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Sam couldn't move. Not even an inch. He struggled against the ties, iron shackles latched around his wrists and ankles too tight, the chains attached to them taunt enough to make him feel like he was tied to a damned rack. The dais beneath him was just as long as him, which left his arms bent over the edge in a painful angle. The rock beneath him was covered by a flimsy sheet that did nothing for warmth, but at least the air in this tiny cave was warmed up by the torches bathing it in a flickering orange-yellow glow. The only entrance was covered by a heavy curtain, which helped keep the warm air in. But he was still cold. And he was still sore like hell. He feared the worst at this point, feared that this was it, that the blood sacrifice would take place in this stupid little cave. And a part of him couldn't stop blaming Dean for this. He knew it wasn't fair, knew it wasn't true, but there was that part of him that was petty and childish, the part that needed someone to blame, the part that was also screaming for Dean to get him the hell out of here.

With a grunt of frustration, he tried again to somehow get out of the shackles, but without luck. Any greater effort he put into straining his arms nearly made his shoulders cramp and that was really the last thing he needed right now after the pummeling he'd taken in that other cave. Baseball bats were not his favorite items to be beaten up with.

A sudden sound made him stop his attempts to break free and focus on the curtain covering the entrance. It shifted a little and then was pulled aside to admit a young woman into the cave. He spent a second just staring at her. He had expected the cloaked guys or the guy with the headgear. This girl looked no older than sixteen. She was dressed in a long, white gown that was almost transparent and he immediately averted his eyes because it sure looked like she didn't have anything on underneath. But he watched her from the corner of his eyes.

She released the curtain, which fell back into place, and stepped closer, her movements cautious. She didn't look at him, kept her gaze firmly on the floor, but what made this whole situation weird was that she was smiling. She looked like someone had just given her the best gift ever. In her hands, she carried some kind of bundle, and after a moment she put it down on the floor and knelt down on it. She folded her hands and kept her gaze on the floor.

Sam shifted a little, focused on her face and wished she would look him in the eye. If he could gain eye contact with her, he might be able to get through to her. With a furtive glance toward the curtain, he raised his head a little. "Hey," he said quietly. But she didn't look up. Instead she drew in a deep breath and let it out again slowly, then tilted her head backward and gazed up at the ceiling.

"Heavenly mother," she said, her tone timid and a little bit shaky. "I kneel before you today to offer you this vessel so that you may come amongst us and guide us."

Vessel? That didn't sound good. "Hey," he tried again.

She glanced briefly at him, then closed her eyes for a second before directing her gaze toward the ceiling again. "As instructed by the good book, I lay down my life for you," she continued and Sam felt himself pale a little. She was the sacrifice. They were going to sacrifice this girl, this kid, spill her blood in the name of this twisted goddess and there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop it physically.

"You don't have to," he tried.

She paused, then tilted her head forward a little and eyed him.

"You don't have to do this. Nobody should force you to do this," he continued. Now that he had her attention, he had to make the best of it. "I know you've probably been told that this is an honor, but you don't have to sacrifice your life like this."

She stared at him, her blue eyes wide, her pupils expanded. But she didn't give off an air of fear. She seemed more excited than nervous. She seemed to consider his words for a moment, then shook her head lightly and closed her eyes once more. "I offer you my body and my place among my people. I beg of you to accept my offering in the shape of my blood."

If he had to watch them carve her heart out of her chest, he would lose it. He again tried to break free and put a little more effort into it. The only thing this gave him was that he nearly managed to dislocate his left shoulder in the process and he stopped trying with a hiss. Grinding his teeth together, he tried to force his shoulder to relax enough to avert a full-blown cramp, and slowly the tense muscle relaxed again.

The girl was eying him curiously for a second, then she spread out her arms, palms facing upwards. "Accept my purity as a sign of my faith, holy mother," she prayed on.

Sam froze and stared at her. What had she just said? "What?"

