Season Three

Episode Fifteen: All The King's Men

By Tree

Part One

 


931 BC
Ancient Military Outpost of Tadmo


Cloistered in the flickering light from the nearby hearth, the group gathered around a small table in the dimly lit room. Beyond the door, a howling wind attacked the small desert outpost, precursor to the approaching storm that seemed to be born of something more than just the torrid Middle Eastern summer. Yet even as the wind buffeted the settlement, driving sand like millions of tiny daggers at every exposed piece of flesh of those foolish enough to be caught out in the tempest’s fury, the men inside the little room still harbored a sense of trepidation despite the apparent safety of their accommodations.

Their voices held low for fear of detection, the group conversed nervously. With scores of battle-hardened years between them, recent events in the kingdom had turned their once-secure world on its end. Trusting few others outside their small fellowship, their clandestine meeting on this dark night was nothing more than one final mission in service to their liege.

“What shall we do now? The king is dead, the kingdom in turmoil. How can we few possibly protect so vast a territory from being overrun by any of our enemies?” one of the men posed.

“We must stand firmly behind our new king. We are honor-bound to do nothing less.”

“The prince is a weakling, a mere shadow of his father. In his hands the kingdom will fall. We can be assured of that.”

“We are soldiers, it is not our place to decide the fitness of our ruler, merely to protect him and serve the good of the realm,” another refuted.

“Can we do the one without the other? Perhaps the good of the kingdom does not include the protection of the king?”

“Treasonous words, we must be cautious.”

“The son is not the father. We were entrusted with certain duties, certain responsibilities that did not end when the King drew his last breath.”

Nadib listened to the men around him, but remained contemplative and quiet as he observed the worry scouring the faces of those around him. These were good men, battle-tested and true, their loyalty beyond question, yet the older soldier knew that recent events were weighing heavily on them. They spoke now not out of fear of anything, man nor beast, but of the unknown that threatened to swallow up the entire kingdom on the heels of the monarch’s death.

” My men, my friends, calm yourselves,” Nadib spoke gently, rising from his seat in the corner and stepping out of the shadows towards the table where the men clustered.

He ran his hand along the edge of the rough-hewn wood, his fingertips mere inches from the lengthy object that lay sprawled across the surface.

“We cannot panic, we must plan carefully and act wisely,” he informed them. “Truly, our liege is gone, the realm is in turmoil, but we have a much larger problem at hand.”

“You refer to the objects?” Kamir, his second in command asked, his eyes glancing nervously down at the two items on the table before them.

Nadib nodded solemnly. “Our king was a great and wise man, but I’m afraid that he held many dark secrets as well; secrets that we are now charged with protecting from those who would use them for evil.”

The bearded man reached for the small ring lying diminutively on the table. Dwarfed by the larger piece, its worth was no less significant to the gathered men and they hushed in unison as their leader lifted it into the light.

“The Seal will be easier to manage. We must sequester it so that it doesn’t fall into hands that would use it for ill,” Nadib began. “Kamir and Maloch, I charge you with taking it to the far western edge of the realm. Protect it, let no one know what it is you possess and do not return unless you receive word from me personally.”

With that, he handed the golden ring to his most trusted friend, feeling the strange tingling warmth ebb from his fingertips as he placed it into the other man’s palm. The comrades exchanged a silent glance before the two soldiers reluctantly followed the order and exited into the gusting wind and darkness of the Tadmor night.

Nadib watched them go, shuddering internally as the door slammed shut with a resounding thud. He turned back to the table, avoiding the still-worried looks of his remaining men. Sucking in a deep breath, he regarded the object left behind.

Reaching out, he touched it this time, his hands caressing the golden length as though it were the skin of a slender beautiful woman. His digits carefully avoided the edge, knowing all too well that beneath the magnificence there lay a deadly hunger.

“This...” he continued. “presents a much more difficult problem. “It is too large, too well known to conceal.”

“You should take it. You alone are capable of handling it,” Hamid insisted. One of the younger of the group, he had never seen the thing in action, but like so many of the others, he was all too familiar with the stories of both the object and his former king’s “dark dabbling.”

Nadib shook his head slowly, still regarding the gleaming item. “I cannot. It is a burden that no single man can bear. There are forces, both good and evil, that would seek it for their own evil purposes. Asmodeus himself, would give nothing more than to see it destroyed so his kind could freely wreak havoc throughout the land.”

The mention of the name stirred the men in the room. Even the flames in the hearth seemed to dance wildly at the demon’s name.

“We should destroy it or give it to Rehoboam to wield,” one of the assembled suggested. “Surely the son has the power to deal with it as his father did?”

