Treachery and Fraud
Entering Hell was the first step and it seemed to pass by with nothing. While his senses had returned to him Cas couldn't figure out where he was. Everything became a vacuum of confusion, direction wasn't an easy thing to locate and even if he was lucky enough to do so he wasn't sure which way was out in the first place.
What he did know, though, was that the clock had begun ticking. Hell was unsealed and Earth was undoubtedly swarming now. Cas didn't know how long it'd take them to get out but he prayed it'd end better than he expected.
Darkness was the first thing that Castiel could really remember noticing. He could see, but it was dark all around him. Dean clung hard to his side and realizing that was when he noticed the sense of weightless falling. He was certain he'd been flying but that wasn't entirely what it felt like; not that he could trust his senses in a place like that, though. Cas kept a strong grip on his brother and tried to propel them in any direction, hoping something would give him a clue.
He could sense almost nothing, it was like the world was dead and he and Dean were the only ones inside. He was hopeful in imagining that Hell had somehow perished in the short time it'd been cut off from reality, but he knew it couldn't be true. Something was slowly pounding to life around them, Hell was waking up from a deep sleep and all that Cas could do was hold on to Dean. His heart drummed with the reviving pulse, each soul damned to a new eternity. It was cruel to wake them, to bring them back to torture all because he wanted his brother back. But Cas knew he'd make the same choice again.
In no way did he believe he was worthy of being an angel, he never once thought his motives were just and that he was the selfless being he should've been. He was selfish, a decade and a half on Earth brought him up that way and he wasn't planning on changing it. Given the choice over and over again he'd save his loved ones first. Maybe choosing Dean over unsealing Heaven was the worst thing he could've done, maybe it'd result in the two of them dying on the way out, but he'd always take that chance.
The subtlety of Hell's reality vanished swiftly, in moments there was a crack of what sounded like thunder masquerading across the sky. It was like an explosion that wouldn't quit erupting, over and over and it only got louder. The agony of the people in Purgatory was nothing compared to the dulled and sharp aches that Hell brought. People's shouts and cries weren't that of confusion or anxiety but pure suffering, each tiny soul that woke with the world stung Castiel like a hornet in head. The light of the realm was raging like fire but it was so cold. Temperature wasn't something that registered properly, Castiel could see what resembled lava – a river of fire without the heat.
They flew through darkness as the world around them livened up and returned to how it was before everything had gone wrong. It was like colour and light returning to a completely blank void. As they passed through they watched as things started to move, Cas cringed with each sting and wished it'd end. But that was what Hell was about, that was the point – eternal suffering and pain. He brought it on himself. He did it to himself and he would have to live with the consequences.
"Are you alright, Dean?" He asked, hearing his own voice out of breath as though he'd run a marathon.
Dean nodded though he kept silent. Cas focused a little more on Dean's mind, he'd become so distracted with everything else he hadn't been able to give Dean's mental state a look. Dean's soul was bright as it always was but his mind was shaken. The weight of Hell was enough to bring Cas down but it affected him differently than it did his brother. Dean's face was buried against him, pressed hard into his shoulder and his mind was a whirlpool of terror.
"Dean, it's okay. We'll make it out of here." He tried to be reassuring but Dean just shook his head.
"This isn't going to end well, is it?" He mumbled, Cas hoped that the nausea in Dean was just because of his fear of flying but that wasn't the only thing. The smells were enough to make anyone sick and if Cas couldn't figure out which way was up he wouldn't be surprised if he'd be covered in vomit.
"It'll be okay." Cas repeated for them both.
The space they glided through felt cramped as everything sparked and retched around them. Cas held Dean a little closer as the space closed in, it was like the world was spinning around them but that couldn't have been true. Obviously Cas was the one who wasn't flying straight, right? He was the one who swirled mid-air and he was the one who suddenly dipped closer and rocketed up and down. That was the only logical way it could make sense. There was no way that the world moved around him like that, like he was the axis and it just looped and twirled as if some sort of maddening map.
