Castiel was the first to break rank, tearing into the flesh of another demon, another fallen soul. Their rancid faces curved into puckered scowls as they were purified, crumbling down. The other angels of his garrison flanked him, Uriel gripped his shoulder, hissing in Enochian "Don't do anything you'll regret Castiel." His form bristled at the touch, as Uriel's thoughts ebbed through him.
More demons flung themselves at them, Lucifer's followers no doubt, their scarred faces grabbing at the angel's light as their eye sockets burned out. Tortured souls shrieked, some still retaining some sense of the best of humanity, crying "Mercy." But they were not there for them, they were there for the fallen Righteous man. Dean Winchester.
Balthazar was first to follow Castiel, as always, his loyal companion, his closest friend. "Do you have any bloody idea what we're doing?" He sniped, as Castiel paused, feeling for the essence of the Righteous man's soul. "We need a holiday after this Cassie." He remarked, as he cut down screeching demons with his angel's blade. If Castiel's essence had been encased in a vessel he would've smiled. "You may be right."
"Thirty years Cas. Don't mean to be complaining, but we seem to be lost."
"These are our orders." Castiel stated, at his eyes flicked back to Balthazar's form, absentmindedly plunging his knife into yet another demon, and reaching out to touch another, causing it to explode into strips of ash.
"Nice work Cassie."
"You know I prefer Cas -" Castiel turned around, seeing another man standing behind Balthazar. He clenched his knife tightly, before recognising the man standing before him was no demon or tortured human soul. "I could keep you running around here as long as I need to, Castiel." The man said, his eyes glinting a rich amber.
Not angel either. He was the warlock, descendent of Gabriel.
"Emrys." Castiel managed, Balthazar seemed to ignore Castiel's communication with the apparition, seeing right through the old man Merlin, as if he wasn't even there. He said something to Castiel, gestured to him to move, but Castiel's eyes were only on Merlin. "My brothers escorted your soul to heaven themselves." An exception to the great wizard, an assurance that Gabriel's prophecy could never come to fruition. Arthur could not become king without Merlin. Two prophecies could not coincide. There was not a place in paradise for a human king.
"The Goddess of the Old Religion was a Nephilim, it means I can transcend the bounds of heaven." Emyrs wrinkled lips, curled into a small smile. "Doing so, though would be next to impossible if part of my soul was not already here with Arthur's, as part of myself resides with him, even here." The old man swallowed, and his face seemed to crumple. "Even now, I am with him, watching." He shook his head, slowly, his voice low and quiet, and yet seething with rage. "You waited ten years while he bled, for this. For Dean Winchester, the future king to finally fall. What gave you the right?"
"It's all for God's purposes, these were my orders." Castiel growled, seizing his blade, ready to cut the warlock down. He was standing in the way of their mission. And as it appeared his brethren could not see him, it fell to him to ensure that he carried out his duty.
"Is it the purpose of God, to condemn the righteous man to break the first seal, and soil his hands in blood? Heaven stood by and looked on. You looked on, Castiel, the angel that fell for humanity." The man's brow creased in disappointment, as he evaluated the angel, and his soft human gaze was incredibly unsettling. His soul should be unable to perceive Castiel in his true form, but here he was, standing before him as if he had a right to judge.
"I respect them as God's creations, but I feel no particular empathy towards them, as you seem to entertain in your delusions. My purpose is to serve heaven. Now stand down." Castiel said, unwavering in his threat, moving his blade to slice apart Emyrs. He hadn't time for the warlock's antics.
Merlin's eyes glowed. He bore down his staff. Castiel staggered, raising his hands to his head. His arms. His legs. They tingled, as if they'd been soaked in corrosive acid. "What have you done to me?" He grunted, annoyed at his weakness. His vision blurred, and he strained to focus on Merlin. The man folded his arms, standing over Castiel as he cringed to the ground, his face glimmering with his youth for a brief moment, before melting away. The sharp blue of the warlock's eyes faded, the whites of his eyes yellowing again. A friendly smile became a yellow toothed sneer, as the warlock outstretched a hand for Castiel to take.
The angel refused, standing on his own, sharp blades of grass pricking his hands, the moist soil clinging to the palms of Castiel's human hands. His eyes hungrily examined the scenery, his now fresh eyes, drinking in the nectars of his God's creation, so hungry after his years in hell. His legs felt rubbery beneath him, he grimaced, as his feet quaked beneath him, unsure of how to place his weight. Castiel scrunched his face up in confusion, groaning as he tried to twitch his wings, before it dawned on him, he could not stand because they where absent. His eyes widened, spinning dizzily on his heels to face Merlin, nostrils flaring. Cold air raked Castiel's throat, which was disconcerting. His feets clenched, and he shivered, from the squelch of wet clumped soil brushed on the inside of his palm. He opened his mouth to speak, but he was too overwhelmed by the need to balance, need to breathe, feeling every particle that danced in his lungs, his heart thrumming with the acute shock of feeling, and the strong absence of all it was to exist for Castiel. "How do you maintain these functions?" Castiel asked eventually, still straining to get his thumping heart - so loud- to return to a more normal rhythm. He closed his eyes, listening for his brothers, trying to send an SOS, to find that all lines to heaven were dead.
