So now this one also draws to a close, and I am that much closer to completing this arc of this verse. There is only one fic left to go and it will be over for this bitThe big question now, is do I continue with the next arc? Let me know.

Again, I want to thank readers, reviewers and alerters! Hopefully I will see you all at the next and final part (Hallejulah)

What have you done?
What have you done now?
What have you done?
What have you done now?

I will not fall
Won't let it go
We will be free
When it ends

Astaroth and Lucifer have planned everything as much as they can, down to the last detail. There is still much of this venture that relies on chance, Lucifer's forces stretched thin, too few on this side of the gates to adequately deal with the armies of Heaven, though the forces committed by Michael and his brothers are far fewer than either of them had expected. They take the gift for what it is, use their forces, expendable once the Horsemen are free because with their aid the gates can be opened and the full might of Lucifer's forces can be unleashed.

Mighty those forces are, Astaroth may think many things about Lucifer and not many of them are nice, none of them are, actually, it being far beyond her to think in pleasant terms these days, not since several decades after she was banished to Hell, but still, she can admit that Lucifer's forces are impressive now. She has taken advantage of that, turned some few to her own cause, her own needs. There is too much here to manipulate, too much to control, but keeping track of it is a challenge and one that she welcomes.

Thing of it is, she has discovered that this spell they need to open the door requires a third part, a human part, because the Horsemen cannot be unleashed, the world cannot be ended, without the humans giving it away at every turn. A human to break the first seal, a human to shatter the last, a human to unleash the agents of the end days. She finds it somewhat poetic.

She has been playing this game for many millennia, been manipulating mankind since she realised that they could be manipulated. Astaroth is good at this, at getting humans to do what she needs them too without them realising that they are. She had recognised the uses of the girl Lucifer had captured as soon as she had seen her bound in that room, the closed seal at her breast, the fear and desperation in her heart, the stench of an archangel all over her, the feel of death within her and ancient magic on the edge of her mind. With this one she did not have to do anything, she will play her part, the only thing that bothers Astaroth is the question of who else is playing the game, wants to know who is working from the other side to make this happen because they have an agenda and she wants to know what it is.

With no way to find that out, and no way to make Lucifer understand that they would be better trying to open another gate, to release more of his forces before going after the Horsemen, to have more demons at his side to protect them, because once they are deep within the ritual there will be no going back, no stopping it from happening. Once it is started, it is completed, or both will suffer grave consequences, possibly even perish, Astaroth cannot allow that, has laboured too long over the years to allow herself to be stopped in this manner.

SPN

Dean is not happy when Castiel wakes him, this is the first time in too long that he has been able to get a good nights sleep and the angel has taken that from him. His displeasure at being woken is soon turned into anger that Castiel did not try to stop Katie and then the resigned admission that, like the angel, he is only surprised that it has taken her this long to pack her bags and leave.

As much as he would like to allow her the freedom of living her own life, of returning to her world and doing the things she has always done, and he feels a twinge of guilt at the fact that he really knows nothing about her past, he cannot allow her to go out there and start trying to take care of Lucifer all on her own. It is not her job, not even really her problem, and at the end of the day, the Winchesters started this whole mess, at least one of them has to be responsible for fixing it.

They do not speak as they pack up the car, moving around each other with the ease and familiarity of long practice. They may not have the ability he and Sam do, to read intentions and opinions in a moment, but they are getting there, Castiel able to convey more these days with a single glance than he can with words.

It has not escaped Dean that Castiel talks almost as little now that he is stuck somewhere between angel and human as he did when he was full of grace and righteous anger and holy wrath. For a group of beings who are supposed to be like marble statues, the angels sure do seem to show a range of emotions between them, if a little stunted and centred around only one or two. Dean thinks that they could stand to learn something from Castiel, from the angel's gentle compassion even in the face of all the things that were done to him, because he knows, without knowing how, that Lucifer wanted Castiel to join him, another angel on his side, one broken and bloody and mistreated, one who could be a symbol to the other angels of Lucifer's compassion. Knows that it was only Castiel's concern for him, his sense of duty, even after his ability to perform that duty had been stolen from him, that gave him the will not to turn to the side of the Lightbringer.

