The job had caught Dean's bored eye during an unusually quiet time for the hunting fraternity.
The supernatural realm appeared to be having a bit of a hiatus, and so, making the most of a little unexpected downtime, the Winchesters had decided to spend a few days with Bobby. Dean had taken the opportunity to relax in his favourite fashion (where alcohol and women weren't involved), with a wrench in his hand and his head under the hood of some of Bobby's wrecks, while Sam buried himself in classic movies, the admirable works of Stephen King and a growing pile of laundry that Dean refused to go anywhere near.
The three had even managed a pleasant day's fishing and dined regally on the outcome. It was a good few days to be a Winchester.
It was when Dean had picked up the rolled-up copy of the Dakota Herald from Bobby's doormat with the intention of smacking Sam upside the head with it; his eye had been caught by the headline; 'police baffled by disappearances at Maple Museum'.
Four guys; a curator, a cleaner, and two nightwatchmen had all walked into the Roman Antiquities gallery …
and never walked out.
The irresistible mystery had piqued the curiosity of all three hunters, and given that the museum was currently unusually busy; apparently there was nothing like sensationalist bad publicity to have the local population beating a path to your door; the Winchesters and Bobby had decided to pass on a visit during opening hours and to take advantage of the current lack of a nightwatchman instead.
'Emperor Gaius Posthumus – Rome's Unknown Tyrant' exclaimed the banner above the door in the moonlit Roman Antiquities Gallery. The museum was hosting a new exhibition about a little-known Roman emperor, and it seemed to have captured the public's imagination thanks, in no small part to its accompanying juicy little mystery.
Bobby was just as interested in perusing the exhibition as investigating the hunt. He had scanned and examined the exhibits, read the information panels and come to a simple conclusion.
This Posthumus guy was a total dick.
Records of his reign, assuming they were true, made every history student's favourite nutjob, the Emperor Caligula, look like a relatively decent, if slightly misunderstood, oddball by comparison.
History told that Posthumus achieved very little during his nine-year reign other than to virtually bankrupt the Roman empire due to his fanatical, verging on obsessive, love of the arena games. His reign was typified by an almost endless string of increasingly imaginative and gruesome arena spectacles which pandered shamelessly to the baying mob, but decimated the pockets of the empire, not to mention the male population of the proletariat.
Those unfortunates were called the 'Capite Censi' literally, those counted by head; they had no property, no influence and no voice; they were expendable. And Posthumus spent their blood across the arena sands with callous disregard.
It was only when even that source of arena fodder began to run dry that the people of Rome began to voice their concerns; the mob began to bay for other reasons.
When their concerns were contemptuously ignored; history went on to tell that several disgruntled members of the unfortunate emperor's praetorian guard decided to conduct their own private arena spectacle and promptly fed him to his own tigers.
The grand Emperor Posthumus and his antics forgotten, Bobby rushed frantically around the unlit building, peering over cabinets, behind statues and under tables. Searching high and low, he squinted into inpenetrable shadows and darkened nooks all the way from Native American culture through to the Art of Rameses the Second.
Eventually, he wandered crestfallen back into the Roman Antiquities gallery and stood staring down in dismay at the shattered flashlight.
Beside him, bathed in a velvety grey shaft of moonlight, stood a massive glass case containing what Bobby assumed was the last thing the Winchesters had beheld before whatever happened – happened.
It was a colossal slab of unpolished marble decorated by an expansive bas relief, weathered over the centuries but still very much discernible, of two gladiators engaged in a vicious combat.
Beneath the image the stone bore the carved motto; 'pugna ad finem omnes pugnat'.
Fluent in latin, both spoken and written, Bobby had no trouble translating the caption underneath the sculpture; 'the fight to end all fights'. He bent to pick up the wreckage of the flashlight and stared forlornly around the cluttered room, willing the Winchesters to stroll out of the shadows that surrounded him.
Centuries of brutal history stared silently back at him through dust motes floating lazily in the moonlight.
