It was a short distance ahead of him blocking his path and was, without a doubt, the weirdest, most disturbing thing he had ever seen in his life - and that was taking into account a long history of dealing with weird, eerie and just plain freaking unnatural.
So mesmerised was he by the sight in front of him, he barely noticed the chill of the squalling rain which was suddenly whipping round him nor that the buzzing sound had fallen silent.
Hovering motionless just above the ground the creature, at least he guessed it was a creature, stared silently through the downpour back at him.
Black as pitch; it was covered with a mangy scattering of hair, which clung limply to it's grotesque stringy body in the rain.
Its three long spidery limbs made his flesh crawl.
His racing mind tried to rationalise what he was seeing; three bent legs, all pointing the same way, arranged in a circle.
At the junction of the three legs; the 'hub' of the circle, two round green eyes continued to stare dispassionately through the driving rain at Dean as he stood mesmerised, shivering against the strengthening force of the storm around him.
Those hypnotic green eyes full of cold malice had sent a shiver along his spine, but what he was currently staring at as he squinted through the downpour, trying to shield his face from the stinging ice-cold rain was a set of fierce grey claws at the end of each leg which glistened dangerously as stray raindrops trickled along their length.
Slowly, shakily, he began to back away, the buffeting wind and ice cold rain conspiring with legs weakened by abuse, dehydration and paralysing fear; each time he staggered backwards, the strange being inched forward.
Suddenly, it began to spin, slowly at first, then faster and faster until it was nothing more than a whirling black disc hovering several inches above the ground. As it spun, the dreadful whirring sound resumed, louder than ever.
Beyond scared, Dean turned and ran; a limping, stiff-legged retreat through the forest. Blinded by the stinging rain, his eyes darted either side of him, searching through the driving rain for an escape route, but the tangled mass of trees either side of him were too dense for him to find a path through, the only way was back was where he had come from.
The creature turned side on and to Dean's horror, it began to move towards him, in a swift rolling motion, cutting through the air like a circular saw, rainwater spray flying off it as it span, spinning and whirling closer and closer ... the whining buzz became deafening as it bore down on him, the vibrations filling his chest to bursting and rattling his ribs.
He tore back toward the glade, buffeted by the gusting wind, nearly losong his footing several times. Gasping and choking as the rain poured harder and colder, his arms shielded his face from the freezing onslaught, batting low hanging branches away from his face; his cramping legs pumped like pistons as he pushed them beyond what he ever imagined he would be capable of in his weakened state.
His heart pounded with each panting gasp that his burning lungs could force out of his heaving chest, and behind him he could hear the thing pursuing him effortlessly, spinning and whirling like a deadly catherine wheel.
A panic stricken glance over his shoulder told him that it was only inches behind him now; the hideous, mocking whine was louder than ever; an overpowering dissonant screech that engulfed him. He let out a breathless cry of terror, pressing his hands over his ears to block out the awful noise. Close to collapse, he forced his straining legs into one last effort when he finally saw the curtain he had emerged from just ahead of him.
He lunged for it, arms and legs flailing helplessly as he felt the airstream from the creature's whirling limbs across his bare back, and tumbled under the silken drape, letting out a yelp of pain as one set of the whirling claws caught him, carving three straight gashes down the centre of his back.
Landing heavily on his shoulder, he rolled over, coming to rest face down in a tangle of strengthless limbs among the horribly familiar clover. He lay, soaked and quaking, gasping for air as a pool of dripping rainwater spread around him.
He grimaced as the gashes across his heaving back burned.
There was no sign of the terrible being, no buzzing whine filling his head. The only sounds were the frantic pounding of his own heart and the gentle piping trill of birdsong. The little bower was, as always, alight with dancing specks of hazy sunlight; a warm, gentle haven of calm serenity completely devoid of any signs of the furious tempest that had almost claimed him.
He curled in on himself and stifled a sob.
There was no way out of here. This godforsaken glade was his beautiful prison.
Bobby and Sam sat around the kitchen table, looking through some of Bobby's oldest books.
"Don't come across faeries often," Bobby muttered, "Faerie lore is some of the oldest, darkest lore out there; can't remember the last time I had to open this book."
He sighed, "they're devious little bastards Sam, don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise."
They both looked up to see Tom walking toward them. He pulled up a chair between them and slumped heavily into it. "He's just had another of those episodes; gasping and thrashing like he's having a nightmare," he gave a long, pained sigh; "think he's okay now."
