They followed Dr. Q, Dean thought, like a line of goslings behind a mother goose, an attractive, wise mother goose that his father seemed to have known very well. He cut off that train of thought with a grimace.
They descended a flight of stairs in the sound deadened stairwell. Sam hesitated, turned back twoard the door to the main floor.
"Hey, bro,” Dean said. “The witches are headed to the basement."
"The basement?" Sam shuddered.
"Yeah, come on." Dean grabbed Sam's elbow and tugged him around. "Whatever they've got down there better be good."
Sam looked back at the door that would have gotten him outside. "Better be damned good."
They walked briskly through the stacks till they approached a formidable metal door marked, "Rare Books, Enter by appointment only." Dr. Q pressed her thumb into a lighted pad. The glowing pad switched from red to green and Sam heard the door buzz open. He and Dean exchanged looks. This was the kind of security reserved for banks and high level research labs, not college libraries.
Sam shivered as they passed into a brightly lit room that barely accommodated a large, wooden library table. Facing away from them, someone sat hunched in front of a computer. Books lay open on the table on either side of him. His head swiveled back and forth between them as his fingers clacked away at the keyboard.
"Carl,” Dr. Q said. “Abby and I've brought guests."
The young man sprang from the chair as if it'd been electrified. Standing bolt upright, he was as tall as Sam. If you added the height of his alarming carrot-orange hair, he was a good three inches taller. His pale startled face glowed in the little room's bright light.
"I'm sorry we startled you, Carl," Abby said with an affectionate smile as she set the chair he'd toppled over back on its legs. She clasped the still dazed boy in an awkward hug.
Carl was obviously thrilled to see Abby; maybe thrilled to see any fellow human beings, Dean thought. He wondered how often they let the poor kid out of this hole.
"Oh, that's alright, Abby. You know how I get down here. I didn't hear you all come in." He straightened up from the hug and turned to the others. "Welcome to the pit. To what do I owe the pleasure, Dr. Q?"
"Carl, this is Dean. And Sam."
Carl thrust his hand out, grabbing Dean's before he had a chance to raise it from his side. He smiled and offered the hand to Sam next. "Pleased to meet you both."
"Likewise," Sam managed.
"Carl, we're in need of your expertise to pull together some information rather quickly." Dr. Q's tone wiped the smile from Carl's face, but not the sparkle of interest from his eyes.
"Of course, ma'am. How can I help?"
She nodded to Abby, who pulled her notebook out of her back pocket and handed it over to Carl.
Dean watched Carl's boyish pleasure drain away as Carl found the page where the demon names were written.
"The source was good?" Carl asked tightly.
Dr. Q nodded.
Carl turned to Sam and Dean, speculation and suspicion weighted his eyes. Not entirely conscious of the movement, Dean moved, putting himself between Carl and his brother.
Abby jumped in, "They're alright Carl.”
"How long?" Carl asked without taking his eyes off the Winchesters.
"They've been hunting practically their whole lives."
"No, how long have you known them?"
At this Abby shifted uncomfortably. "Well, only a couple of days, officially, but…"
Carl's eyes widened and his hand dropped to a small bulge at his waist.
Everyone in the room went still. Dean kicked himself for not noticing the little dagger Carl carried in a sheath clipped to his belt. He was losing his edge in this damned town.
With a small impatient tick of her tongue, Dr. Q laid a hand on Carl's shoulder. "Carl, I trust them implicitly."
Dean stood his ground watching the boy closely.
Carl's gaze drifted down to the names in the notebook. "Fine, ma'am," he said tersely. As he turned back to his chair he glanced over his shoulder with a distracted smile. "Sorry guys. If Dr. Q says you're okay then that's…." His muttered apology petered out as he sat down at his computer, or almost sat. In mid-decent he rose again. "Vetis… I've seen that name in the book of St. Agnes." Abby stepped up beside him and gently pushed him down again.
"I'll get it for you. Which aisle is it in?"
Dr. Q ushered the Winchesters away from Carl's table and said in a hushed voice. "You're in good hands now. Carl will find all there is to know about this demon."
"You're leaving?" Dean asked. "Carl's not going to go for our throats or anything?"
"You'll have to forgive him, Dean. Carl has just put his life into your hands."