"Are you flying like that on purpose!?" Dean had lifted his head and gawked at the way different nightmares launched toward them. Jutting peaks swooped by and bent strangely away, the sky appeared to be melting into itself and raining down onto the ground below – above? Maybe they were actually flying sideways…
"No, I think I'm going straight." Cas responded uncertainly, he didn't have flying down pat yet so he could probably chalk it up inexperience. But even so, it didn't feel right. "It sounds wrong but I think the surface is shifting around us."
"Whatever is happening, I don't like it." Dean held tighter, Cas didn't think it was possible but he did.
The corridor suddenly burst open, it moved so fast it barely registered that the walls had gradually widened. Cas blinked wide-eyed at an enormous open space, a frozen lake in the center with huge chunks missing. Ice was broken and scattered everywhere as if some great beast had burst out of it. There were strange severed heads in parts of the ice, sticking out of a solid darkness that lived beneath the lake. They were huge and reminiscent of the demons terrorizing Earth, huge awful grins peeling back their faces. And then he saw it, clenched in the jaws of these faces were people, struggling to break free but never succeeding. Never dying. Never living. Only perpetually trapped in the maws of these frozen monsters.
He saw, too, down below there were far more people stuck with their bodies in the ice, different limbs trapped and forever frozen. Cas didn't want to look. He didn't want to think what it meant or where he might've been. His heart raced as he did his best to ignore and avoid certain truths. Dean didn't speak, even when he lifted his head and for that Cas was grateful.
A draft from above caught his attention and he looked up, the massive open space had opened above them as well, a funnel of sorts leading out of there. Cas didn't know where it led but it had to be somewhere better. He angled his wings, they swirled through the air but he managed to get them going upward. It took stronger strokes of the new muscles to propel them up, gusts of wind tried to force them down again but Cas fought them.
"Holy shit," Dean gaped quietly and Cas looked down. At first he just saw the broken lake with faces, knowing full well there were people down there dying over and over again. But the more he looked the more he realized that the walls around the icy lake weren't walls at all but the stomachs of giants. The higher he flew the more he could see them, sunken ribcages trailed up into impossible shoulders and necks. Cas looked directly to his side as he passed the faces, gaping mouths and darkened eyes staring past him. These things circled around the lake like guardians or prison guards, he wasn't sure which one.
"It'd be kinda cool if it weren't real," Dean admitted in awe, momentarily over the illness that had stricken his stomach.
"I'm sure you'd find it fake as hell if you were watching a movie," Cas attempted humour but felt it wasn't quite right.
He pushed onward and into the narrowed passageway, it wasn't too different than the one they'd entered from Purgatory. The only real change he'd noticed was that the walls on all sides were more like membranes into a void. They appeared bottomless and never ending, chains stretched over the expanse as far as the eye could see. At first he thought the chains were infinite and just went on and on but he realized they weren't when he saw what connected them. At each end of the long chains was a hook and every hook was piercing one person or another. This connected a web of people strung along with rusted meat hooks and heavy metal links, all screaming as the world unsealed. Cas couldn't keep up with the wave of 'life' washing through the place, he'd seen the initial uprising but now he just flew through a newly awakened Hell.
Demons appeared from the depths of the pocketed-off chain webbing areas, creatures of nightmares and things Castiel never would ever imagined. Skeletal and bloated forms stretched out, some without faces, some with just mouths or eyes, or even just a hole. He even saw few that looked like they were sewn together right down their vertical middle. Many were humanoid from what he could see but he knew better than that, he couldn't see that many of them and there was no way they all looked the same.
The demons began to move; some started to work like they'd done for centuries, some looked around and watched the tiny winged boy spark through their world. Castiel tried to hurry, as the monsters moved in closer he realized just how large some of them were. One that looked like its head was a demented drama mask loomed over at the edge of the membrane. Its face was thin, as in it had no volume to it; it was fairly wide when looking at it head on. Dreary eyes watched them through the veil and Cas felt as though he'd be eaten any second. It didn't move much more than that but it did smile, unnervingly it smiled.