"May my blood mingling with the blood of my first and only lover grant you access to this world and establish you among your followers, who so desperately need your guidance, holy mother. Please, hear me. Accept my offering." She clasped her hands in front of her again and dropped her head for a moment, then rose to her feet and focused on Sam. But her gaze didn't even get near his face.

'Oh shit,' he thought and sent a quick look around the cave as if some means of his escape had suddenly magically appeared. This thing had just taken a very weird turn. She obviously wasn't going to be a virgin sacrifice, which in and off itself was disturbing enough. But since she was in here with him and he was secured in such a way that he could barely move, he could only assume what her words meant. And he couldn't let that happen.

He sent a glance toward the curtain, wishing desperately that Dean would come barging in right now and save the day. But nothing happened. Nervous all of a sudden, he chomped down on his lower lip for a second while thoughts hurtled aimlessly through his head. "Don't do this," he finally said and focused on her again. "Please. You don't have to. This is not the way you should ... experience your first time."

Her gaze shifted up to his face and she met his eyes. What he saw in hers was burning determination and it scared him. "My first ... time?" She sounded curious, like his words made little sense to her.

"Look, this is ridiculous. You don't have to die for this. You're what? Sixteen? You haven't even lived yet," Sam tried, desperate to distract her away from what he thought she was going to do next.

"I have come of age," she countered, her tone hard. "And I am quite capable of making my own decisions. It is an honor to serve our goddess. And mine is the greatest honor."

He blinked, a little confounded by such blind faith. "No, it's not an honor. It's insane. You've been brainwashed into thinking your life has to end now. But it doesn't. You don't have to die. You can have a great life."

"There is nothing greater than serving our goddess. There is no greater honor than laying down my life for her," the girl persisted.

Fanatics were dangerous at the best of times and this girl sure seemed fanatical to him. "Listen to me, okay? Just ... listen for a moment. I'm not telling you what to do, but this isn't the way. You're too young to die. These people ... they don't know what the hell they're doing. It's not right to kill others in the name of some goddess. It's not right that you should die because these fanatics think it's the only way to satisfy a god."

A frown slipped over her brow. "You are a heretic. What do you know of our ways?" she asked angrily. "It is not your place to question the goddess, infidel."

Okay, getting through to her seemed downright impossible right now, so he needed to turn this around and somehow arouse her compassion, if she had any. "Why do I have to die for your faith? I don't believe in your goddess and I don't want to die. This is not something I have chosen. I'm being forced into this. I don't want to do this. Please."

The frown smoothed out and she pursed her lips, then smiled. "You are being given the greatest honor there is. Together we will pave the way for the goddess to come among us. You should be proud. It does not matter if you believe. The goddess is great and compassionate. She embraces all that come to her this way," she stated, her gaze now fixed on his abdomen and despite the chill of the rock beneath him, he started to sweat. Embarrassed was just a word at this point. What he felt was mortified.

She settled down next to him and placed a hand gingerly on his stomach, just above the waistband of his shorts, which made him suck in a breath. "Come on, don't do this. Please. Okay? Just ... stop and think about it. Just listen to me," he pleaded.

Her expression revealed that she was thinking about it and he hoped and prayed that she was considering how to get out of this. But, on the other hand, Dean was right. As he had observed already, religious fanatics were dangerous at the best of times and he really had no reason to believe this girl was really that different from the cloaked men. The fact that she was in here alone, that she was taking these steps without being ushered onward, was enough to prove her fanaticism.

He shook his head and yanked at the chains when she pushed her fingers under the waistband of his shorts. "No," he hissed. "Stop this. Right now," he demanded, hoping somehow that getting angry with her might make a difference. "What you're doing is wrong. Don't ..."

What she did next would leave its mark on him. He had no means of stopping her and words seemed useless. Inexperienced as she was, she managed to hurt him in the process, but the pain was the last thing on his mind. The humiliation and the fact that this girl couldn't be a day over eighteen had him up in arms while he at the same time felt utterly violated.

Once she was done, she got off him and left the cave again without looking at him or speaking to him again.

