As the sudden burn of the morning sunlight which flooded the darkness within the cart began to fade, the brothers' teary vision cleared to reveal a dusty, enclosed yard. Surrounded by looming, oppressive, grey buildings, it reminded them of a prison yard and they realised that their uncomfortable journey had taken them through the night.
All across the yard were a number of men engaged in various one-on-one bouts of combat. In the distance, a pair were wrestling in a clumsily roped-off enclosure, others were squaring up in pairs, the clatter of their wooden swords, tridents and axes together with aggressive shouts of victory and frantic yelps of surrender hanging in the air around them.
Dean glanced uneasily at Sam. This was so very, very wrong.
He realised that these fighting figures were all dressed in much the same way as those weird sonsofbitches who had abducted them out there on the track yesterday afternoon. Most worrying, however, was the fact that each and every one of these poor bastards, so far as Dean could see, looked, bruised and broken, working tirelessly, and dripping with sweat under the crystal-bright morning sun. Most of them were heavily built, musclebound and strong; warriors for whom fighting was a way of life, not a choice. It was clear, however, that there were some among them who really didn't want to be there at all.
The Winchesters crouched in the cart and watched in horror as a slight, sinuous man cowered helplessly beneath the raised weapon of his adversary, his sword knocked out of his now bleeding hand, and kicked away across the dusty ground. They had enough expertise to know at a glance this poor guy clearly had no talent or enthusiasm for fighting whatsoever.
That obvious fact didn't stop a great scarred oaf, a guard they guessed, stomping over and pummelling the poor man into submission with a massively unforgiving club for his failure.
They had barely recovered from the shock of seeing the unconscious man dragged away when two familiar figures appeared at the back of the cart and clambered up into the cramped space.
As they tentatively approached the brothers, Dean's dogged persistence finally paid off with perfect timing, as the thin bonds around his wrists snapped, freeing his arms. In a flash, he quickly demonstrated that, unlike the poor brutalised wretch they had just watched, he had a formidable talent for fighting and launched into a furious assault as two of the men he recognised from the track yesterday reached out toward him.
He lashed forward with a vicious headbutt as he felt himself being dragged towards the cart's edge and interrupted a breathless tirade of obscenity for a wicked smirk as he heard the sharp crack of a nose breaking.
As the man staggered backward, gurgling in agony and clutching the bleeding wreckage of his nose, Dean reached for the dagger threaded into the man's belt and turned, in one fluid movement, slicing through the bonds that held Sam's wrists.
The dagger dropped to the ground as multiple hands fell upon him.
"What are we doin' here you goddamn assholes … where's our freakin' clothes … where the hell are we?" The words tumbled out of his mouth in a frantic stream of barely articulate rage as his powerful arms thrashed, hurling violent punches in every direction; " I want some freakin' answers, you sonsofbitches," he roared as three more men piled on top of him, calling upon all their strength and weight to wrestle him off the cart and onto the ground, "lemme friggin' go, douchebag," he gasped, still thrashing furiously, resorting to biting and kicking to try to regain some advantage.
"DEAN," Sam yelled frantically as three more men climbed onto the cart to drag him out after his brother, one received the heel of Sam's foot in his face for his trouble, and dropped heavily to the ground, either unconscious or dead; Sam had felt a sudden snap of bone as he made contact and was past caring. All he cared about was where Dean had been taken.
He shook off the two remaining men who were attempting to hold onto him, slamming them against the back of the cart and leapt down onto the ground, his eyes scanning the yard for Dean. "Dean …" he called, gasping as his two assailants followed him, once again, attempting to drag him to the ground. A sharp shrug of Sam's massive shoulders dislodged them, and it took four more men in addition to the exhausted and bloodied pair to eventually subdue the enraged giant.
Eventually, the Winchesters were defeated, pressed to their knees in the hot dust by the many hands it took to bring them down.
As they knelt exhausted and dazed in the hands of their captors, the owner of the lavishly ugly face appeared before them, beady cold eyes, pale as water, peering round from behind the spongy crimson mass of his nose.
His heavy luxuriant robes boasted prosperity, but their dusty, faded colours and patched, fraying edges told a different story.
He was clearly impressed that it had taken nine now bruised and bleeding men, one of whom hadn't survived to see the fruits of his labours, to subdue the powerful newcomers. His florid, pig-eyed face was alive with delight and excitement at his new acquisitions.
Sam's eyes roamed around the yard, anything to stop him looking at that bloated, groteque face; a face he knew he would simply love to make even uglier by smashing it to a pulp with his fists, his knees or anything else that came to hand. He concentrated instead on the words carved around the rough stone walls which loomed over them. Some looked vaguely familiar; the text was definitely latin, but there was one word in particular which caught his attention and made his blood run to ice, even in the cloying morning heat…
Ugly face reached out a meaty, calloused hand and grabbed Dean by the chin. Roughly lifting his head, he stooped over Dean's forcibly kneeling form, fat sausage fingers gripping his stubbled jaw with surprising force, and pulling down to force his mouth open.
