Anna wakes to darkness. Complete and utter darkness. She can’t even tell if her eyes are open or closed. She reaches frantically for John thinking he forgot to leave the light on but he’s not there. She’s not even in a bed, she realizes. It feels like stone beneath her and it’s cold. A small sob escapes her. This is only the second time she’s woken up in the dark since returning from Hell. John promised to always leave the light on for her. So why didn’t he?
She tries desperately to see in the blackness, something, anything. The gnawing fear that the rescue from Hell was all a dream takes hold and slowly overwhelms her. She starts to panic, knowing she shouldn’t let the demon see her reaction but unable to stop it. Sobbing and trembling she curls into a tight ball, trying to make the dream come back. Please, please, please, she begs.
A low moan nearby draws her attention. Before she can even begin to wonder what other poor soul is sharing her torment Ladona’s hushed voice fills the silence. “Anna?”
Ladona woke to the sound of quiet sobbing and it took her a moment to orient herself. A quick inventory told her she had a broken right arm, a throbbing headache, and assorted bumps and bruises. Her inability to see anything told her they were in the caves. No, she amended, we’re prisoners in the caves. But it was hard to concentrate with her arm aching like a sore tooth and Anna’s sobs filling her ears. She took a couple of breaths to center herself, noting how cold and dank the air smelled, then called to Anna.
“Ladona?” Anna whispers disbelievingly. Part of her knows it’s just a trick, another torture, but she can’t help herself.
The terror in Anna’s voice annoys Ladona. I know she’s still a novice hunter, she thinks, but does she have to fall completely apart? Maybe Dean was right about her. She pushes the annoyance aside with a small sigh and focuses on their situation. One of us has to, she thinks disgustedly. “Are you hurt?” she asks.
Anna doesn’t know what to say. Of course she’s hurt! When isn’t she? Her head aches, her back is bruised, her forearm is throbbing, she’s freezing. What kind of stupid trick is this anyway? As she puzzles over it Ladona’s voice comes again.
“Anna, are you hurt?” She’s able to keep the irritation out of her voice but just barely. If they’re going to get out of here alive she’s going to need some help and, unfortunately, Anna’s the only person around. The only person on my side anyway, she amends, although that may be more of a hindrance than a help if I can’t get her calmed down.
“You can’t trick me so don’t bother trying.”
Ladona’s surprised at the coldness in Anna’s voice. Confused, she asks, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Anna laughs, a short bark of sound that holds no amusement. “Hell. That’s funny. You should go into stand up. I didn’t think demons had a sense of humor.”
Understanding washes over Ladona. Dear Goddess, she thinks she’s back in Hell with the Yellow-Eyed Demon! No wonder she’s terrified! Feeling guilty and ashamed for judging Anna so harshly, Ladona casts around for some way of bringing her back to the present. Well, the truth’s a good place to start, she thinks.
Keeping her voice low and conversational she says, “You’re Anna Winchester, married to John Winchester. We’re in Smuggler’s
Sanity comes back to Anna in a rush of images. Fighting with John. Dean showing up. Going into the room with Ladona. Telling her about the deal with Nemesis. The window exploding. Hitting the dresser hard (which explains the soreness in her back). Then…the only other thing she remembers is seeing Ladona fighting with two figures. The rest is blank.
“Ladona, are you injured?” she whispers. She feels her way forward and finds Ladona lying just a few feet away. Her hands fly efficiently over the girl, pausing only briefly at her right arm. Ladona’s sharp intake of breath confirms it’s badly broken and Anna can feel the stickiness of drying blood through a cut in her shirt but there’s nothing she can do at the moment so she moves on. “Anything else?” she finally asks.
“Just the arm. You?” Ladona can’t describe the relief she feels to have Anna back. This in charge woman is the one she knows, not that pitiful terrorized thing she woke up to. Another pang of guilt strikes her for being so judgmental.
Not knowing who might be listening Anna answers, “Slight concussion. I can barely see straight.” She pauses then adds wryly, “Well, if I could see.” She knows very little about magic and has no idea if the coven is using any on them at the moment but figures it’s best to make them think she’s more hurt than she really is. She mentally reviews what Ladona said. Did she give anything away that they probably didn’t know already? Just my name and John’s, she decides, but I can’t imagine what difference that makes. John. She closes her eyes, thankful the last six months with him haven’t been a dream. Or at least not the kind you wake from. She knows he’ll come. Dean too. Now it’s her job to make sure she and Ladona are still alive when they arrive.
