Sam's heart pounded beneath his ribs, forcing him to draw in a deep breath. As he was escorted slowly toward the tower, his mind whirled, trying to think of ways to escape the clutches of Grimwald and his guards so that he could figure out some way to help Dean. Fight his way out? Make a break for it? Against five professional soldiers and a psycho with a magic statue-making wand, nothing was going to be easy.
He hesitated, still surrounded by a rank of threatening and distinctly unfriendly hardware, and faced the crumbling entrance to the castle keep, listening to its rotting portcullis clank and grind mournfully as it worked its funereal way upward.
That was the moment he first heard it.
A buzz; a continuous, droning buzz, growing louder and more threatening. It was so loud now, that it echoed in his ears, rattling his teeth and vibrating through his chest until he had to fight for breath.
Eventually, curiosity overcame him and he turned, defying the pikestaff that jabbed him in the back, goading him forward. He knew he had heard that sound before.
Almost instantly, the sky darkened as a swarm of swamp goblins poured over the ramparts way above them, a threatening and deadly living slick of destruction gushing down inside the tower and heading in an almost arrowhead formation toward Sam and his guards.
Diving to the ground, Sam curled into a ball wrapping his arms tightly over his head, trying to make himself as small as possible. The last thing he saw was a tiny flash of pink at the head of the swarm.
As he lay cowering on the ground, Sam became swept up in a swirling black maelstrom of rage and destruction around him, engulfed in a thrashing storm of terrible ripping, tearing sounds; the screams of helpless men, the chittering and shrieking frenzy of tiny meat-hungry creatures thrashing around him. Whipping claws slashed his arms and the back of his jerkin, tearing his clothes and skin as he tried to make himself even smaller, burrowing further down into dirt-encrusted cobbles, but deep down a small part of him knew that it wasn't him the creatures were aiming to harm.
Eventually the deafening assault receded, and Sam slowly uncurled, panting nervously and blinking into the light as he took stock of his surroundings; a bloodstained mudbath strewn with shredded clothes together with six broken and bloodied skeletons.
Sam took in the scene of devastation and carnage around him and noticed that one of them was still clutching a gnarled twig loosely in its skeletal fist.
Cautiously sitting up, Sam inspected himself, relieved to find he was relatively unharmed. A little bit shredded, certainly; traumatised for life, quite probably; but mostly unharmed.
He flinched as Not-Bobby swooped down toward him; "the wand kid," he prompted urgently; "the wand – snap it."
Still in an ear-ringing daze, Sam reached for the wand, marvelling at how something so small and unimpressive could inflict such devastation and pulled it from between the bony fingertips, snapping it once, then once again just for good measure.
It happened far more rapidly than Sam expected.
After the first snap of the wand, Dean's harsh crumbling stone façade began to soften and warm, melting from the cold, lichen-pocked grey into the creamy flesh tones Sam was far more used to seeing in his brothers face. He crouched open-mouthed and watched an unyielding knot of stone on Dean's head as it slowly dissolved into his brother's familiar spiky sepia-brown thatch.
So mesmerised was Sam by watching the transformation that it took him a moment to realise that Dean's newly unpetrified knees were buckling beneath him and by the time Sam had galvanised himself to help his brother, Dean had dropped his sword and was subsiding face-first toward the grimy cobbles. Scrambling across the courtyard on his hands and knees, Sam was just able to catch Dean before he hit the ground and pulled him tight to his chest.
"Dude, hey Dean," Sam prompted, his voice breathless with urgency. He tapped his brother's face, relishing the soft warmth of the skin beneath his hands, "you okay? Talk to me man."
"Being turned to stone'll do that to ya," Not-Bobby sighed.
Coughing miserably, Dean's chest heaved as he struggled for breath beneath his heavy, muddied armour which Sam was working feverishly to remove.
"Breathe, c'mon man, breathe," Sam chanted as he sat, completely unaware of Not-Bobby hovering directly over his head, wringing his hands into the pink petals of his skirt in concern. Sam would never know how grateful he should have been that he never thought, at that moment, to look up. Tossing the armour aside, he rubbed Dean's back; patiently and carefully supporting him through the apparently arduous ordeal of his transformation back from statue to living, breathing human.