Clutching the shattered light to his chest, he stared back at the massive sculpture looming beside him. Whoever – or whatever had taken the boys away had set itself up for the fight to end all fights.
And that was a promise.
The Winchesters had been searching, without success, for Bobby for almost an hour and in the process had found no answers at all to their bizarre situation.
"I'm telling you Dean," Sam muttered; "this place is weird." He glanced at his cell again, and sighed when it once again registered 'no signal'.
Dean stared around him, as annoying as it was, he was starting to agree with his brother.
Glancing around him, Dean's brow furrowed deeper and deeper in bemusement as they trudged along an uneven track, scarcely more than a dusty, cobbled path; "Sammy," he muttered drily, a vain attempt to lighten the mood; "I don't think we're in Kansas any more".
Sam cringed; "awesome," he groaned; "as if this place couldn't get any weirder, now I've got images of you in a blue gingham dress stuck in my head."
Dean shrugged, "I could carry it off," he paused; "don' know about the pigtails though."
Sam stopped abruptly, "can we stay focussed?"
"I'm focussed," snapped Dean hesitating alongside Sam; "look, here I am; focussed."
"Where are we actually heading?" Sam sighed, throwing his hands up in exasperation.
"We gotta find out what's happened to Bobby," Dean replied; "that's priority number one. There's no cell signal, can't even get 911, so we just keep walking." He swore quietly as he shuffled backwards, turning his ankle on a loose cobble, "sooner or later we'll find some place in this weirdo craphole with a phone that we can use."
Sam nodded absently, "we need to figure out where we are as well;" he muttered, glancing uneasily around himself.
The brothers set off on their aimless trek once again. The stickily warm air fluttered around them carrying the unfamiliar citrus sage fragrances of cypress and linden trees. Swaying and nodding softly in the breeze, the great trees cast dancing, dappled shadows across the Winchesters as they picked their way cautiously along the narrow track.
Around them, jacaranda trees dotted the landscape, their lavender blooms providing a splash of colour against the sun-baked sepia horizon which went unnoticed by the two distracted men walking between them.
"Dean, I don't recognise any of these trees," Sam observed; "none of them."
Without breaking his stride, Dean huffed nonchalently; "trees are trees, they're green, they're big; so what?"
Sam's face bore that look that Dean had come to dread. The look that told Dean his brother was deep in thought; and that invariably meant trouble. "So … what if these are trees that aren't native to the US?"
Dean's stride slowed. "What're you saying?"
Sam shrugged; "you said it yourself Dean, 'I don't think we're in Kansas any more'; for Kansas, read America; what if we're not in America any more?"
Dean's mouth worked silently for moment. "I was jokin' Sam", Dean snorted with more confidence than he felt; "that's stupid; where the hell else would we be?"
"Two hundred other countries in the world Dean, it could be any of them."
Dean glanced round at the banks of swaying trees, their heavy green foliage overhanging acres of rippling sun-scorched grass.
"I'll take a guess it's not Antarctica," he muttered, shaking his head.
"But," Sam persisted, "what if …"
"Sam," Dean interrupted, a note of panic sharpening the edge of his words; "there's a perfectly rational explanation for this," he snapped; "this could be some kind of shared hallucination, or – or we could both be having some kind of fugue state, or … I don't friggin' know." He rubbed his brow, a pained squint settling across his face; "what I do know is that we haven't hopped onto a 747 and ended up in goddamn Spain or Morocco or wherever the hell else you think this is; we could be anywhere in the States, we got loads of rural areas with no civilisation for miles."
"Trust me," he reassured; "we'll round that bend in the trail up ahead and stroll straight into a Wal-mart or something."
Sam smiled and nodded. He didn't believe that any more than Dean did; all he knew was that his sense of jangling unease was growing with every step they took.
The Winchesters ploughed forward, growing more frustrated and more nervous with every step until they rounded the bend in the trail and in line with Dean's hopeful promise, they did, in fact find something.
But it wasn't a Wal-mart.
a/n: don't go looking through the history books for my Emperor Gaius Posthumus because he's my own nefarious invention!