Ladona groans as she tries to sit up. Anna senses her movement and puts her hands against Ladona’s unseen shoulders to keep her lying flat. “Your arm is broken and you may have other injuries. Don’t move.” She pauses. “There’s nowhere to go anyway and nothing to see. Some tourist spot, huh?”
Ladona can’t help but giggle at that even though it hurts her head. Yes, Anna is definitely back. Reaching out with her good hand she grasps one of Anna’s. The touch makes her feel a thousand percent better.
Anna settles beside Ladona and takes a breath. She concentrates on the feel of Ladona’s hand in hers. It’s all right, she tells herself. It wasn’t a dream and the dark can’t hurt you. But the things in the dark can, a little voice insists on adding.
Ladona can feel Anna trembling. At least she thinks it’s Anna. She’s pretty damn scared herself though so maybe it’s her. It suddenly occurs to her that it was Anna who kept her going last time she felt this helpless. They were in a cave then too, albeit a better lit one.
As if on cue lights appear around the perimeter of the cave. Ladona just has time to note its circular shape before Anna scrambles to her feet, pulling Ladona unceremoniously with her. So much for don’t move, she thinks wryly, and opens her mouth to say something to that effect. She quickly shuts it though as Anna pulls her back against the wall, turning her so she sees the people standing in a doorway that appeared in the opposite wall.
There are two of them and Ladona recognizes the dark haired woman as the witch who attacked them. The other is a young man with sandy hair wearing a robe that conceals his body completely. A surge of anger rushes through Ladona and she starts to take a step toward the witch only to be held back by Anna’s firm hand. She starts to protest but Anna squeezes her wrist almost painfully. Only then does she see what has Anna transfixed.
The man is floating a good foot above the floor. The prisoners press themselves against the wall as he moves soundlessly toward them. His magic is like a wet blanket suffocating them until they’re both gasping for air. He hovers in front of them, studying them like insects.
Anna tries not to flinch when he reaches out to touch her hair. “My favorite,” he murmurs. His eyes travel appraisingly down her body, making her skin crawl. When he sees the bandage on her forearm visible through a tear in her sleeve he smiles. “It is a sign.”
Celeste stiffens. How could she have forgotten her god’s predilection for fiery hair? And the bandaged arm, just like the last sacrifice. She realizes she must act quickly to divert his attention to the witch or her chance to seek revenge will be lost. Pasting a cold smile on her face she moves up beside him. Indicating Ladona she says, “This is the witch I spoke of, my god.”
Before Ladona can act to protect herself Celeste reaches out and squeezes her upper arm hard, causing the long cut to start bleeding again. The man’s attention is immediately diverted and Celeste takes the opportunity to throw Anna halfway across the room with a lift of her chin. Ladona wants to move, wants to go to Anna, but she feels transfixed by the man’s eyes.
Anna sits up and shakes her head. She hit the wall pretty hard and the room’s dancing crazily in front of her. She doesn’t feel much pain where her hip and shoulder slammed into the wall but she suspects this is one of those times she was telling John about where she’s hurt much worse than she thinks. Nothing to be done about it now though so she uses the wall to climb unsteadily to her feet. But that’s as far as she gets before Celeste spears her with a hateful gaze that literally pins her to the wall.
Ladona can only watch helplessly as the man runs one finger through the blood on her arm then licks it slowly clean, his eyes burning into her. “Yes, very powerful.” He turns to Celeste. “She will join us. Prepare the ceremony.”
Celeste inclines her head. “Yes, my god.” This she expected. The witch is indeed powerful and it’s been more than a century since they’ve added any members to the coven. It is a disappointment though because it means her god will not choose her as his mate this time. That honor will be visited on this ungrateful wench. Her eyes return to the redhead. But at least that will give her free rein to savor her revenge.
