The brothers stood, gaping gormlessly at the source of the voice, their jaws dropping and eyes widening to the degree that they could count themselves fortunate there weren't four eyeballs rolling around on the floor.
"B-Bobby?" Dean gasped.
Sam stared, open-mouthed; a narrow thread of drool hanging off his lip as he stood frozen, seemingly without the power of coherent speech.
The face that stared back at them was indeed Bobby's. What captured the Winchesters' attention in no small part, however, was not so much that 'Bobby's' entire body was no more than eighteen inches high, nor the fact that he was hovering in mid-air at approximately the level of their faces apparently by the power of two rapidly beating butterfly wings. What really blew the brothers brains into la-la land was the fact that this particular version of Bobby was without his faithful baseball cap, and was instead sporting a very dinky tiara fashioned from spider silk and dewdrops together with a pretty pink gown woven from primrose petals.
He glared back at them, his tiny stubby hands planted firmly on his hips.
"What?" he snorted.
Dean blinked hard, in the vain hope that the image which was now branded into his retinas for all eternity might go away; but when he opened his eyes, the wee figure was still there, hovering steadily before him, a thunderous frown on it's tiny face.
"Bobby, what the hell?" Sam stammered, finally managing to find his tongue.
"Okay, idjits, first off, I'm not Bobby," came the reply. The words were Bobby's but there was a distinct musical quality like tinkling raindrops to the voice which was about as unlike Bobby's gruff tones as it was possible to be.
"Not Bobby?" Dean replied, brow furrowed in confusion.
"Not Bobby?" Sam parroted blankly.
"I'm a faerie," the little Not-Bobby explained over a heavy sigh, "I'm a faerie guardian to be precise."
Giving an exaggerated eye-roll when no meaningful response was forthcoming, Not-Bobby continued regardless. "faerie guardians look after people who deserve looking after. Our purpose in life is to protect the stout of heart and pure of spirit during hard times or especially during a dangerous quest."
"Okaaaaay …" Dean muttered.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but you two numbskulls are thinking about embarking on a dangerous quest?"
"Uh, I guess so," Sam nodded, his face suddenly brightening; "so you're kinda like our fairy godmother?"
The little figure snorted irritably, gifting the brothers with a reluctant nod; "well, yeah if you like; that's what your culture have come to know us folk as."
"So … why the hell d'y look like Bobby?" Dean asked hesitantly, trying his damndest to unsee the little nobbly legs protruding from under the fluttering pink skirt.
"Us faerie guardians, we got the power to look into our wards' hearts and change our appearance to take on the looks and personality of someone they love and trust; you know, to give them a bit of extra support and reassurance," Not-Bobby explained impatiently, glancing down at his little barrel chest and hairy forearms in obvious disapproval. "Of course, seein' as I'm really a girl faerie, your loved-one couldn't be someone pretty an' young who looks a bit more, well, faerie-like; I could never be that friggin' lucky!"
"Neither could I," snorted Dean under his breath.
"But what's with the dress?" Sam pleaded, gesticulating wildly; "Bobby doesn't wear a dress!"
"Well, not that we know of," Dean whispered queasily.
"I'm a friggin' faerie," snapped Not-Bobby indignantly; "it's what we wear - what, would you rather I went around naked?"
"No … God, NO!" The panic-stricken response was delivered in stereo.
Not-Bobby buzzed toward Dean's face until he was so close, Dean's eyes crossed sharply in order to see him; "right, so are we doin' this or not?"
Dean hesitantly backed away from the grumpy little face hovering in front of him and looked across to Sam for moral support.
"I don't know," muttered Sam; "are we?"
Not-Bobby grimaced in frustration and folded his stocky little bare arms across his shimmering, pink bodice.
"Well, you can start by telling us what's going on," Dean insisted as Not-Bobby bobbed and fluttered softly on the air currents between the brothers. "I've been getting strange dreams every night of some hot chick in danger, then we found a weird old book with her picture in and then we found some godforsaken old shack in the middle of nowhere and ended up here in downtown rathole central with nothing but a transvestite fairy godmother and a farting cow for company." His voice began to take on a vaguely demented edge, "I reckon we deserve an explanation!"
Not-Bobby turned to Sam with a sigh; "is he usually this flaky?"
Sam rolled his eyes; "you have no idea."
"Right, listen up;" the tiny being began; "you're here in the fair kingdom of Impalia."
Dean's ears pricked up wildly. "Impalia?" he repeated.
"Jeez, boy, you deaf or somethin'?" Not-Bobby snorted, " Impalia, that's what I said, ain't it?"
Dean grinned broadly; "Impalia – I don't freakin' believe it! This place is awesome!"
Sam frowned; "it was downtown rathole central two minutes ago."
"Shuddap and let Bobb … the faer .. uh,… him ... talk," Dean glared at Sam, then turned back to the tiny figure before him.
"This place, Impalia, is a kingdom dying of grief," Not-Bobby began solemnly; "it's ruled wisely and kindly by our King, good King Ulrich, but almost one year ago, his beloved daughter, the beautiful Princess Gwendoline was abducted by Ulrich's wicked step-brother, Grimwald.
"Okay," the brothers murmured; "with you so far."
"Grimwald, the king of the Bleaklands."
The brothers both shrugged, prompting Not-Bobby to continue; "Bleaklands?"