Sam's attention remained fixed on his brother; largely disregarding the other previously petrified men who were now dotted around the courtyard in various degrees of consciousness. The only figure Sam had noticed was the great stone giant whose mammoth shadow loomed over them, and who was now a great very much alive giant, leaning crumpled against the wall rubbing his head. Sam had already made a mental note to keep well out of the way of those giant feet.
He smiled as he felt Dean's eyelashes flutter into his neck.
He wasn't sure if the response he got was a nod or a shudder. Given that neither brother had ever been turned to stone before, he didn't exactly have any valuable experience to draw upon to gauge how well Dean was doing; he decided to work on the basis that any response at all was a plus point.
"What happened?" Sam eventually tore his attention away from Dean to ask Not-Bobby.
"I went back to find the Swamp Goblins," the little faerie began with a shrug; "I guessed Grimwald was holding something over them. They're not the friendliest of characters, and they can be darn aggressive, but they're not indiscriminate killers. As I'm a faerie, I hoped I could get them on my side."
"Looks like you did," Sam replied over a deep sigh of relief as Dean wriggled in his arms attempting to sit up.
Not-Bobby nodded, a broad smile spreading across his bearded face as Dean glanced silently at him, blinking vacantly and rubbing his head. "When I spoke to their elder, he told me Grimwald had their queen held prisoner and was buying their alliegence with her life." The little faerie paused in thought for a moment; "I told them that you boys were intendin' on doin' away with Grimwald and freeing the princess, and so you could free their queen too. They just had to trust me."
"I guess you've got an honest face;" Sam smiled.
"Not in this friggin' shape;" Not-Bobby replied with a grimace; "we're all faeries together; they'd trust my word over the word of a human any day."
"Sorry son, no offence," he added with a sheepish smile.
Sam turned his attention back to his brother; "hey, dude," he grinned, bolstered by seeing the colour returning to Dean's grimy cheeks; "how're you feeling?"
Dean opened a closed his mouth a couple of times, letting out a dusty cough before he actually managed to speak. "Feel like a freakin' train hit me," he mumbled blearily.
Sam smiled; "that's a start!"
He became aware of Dean fidgeting in his arms; "the horses Sam, let 'em in; wann' check they're okay," Dean croaked breathlessly, making repeated unsuccessful attempts to rise to his knees; "wann' see m'Beauty."
"But Dean …"
Groaning in defeat, Dean slumped against Sam's chest, treating his brother to his best 'don't argue bitch' face; the effect somewhat ruined by the smear of mud across his nose and the slightly crossed eyes.
Rising reluctantly to his feet, Sam turned and jogged over to the gate, throwing all his strength into releasing the portcullis. He stood aside, panting with exertion as the great rusting mechanism ratcheted and rumbled, lowering the drawbridge onto the ground outside the castle.
It had no sooner touched soil when a streak of mud-caked black thundered across the wooden bridge, barging Sam aside and heading unswervingly for Dean. Wheeling to a halt beside her knight, Beauty whittered softly into his shoulder.
As he walked back toward the happy reunion, Sam watched Dean's unco-ordinated arms reach up and shakily encircle Beauty's long arching neck.
Behind him, the mule trudged through the gateway, stopping to sample a patch of gorse beside the Castle keep. The fact that it had someone's disembodied thighbone sticking out of it didn't seem to discourage him at all.
"Hey dude," Sam gently pulled Dean away from the object of his affection, much to Beauty's obvious consternation, and pointed behind them; "see those random guys – and one random giant - over there? They're some of the other champions that made it this far; you're not gonna let them steal your glory are you?"
Dean blinked silently and shook his head; "not gonn' steal m'gory," he repeated vacantly.
Hauling Dean to his feet, Sam wrapped a long arm round his back, painfully aware that he was all that lay between Dean remaining upright or reverting to horizontal. On Dean's other side, Not-Bobby, grasped his elbow, a tiny gesture of moral support made more in spirit than any practical value.
Slowly and cautiously, the bold and handsome knight stumbled forward on legs like water, supported steadfastly by his loyal squire and his faerie godmother.
Sam looked up at the huge black bulk of the castle keep which stood before them, and urged Dean forward with gentle determination; "c'mon dude," he smiled; "you've got a princess to rescue."