smirked, glancing at Sam as they turned the corner. He was going to say something more but there was a group of multi-colored umbrellas milling around a raised podium in front of the precinct. "Must still have some of that rabbit foot's mojo." Dean began picking up speed, whipping another over his shoulder. "Come on, Sam. You can't buy a distraction like this," Dean hissed.

Maybe Dean was right.

There was a thumping noise coming out of a speaker as a middle-aged woman wearing a green suit tapped on the podium's microphone. She wasn't able to say anything before a voice from the crowd snapped, "Detective Valdez! Do the police have any leads?" The voice was scornful. "You do realize that the Druid Killer is going to strike next on Halloween?"

Detective Valdez's lips stretched into a thin line and she took a deep breath into the microphone, hands flexing into fists at her side; her frustration only emphasized the circles underneath her eyes. Sam gave Dean a small nod and they moved to the back of the crowd, Sam pulling out a pen and notepad while Dean smiled down at the petite brunette that he "accidentally" bumped into. Sam rolled his eyes when Dean's gaze flickered down to the woman's rear-end and he shot Sam a grin.

"We have a team working twenty four hours a day," the detective said. There was a murmur from the crowd and her eyes darkened as the rain started falling harder. "We've brought in FBI analysts to assist in reviewing the evidence and there's another occult expert on the team."

"Who?" It was the brunette standing next to Dean, her face pinched into a scowl.

The detective scanned the crowd. "You know I can't divulge that information, Ms. Robinson," she said softly. "We're not endangering another citizen after Richard Poole."

"It was God's justice," Ms. Robinson murmured, just low enough for Dean to raise an eyebrow in Sam's direction. She raised her voice. "How many other innocent victims will be sacrificed to Samhain before you do something, Detective Valdez?" The woman touched the simple silver cross around her throat.

The way she pronounced made the hair on Sam's neck rise. Samhane. She said it with authority, like she could quote every single pamphlet out there talking about "Good Ol' Sam," the Celtic "god of the dead." Conservative idiots pulled out the "God of the Dead" myth every Halloween.

"What about the symbols on the victims' backs?" Sam's eyes widened. Dean pushed his glasses back up his nose as he asked the question. "The circular ones on the spine that aren't of Celtic origin," Dean added.

"We're…" Detective Valdez narrowed her eyes. "We're following up on that lead as well." Her voice was soft and she gestured to her right, an aide scuttling backwards into the building. Dean shot Sam a triumphant grin when another reporter asked a follow-up question and the detective's sharp-eyed gaze moved to someone else.

The brunette frowned, fingering her cross once more, and turned her back on them.

"We should go," Dean whispered. "We're just wasting time at this freak show. The police aren't going to say jack."

"But the detective just marked you." Sam leaned in close so that only Dean could hear him. "If we leave before the press conference is over, we'll have a tail." Sam frowned. "We'll be lucky if we don't get one, period. Why couldn't you have kept your mouth shut?"

"We had to know they're at least following up on all of the goddamn clues. And now they've brought in the Feds. Given the type of case this is?" Dean's voice was little more than a hiss they moved slowly to the periphery of the crowd. "I wouldn't be surprised if you-know-who was around here somewhere." Detective Valdez started watching them again despite the questions pouring forth from other reporters in the crowd demanding to know more about Dean's question. "I'm guessing the press assumed those other symbols were Celtic," Dean added softly. "Give how many of the others were."

The detective did her best to answer questions without giving too much away but the number of cell phones flipping open after Detective Valdez took the last question and the crowd dispersing in an excited murmur was a good clue that she'd said more during the conference than the press had expected.

Sam and Dean blended into the crowd's mass exodus, walking quickly and turning down the alley they'd scoped behind the precinct before breakfast. They ran straight for the dumpster where they'd hidden a duffel bag with a change of clothes for each of them. Sam closed his umbrella carefully, frowning when Dean threw his into the dumpster. "Think they sent a tail," Sam asked, shucking out of his clothes while Dean opened the duffel.