“No, he is weak and knows nothing of his father’s dark arts,” Nadib replied.

“Let’s send it away, like the Seal, bury it at the farthest reaches of the world,” another offered.

“Again, not a secure option. Asmodeus surely holds the power to locate it. We must be absolutely certain that it is forever beyond his reach.”

“We must destroy it…” one of the men demanded.

“Someone must wield it…” another insisted.

“There must be someone that can harness the power of the thing…”

“All shall be lost to Asmodeus and his demon horde…”

Nadib listened as his men offered panic-driven suggestions, his mind swirling with possibilities and outcomes, few of which were to his liking. As the din of the men’s talk rose within the small room, the longtime commander formulated a plan. It was an option filled with risk and uncertainty, but Nadib fully recognized that he had few choices if he were to preserve the object and still protect the kingdom from the evil that his liege had precariously kept at bay for so many decades.

“My men,” he spoke, silencing them with a raised hand. “I have another choice. It requires a great sacrifice of each of us, but if we are to carry out our sworn duty, it is the only choice.”

The men listened intently, their eyes shifting warily between their leader and the gleaming focus of their conversation.

“While we cannot destroy it, not entirely, we can certainly render it unusable until perhaps someday a worthy king steps forth to wield its great power. Even our great king knew that inevitably the day might come where the tools of his dark magic might have to be hidden away for a time,” Nadib explained.

“What are you proposing then?” Hamid questioned, his brown eyes seeking assurance from the older man.

“We must break it apart and scatter the pieces to the farthest reaches of the kingdom. Each piece separated so that it becomes impossible to tell what it once was while we await the day that it might be restored to its former power and glory.”

“How shall we ever keep track of the individual parts? How will we know when that day arrives?” one of the assembled asked.

“This,” Nadib continued, gesturing toward the object. “was bound to our king until his death. Likewise, we can bind the pieces to ourselves. This is the sacrifice that will be required.”

“Sacrifice?” Hamid asked worriedly.

The old soldier nodded. “Yes, my friend. A great sacrifice. In order to protect it, we must bind ourselves by blood to it. Should the piece under our care ever be lost, we shall forfeit our own lives.”

Nadib paused as he watched the men’s reactions. “Each of you must consider this wisely. This is no small task to be charged. There is no assurance that another king shall come along in our lifetime, capable of harnessing the power contained within this thing. You bind not only yourselves, but possibly your sons and their sons to this task, and this fate.”

Silence filled the tiny space and only the ghostly howling of the wind outside the door broke the quiet as those standing around the table considered what their commander asked of them.

“For God and King?” Hamid spoke finally, his voice hesitant and turning the proclamation into a question.

“For all mankind…” Nadib added reluctantly.

One by one, each of the men gathered uttered their acceptance of the plan. Nadib smiled sadly, never once fearing that his faithful and valiant officers would do anything else.

He hated to ask of them such a great commitment, but ultimately he knew it was the only choice to be made. Reaching down, he lifted the length from the tabletop, watching as it reflected the light from the hearth and created a prism of sparkling colors on the walls about the room.

“It is decided then. We shall do this tonight, melting it down and each taking a portion to protect with the last breath of our bodies,” Nadib announced.

The men voiced their affirmation, each reaching a hand in to touch the gleaming scrollwork on the flat of the metal. If they felt the strange creep of energy and warmth extend from their fingertips and course up to their chests, none reacted, but Nadib knew.

With his hands firmly grasping the hilt, he felt as though every nerve in his body was on fire. Not painful, it was a warning and a reminder of the awesome power contained within the weapon. In a fleeting thought, Nadib worried. Had he done the right thing or merely cursed his men for all eternity?

Inhaling deeply, he drew the blade slowly across the hands splayed out along the edge of the weapon, bright red rising from the wounds and staining the golden sheen. Once each man's blood was coating the blade, Nadib raised it above his head and spoke the invocation, sealing their fate once and for all.

“We swear this night to protect the Sword of Solomon. Let nothing sway us in this duty and may God protect us until the day that it is brought together once again. “


Atlanta, Georgia
Six months ago…

Gerard Daniels pulled into the driveway of his condo and goosed the accelerator one final time just to hear the rev of the engine on his brand new Porsche. Smiling in satisfaction, he switched off the ignition and flung open the door, stepping out into the muggy southern night.

As he turned to reach for his gym bag, his eyes caught the scratch on the back fender of the precision sports car and he groaned as his fingers touched the offending scar.

“Sonofabitch!” He exclaimed, trying without success to rub away the mark. “So friggin’ stupid...”