Castiel's eyes were wet. He wiped his eyes, frustrated at his own inability to control himself, to control this slab of meat. He hadn't taken a vessel for decades, but even so this was worse. When Castiel had taken a human form, although he'd felt the restrictions, it'd been nothing like this…wearing the meat suit is a lot different to being trapped in one, with no exit. No relief. The constant thrum of Castiel's brothers had been ripped from his very core, leaving a dead line of communication. He couldn't escape, unable to flash out because Merlin had stripped away his wings. He gritted his teeth, swallowing hard, trying to maintain some sense of dignity, managing to glare at the culprit, the source of his distress. "Release me."
Merlin seemed to ignore his request, gesturing to the scenery. "This is the path I walked on, when I first travelled to Camelot, all those years ago." The man smiled, while Castiel glanced back suspiciously, squinting his eyes shut, spots dancing before his eyes from the glare of the blue sky, as he tried to observe the great castle of Camelot that overlooked the horizon.
"Why are you showing me this?" He snapped, only listening to the warlock because he had to.
"My one purpose in life has always been to serve Arthur." Merlin said, in a subdued tone, but his voice sounded rough, making Castiel's ears pound.
"I am aware." Castiel stated. "But if you are disrupting this mission. Release me now or I'll smite you where you stand." The angel stared at his hand, perplexed, as his silver blade refused to slide into his waiting hand.
"You'll not be able to." The old man smiled, his blue eyes glinting mischievously as he held Castiel's blade in his hand, before slipping it back into his worn robes. Castiel glowered, scrunching his eyes in concentration as he tried to fade out. An innate instinct. Only to remember that he had no wings. The Warlock chuckled at Castiel's wrinkled nose, and eyebrows squelched together in concentration.
Castiel frowned, frustrated at the stubborn illusion, only becoming more vivid in his efforts to escape. His body tingled with his newfound senses, and the relief of experiencing and hearing something other than screams and the blaze of frigid fire.
"I am afraid that you will not be able to raise Dean Winchester from hell, Castiel because I cannot let you do so." Merlin glared back at the angel. "Not for your purposes."
"You question the purposes of God? These are my orders from heaven. They cannot be wrong."
"You could not be more ignorant Castiel," Merlin stated, Castiel's brow twitched in irritation. "I could make you hunt for him for years more." Merlin grunted, "I have no patience with heaven. Too many civil wars and selfish squabbles amongst brothers about who loved daddy the most. It's pathetic."
"What gives you the right? God is the ruler of heaven, it is up to him. Heaven has always wanted best for humanity." Castiel roared. "I could tear you apart for such blasphemy!"
"I suppose they haven't told you, course not, you're an insignificant front-liner, they've been inside your head too many times to count."
"No one has done any such thing!" Castiel seethed, lunging for Merlin. "You're Gabriel's spawn, brought up and chosen by pagan Gods of Nephilim! Your existence goes against creation!"
"And whose fault was that! You may remember my ancestor Gabriel who rebelled! He left, when your silly squabbles became too much. And I was the result, unintentional, granted, but I still count. Humanity still counts. We're worth more than you take credit. Think before you speak, angel Castiel. For I know far more of the world than you do, and I am not blinded by prejudice or ignorance, like you and the rest of your garrison." The old man trembled with rage, and Castiel felt fear, deep in the pit of his being. He backed off, wary of the old man, his words pricking against some details in his head, terrible things wanting to resurface, things that were not easy to dismiss under the old man's piercing gaze, and the glare of the blue sky.
"You'll not allow your comrade's soul to rot here." Castiel said warily, hoping that this was true rather than believing.
The old man nodded. "No, I will not. But to release him from his prison you must first release him from my care."
"And how am I to do that?" Castiel replied, perplexed.
"You must promise yourself to man, to serve Dean Winchester." Merlin's eyebrows arched, as he watched the angel quiver at the words. His loyalty was only to Heaven. The humans, could only ever come second. The old man's lips curved into a sneer. "I see that the angel is afraid, but I hope not too intimidated by this deal." The old man beckoned Castiel to walk with him. "This is the path I walked along as a young boy, on the way to meet my destiny." He looked down at the dirt path. "If you wish to redeem Dean Winchester from hell, you must walk this path with me, and we'll take a trip down memory lane together."
"I remember your history quite well, Merlin. I watched it take place. I have seen and heard it recounted many times in literature, although most do not tell the story accurately."
"I wasn't talking about my past, but rather about yours, Castiel, the most rebellious angel in all of heaven."
"I have always obeyed my orders!" Castiel bellowed, making the trees shake and warp. "I have always-"
"You'd be wise to hold your tongue Castiel, and listen." Merlin snapped. "Stop acting like an impertinent child. Walk with me now, Castiel, or I'll make you and your little soldiers tread through hell for another thirty years!"