"You wanna see a rathole?" Bobby explained; "The Bleaklands is a miserable, barren country, dark and empty and downright freakin' evil. You can only reach it through the Wildwoods which, incidentally, is the only place worse than the Bleaklands. The Bleaklands is barely populated except for the kind of creatures that you go out of your way to avoid. Grimwald's holding Gwendoline in the dungeons of his castle there."
"Why would he do that?" Sam asked.
"Because Grimwald is a power-crazed tyrant who wants to rule somewhere better than the Bleaklands," replied the little faerie bitterly.
"Somewhere like Impalia?" Dean mused.
"Exactly like Impalia," Not-Bobby confirmed with a sad smile across his bearded face; "Grimwald wants to extend his reach and his power over all the peoples of this world."
"But, why would he take the girl?" Dean prompted.
"Grimwald gave King Ulrich exactly one year to relinquish his rule," Not-Bobby sighed; "he concocted some half-assed story about having more right than Ulrich to rule because of an old historical family feud. If Ulrich doesn't step down and hand over the throne, Grimwald has stated his intention to execute Gwendoline at sunset on the midsummer solstice – exactly one year from the day he took her."
"Midsummer solstice," Sam pondered; "that's only a week from now."
Not-Bobby nodded gravely.
"Why doesn't your King just hand over his kingdom to save his daughter?" Dean asked curiously.
"I said he's a wise and kindly man," came the sad reply; "and despite his love for his daughter and the awful situation she's in, he won't surrender his subjects, human and faerie, to the hands of a despotic monster."
The brothers exchanged nervous glances.
"As soon as Gwendoline was taken, Ulrich sent out a proclamation, asking for champions from all over the kingdom and beyond, to take up the challenge to rescue her but none survived the ordeals of the Wildwoods." Not-Bobby continued; "Ulrich even sent his own two sons, but they both perished in the attempt."
"That sucks," Dean mumbled softly.
"Now our poor king's wasting away, broken by the grief of losing two of his children and soon the third and only remaining one too," Not-Bobby sighed; "and his kingdom's dying with him." He gestured across the barren town; "A year ago this was a bustling, happy town, but the devastation of the last year has sucked the life and soul out of Impalia; a whole load of young men were lost in attempts to rescue the princess, and family businesses have been lost with them."
"This town is a ghost of better times."
"Okay," Dean sighed, scraping a hand over his face; "I get it; Grimwald is an asshole, but why have I been getting these dreams, and what's with the book?"
A faint smile crossed the little faerie's face; "good King Ulrich doesn't only take care of his human subjects; he respects his faerie subjects too; not all human kings can say that. He protects us and we love him for that. Grimwald only sees faeries as an infestation to be exterminated; if he came to the throne, our lives won't be worth squat."
"When it became clear that King Ulrich wasn't going to be able to find the solution to his problem, us faerie folk took matters into our own hands; see, there are things we can do that your people can't."
Dean raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"Your reputations as fighters and destroyers of evil is known well, and not only in your own world. We know that you're warriors, knights of the mighty realm of Winchester, and so we contacted you in the hope that you'd help us."
"So the dreams?" Dean asked; "that was you?"
Not-Bobby nodded. "Communicating across the veil between worlds ain't easy, and the message isn't always clear," he explained; "we sent the message to appear as dreams, in the hope that they might capture your interest, then our faerie scribes fashioned a book, an' one of our scouts was sent to place it in your path."
Sam rummaged in the poachers pocket inside his jacket and pulled the book out; "yeah, the book," he began; "what happened to it? It didn't have an ending."
Not-Bobby shrugged, stretching his wings as he did so; "Yeah, there was no ending in the book, 'cause there's no ending to this story."
"Yet," he added. "We're all hoping that you'll write the ending for us."
"And the shed?" Dean added.
"That point is where the veil between our two worlds is thinnest," Not-Bobby explained; "it was the only place we could bring you through safely."
He glanced testily between the two brothers, and bobbed up and down impatiently. Sam was sure that if the little figure had been wearing a watch, he would have glanced at it.
"We done here?" he prompted; "any more questions? 'Cause time ain't waiting for us."
"Yes," Dean replied curtly; "why me?" he asked, "why was it me getting the dreams? Sam didn't get anything."
There was a deep sigh. "Well, it's kinda awkward, but my people can only communicate across the veil with first born sons." He turned to Sam and smiled apologetically; "sorry kid, nothin' personal."
"s'okay," Sam shrugged in acceptance.
A brief pause settled between the three figures and Not-Bobby saw his opportunity to move the party along. "The journey'll be real dangerous. Only the strongest and bravest and most cunning knights will have a hope of crossing the Wildwoods to the Bleaklands. Then even if you reach the castle, Grimwald is a monster of a man; cruelty and bitterness are second nature to him.
"A douchebag in other words," snorted Dean.
Sam and the little faerie both smiled, nodding in agreement.
Another thoughtful silence settled between the three figures, broken only by the distant trump of the cow as she meandered lazily on the edges of the square.
"So," Not-Bobby glanced hopefully between the brothers; "will ya help us?"
The brothers glanced at each other, the unspoken agreement between them almost instantaneous.
"Yeah, grinned Dean; If I'm a mighty Knight of the realm of Winchester, then I need to go and rescue me a damsel in distress!"