It had been raining earlier and in his desire to get to the gym, he chose to park up closer to the entrance instead of his usual safe solitary spot at the end of the lot. People were lazy and generally the further away he stowed the car, the less likelihood that someone would park near it. Now, he was paying the price for his own haste.

“Just friggin great,” he bemoaned one final time, gathering his briefcase and gear bag and stalking towards the front door of his home.

Unlocking the door, Daniels immediately entered the code to disarm the security system and then flipped on the switch to illuminate the hallway. He reset the alarm then continued through the apartment, quickly diverting into his study to turn on his computer before heading off to his bedroom and the beckoning shower.

Tossing briefcase and duffle on the floor, Gerard began stripping off the shorts and t-shirt he’d worn home from the gym. While he loved working out, in truth it was the payoff that he most appreciated.

Standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror, he looked at his six foot three reflection with appreciation, taking in the hard line of his abs as well as the finely sculpted definition of his arms and legs. That the women loved his body would have been ample trade, but Daniels loved the endorphin rush more than anything that a good, hard workout gave him.

Peeling off his watch, he casually tossed it onto the countertop then repeated the process with his class ring and the silver chain around his neck. His hand came to rest briefly on the thick golden band at his wrist and for a moment he considered removing that as well, but as he continued to stare at his reflection, the all-too-familiar tingle from the bracelet whispered a warning along the edges of his mind.

Moving away from the mirror, he twisted on the knobs to the shower and stepped in, relishing the scalding heat of the water as it sluiced down his muscular body and instantly forgetting the jewelry at his wrist. After a time, he finished, coming out of the stall and toweling himself dry before redressing in a worn pair of sweatpants, emblazoned with the Harvard logo and letters down the outer leg.

Daniels strode slowly toward the elaborate desk, stopping only to pour a hearty glass of whiskey which he tossed back, savoring the smooth burn as the liquor found its way down his throat. He refilled the glass and continued on to the highbacked leather chair, dropping into it with an elongated sigh.

The lights inside the condo flickered and the young man looked up from the computer, glancing around the room and over his shoulder to the window. Storms weren’t that uncommon this time of the year and it had been raining most of the afternoon. Still, he hadn’t heard any thunder or noticed any lightning, but then Georgia Power often had its issues with keeping the lights on during high demand periods.

Undaunted, the financial whiz turned back to the monitor as his fingers began flying across the keyboard, so focused on the late morning Asian ticker scrolling across his screen, he didn’t notice the shimmer of movement creeping up behind him from the next room.

In a flash, the attacker was on him, a meaty arm encircling Daniels' throat and choking off his cry of surprise. Despite being perceived as a “desk jockey,” the muscular blond reacted with the skills of a trained fighter, vaulting up from his chair and twisting out from his assailant’s grasp.

He spun around to face the threat, his hands held in front of him, prepared to defend himself against the next assault. Across from him, his foe stood cloaked in darkness. Clothed in black from head to toe, Daniels’ attacker looked like a sad extra from a ninja movie.

Daniels laughed, waving the man towards him. “What the hell are you supposed to be?” he asked mockingly.

Behind the mask, steely blue-green eyes stared back at him. Lacking any emotion, the figure barely even blinked, but the tension in the man’s body told Daniels that the fight wasn’t over yet.

“Look, you got past the alarm, so you must be a decent thief, but I guarantee you aren’t getting out of here with anything other than a serious ass-beating,” he promised. “So why don’t you just cut your losses and go before I get seriously pissed off?”

The dark-clothed form dropped his attacker’s stance and for a moment, Daniels thought he had backed the fool down. But as he tentatively relaxed his own body, the man across from him shook his head, laughing low.

“You’re not even a challenge…”

The taunt would have seemed laughable to Daniels had the man not seemed so deadly serious. For an instant, every hair stood on end and the muscular Harvard grad couldn’t hide the shudder that coursed across his flesh.

“Screw you, buddy. You had your chance,” he threw back, lowering his shoulder and rushing forward.

He struck solid muscle, hardly budging the intruder from his stance. Undeterred, Daniels launched his attack, throwing a flurry of rights at the dark-clothed figure before punctuating with a vicious left hook.

The prowler staggered under the blows, falling back a step but remaining on his feet. Daniels moved in again, striking repeatedly as he wove back and forth like a boxer. Some connected solidly drawing blood from a split lip or a cut cheek underneath the knit mask. Others glanced off harmlessly, deflected by raised arms.