"You worry too much, Sammy. They're cops, man. And all I did was ask a simple question. Those reporters just didn't do their research" They changed in record time, Dean dropping the glasses into the dumpster with another grin at Sam. "But we're back at square one," Dean added. He might have said more, some overenthusiastic tirade about how Sam was the geek so he was going to be the one looking like a dork the next time they went undercover, but sharp footsteps started walking briskly down the alley towards them.

One day, Dean would stop underestimating the police.

They were already crouching as far back as they could behind the dumpster when a slight figure, wearing a long trench coat and dark sunglasses, came into view. Her hair was tucked up underneath a large scarf and she was carrying a leather briefcase, one long fingered hand curling around the handle. Sam held his breath when she stopped, his legs cramping against cold metal while he watched her pull a cell phone out of her coat pocket and flip it open with a snap.

She dialed a number with her thumb and his pocket started vibrating.

The only thing funnier than Sam's face when his pants started twitching, a tinny staccato beat against the side of the dumpster, was the 'oh' of surprise the woman's mouth made when she whipped her head in their direction. Her sunglasses clattered to the ground, revealing an expression that matched Sam's wide-eyed stare.

Instinct kept Dean from laughing, too many years spent holding his breath while the gruff voice in his head reminded him that even one misplaced breath could give away their position, but Sam slipped out from between the wet wall and the cold blue metal with a nervous laugh. "Ms – " Sam coughed. "Ms. Poole…" He bent down and picked up her sunglasses, handing them to her. Her cell phone trembled in her hand. "Are you all right?" he asked.

Sam always was a sucker for the whole damsel in distress gig.

"I'm fine," she answered. And it was like watching a curtain drop, the way Amanda's eyes hardened. "Are you all right? You don't seem like the type to be hiding behind a dumpster wearing an inside-out hoodie." She closed in on herself faster than she slapped the top back down on her cell phone, slipping the phone into her coat pocket. The ghost of a smile crossed her face when her eyes met Sam's.

She sure as hell wasn't acting like some girl who was scared shitless.

"That's how Sam trolls for chicks." Dean grinned.

Sam's mouth twisted into a frown that passed by just as quickly as Amanda Poole's smile.

"I'm fine," Sam returned lightly as she gently took the sunglasses from his hand. "I'm a little confused, though. You don't seem like the type to be skulking down an alley wearing sunglasses." She was one cool customer. Amanda didn't even blink, sliding her sunglasses into another pocket of her trench coat. "But that still doesn't explain why you were calling me in the first place," Sam added.

"Cut her some slack, Sam." Dean caught a glimpse of the brown boots slinking out from underneath the hem of the trench coat. Even the chick's goddamn boots had high heels. "She makes one hell of a rainy day fashion statement."

"I was trying to avoid the press conference." Her voice was cool but she glanced over her shoulder, one worry line puckering between her eyes, before looking right back at Sam. "My father's murder is old news but I'm still fair game if they catch me on the sidewalk. I'd rather not spend the entire morning saying 'no comment' – not with the promise of riveting conversation near a garbage dumpster." She smoothed a wrinkle down the front of her coat with another small smile. "There was something that I needed to retrieve for you, Mr. Bickham."

"I thought you were out of this." Sam made it sound like it wasn't an accusation, even with both of them standing stiffly across from each other. His eyes focused on the leather briefcase that she held close to her side, her hand clutched around the handle like it was a lifeline. "That you didn't want me to contact you anymore about your father."

"I…" Her eyes softened but any answer she was planning to give was cut off by the loud growl that erupted from Dean's stomach.

"Look, Princess, you and Sammy can continue this little heart-to-heart until you're blue in the face just so long as I get some food. I'm cranky when I miss lunch." Dean frowned. "And I'm not sure any of us should be hanging around in this alley any longer than we have to."

Sam and Amanda nodded and Dean grinned back at both of them.