Anna turns cold under Celeste’s gaze. There’s a fury there that seems directed at her particularly and it doesn’t take much to figure out why. The scar on her face identifies her as the dark haired woman John described…and it’s not difficult to imagine she knows the small diamond on Anna’s left hand identifies her as John’s wife. That’s why she came for me, Anna thinks. And Ladona just got in the way.
Her attention is drawn back to Ladona when she hears a cry of pain. The man has been running his finger through the blood on her arm and licking it clean but now he’s inserted it into the wound. Ladona’s teeth are gritted against the agony as he explores the cut, forcing it open so the blood flows more freely.
Anna suddenly understands. The bodies were all drained of blood completely. The bite marks were there just to cover that truth and make it look like a wild animal. Well, if it’s blood he wants, she thinks ferociously. She’s still unable to move away from the wall but she can raise her arm. Ripping the bandage off her forearm with her teeth she hesitates just a fraction of a second before placing her mouth over the mark and biting down hard enough to taste blood. “Try this,” she growls, waving her arm toward the man.
Ladona watches in shock as the man turns away from her and floats over to Anna. She can’t believe Anna did that. Released from his spell she slides down the wall, her legs unable to support her. “Anna,” she croaks but no one seems to hear her.
Celeste is livid as she watches her god lovingly cradle the redhead’s bleeding arm in his hands. There’s no way to distract him now! All she can hope is that he’ll leave enough alive for her to exact some small amount of revenge on. Well, she consoles herself, there’s always the man who scarred her. I’ll make sure to tell him exactly what my god did to his wife before I cut out his heart, she thinks savagely.
“You offer yourself to me?” the man asks in surprise. He hovers just a few inches from Anna and she can smell his breath against her cheek. It reeks of death.
She’s completely terrified but manages to find her voice. “Leave the girl be,” she whispers, “and I’ll let you drink from me. As much as you want. I won’t resist.”
“You offer yourself as food to a god,” he breathes, his eyes burning into her. “You understand it is an honor.”
She wants to tell him he’s crazy but decides it’s best to keep her mouth shut. Diversionary tactics only work if they cause a diversion, isn’t that what John told her? But she can’t think of her husband right now without crying so she resolutely pushes his face out of her mind.
The man seems to be waiting for a response from her so she nods. Apparently it was the right answer because a wide grin spreads over his face, making him seem like an excited boy opening his Christmas presents. Only I’m the present he’s about to open, she thinks sickly.
He rips her sleeve apart to the elbow and starts to raise her bleeding arm to his mouth. But, no, she can’t let this happen here. She needs to give Ladona room to act. “Please, not here. In private,” she whispers, not even bothering to keep the plea out of her voice. She suspects this creature, like the Yellow-Eyed Demon, feeds on his victims’ helplessness. And this is all about giving him what he wants, isn’t it?
“No!” Ladona cries as she finally finds her voice. Is Anna insane? Or suicidal?
“Silence!” Celeste snaps and Ladona feels the word like a physical slap.
“Let me speak to her,” Anna whispers to the man. “Please.” Gritting her teeth she lifts her free hand to caress his cheek. His skin is surprisingly warm. Thinking of Celeste’s words she adds, “A god can afford to be magnanimous.”
His grip on her arm tightens painfully for a moment then he moves aside with a slight bow. “Celeste!” he barks when the witch doesn’t immediately release the spell holding Anna to the wall.
“Apologies,” the witch murmurs as she withdraws the spell. But her hands ball into tight fists as she watches Anna limp across to Ladona and kneel painfully beside her.
“You can’t do this,” Ladona says softly. “He’ll kill you. You’ve seen the bodies.”
Anna pulls her into a hug and Ladona’s sure this time that both of them are trembling. “You have magic and training to fight them.” Anna’s voice is barely discernible and Ladona closes her eyes to focus on the words. “Keep your head and get out of here.”
Celeste’s hand buried in Anna’s long hair jerks the woman to her feet. “What secrets are you telling?” she hisses.
“I told her I love her like a sister. Something I wouldn’t expect the likes of you to ever understand,” Anna snaps.Ladona keeps her lips clamped together. Much as she wants to she can’t argue with Anna’s logic and watches in silent dismay as Celeste follows the floating man out of the room, pulling Anna by the hair, not allowing her to look back even once. Goddess, please be with her, Ladona prays feverishly.