Blocking the next couple of punches, the man smiled unfazed, teeth gleaming out from the mouthpiece of the mask, as Daniels retreated breathlessly.

“I expected better from you,” the stranger snarked.

“Who the hell are you?” Daniels queried.

He was worried now; having given this man everything he had, he should have been standing over an unconscious burglar waiting for the police to arrive. Instead, he was face to face with a man who was defiantly staring him down, seemingly uninjured despite the repeated blows to his face and body.

“I’m what you could have been. What you were meant to be,” the man replied, his green eyes narrowing. “But like the rest, you’re soft, untrained. An embarrassment.”

Daniels backed slowly toward the hallway. If he could make it to the kitchen, there was a chance he could snag a knife out of the butcher block. Maybe he could even hit the “panic button” on the alarm system near the back door.

Inching backwards, the tall blond raised his hands in submission. Maybe he could just give this guy whatever he wanted and file the claim later.

“Look buddy, there’s two hundred dollars in my wallet on the desk and a new Rolex on my dresser. Just take them, okay?” he offered. “Hell, take whatever you want.”

The stranger laughed and casually moved over toward the window. Pushing aside the curtain, he peered out into the night, seemingly unconcerned about Daniels.

“Do you think I care about such petty trinkets?” he replied, fingering the sheer fabric. Reaching into the pocket of his black pants, he pulled out an object.

Daniels tried to see what the stranger retrieved but only caught a brief flash of gold as the small article quickly disappeared into the man’s hand. He watched in abstract fascination as the intruder considered the object, rolling it between his fingers as though it were a prized possession.

Deciding that it was now or never, Daniels chose that moment to make a break for the kitchen. Sprinting for the hall, he was in the other room within eight steps, his hand closing around the largest knife he could pull from the block in one fluid motion.

Breathing heavily, he retreated until his back was against the cabinets, the blade held in front of him defensively.

The condo was silent with the exception of the pounding of his heart as he waited for the masked man to pursue him into the kitchen. Several seconds passed while Daniels waited, and still, the man did not appear.

Chancing an attack and feeling slightly more brave since he held the knife, Daniels headed toward the rear door leading to the back patio. Like many, the only phone in the house was his cellular, so that left his only other means of contacting the police the automatic signal of the alarm system.

He peeked over his shoulder and down the hallway as he moved toward the door, but the corridor was silent and empty. Reaching up to the control pad, he was about to touch the “panic” button when he was hit from behind and slammed into the glass patio doors.

Before he could react, Daniels was spun around and face to face once again with the darkly cloaked man. He raised the knife, bringing it down towards the intruder in a wide arc that glanced off the man’s arm slicing through material and skin beneath.

Despite the wound, the man didn’t respond, never even uttered a sound. Instead, he grabbed Daniels’ wrist and pushed it backwards, slamming it against the doorjamb repeatedly until the force caused the young man to drop the blade.

“That was a mistake,” the stranger hissed as he punched Daniels brutally in the chest.

The energy behind the blow was so powerful that it drove the air from Daniels’ lungs and dropped him to his knees, dazed and struggling for his breath.

From his vantage point, he could only see the man’s feet, unable to find the strength to even lift his head or defend himself. He was powerless to stop the intruder and he still didn’t even understand what the man wanted.

“Please…” he gasped.

A booted foot lashed out and kicked at his outstretched hand, knocking him to his face on the ceramic tiled floor.

“Pathetic,” the man said in disgust.

Daniels was prepared to beg now even though he held no hope that it would do any good.

“Mister, please. Take my money, take my Porsche. The keys are on the table by the front door. I swear I won’t even call the cops. Hell, I don’t even know what you look like…”

Daniels listened as the stranger paced around the kitchen, afraid to make eye contact, yet wondering what the man was up to. He kept his head down, hoping that just maybe if he appeared subdued, the man might just leave.

“There’s only one thing that I want,” his attacker said finally as he came back to Daniels side and bent down close to the beaten man.

“Anything… anything… just name it…” Daniels replied in desperation.

If he held any hope it waned thin as the stranger leaned over and picked up the discarded knife from a few feet away. The scrape of the blade across the tile sending an ominous chill across the blond man’s body as he caught the glint of the kitchen light reflect of the metal.

“Please…I’m begging you…”

“I know…”

“I’ll give you anything…”

“I know you will…”

“What is it you want?” Daniels screamed frantically.

The man paused as he rose up over the begging man. Lifting the blade high, he poised the tip of the blade directly over Daniels’ head.

“I want it ALL!” the stranger snarled as his arm whipped downward, the blade slicing through Daniels neck and severing his carotid and trachea, showering the area in a wash of blood.