He managed to keep his grin intact while they scuttled down the alley, leaving in the opposite direction that they entered. In retrospect, Dean probably should have kept his mouth shut – suffering through the conversation – because the look on her face when they finally reached his car made his teeth itch. And her idea of a hamburger joint came complete with red vinyl seats and cheesy outfits from the fifties.

Their waitress' nametag read 'Babs' and she sat down next to Amanda like she belonged there, making some dumb joke about how even the salad at the Red Rocket Diner was chock full of grease and calories. Sam, cultural retard that he was, placed his order without even cracking open the menu and he went slack-jawed when Dean ordered the Diner Double.

It was worse than the frigging breakfast place. Just when Sam looked like he was going to say something, some moron in a waiter's outfit started leading the entire diner in a birthday song – forcing the poor birthday girl to do the Twist while Babs brought them their drinks. Amanda sipped delicately on her red straw while Sam leaned back against the vinyl.

"Are…" Sam's voice was soft and he waited for her to make eye contact. "Are you in trouble, Ms. Poole?"

"No." She brought her hands before her on the table, interlacing her fingers. Amanda's fingers twitched. She turned her eyes to follow the raindrops sliding down the window, her jaw clenched. "I'm not. It's just – "

Babs suddenly appeared at their side, three platters of food balanced precariously on her arms. The waitress plopped down the biggest damn hamburger Dean had ever seen right in front of him, the plate overflowing with fries. Dean wasn't even certain that he'd be able to get the whole damn thing into his mouth. "Can I get some chili for my fries, sweetheart?" He winked at her.

"Your wish is my command, sugar," Babs replied with a wink of her own.

Dean watched her ass sway as she walked away from their table, wondering if her break was coming anytime soon because there was something about the way her hips moved –

Sam nudged him sharply with a bony elbow and gestured towards Amanda with his head. She was still looking out the window. Dean frowned and rolled his eyes. Sometimes, goddamn Sam was like a frigging disease. The whole damsel in distress thing was starting to rub off on him, especially when he couldn't eat his burger without watching the shadow of raindrops slide down Amanda Poole's face.

"Your research really was sorely lacking when it came to my father," Amanda said sharply. The skin tightened around her eyes when she picked up her fork, pushing the lettuce across her plate. "It wouldn't have been that hard to find all those naked pictures from the pagan retreats my father ran twenty years ago and his essay about legalizing marijuana is legendary." She frowned. "I just don't understand why…"

Amanda Poole just sat there with her shoulders shaking, daring Sam to say something with the glimmer in her eyes.

"We just want to help," Sam replied. He leaned forward to touch her arm just as Dean touched down on Sam's shin with his boot heel, shoving some French fries into his mouth when Sam whipped his head around to glare at him. "What the hell! She's not stupid, Dean."

"We did screw up by not looking for those naked pictures, Sam." Dean grinned. "There might have been chicks in them."


"No, it's fine." Amanda picked up one of the fried chicken pieces in her salad and dunked it into the ranch dressing she asked for on the side. "You were vouched for, Mr. Bickham." Her fists clenched in front of her. "Do you have any idea what it's like being asked to do something because your father's best friend had a dream? I sound like a lunatic. How can a dream even help me…" Amanda's voice trailed off.

Sam glanced at him, both of them avoiding the obvious question.

"Vouched for?" Dean managed, taking door number two. Sam made a face when the words came out muffled around a mouthful of his burger. Dean set it back down on his plate and swallowed. "That's a damn peculiar way of putting it, Princess," he added.

"I've been peculiar lately." Amanda rubbed her eyes, her shoulders slumping, before smiling weakly at Sam. "One phone call from a shaman telling me he dreamed about the shaggy bear bringing down the morning stag if the fledgling left her nest had me calling in a favor for two strangers." Amanda brushed the handle of the briefcase nestled between her body and the wall. "I skipped out on my marketing class to get you this. I never miss class."

"Got to be a first time for everything." It was Sam's turn to jab a heel on the top of Dean's foot as soon as the words left his mouth.