Sam watched her go without a word. What could he say to her, after all? She had made it very clear what she thought was important and that was that. There was nothing to be gained by talking to her, but it still burned him. On top of having had the crap beaten out of him, he now had to wrestle with this too? "Shit", he whispered hoarsely and let his head drop. The impact with the rock beneath him was more painful than the first time he had done it and it distracted him a little from the insanity of this case. At the same time he couldn't help wondering if Dean wouldn't have dealt better with this. Whatever these bastards had in store for him, it had better be over quickly so he could stop feeling this way.

He wasn't left alone for long, though. Moments later, the curtain was pulled aside and the six cloaked men came filing in and positioned themselves around him. Again four of them held him down while the last two released him from the shackles, then they lifted him up and carried him out of the cave, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was bucking and twisting against their hold as much as he possibly could. Not that it made any difference, of course.

***

Dean had no idea how long he had been an observer to the goings-ons in the cavern, but a sudden burst of activity directed everybody's attention toward the opening where the girl had vanished earlier. Six men turned up, carrying his brother, who was quite obviously doing fairly okay if the fight he was putting up was anything to go by. Unfortunately, nothing Sam did seemed to loosen the hold of the men carrying him.

Fighting unbreakable bonds, Dean put his back into it with the same result as before and only stopped when he met Sam's almost frantic eyes when they carried him past Dean. "Dean," he rasped. He sounded rattled.

By now well aware that the shackles holding him were relentless, Dean conserved his energy while watching intently. The six guys had a lot of trouble securing Sam to the altar and that made Dean grin tightly. But it was a short-lived sense of satisfaction, because he generally thought he knew what came next and it shoved him pretty close to the edge of panic.

All the participants in this little shindig of a party settled down the moment Sam was secured. They had the edacity to gag him as well and he was tied down pretty tight, leaving him little room to move.

The guy with the headgear stood at the rostrum, fiddling with his books, while the rest of those cloaked clowns were settling down on the rugs around the bonfire, still without saying a word.

A moment later the girl from earlier came back out. This time she had a veil over her face and she knelt down on the ground in front of the altar while Head Honcho took up position on the other side. He raised his arms and everybody's attention was on him.

"Brothers and sisters," he said. His voice was rusty and Dean figured he probably either drank or smoked too much. Maybe both. "We are gathered here today to call upon our holy mother for guidance. We have come together to ask for her help. And, for the first time, we are going to ask her to join us in our midst."

Dean shifted his attention to the audience and noted that every single one of them had their hands folded and their eyes glued to Head Honcho.

"It takes a lot of faith and we must prove ourselves worthy of her today more than ever before," Head Honcho continued. "Our dear Alicia will take her rightful place among the stars today and offer her shell as a new home for our holy mother."

Here, Head Honcho reached underneath the altar and retrieved a damned big silver knife. The blade was curved and precious stones glittered on the hilt in the flickering light of the many torches and the bonfire. Dean yanked at his chains yet again. He did not want a religious fanatic holding a big-assed knife like that this close to his brother.

Head Honcho held the knife up with both hands. "Sanctify this knife so it may bring our holy mother amongst us," he chanted, then gripped it lightly in one hand and stepped around the altar to where the girl, Alicia, was kneeling. He stopped in front of her and smiled warmly at her. "Are you prepared to meet your goddess, Alicia?"

Sam was putting up one hell of a fight, trying to say something around the gag in his mouth, and Dean felt for the kid. Sam had always had issues about the innocent being sacrificed and this would be no different. On top of that he had a first row seat to this event and that obviously didn't sit well with him. For a moment, Sam met Dean's gaze, then shifted his attention back to the scene unfolding on the main floor of the cavern.

"Yes, father," Alicia replied and tilted her head back.

Head Honcho was either the girl's real father or viewed as a priest in town. Either way, Dean felt almost physically sick at the thought of watching this girl die for something as insane as this. But there was nothing he could do to stop it. He couldn't break his ties and heaven knew he had tried already.