"How's that?" Sam asked.
"He's compiling a database of demon names, a modern grimoire, you might say. As you can imagine gathering data on such creatures is difficult." She looked at the boy with the halo of red curls fondly. "It's quite exciting for him to be handed a demon's full name out of the blue. I'm sure you've made his week." She grew serious. "He's a very brave soul. If any in the demonic realm or those who consort with them discovered Carl's project…"
"He'd have a target painted on his chest," Sam said.
"On his soul, yes, Sam. True names have great power even on our own plane. That power is magnified a thousand times in the supernatural realm."
Dean had a sudden insight from one of his earliest memories. When he was in trouble, serious trouble, like the time he'd decided to play quicksand and his mom caught him carrying buckets of sand into the house and pouring it over Sam in his play seat, his mother called him by his full name, Dean Jacob Winchester! He could still feel that panicky feeling that only his full name on his mother's angry lips could produce. Magnify that feeling a thousand times…yeah, that'd be potent.
"So that's what we're doing here," Sam said. "Carl's gonna put the name in his database, see what comes up." He hoped that the information that surfaced would be riveting. He needed something to focus on, something to clear the green grass and sunshine out of his head. He could feel the floors above closing in on him. He wanted out.
Dr. Q laid a hand on each of their shoulders. "I have a class to teach. Perhaps when this job is finished, we'll make some time to get better acquainted."
The Winchesters joined Carl and Abby at the long wooden table. Carl immediately handed them each latex gloves, magnifying glasses and two ancient looking books. When they found a demon name, they passed the document over to Carl to translate. Tedious work.
Sam's hands fidgeted constantly; with the magnifying glass, the pencil, his crystals.
"Here’s a firsthand account of the ritual,” Carl said, lifting a small volume and showing everyone the page. “It's in old Spanish, not Latin.”
"Read it out loud, Carl," Abby told him.
Carl nodded, cleared his throat. Two days and two nights the chosen one was… softened for the master's purpose. Knowing no earthly comfort, he offered himself up freely."
"There's that free will thing again," Abby said.
“Upon the chosen one's beating heart the Priests drew the symbols, in his own tainted blood, to guide the master to his new vessel."
Sam sat with his head in his hands. He didn't look up, just spoke into the table. "On his bare chest probably. They wouldn't want to damage the new body. Carl, keep going."
"Okay, so…Lo the master's mighty, voice blended with the brethren and fortified them. The portal to Hell opened. A great heat, as of one thousand forges, burned from the portal and two fingers of lightening, the hand of Satan himself, struck the master and the chosen one…exploding…no, ejecting their very souls…The master's soul, blacker than night, flew to the vessel and… ravaged it. The blood anointed jewel lured the chosen one, entombing him."
Sam's hand squeezed convulsively on the crystals around his neck. He fought the urge to pull them off and fling them away. This room was growing smaller and colder by the second. God, he needed a breath of fresh air. His sudden visceral impulse to get out brought him to his feet. "Carl, where's the bathroom?"
Surprised to have his mind suddenly jerked back from its dark translations, Carl gave his head a shake before answering. "Oh, just outside the security door, take a right. Just ring the buzzer when you're ready to come back in."
"I could use a pit stop too," Dean said. “I'll go with you." He pushed back his chair.
"Dean, I think I'll be alright between here and the john," Sam said impatiently.
Dean studied his brother for a long moment. From the look on Sam's face, it might come to blows if he tried to insist on following him to take a leak. "Straight there and straight back."
Sam set his mouth in a stubborn line and walked out without a reply.
"Is he alright?" Carl asked.
Dean kept his eyes on Sam till the door closed behind him. "Yeah, he just needs a little time out." He turned back to the book.
"What about a straight-forward exorcism?" Abby ventured.
"That could work." Dean tipped the hard plastic chair onto two legs. "Lure the demon somewhere warded, then exorcise his butt. We've done it before." Dean liked the simplicity of the idea.
"My shield charm might contain him," Abby said. "Beefed up with the demon's full name."
"Might?" Dean arched a brow.
"Definitely will contain him," she amended with a firm nod.