She gave a shrill laugh, head shaking like the joke was on her, and a steady beep trilled up from her jacket. Amanda pulled out a something that looked like Cassie's old personal planner and tapped on the screen twice with one of those plastic pen-looking things, sliding out of the booth with a frown. "I have a feeling that I'll be in touch, Mr. Bickham," Amanda said, pulling on her coat quickly. "But…I'm late for another appointment."

Amanda Poole gave what might have passed for a polite nod when she finished buttoning up her coat before turning on her heel and walking out of the diner. She stopped to speak with Babs before stepping back out into the rain.

Sam's breath came out in a huff. "Why would a shaman…" His voice trailed off and he stood up, reaching across the seat of the booth to grab the briefcase she had left behind. It was identical to the one Amanda had given them the day before. "So now we've got a shaman helping us solve a case with druids and demons in it." He pursed his lips. "And what was up with the whole shaggy bear thing?" Sam added.

"Shamans always sound like freaking fortune cookies." Dean's voice was mild as he sipped on his shake. "The shaggy bear will bring down the morning stag if the fledgling leaves her nest…between the sheets." He grinned.

"Can't you be serious about this for thirty seconds?" Sam's eyes narrowed and he pushed Amanda's half-eaten salad out of the way to open the briefcase.

Dean snorted. "I'm guessing you're the shaggy bear, what with those emo bangs of yours and the fact that you're taller than a sasquatch." Sam glared at him over the briefcase's open lid. "Was it my imagination or are you and the little lady sharing moments?" Dean asked.

"The only thing we're sharing is the certainty that you're an idiot."

"And yearning looks into your puppy dog eyes." Dean inclined his head. "More manila folders? That'll keep you between the sheets for the rest of the afternoon," Dean said, grin going wider when Sam glared at him.

He was going to say more but Babs walked up and set a small bowl of chili next to his hand and it was only polite to turn and watch her walk away, given how hard she was swaying her hips to get his attention – until Amanda Poole passed by their window, pulling her scarf up over her head.

"Son of a bitch, Sam!"


"She did it again."

There wasn't much that could keep Dean from a tirade once he got started. Kansas was blasting from the radio the moment Dean turned the key in the ignition and he was yelling loud enough to be heard over the music – not even remembering the stack of manila folders tucked into the briefcase that Amanda had left behind at the diner. Hell, Dean was so pissed when he realized Amanda had left without paying for her lunch that he stopped flirting with 'Babs' and started bellowing something about how sneaky college girls afforded their trendy clothes right in the middle of the diner.

They were lucky the manager hadn't kicked them out when mothers began covering their kids' ears.

And there was no way in hell Sam was going to mention that he'd pay Amanda Poole to walk out on the check again. Any girl who kept him off the receiving end of stupid jokes where Sam was using office supplies instead of blow-up dolls to "let off a little steam" could buy herself another scarf with Sam Winchester's compliments.

Dean was still complaining about being tricked by a chick wearing a scarf when the door to their room swung open. Dean took the briefcase while Sam made a beeline for his laptop, typing in his password before the latch on the door had time to fully close. The pattern recognition program had finished its run based on the last set of parameters that Sam had input into it. If there was a connection between the weather and the moon phases, Ash hadn't figured out a way to find it before that yellow-eyed bastard burned down the Roadhouse.

"I've got nothing," Sam said. "You?"

Dean snapped open both locks on the briefcase, pulling out the first folder on top of the pile. "Got something." He whistled. "The police file for that damn girl's father, for starters." He started rifling through the rest of them. "Updates to the files we already have and the rest of the files we don't."

"How did she manage that?" Sam flipped between screens, pulling up his e-mail program.

"She did say something about calling in a favor." Dean snorted, piling the folders next to him on the bed. "Maybe she actually shucked out a couple of bucks and bought someone lunch from the value menu at Wendy's."

"I did get something from Bobby." Sam's eyes widened as he clicked on the message. There were three attachments. "And he encrypted everything. That's usually not a good sign."