"This is the greatest honor any of us can achieve," Head Honcho proclaimed in a solemn voice, then laid one hand on Alicia's brow to press her head back further and cut her throat with the other.

The blood cascaded from the wound, down the front of her dress, soaking through the veil still covering her, and she emitted a gargling sound, her folded hands twitching. In part, Dean had to admire the strength of her faith. Even now, while she was bleeding out like a slaughtered cow, she remained on her knees and her hands remained folded.

Head Honcho had thrown his head back and kept muttering words too low for Dean to hear, but considering the fact that Sam had stopped moving and was staring at the blatant murder of Alicia with wide eyes suggested that he could hear what the guy was saying.

The blood pooled around Head Honcho's feet, then began to run toward the bonfire in the middle in a fairly straight line. Head Honcho lowered Alicia to the ground, arranging her so that the blood continued to pump out of her in the right direction. Then he straightened up again and held the knife aloft. "Behold your vessel, holy mother. Join us and we shall offer you a sacrifice of blood and flesh."

Dean shifted his gaze to Sam, who had paled considerably, and Dean swore a silent vengeance on anything and anybody that got too close to his brother. His frustration knew no bounds, nor did his anger, but neither gave him enough strength to break the shackles that held him and it slowly began to dawn on him that he couldn't save Sam. He couldn't save himself either, but that was beyond the point. The only thing that mattered to him was Sam and Head Honcho was about to plunge a knife into him.

Ignoring the pain it caused his already raw wrists, Dean put his back into trying to dislodge the anchoring of the chains while the smell of boiling blood reached his nose. Alicia's blood had reached the bonfire and the smell was nauseating. Intent on breaking free even if it cost him a damned limb, he kept pulling, hoping that maybe he could at least get one hand out of these damned shackles, but no matter how he tried, all he managed was to hurt himself further.

"Holy mother," Head Honcho proclaimed. He had retaken his position by the altar while Sam was frantically trying to break free too. "Join us. We beg of you." Head Honcho placed the knife on the altar next to Sam, then folded his hands and dropped his chin to his chest to pray silently. And the rest of the congregation followed suit.

For a long moment nothing at all happened. Everybody but Dean and Sam were engrossed in whatever they hoped would happen, which gave Dean a little more time to continue his futile fight against his bonds.

Then a sudden sigh rippling through the congregation brought him to a stop. He focused on the kneeling people. Some had raised their heads, but it was hard to see whether they were looking at something. Those darned masks they all carried obscured their features. Dean shifted his attention back to Sam, who was looking down at the congregation with wide eyes. This again shifted his attention to the body of Alicia and he stopped short when he saw the twitch rippling through her. There was no way she was still alive. She had lost too much blood. But even though she was still twitching at regular intervals.

Then suddenly her body tensed, stretched out and rolled over on her back, stiff as a board. For a long breathless moment nothing more happened and then every single torch along the walls died. The bonfire in the middle dimmed as if something was sucking the air out of the cavern. Then Alicia's body rose, still stiff as a board, to her feet. The blood covering her dress and the veil faded and disappeared and the gaping gash in her throat closed up.

Dean stared at this with a pretty big knot in his stomach. Whatever this was, it wasn't natural, no matter what anyone said. And this possession of a dead body was taking place far too closely to his brother.

Throughout this the girl's eyes remained closed and after rising like a damned doll, she remained immobile. The bonfire gained strength again, but none of the torches were relit.

Dean sent a glance up at Head Honcho and realized the guy was just as baffled about this as the rest of the congregation. Something told him that these idiots had never done anything like this before. But then the man seemed to snap out of it. He shook his head lightly, cleared his throat and spread out his arms.

"Welcome, holy mother," he said loudly, his tone a bit shaky. "We offer you a sacrifice of blood and flesh," he added, picked up the knife with both hands and raised it high over his head.

Sam squirmed, his gaze glued to the glittering blade of the knife and Dean yanked hard at the chains, frantic fear taking over from surprise and anger when Head Honcho brought the knife down in a sweeping arch.

***