The stranger stepped back, carefully avoiding the pool of red that was quickly spreading across the floor. He dropped the knife next to the body, uncaring about evidence as he examined the gloves on his hands.

He didn’t care. Not like the authorities would find him in any database if they did happen to find his prints. He was a ghost for all practical purposes, coming and going as he pleased. Anonymity suited his needs, especially in situations like these.

Sidestepping the blood, he knelt close to the dead man and roughly rolled him over until Daniels was lying face up. In a matter of seconds, the stranger spotted what he wanted.

Gold and gleaming despite the mess he’d created by slashing the man’s throat, his prize lay wrapped around the deceased right wrist. A thick gold bracelet, plain and lacking any other jewels or engraving, adorned the extremity.

Reaching out, he touched the gold band tentatively, always expecting some sort of electrical shock that never seemed to come.

Smiling at his foolishness, he quickly became serious again as he roughly tore the band from the arm. Once free, he held it in his hand, appraising it with near-reverence.

“One more piece…” he murmured to himself. “One more piece.”


Present Day
Central City, Iowa


“Dude, I still say we need to get the hell out of Dodge,” Sam insisted as he peeled back the yellowed curtain to stare at the relentless downpour that hadn’t let up for the past five days.

“Ha! Shows how smart you are. We aren’t even in Dodge, we’re in Central City,” Dean replied, not bothering to look away from the television screen.

“Funny, Dean. But seriously, if you’d turn off the cartoons and turn on the local news, you’d see that if we don’t get out of here soon, we’re gonna need a canoe.”

The older sibling rolled his eyes and loosed an exaggerated grunt as he pushed off the musty smelling twin bed and came to stand next to Sam at the window. Peering outside, the afternoon sun had surrendered to the dismal gloom that had plagued the Midwest for several days, blanketing the area in torrential rain, frequent thunderstorms and even the all too common threat of a tornado.

Still, they were here to do a job. What was a little wet weather?

“Come on. Sam. Are you afraid you’re gonna melt or something?” Dean teased, turning to flop back onto the bed.

“Ass!” Sam snapped to his brother’s back.

Dean rolled over to face him, a toothy smile flashing. “That’s jerk to you,” he countered.

Sam glared, ignoring his brother’s lack of concern and striding over to the laptop at the nearby table. Dean might not be bothered, but Sam knew enough to be worried for the both of them.

He’d been listening to the local news reports, he’d heard how the Wapsipinicon River, like many of the other nearby waterways, was already creeping over its banks and threatening to flood the town. Like Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, people were being advised to get out while they still could, before the rising river water made it impossible.

Sam dropped into the desk chair and logged on to the internet. Quickly pulling up the regional radar, he groaned when he saw the entire area covered in shades of green and yellow.

“More rain coming, Dean,” he announced.

“Yeah, they say it happens this time of the year,” the elder Winchester mumbled back as he flipped through the channels.

“Dammit, Dean. The friggin' river is already near flood stage and we’re no closer to getting out to that cemetery. Do you plan on putting on scuba gear to dig up those bones? Oh and I forgot, just how were you planning on salting and burning them in the pouring down freaking rain?” Sam shouted.

“Jeez, Sammy. Since when did you become such a nervous Nelly over some bad weather? I mean I know that whole deal in Cali with the tornados was freaky and all but that’s no reason to be wiggin’ out about the rain here…”

“That’s not it,” Sam interrupted. “Dean, don’t you get it. There’s a crap-load of water coming down out there. More than normal.”

“So what then? You think there’s another Nathan Cole doin’ this?” Dean asked suspiciously.

Sam sighed, running his hand through his hair as he shook his head in frustration. “Sometimes I can’t believe we’re related,” he groused. “Can you please just shut up and listen and maybe act like you learned some science in school and not off of Day After Tomorrow?

“Hey, that was a kick-ass movie! Although, I still can’t believe that Gyllenhaal dude went and made that Brokeback Mountain movie. I mean, ewww…” Dean mused, wrinkling up his face in distaste.

“You saw Brokeback Mountain?” Sam asked in surprise, momentarily distracted from the main topic.

“HELL NO!” Dean yelled back defensively, rising up on the bed. “Just what I read about it.”

“Since when do you read anything that doesn’t have pictures of naked women in it?”

“Hey, they have fantastic movie reviews in some of those magazines,” the elder hunter pleaded his case.

“And again I ask, when do you read anything?” Sam reiterated.

He was answered by the stiffly raised middle-finger of his older sibling.

“Yeah, okay. So seriously, Dean, we need to just forget this job, pack up and get out of here. We can come back later when things dry out.”