Dean didn't say anything – his head was already bent over an open folder with Richard Poole's name on the tab – but he handed Sam the police file for the ninth victim, Patrick Bale. Sam pulled out one of the crime scene photos, a close-up of the symbol on the victim's back, and he suddenly wished that he hadn't eaten that spicy pork pulled sandwich for lunch. Whoever – whatever – had carved the symbol onto the man's back had used portions of his exposed spinal column as part of the design.

It was the most intricate version of the symbol Sam had seen. The ones coming were probably going to be worse.

The whole damn case was throwing Sam off-kilter; he'd seen gorier scenes with younger victims, had killed an innocent girl to keep her curse from spreading to other innocent people with just a bite, and it probably would have been different if the damn thing made some kind of sense. Even Dad would be having a problem, the man who could put patterns together without Ash's fancy computer program or Dean's duct tape – what with the shaman and every other surprise they hadn't discovered yet in Amanda Poole's files.

They weren't even close to knowing what the hell was going on.

And they were no closer to New Orleans. Ruby had told Sam to be there by the second of November. Sam guessed she had another enigmatic clue to slap down just so that he could stumble across another piece of a puzzle that made no sense. She hadn't even hinted at what she was going to make him do to save Dean.

He probably shouldn't have backed down with the trip to New Orleans but Sam was still a goddamn Winchester – and there was a Latin inscription interwoven into the symbol on Patrick Bale's back.

Sam copied neatly underneath the last line from Tony Paulson's back.

He lost himself in the words and the symbols, three more victims with less skin and more spine showing, before handing the last picture weakly back to Dean. Dean stared hard at it and then back to the map on the wall, with its pieces of plastic looking like an insane asylum's version of a children's game.

At least the words made sense; could be put into patterns that Sam recognized, no matter how each translated line made the pit in his stomach open up a little wider.

Especially when he compared it to the documents that Bobby had sent them. There might be variations in the text but those could be accounted for, just a translator's personal nuance, and the only difference between the two was that Sam's was missing a line.

The last victim.

Sam double-checked his translation against Bobby's email three times, sucking in a breath. "Holy shit," he whispered, staring at the monitor.

The translation of the ritual was nothing compared to the two descriptions of its method. One was from a scanned text that looked so old the real thing would probably break if you breathed on it too hard, its pages embossed with the most elaborate version of the sigil that had been carved into the twelfth victim. Just looking at Lisa Hayes' wedding portrait in her file had been enough, another pretty blonde with blue eyes that they were too late to save.

Dean was flipping pages in Dad's old Ogham reference – the only thing of any value was the translation of the letters themselves, as far as Dad was concerned – and writing out what were probably translations of his own in the chicken scratch that passed for Dean's handwriting when he wasn't chewing on the end of his pen.


"Yeah?" He didn't look up from his book.

"Did Dad ever mention anything to you about a ritual called Daemon Incarnatus Carnis Ori?" Sam could barely get out the words, breath kept slow in time to the pencil he was flipping through his fingers.

"Why would Dad bring up a ritual about…demon meat? He never really even talked about demons until…" He stopped chewing on his pen. "Wait a minute. Ori. Doesn't that mean 'to rise' or something?" Dean started shaking his head when Sam didn't answer. "So yesterday you said this ritual talked about ascension-with-a-capital-A. And that everything was being done to increase the power of each ritual killing." He frowned. "We're screwed."

"Oh, you haven't heard the half of it."

"I'm guessing a ritual that mentions demons, meat and rising isn't about sparkly unicorns and fucking rainbows."

"It roughly translates as 'the risen incarnation of the demon into flesh,' Dean." The pencil snapped, one sharp edge between his thumb and index finger. "What we're talking about is a demon that won't have to rely on a human host. The ritual gives the damn thing its own flesh and the thought of that scares Bobby so much that he's calling some friends in case they need to get here."

"You mean 'in case those Winchester boys fuck up again' and let a demon ascend." Dean leaned forward on his knees, rubbing his eyes with his hands. "It's bad enough everyone thinks we screwed up and opened that goddamn gate." His mouth was a thin line. "How do we stop this, Sam? All we really know is that another person's going to die."