Sam watched in silent anger as Dean thrashed his head from side to side, grunting and choking, unable to form the words he longed to say with his jaw immobilised in his grinning captor's leathery hand.
The man laughed; his lips stretching into a frog-like leer made all the more repulsive by the sparse collection of brown, crumbling stumps which had once been teeth that it revealed. A foul, rancid odour assaulted the brothers as his laughter subsided; clearly his breath was as strong as his grip.
The hand worked Deans head from side to side, examining his teeth, the clarity of his eyes; a sweaty, calloused fingertip traced the outline of his ear, before moving upwards to begin a brief exploration of his scalp. Dean squirmed testily under the violation, gasping as his shoulders protested against the force of four men restraining his arms behind his back.
Releasing his grip on Dean's jaw, ugly-face ignored the tide of furious invective that Dean spat towards him, as he moved to conduct a similar examination of his other prize. Sam snapped, trying to bite the thumb that forced his mouth open, earning himself a backhanded slap across the cheek for his trouble.
Eventually, the pig-man took a step back and clapped his hands, gesturing for both brothers to be pulled to their feet.
They cringed in revulsion, feeling his rheumy eyes roaming over their restrained and uncomfortably exposed bodies, but nothing could have prepared them for the shock when his hands went to work, lifting their arms, squeezing their shoulders, slapping their calves; enthusiastically assessing their build and musculature and nodding approvingly as he did so.
Sam squirmed furiously, trying to shrug off the five men holding him; "give us our clothes," he snapped; "you can't do this to us, it's not a goddamn cattle market."
The leering grin turned toward Sam, treating the younger Winchester to another blast of fetid air.
Dean let out a roar of fury and lunged forward, physically dragging the four men holding him back until their combined weight managed to halt his momentum, almost tearing his shoulders from their sockets. Sam knew that those four men were all that stood between the pig-faced touchy-feely creep, and a rage-blinded Dean tearing him limb from limb, but the mysterious man had clearly seen this sort of reaction many times before because he barely batted a watery, drooping eyelid, even when Dean's snarling visage, twisted into a hate-filled glare that could freeze hell itself, hovered only inches from his own.
His balding, sun-beaten head nodded behind the brothers, and he watched impassively as his new toys were dragged away, still fighting and protesting wildly.
Dark, cool shadows began to lengthen across the ground as the Winchesters sat, bewildered and exhausted on the dusty stone floor of a large cell; a vaguely cubic hollow built into the stone wall with a massive wooden grating which served as a sliding door. They had been gifted with the same shapeless grey tunics that they had seen on the men back on the track. The damn things may have been infested with lice and rough as a coal sack but at least they afforded a modicum of dignity. Having had a few quiet hours to ponder and consider their circumstances, Sam was coming round to the idea that they were going to have to take what they could get as long as this nightmare continued.
On the ground between their shackled ankles stood a shallow wooden bowl containing something wet and unidentifiable which could have been muesli, it could equally have been stew, gruel, or any number of things that didn't feature highly on either brothers preferred menu. They would have had two bowls of the stuff except that in an outburst of petulant fury Dean had thrown his back at their captors.
Still, Sam mused, hunger pains were the least of their worries right now.
"This is bad dude," he sighed; "real bad."
Dean kneaded his forehead; "you don't say," he muttered sourly into his chest. "We're prisoners in some douchey gladiator training camp in ancient Rome," he added; "it sounds more friggin' stupid every time I say it."
"I don't see what else it can be," Sam shrugged helplessly; "you saw those dudes fighting – training – when we were pulled out of the cart, did you see how banged up they looked?"
Dean nodded sourly, "not as banged up as those guys that put us in here," he snorted softly in satisfaction; "if we are in a gladiator camp, I reckon we've put half those dudes out of action; they won't be swingin' no friggin' tridents any time soon."
"The buildings, the language," Sam continued, barely acknowledging Dean's comment; "these clothes," he scowled as he tugged in disgust at the rough fabric of his tunic trying to ignore the fact that it stunk of horse, "and that ugly asshole out there, I heard one of those guys call him 'Lanista'."
"I know what I'd call him, the fug-ugly dick," grunted Dean.
Sam nodded knowingly; "a lanista is a gladiator trainer."
"Never mind that freakin' douchebag, how the hell did we get here?" Dean snorted; "and where the hell's Bobby? Jeez, Sam, I hope he's okay."
Sam sighed deeply; "I don't know dude; heck, I've got no idea." He sighed again, tugging down the frayed hem of his too-short tunic, and flicked a tiny spider off of his chest. "More to the point," he continued; "how the hell can we get back."
They both spun round as a hoarse voice sounded from the corner of the cell.
"We can't …"