Dean snapped off the television with an angry flip of the remote before tossing the controller down on the bed in exasperation. He stood up and crossed back to the motel room window, looking out once again at the rain pelting against the glass.

“Sammy, I know you’re worried, but dude, do you really want to cut and run now? We took this gig because people have been dying. We can’t just walk away when we’re so close,” he asked. “Maybe this will all let up and we can get out there and try to find where our Casper is buried.”

“Dean, we don’t even know who we’re digging up yet. Not for sure. I mean, all we know is that our spook is tied somehow to the county nursing home. Do you care to guess how many dead people are buried out at the cemetery from that place?” Sam whined.

“All of them?” Dean offered with a sneaky smile.

“Huh?” Sam asked with confusion.

“I said all of them were.”

“All of them were what?”

“All of them were dead. You asked if I wanted to guess how many dead people were buried out at the cemetery. All of them are dead… or at least they better be,” Dean joked, wagging his eyebrows.

Sam rose up with a huff of air and grabbed his jacket, yanking it on without hiding his irritation. He stormed toward the door, brushing past his brother and intentionally pushing Dean into the windowsill.

“Aw come on. You’re gonna be pissy now?” Dean asked, recoiling as Sam pulled open the door and the wind-driven rain assaulted the room. “Where are you going, Sam? It’s raining like a sonofabitch out there.”

“Oh, you care now?” Sam snapped back, his hand on the doorknob.

“No, I don’t care. I just wanted to avoid you being a pain in the ass and sick at the same time,” Dean replied curtly, his own palm flat against the door blocking his brother’s escape.

Sam didn’t answer but roughly pulled the door free of Dean’s grasp, slamming it closed hard enough that the adjacent window rattled within its frame. He stood outside the motel room as the rain showered down on him, instantly soaking his clothing despite the meager shelter offered by the awning.

He really had no idea where he was headed, most of the local businesses had closed early, the shopkeepers preparing for the threatening flood. Sam just knew he needed to get out of the motel room before he resorted to strangling his brother... or worse.

He thought about heading to the library but knew that there was no point. They had already exhausted the resources available there. Still, since it seemed that Dean wasn’t about to budge from this job until it was completed, flood be damned, then the only other option was to try to solve the damn thing before they were washed away in the rising water.

Drawing the collar of his already waterlogged jacket up around his neck, Sam started off down the sidewalk toward the main part of town. Passing the motel office, he noticed that the clerk was busy packing boxes, glancing up to cast Sam a worried look as he walked by.

Sam nodded to the man but continued on, silently wondering if they were soon to
be kicked out of the motel despite Dean’s best intention of staying until the hunt was done.

As he slowly made his way down the walkway, devoid of any other pedestrians, the young hunter tried to work out who might be the possible culprit haunting the local nursing home and seemingly killing some of the patients. At first, he’d thought it had been nothing more than the work of a reaper, doing its macabre job and taking some of the residents when their days were up.

But as they dug into the details further, he and Dean found that there were simply too many deaths, too many mysterious circumstances to be attributed to a reaper, even an over-active one. Checking deeper, they found a vague tale about a former maintenance man who had been arrested and imprisoned for allegedly abusing some of the residents. The man had died in prison and the brothers thought that perhaps his spirit had come back seeking revenge.

Yet that theory hadn’t really panned out for them and then another strange death occurred. This time a staff nurse was found dead at the end of her shift, her autopsy showing that she had somehow choked to death even though no food or drink was anywhere near her body.

There was no denying that something supernatural was going on, but the brothers just couldn’t seem to figure out who or what was behind it. Like Sam had said, dozens upon dozens of people had lived and died at the Linn County Nursing Home, any of which could now be their vindictive spirit. If indeed it was a spirit they were dealing with at all. The only thing they knew for certain was that the body count was rising just like the nearby rivers.

A crack of lightning accompanied by the booming roll of thunder jolted Sam from his introspection and he hunkered down slightly more even as he hastened his pace. Despite the inclement weather, there were still a couple of townspeople braving the rainstorm. Darting from the various buildings to their automobiles and back, most were rushing to remove precious belongings before the river claimed their town.

“’Scuse me, but do you know where I can find a motel?”

Sam looked up, startled by the sudden appearance of a tall, sandy-haired man standing in front of him. He’d been so caught up thinking about the case, and admittedly still stewing over Dean’s somewhat juvenile behavior and refusal to walk away from this hunt, that he hadn’t even noticed the stranger approach him.