They have an advantage here, however, because Castiel suspects that he knows what Lucifer is planning to do next, because after reading that book, he revealed that he had felt some recognition for the demon who had allowed them to escape from under her nose, tells Dean that she was more than able to stop them and so must have had a reason for letting them go, not that he can think of any. Explains as the car speeds along the road that Astaroth is a fallen angel, one of the few who knows where Michael locked the four who will enable Lucifer to break open all the gates to Hell and bring the Apocalypse about properly. Castiel knows as well, because he was there, a guard at Astaroth's side, though unnoticed in the grand scheme of it all, too low to be much assistance.

The world has changed since then, but Castiel has a rough idea of where to find it, of the direction to head in, he only hopes that as they get closer he will be better able to detect the seal that holds them in place.

They do not catch up to Katie, are working on the assumption that this is where she is headed, but deep within, both know that they will not catch her, that they will be too late, and both feel that like the stab of a blade. Dean wants Sam back, of course he does, but he is not willing to sacrifice the life of an innocent woman, one who never should have been involved in this, to get him back.

When they arrive almost four days later, they know that they are too late, arrive in time to watch Katie enter a graveyard. Castiel pulls his bow from the compartment under the front seat, having confirmed that it was still there not long after they had hidden from Lucifer. It is an advantage, however small, and it is all that they need.

SPN

It is raining when Katie gets out of bed and dresses for what she knows could be her final day as the person she has come to know herself as, living, dead or otherwise. It does not feel any different to a normal day, even the nerves that have fluttered through her over the last few days have gone, leaving behind only a steely resolve to do what she feels is right and what she feels is necessary.

If she thinks about it, and later she will, she would realise that the total lack of demons around the graveyard is suspicious, that she should have been approached and stopped long before she reaches the mausoleum door. She is not challenged, although that does not matter, the walls of the building are decorated in blood, symbols painted all over and the body of a child has been discarded by the door. It is almost enough to make her turn tail and run and as she retches against the smell and the sight she is glad that she did not have breakfast before she left.

She creeps through the hall, attention focussed entirely on the sound of chanting from up ahead, does not notice the figures who sneak out behind her and shut the door, does not hear the click of a lock. Katie pauses when she reaches the door, glances through. The room contains only two people, a woman and Sam who is not Sam, Lucifer.

Fortunately, the incantation requires very preparation, and all of it revolves around the caster rather than the intended target. Holy water is poured on the floor, in an intricate pattern that it took her days to perfect in the overgrown muddy drive of the hut they stayed in, and a circle of salt laid carefully around it. She stands in the centre of the circle, reciting the words loud enough to be heard over the joined chanting, feels the ground beginning to shake beneath her and sees the back of Lucifer shudder.

The woman completes her incantation before Lucifer does, she turns to look at Katie, eyes flashing red in the half darkness of candle light and magic that now lights up one wall with something that looks almost like a devils trap. It casts an eery light over her, makes Katie falter, breaks her concentration long enough for her to hear the door break and Dean's shouting as he cuts into demons who did not stop her, but will stop him, hears Castiel calling for her to stop, but Lucifer is beginning to draw himself upright, where he had started to go down on his knees, and she is close, so close, she cannot stop, she will not and she raises her voice again as Lucifer screams out the last words of the incantation, wind blowing out of nowhere as he is ripped from Sam.

Her shout or triumph is cut short by cold hands, one over her mouth, one at her neck, the woman with Lucifer has taken hold of her and too late she realises that the sudden gust has blown her salt circle out of place and she is surrounded by nothing more than dried holy water, which evidently does not bother a demon of this level.

"Let her go, Astaroth!" Castiel shouts, his bow drawn and power filling his voice. Behind Katie the fallen angel laughs, orders the few demons still standing to kill them both, and the human woman's gut clenches as they both vanish.

In the mausoleum, the gate to the prison that contains the Horsemen continues to split open, the last demons, aware that they have been abandoned, fall quickly to Dean's knife and Castiel's bow. When the final one is dead, when the human and angel have a moment to breath they realise just how much danger they are in, pause for just long enough to grab Sam and abandon the building, driving as fast as they can away, not caring where, as long as it is away.

They have failed again, Castiel knows, now, that there is only one thing that they can do. Lucifer has to die.

I, I've been waiting for someone like you
But now you are slipping away
What have you done now?
Why, Why does fate make us suffer
There's a curse between us
Between me and you

Reviews are little Castiels that fly above our heads and mini Deans under the bed. A small Sam in hand and a tiny John by the chair, a review that can show how much you care.

Artemis