Carl looked from one of them to the other with a frown. Finally, he sighed. "Abby after this is all over, I hope you'll write your account of what happens for the archives. It could be important for somebody down the line."
"I will, Carl. I promise."
"Okay." Carl scanned the pages again. "You'll need to disrupt the brethren, cut off the stream of power the demon's getting from those poor saps."
"We have supplies for that." Abby's hand dropped to her purse on the floor and fingered the pocket where she'd stashed the three perfume bottles full of sleeping potion.
"Good, then you'll need to do something about the priests."
"Abby, you said they're super strong, fast, but not immortal, right?” Dean asked. “I mean bullets won't bounce off them as far as you know?"
She could see Carl practically biting his tongue trying to keep from asking how she could know any of this. She again mentally promised him her written account. "Mortal? Sort of. I'm not sure bullets would hurt them."
A malicious glint sparkled in Dean's eyes. "The water guns. A face full of holy water would break the connection to the demon."
Abby grinned at him.
Carl counted up their stack of books. "We've got about sixteen references to Vetis over two hundred years." He looked up at them. "There's no way to know for sure why he’s stayed here so long, unless you ask him." There was a hopeful note in the boy's voice.
"When we get that close to him it won't be to chat," Dean said grimly.
Carl sighed. "Yeah, I guess not."
"All I know is it's about time somebody finally sent him back to hell." Dean straightened and stripped off his latex gloves. "And speaking of time, it's…" He glanced at his watch and his gut gave a lurch. "Where's Sam?"
Sam hadn't turned right when he left the vault. He walked quickly back the way they'd come. A desperate need to breathe fresh air and feel the sun on his face had his heart pounding in his ears.
Distractedly, he noticed that he still had on the latex gloves. He stripped them off, dropped them and clutched the pendants as he walked.
The crystals work better in sunlight. I just need a recharge. A minute or two then I’ll go back.
Thoughts of Jessica churned in his mind, abrading tender scars on his heart. His longing for her tangled disturbingly with images of frost-blackened faces and crimson, blood tipped crystals. He hit the door to the stairwell with a bang.
I just need to get outside for a minute. Gotta clear my head.
As he started up the stairs, a face from his nightmare stopped him cold.
For a split second his mind registered what he was seeing as a damned scary costume. This was Halloween after all. Then the tingle on the back his neck snapped another interpretation into place.
A demon priest stood deathly still; its face like a dried apple doll from some Darkside county fair. Sunken eyes gave off a dull, jaundiced glow. Jowls hanging off the puckered, lipless mouth flowed into the neck like layers of puddled wax. A heavy, black robe and cowl covered it from head to foot. Sam might have worked up some pity if the thing hadn't radiated malice.
His first adrenalin induced thought was, Dean's gonna kill me! Then he cursed and spun back around.
Intending to jump down the stairs and sprint back through the basement door, he grabbed the railing hard, but then jerked himself to a stop instead. As the door swung closed below him, the second priest emerged from behind it.
They'd been waiting.
"Dean!" His brother's name erupted from his throat. Before he could take another breath and yell again, a hand clamped over his mouth. A forearm like a steel bar pinned him against the priest’s chest.
The priest at the bottom of the stairs climbed toward him. Ignoring his inability to breathe for the moment, Sam grabbed the arm at his throat with one hand and reached around the back of the priest's neck with the other. He hung on, lifted both feet off the ground and just as the other priest reached him, kicked out knocking it to the bottom of the stairs with a muffled thud. As Sam's feet touched the ground again he bent double and pulled hard. The first priest flew over his head, crashed into its partner.
Too strong and too damned fast! They were both up, crouched low, snarling before Sam could get his second gulp of air. He had no weapons, only his bare hands, a cell phone and a pen. Not good.
He drove an elbow into one puckered face when they rushed him. They half carried him back up to the landing, drove him into the concrete block wall. He saw stars, felt the sharp pain of a rib cracking as one of them hammered a fist into his side. There was a hard tug at his neck. Past the sudden roar in his ears, he heard a high-pitched wail. One priest dropped his crystal pendants as if they'd burned it.
The pain of the beating faded under another onslaught.
Without the pendants, the daymare smothered him like a thick coat of tar. Sam couldn't breathe, couldn't fight, couldn't hope. Blackness closed in.