Castiel didn't want to focus on the monsters surrounding them, he just needed to escape. He could hear the strange noises of demons as they rose from their slumber, looming out over the vast nothingness and circling down through the chained web. He wondered for a moment what they were all doing but he didn't want to think about it. Each time he pushed the thoughts away a new concern rose up in him, a new sound echoed ahead and more people began to cry out.
What was the point of such a place? To teach people a lesson? A lesson for what? God created mankind, didn't He? Was he punishing humanity for being how He made it? Or was the free will handed to them to blame for all of this? He didn't understand, he was apparently an angel and he didn't understand it. Was that going to come to someday too, he wondered. Would he just one day wake up and think 'oh, that's why God did it; yeah okay that's fine by me'? No. He didn't think so, not after seeing even a portion of what he'd seen that day.
He hated it. Cas ground his teeth together as forced his wings down harder. It hurt him to see people this way, to hear them and feel their anguish. Death told him to keep his mind open, that he'd somehow managed to suppress himself. To do it in places like Purgatory and Hell wasn't appealing and Cas had to wager he'd even come close to losing his mind if he did it. No, that would have to wait. He was sure he'd need something from himself that he didn't know yet but he'd find it, when he really needed it he'd find it.
"Cas?" Dean tugged at him and brought his attention to his brother's concerns. Dean was of course overly stressed because they were flying but Cas noticed another strain on him. What they were flying through was never made with the intention of keeping living humans alive, it was becoming too intense and Dean looked exhausted. "I don't feel well, Cas…" Dean's grip wasn't anything like it was when they'd started and Cas feared for him all the more.
"I'll fix it," he promised as a white light flashed between them. He felt Dean's consciousness increase but it began to dwindle back down, he'd have to find the source if he really wanted to help. But the source was Hell, it was the place they were in, he couldn't just shut it down. Castiel instead created a protective bubble around Dean, one that only Cas could pass through. He wasn't sure how well it'd work but it was better than doing nothing. "How does that feel?"
"It's better," Dean mumbled, at loss for words and Cas couldn't blame him. How do you explain to yourself that what you're seeing and experiencing is real? What kind of conversation can you carry out while fleeing from Hell itself?
The funnel they'd flown into started to widen and curve upward, Cas could hear the sounds of a whip and the groans of men and women alike. Just like the last room had done Castiel found himself rocketing out of a tight space into a vastly open one. Above them was a cliff and ceiling, he assumed the tunnel continued on past the cliff somewhere. Below them now was a large circular area with wedged off trenches, each ditch with its own punishment. In one wedge people marched around with demons at their backs, whipping them and beating them down. In another the sinners were plunged in what Cas could only imagine was sewage, over and over again and nearly drowning each time.
He didn't want to keep looking but he could see it all in one glance. People with their heads shoved into rocks and their feet burned, or people with their heads twisted all the way around and forced to walk that way. He saw humans dropped into boiling tar, weighed down with heavy lead clothing and left to wander. Some were bitten by snakes and transformed into monsters, or forever trapped in fire left to burn. Others were repeatedly chopped into pieces while remaining conscious, and the last trench held the eternally sick. All in one glance he saw the horrors and tried to forget as soon as it registered in his mind.
But he couldn't. Each person in that cavern had a mind, had a life. They'd loved someone in their time and now they were left to suffer for eternity. He couldn't wrap his head around it, he couldn't understand that someone could do something that'd this could ever be considered a valid punishment.
They reached the top of the cliff, Castiel soared past a demon with three conjoined bodies, its faces of multiple colorations watched him intently. He didn't stop; he didn't have time to stop. His heart skipped a beat at being so suddenly close to a demon, it hadn't done anything against him but he didn't know how long that would last. Demons would start to chase him down. They'd gotten lucky so far, Hell had just woken up but the illusions of slumber would pass and the demons would remember they had an agenda.
They couldn't let an angel pass by; they couldn't let an angel get to Heaven.