"Good going there, Sam. Nothing like those hunter’s instincts being on “full alert” he silently chastised himself.

“Uh… sorry… what did you ask?” he stammered, unconsciously flinching as another crash of thunder sounded.

“A motel, someplace dry to stay,” the man repeated, seemingly unfazed by the onslaught of rain.

Sam stared at him, noting blue-green eyes so much like Dean’s it was almost eerie, not to mention that the man was about the same height and build as his older sibling. As a matter of fact, everything about the man seemed to remind Sam of his brother; the wary tension in the way the stranger stood to the almost menacing hand that remained suspiciously within the pocket of his coat.

“Uh, there’s a motel just a few blocks back,” the tall hunter finally answered, pointing back down the street in the direction he’d just come. “But considering that the town is likely going to be forcibly evacuated soon, I’m not sure how long they may be renting rooms.”

“'S okay. I’m not planning on being here long,” the man offered.

“Probably smart,” Sam added. “I wish I could get my brother to think the same way. At least before the river rises and we have to swim our way out.”

The man smiled slightly, but his handsome features never lost their cautious edge. “Well, good luck with that. Thanks for the directions.”

“No problem,” Sam replied, watching as the stranger pulled the collar of his jacket up tighter around his neck to block the buffeting wind and rain, and continued down the sidewalk away from him.

He stared after the man until his shape was swallowed up in the diminishing afternoon light and precipitation, all the while feeling a sudden uneasy chill settle into his body.

Shivering, Sam turned away and darted into the small diner, hoping to chase away the strange feeling about the man and hopefully what wasn’t the start of some obnoxious cold, with a hot cup of coffee. With any luck, Dean would be feeling sufficiently guilty by the time he got back to the motel and maybe then, he could talk some sense into his older brother.

Yet even as he ordered and then sipped the hot beverage, the unnerving chill just wouldn’t fade away.

***


“Dammit, Sammy!” Dean groused as another loud boom of thunder rocked the glass in the window. “Why do you have to be so damn stubborn?”

Truthfully, it had never been his intention to drive Sam off, he’d only been trying to keep things a little less serious after being stuck in the small Midwestern town for the past week. Sam had been right, the hunt was going nowhere, their research hitting dead-ends at nearly every turn. But Dean was reluctant to just give up, never being one to walk away from a job. Still, as Sam had said, even if they managed to figure out the name of their homicidal spirit, the local cemetery was located adjacent to the river; the same river that was already turning the low area into a muddy field.

So, Dean had been pacing the tiny motel room for the past twenty minutes, torn between chasing after his absent sibling and tuning back to the Terminator marathon on the television.

He didn’t understand why Sam was being such a worrywart about the weather. Hadn’t they dealt with worse storms than this before? Was there more to it than just floods and rain? Did Sam have some strange vibe going on like back in Northern California … or like in Leicester? Did his baby brother think there was something more sinister at play here?

As the thought of Lucifer scurried through his mind, Dean felt his heartbeat begin to race with a twinge of panic. If Sam did think this was something to do with Hell’s Lord, then he’d just let his brother trot off without him once again, unprotected.

Dammit, Dean… When are you ever gonna learn? As if leaving Sam on the side of the road for that bitch Mia didn’t teach you a lesson, you go and let him walk off again… alone.

Guilt stabbed at his gut, threatening to double him over like a bad case of food poisoning. Every single word of the brothers' heated exchange back in Texas replayed in Dean’s head, echoing like the whispers of a ghost trying to torment him.

They hadn’t really spoke about that conversation since leaving the Lone Star State, “forgive and forget" being easier than dealing with the gaping wound that still chose to bleed on occasion if either of them inadvertently said the wrong word. And although they hadn’t mentioned the happenings in Texas or Mia much, Dean still couldn’t shake the feeling that he had irrevocably betrayed Sam that fateful day.

Dean flipped on the television again just as a weather alert was flashing across the screen. His attention riveted, Dean listened as the haggard-looking meteorologist warned about the threat of flash floods invading several local communities as the rain increased over the next several hours.

“… the National Weather Service has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for the following counties: Benton, Blackhawk, Buchanan, Cedar, Delaware, Iowa, Jones, Johnson, Linn, and Muscatine until midnight. Conditions are favorable for high winds, hail and even the development of tornado activity…”

“Sonofabitch!” Dean yelled at the T.V., cursing the broadcaster as though the man were somehow personally responsible for the current situation.