He looked across the table, catching a glance from Bobby, at the younger Winchester, who sat silently, staring at Bobby's book. He looked utterly despondent.
"Sam," Tom began; "I'm so sorry; I don't know why he will only talk to me, I wish …"
Bobby gently cut him off; "I think I might know Tom, gimme a moment."
Sam offered Tom a shaky smile, "it's okay Tom, really."
"Okay ladies," Bobby began, "this is what we know about the scheming little sonsofbitches, for what it's worth," he turned one of the pages and sneezed over the dust that was dislodged.
"Green is the colour of faerie; it's the colour of nature, and faeries are elemental creatures."
"Well, that would sure explain Dean's … I mean the changeling's skin colour," Tom agreed.
"Faerie is a general term for hundreds of different races of beings … brownies, imps, pixies, sprites, redcaps, elves, spriggans, boggarts, sidhe … and hundred of other races we've probably never even heard of; they all fall under the heading of faerie folk." Bobby picked up his hip flask and took a long swig, he offered the flask to Sam who shook his head, his eyes never leaving the table.
"And drows," continued Tom.
"And apparently drows," confirmed Bobby with a nod, "I suppose we at least know what we're dealing with."
Bobby pulled up another book, even bigger and dustier than the first; "faerie society is all about superiority; predominately superiority of one race over another, but also one family over another, even one individual faerie over another," he frowned in disapproval, "and for the record, even the basest most despised lowest caste of faerie is considered superior to us."
"Encouraging," Tom replied with an ironic nod, shooting a concerned glance across to Sam.
"In their society, the most exalted individuals are first born sons," he continued, "that includes us; the few humans they value would only be first born sons, some theorists say they won't or can't even acknowledge the existence of other siblings."
He watched as Sam looked up from the table for the first time as the penny dropped; "I'm not a first born son," he whispered; "that's why he blanks me."
Bobby nodded sadly; "and me."
They both looked at Tom; "I'm the eldest of four," he confirmed quietly.
Bobby nodded, "and that'll be why our little green friend's bonded with you."
"But," Bobby continued; "there's also a theory that faeries occasionally abduct human first-born-sons, particularly ones they perceive as being the fittest and strongest specimens, as ..." Bobby, cleared his throat, hesitating before continuing; "... as breeding stock."
Tom and Sam both stared at him aghast.
"Breeding stock?" Sam spluttered in horror.
"It's only a theory," Bobby tried to reassure the younger man; "but, yeah. I guess they think it'll strengthen the bloodstock or somethin'."
"That's sick," Sam snapped nauseously.
Bobby nodded in agreement, and turned to another chapter in the book, "now, goin' back to the changeling; it seems that changelings are generally faeries of a lower caste who are routinely captured and used for all manner of unpleasant and dangerous tasks by superior races of faeries."
"Slaves," spat Tom in disgust, "that poor bastard up there said he was a slave."
Bobby nodded and a brief, reflective silence settled over the table before he continued.
"The changeling and it's human counterpart are connected, like, I don't know, almost like some kind of faerie umbilical cord between the two worlds," Bobby explained, his face falling solemn as he continued; "it means that those 'episodes', all that thrashing around up there? That means ..."
"It means Dean's suffering whatever's causing them; he's suffering really bad." Sam abruptly finished his sentence; "Bobby ... we've gotta help him," he pleaded, his eyes glazed in panic, "Perhaps if we killed that thing upstairs ..."
Bobby cut him off gently, raising his hands in a concilliatory gesture; "I'm really tempted Sam, but that thing upstairs is the only link we have to their world, his knowledge of that world might be the only chance we have to get Dean back."
The three men sank into a nervous silence.
"All the lore says that humans who eat and drink in the faerie realm will never be able to return to the real world, because they will just fade away with longing for the faerie world over months or even years;" Bobby explained, "to avoid that fate Dean will have to avoid eating and drinking at all costs."
Tom looked up at Bobby, "so to avoid fading away of a broken heart when we get him back, he'll shrivel up and die of dehydration within days instead."
That's about the size of it," Bobby confirmed glumly, "either way, he's screwed if we don't do something and do it real soon."
"We've gotta find a way, Bobby for God's sake, we've got to help him," Sam thumped the table in barely contained fury.
Tom and Bobby knew how hard this was on the younger brother, and it broke their hearts to see him so perilously close to the edge.
Bobby swallowed hard, and when he looked up from the book, his eyes were swimming with tears.
"We'll do everything in our power, Sam; everything."
"I only hope it's not already too late."