"Two," Sam answered. His tongue was numb.


"There's the Calix. That's the thirteenth victim. According to the ritual, the Calix has to be male. And then there's the Mater, who is always a woman." Dean's eyes went wide as they stared at each other. "The Calix is the demon's host. He's marked by the Symbol of the Flesh – that thing we've seen getting carved more elaborately into every victim's back as the ritual progresses – using the blood of the Mater."

"I don't like where this is going Sam."

"You shouldn't. The blood is collected using a ritual wand called the virga. It's used during the last segment of the ritual to pierce the Mater's maidenhead. Once the blood is collected, the priest performing the ritual uses it to carve the Symbol of the Flesh onto the Calix's back – mixing his blood with that of the Mater's." Sam swallowed. "When's he's done, the demon possesses the Calix – "

"Maidenhead?" Dean interrupted, mouth twitching. "So the Mater is a virgin?" He whistled low when Sam nodded. "But demons can possess humans without all that mumbo jumbo. What's the point?"

"The point is that the ritual lets the demon impregnate the Mater with itself. It sucks out the life force of the Calix to speed gestation."

"But a virgin?"

"It's sacred blood, Dean." And damn if Sam didn't hear his father's voice. There's water, there's blood and there's Winchester blood. Don't you boys forget that. He sucked in a breath. "The Mater dies when the demon pushes its way out of her. Basically, she gets cracked open because it's still growing." Long fingers tapped on the table in front of him. "And we've got a demon walking around fully-formed in its own body."

"Can a demon like that even be exorcised?" Dean frowned. "I guess there's the Colt."

"Bobby thinks the Celtic trappings are just a smokescreen, given the time of year. I mean, the ritual does require thirteen sacrifices, with the last occurring on All Hallow's Eve but all that's important is that the sacrifices are marked with that symbol."

"I'm…not so sure the Celtic stuff was just a smokescreen." Dean scratched underneath his ear, staring at the wall.

"What do you mean?"

"Well…" Dean's voice trailed off. "I've been doing more digging into that tree language and I translated those symbols on the chests of the first nine victims. When you put them together in chronological order, they form a word."

"A real word?"

"Don't make me come over there and smack you, Sam." And Dean was frowning. "Stagheart." Dean's eyes were hard when they finally flickered in Sam's direction. "Don't you remember what Princess said? That the shaggy bear would overcome the morning stag?"

"And you're the one always going on about shamans not making any sense."

"The cops have been hiding a lot of stuff from the press. The newspapers never even mentioned that there was something written in that Gaelic tree scratch around the twelfth victim. They found her face down in a fountain, right? Well, there was a message written on the stone of the fountain in her blood. It was about the Horned Lord, Savan, rising on the day when the veil between the worlds is thin."

"Dean, you just paraphrased those idiots who think that Samhain is some kind of old Celtic god instead of one of their holy days. And the whole veil between the worlds thing is Wicca 101."

"Maybe." Dean didn't sound convinced; just as stubborn as any goddamn Winchester, arms held tight across his chest as he stared at the close-up of the last victim's back. "Still doesn't change the fact that we don't have any idea who is going to be kidnapped – only that some poor guy's getting nabbed during the next three days. And we've got jack about where the last sacrifice is going down."

Dean was suddenly on his feet, pulling down the piece of plastic that marked where the victims were found and began connecting the dots on the sheet with the disappearances. "Son of a bitch," he said softly, placing the picture side by side with the plastic. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"

"It's the…" Sam swallowed. Dean's pen had filled in most of the blanks, the symbol matching the design on Lisa Hayes' spinal column. Only one point was missing. "You still think it's druids? That's a Zoroastrian magical symbol they've constructed throughout the greater metropolitan area." Sam was on his feet, looking more closely at the plastic, gesturing towards the only open spot in the pattern. "The next victim should be coming from here."

"So we're looking for a needle in a sixteen block radius? That evens the odds."

"Are there any connections between the new victims?"