Seeing that the old man was resolute, reluctantly Castiel stepped onto the dirt path. The castle of Camelot still stood in the horizon, as distant as it had ever looked, but the setting around him had changed. The grass was still green, but now the grass he tread upon felt familiar and comforting, sighing under Castiel's bare feet and he saw the usual figure of a man flying a kite in the distance, whom Castiel had come to consider as a friend, due to their constant close proximity with each other, despite the lack of contact, and awareness of the man knowing that Castiel was there in the first place. "This is my favourite heaven," He paused, before turning to Merlin, "What is the point of this exercise?"
"Describe it to me Castiel." Merlin commanded, who kept his eyes only on Castiel. "I am blind to what you see, to me there is only the path to Camelot, where we are headed."
"It's the tuesday afternoon of an autistic man who drowned in a bathtub. It's my favourite perception of heaven, as angels cannot create their own." The angel's mouth twitched into a smile as he looked up at the silhouette of the kite and the man in the distance.
"Why do you perceive it as your favourite, Castiel?"
"I suppose, it's because of its serenity and simplicity, he tends to fly a kite in the distance, and I can simply sit and admire God's creation, the green trees and the scenery. It's not...as materialistic as most, or noisy. Most heavens I've seen are either parties, places to get drunk or spend time with loved ones, none of which really attracts me." They continued to walk, and Castiel was agitated, as he saw Merlin ghost through the scenery, not stopping to admire a detail. "If you conjured it, how can you not see it?"
Merlin shook his head. "For me it is only the road to Camelot, and that is all my eyes will ever be able to see here. We must be getting on, should you ever want to save Dean Winchester, and fulfil the task that heaven has given you."
Castiel gave a small nod, and followed the stooped old man, addressing him with another question. "Why are you only able to see the road to Camelot?"
Merlin turned back to the angel with a small smile. "For me there is only Arthur."
"My loyalty is to heaven." Castiel grimaced, planting his feet into the ground. "Why are you trying to manipulate me?"
"You know I am not a demon, Castiel. I mean you no harm."
"You have my garrison wandering through hell like fools. Some of my brothers have died fighting to get to Dean Winchester!"
"I am sorry for your loss," Merlin sighed. "But I had to stop you from reaching Dean Winchester, for he cannot be redeemed, until someone accepts my soul."
"I accept your soul." Castiel growled. "Now release me and be gone."
"You must walk with me first, Castiel, before you agree to such things as these." Merlin warned. "For you will be bound to Dean Winchester always, and must promise to serve man, before heaven."
"I cannot do that."
"What a hypocrite you are Castiel," Merlin snorted. "I can hardly believe that this is the reputed rebellious angel!"
"I have never rebelled! So I'm asking you politely, not to make such assertions" Castiel growled, resisting the urge to grab and shake the warlock, since stabbing was now out of the equation. He'd just disappear out of his grasp again.
"You want me to lie Castiel?" The warlock asked. "Get on with it and tell me what you see."
The angel swallowed, as he stared up at the black sky, his nose assaulting with the stench of burning flesh and wood, as his eyes adjusted to the poor light, looking back down to a blackened landscape, carcasses of dinosaurs strewn all around him. A cleansing, they'd told him, a cleansing, for what was to come. He walked through the barren land, the smouldering trees with trepidation, looking for signs of life. His hand brushed against the bloody flesh of a dinosaur, its sides heaving even now. Its eye rolled, unrelieved by his touch. Its ribs ballooned outwards, its breath irregular. The creature seized, legs kicking outwards, a grunt of pain forming in the back of the beast's throat. Its body went limp. The beast's eyes glazed over. Castiel withdrew his hand, remembering.
God's orders. But he'd fought against them all the same.
He swallowed, his mouth filling with bile, his eyes going wet again. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to stand. But he gritted his teeth and he forced himself to hold it together. "Leave me Merlin," He managed, a pathetic growl, as he tried to summon what strength he had left. "Is it really necessary to show me this?"
He did not want to see what was to come after this. He looked back at Merlin, who evaluated his expression, reading regret and pain, in his stooped shoulders. Castiel could never remember doubting himself before this moment, as he stood here in the aftermath of the angels' destruction. Merlin took no satisfaction in his repetition of his question, there was no triumph as he read Castiel's eyes. "Tell me what you see."
"The whole landscape is burning, the sky is murky with ash. Everything is dead, dying."
"What did you reach out and touch?" Merlin asked, watching Castiel intently.
Castiel looked back, and quietly answered the sorcerer's question. "A creature that was dying." Castiel said, trying to give as little detail as possible, expecting another question, but Merlin was silent, trooping on through the land of the dying without a glance, Castiel following behind, embers of doubt once again reforming in his mind, as it began to overflow with questions, none of which he had an answer to. He just didn't know. He could not tell if this had all been real, or just a product of the warlock's sorcery, created to deceive him. But there was only forward left to go to. The path to Dean Winchester, would be much more painful than Castiel could have ever anticipated. He looked towards the castle, visible even now, among the product of the angels' slaughter. It loomed over him, on the horizon, taunting him with its distance. Although the sorcerer had never said so directly, Castiel could feel that this was where his journey would come to an end. It would be a long way to go before Castiel would resurface once again.