“…further, residents living along the Cedar, Iowa, Wapisinicon and Skunk rivers should be on the watch for flash flooding. A Flash Flood Warning has been issued for all counties along these rivers as continuing rain threatens to push water over the banks and into low lying areas. Viewers residing in these areas are advised to seek high ground immediately…”

Another crack of thunder rocked the entire room, punctuated by the staccato drumbeat of something striking the roof. Spurred by the new noise, Dean dashed to the doorway, flinging it open and quickly recoiling as small, chunks of ice bombarded him.

“Ah, Hell!” Dean grumbled, ignorant of the pun.

The icy pellets bounced off the pavement, pinging off in a multitude of directions as they dropped from the sky. Some were small, no larger than a pebble, but occasionally, a larger chunk would smash into the ground with a heavy thud.

Dean stepped out onto the walkway, looking in both directions, silently hoping his brother was sulking just somewhere outside the room. The area was vacant, only the high-pitched whistle of the wind as it drove through the nearby trees left any trace of movement or sound.

Digging the cellphone out of his pocket, Dean quickly scrolled down to Sam’s number. Stabbing the button to send the call, he impatiently waited, his breath held for fear his brother was angry enough to ignore the call.

“Come on, Sammy. Answer the damn phone…” he pleaded under his breath.

“Hey, Dean!” Sam’s voice carried across the phone loud and strong.

“Where are you dude? I’ll come pick you up,” Dean asked anxiously.

“Just down the street at that little diner. They were closing up, but said I could hang out here till the hail let up some.”

“I’ll come and get you,” the elder Winchester insisted. “Just sit tight.”

“Dean, what’s wrong?” Sam asked, picking up the worried edge to Dean’s tone.

“Nothing Sammy, just trying to be nice to my little brother. Didn’t think you wanted to be walking around out there in this weather. Besides, some of those chunks of hail are pretty big. One might hit that huge head of yours and cause some sort of brain damage, then where would I be?”

Come on, Sam. I’m trying to say I’m sorry here…

“Alright. I’ll meet you down here. You want me to see if they’ll still make you a burger or something?” Sam asked. Apology accepted.

“Nah. I’m not really hungry and besides, I was thinking about what you said. Maybe we should tackle this case from a different angle,” Dean offered. Or maybe from a different state…

There was a moment of silence as Dean waited on his brother’s response. He was prepared for some smart-assed comment, even some jibe about Sam being right, but instead his brother simply said he’d be waiting.

Dean ended the call just as the storm began to increase in intensity. He snagged the Impala’s keys from the nearby nightstand, pulling on his jacket as he darted outside heading for the black Chevy that was parked several yards away, courtesy of the motel’s awkward parking lot.

As he tried to dodge the icy missiles, the hail stinging with an arctic bite as it struck uncovered skin, Dean spotted a shadow of movement out of the corner of his eye. Alerted, his attention was diverted from the horrendous weather to a dark SUV that was creeping along the edge of the lot.

Instantly, Dean went into hunter mode, reaching defensively for the .45 tucked into the inside pocket of his jacket. The big vehicle slowed to a stop as though the driver were purposely stalking the elder Winchester, but with the windows tinted nearly black, Dean couldn’t see inside. All he could think of were Lucifer’s minions, trailing and attacking them at Bobby’s as they searched for Gudrun.

But as quickly as the SUV pulled up, it moved on, continuing out of the motel lot and on to the main street.

Dean watched, shaking his head as he calmed jittery nerves.

“Seeing demon-driven SUVs everywhere are you, Dean?” he chided himself as he turned back toward the car, buffeted again by the strong wind and rain.

He was nearly there when the SUV came around once more, this time on the opposite side of the road and this time with one of the windows rolled down.

Dean looked up, the keys to the Impala in his hand hovering in the lock as a flash of light on metal caught his attention.

A gun?

With no nearby cover other than the Chevy, Dean scrambled to find some protection. Struggling against the nearly blinding rain, his vision was assaulted by the flash of lightning and the pungent smell of ozone. Another bright burst of light flared, followed by a loud crack and the young hunter felt himself slammed to the ground, a heavy weight plowing into his body and robbing him of the ability to breathe.

Stunned, Dean lay against the wet pavement as the wind-driven rain continued to pummel him. He wanted to get up, he needed to get up, every survival instinct screaming inside for him to get back to his feet. But his body refused to cooperate. He managed to lift his head an inch or two from the asphalt just in time to see the SUV peel off, silver rims spinning madly and tossing water in every direction.

“Friggin’ coward…” he mumbled.

Yet as the lightning flash around him and the thunder boomed out angrily across the encroaching night sky, Dean’s head dropped back down to the ground, his eyes closing as the weather wailed and the water rose.

 

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The Winchester Chronicles

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