Dean shook his head. "Nope. And I cross-referenced the new information for the older victims, too. The only connection between two of them was that goddamn band but since those Celtic trappings weren't real…" Dean's breath came out in a huff and his eyes looked liked Dad's when Sam had just said something stupid.

When things look obvious, Sam, they're usually obvious for a reason. It's either because it's a trap or because it's the truth. And there's only one way to figure out whether you're right or whether you're wrong.

Sam sighed, turning his back on Dean and bringing up the website in his 'Favorites' before his ass had even hit the seat of the chair. Three metal head rejects grinned up at him, the Wylde Hunterz logo a splash of color at the top of the page. "There's a show tomorrow night," Sam said, looking at Dean. He flipped to Mapquest and copied in the address of the club, zooming out from the map until it was similar in size to the map on the wall. "Son of a bitch," Sam said, echoing Dean's comment with widened eyes.

"Guess you and I are going out tomorrow night to score some brews and listen to some Hootie," Dean returned laconically. He made it sound like a death sentence but Sam had to smile in spite of everything, remembering a blonde-haired girl who used to love singing Hootie in the shower.

"Guess we – " Sam's cell began vibrating in his pocket. "That's probably Bobby," he said. "Figuring out if he needs to call in the cavalry." Sam flipped open the phone. "Hello?"

"Mr. Bickham?"

"Ms. Poole?" Dean's mouth twisted when Sam mentioned her name. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" Sam added.

"The Elders would like to offer their…assistance." She couldn't make it sound more obscure if she had tried and Dean would have been laughing his ass off if he'd heard how serious the whole thing was, complete with its capital E – if he hadn't been muttering to himself about her next plan to stiff them on another check. "Some of my father's friends are meeting tomorrow night and Lester said that I needed to bring the shaggy bear with me," Amanda said.

"Why would the Elders want to see me?" Sam asked.

"Fuck no, Sam. We're not getting suckered into meeting her a third time," Dean hissed. "We're not Amanda Poole's ticket to another free lunch!"

Sam ignored him.

"There are questions I've learned not to ask, Mr. Bickham." She made a noise that sounded more like a laugh than anything she'd done since Sam had first called her. "And it's not so grandiose as you would think. They're just some of the local leaders in the pagan community. My father used to joke about how he was too young to be one of the Elders."

"What about Dean?"

"Mr. Finn? The only thing Lester would say was that the coyote would rescue the rabbit from her warren." Amanda sighed. "If it's any consolation, I've known Lester since I was four and I still don't understand half of what comes out of his mouth."

At least fortune cookies gave you lottery numbers.


I have probably played fast and loose with police procedure based on the storyline, but I hope I gave it a legitimate reason with Amanda's connection to a member of the force. It'll make more sense as the story progresses.

Those pamphlets about "Good Ol' Sam" really do exist. I've been handed more than my fair share. My sweet, albeit childish, revenge was to snark on the idiots who think that it's true. And, since my research fu was mildly naughty with the moon phases, I can say that I'm not the only person who believes that there was a shamanistic element to early Celtic spirituality – particularly in the myths of Taliesin. I won't belabor the point but, if you're interested, I'd be happy to refer you to some resources on the subject.

I cheated horribly with the Daemon Incarnatus Carnis Ori ritual and took the song lyrics to "The Ascension" by the group Bloodbath and used them liberally for the translation bits in the Zoroastrian symbols. And since my Latin really sucks, I made absolutely no attempt to translate it into Latin for the purposes of putting Latin phrases into the story. Behold, the power of Google.

"Calix" is Latin for "Vessel" – I just didn't want to be so obviously Buffy about the whole thing. "Mater," obviously, is Latin for "Mother." In regards to the violation –where the victim's hymen is pierced by a foreign object – the closest I could come up with was the word for wand, which actually worked out well as "Virga"; I've seen some references to this act (piercing of the hymen with a foreign object, though not connected to this type of ritual) in some pre-Christian cultures but nothing I've followed up with on the research front. Could very well be one of those things that has little historical fact to back it up but becomes part of a story anyway.