"It's beautiful," Anastasia agreed. "Come out here."
Hellboy hesitated only a moment before stepping out to join her, careful not to break the tiles with his hooves. The view was spectacular. In one direction they could see St. John's Church, and in the other, the peak of Mount Ida.
"Quite romantic, don't you think?"
Hellboy cocked his head, knitting his brow. "Not much of a romantic. Not really built for it, you know? They don't paint guys like me on the covers of those novels."
Anastasia slid her arm around him, forcing him to do the same. She nuzzled against his chest, and something inside him hesitated. Her touch was so soft. Holding her was like holding a bird in his hands. He liked to feel her heart beat against his chest when she lay next to him in bed, and the way she looked at him...these were all new experiences for him. Hellboy had always thought he was prepared for anything, would walk blindly into any trap, stand toe to toe with any danger. But he hadn't been prepared for this.
"You don't fool me," she whispered, reaching up to undo the knot of hair at the base of his skull, teasing it with her fingers. "Don't ever think you can."
"I'll keep it in mind," he said, looking down at her, smiling what he knew was a brutal, almost indecipherable smile. "How do we warrant this VIP treatment, anyway?"
Anastasia shrugged. "The museum likes the work I've been doing. They like having you associated with them, even unofficially. Since this dig is Dr. Campbell's baby, and we're only here to assist until they get the funding up for my Iceland dig, they don't need us on the site."
"I could get used to it. Iceland, on the other hand--"
She bumped him with her hip and gazed up at him. "It's beautiful there. You're going to love it."
Hellboy laughed softly. "Is that an order?"
"Bloody well right."
Delicious aromas of Greek cooking wafted up from the village. The spring air felt a bit cool, but Hellboy relished it. Anastasia had taken him to some remote areas of the world in the time they'd been together--which was nearly every day since they'd met in that pub in London--but there seemed to be beauty everywhere. Maybe just having something to do besides hunt monsters and ghosts and debunk legends made him see the world differently. Oh, there'd been a fair share of supernatural encounters since they'd gotten together--that crap seemed to follow him around, and the BPRD still tried to keep him busy when they could, sending him on jobs in the areas where Anastasia was already working--but places like Mount Ida made it all worthwhile.
"We need spinach pie," he announced.
Anastasia slipped out from under his arm. "Spinach pie it is. Just as soon as we're unpacked."
"Is that my stomach growling or impending volcanic eruption?"
"All right," she said, rolling her eyes. "Spinach pie first."
He didn't smile. Squeezing his eyes closed, he brought his left hand up to his face and felt himself sway.
"Hey. You okay?"
Anastasia's voice seemed distant and muffled. He frowned as he looked at her.
"Yeah. I think so. Head feels a little oogy all of a sudden, like I had too much ouzo last night."
"You did have too much ouzo last night."
Hellboy nodded, trying not to ruin the lighthearted moment they'd been sharing. "Yeah. But I didn't have it for breakfast. Anyway, it'll pass."
Concern lined her face. "You want to lie down a while?"
"No, no. I'm good. Just give me a minute."
Hellboy turned away from Anastasia, not liking her troubled expression...not wanting her to see the expression he knew must be on his own face. They'd been together almost a year, so maybe she didn't notice, but he didn't get sick. No flu. No colds. No fevers. The only thing that ever affected him was sorcery. And sorcerers pissed him off.
His tail dragged across the terra-cotta tiles as he walked across the living room and into the bathroom, trying to figure out if he was swaying, or his equilibrium just felt off. He hoped Anastasia hadn't noticed.
In the bathroom he turned on the tap and let cold water run into the sink. When he bent to splash water onto his face, the whole world tilted around him. Hellboy fell. He reached out to steady himself, enormous right hand closing on the edge of the sink, which shattered. As he collapsed, he pulled the sink with him, breaking it off the wall. The mirror above it exploded in a shower of reflective shards. Water spurted from the pipes behind the sink, quickly pooling on the floor.
The dizziness pulled him down into darkness.
Cold water sprinkled his face. He blinked and opened his eyes, and the world was gray around him. The smell of the water and his own musky odor filled his nostrils. Hellboy shook his head and pulled his legs beneath him, standing unsteadily.
He breathed deeply, straightening up, and kept one hand on the wall as he left the bathroom, mirror fragments crunching under his hooves. In the living room, he paused a moment and glanced around. The world hadn't turned gray...the day had turned to evening. Dusk had arrived.
"Stasia?" he whispered, glancing around. The suitcases lay on the huge king-size bed, just as he'd left them, open but still packed.
A frisson of fear went through him, not for himself, but for her. For them. He spun and looked out through the curtains at the balcony. The dusk had a rosy glow--not long at all since the sun had gone down. Moments, really. In that glow, he saw the silhouette standing out on the balcony, and relief flooded through him.
"Damn, you gave me a scare," he said. He strode toward the balcony doors.
The silhouette shifted and became clear.
It was not Anastasia.
Fists clenching, Hellboy froze just inside the doors and stared at the man on the balcony. The first thing he noticed was the glowing orange tip of the cigarette the man held down at his side, nearly cupped in his palm. A trail of smoke curled upward, though Hellboy felt sure the cigarette had not been there a moment before.
He had olive skin and raven black hair, but his features might have been Middle Eastern or Egyptian or Greek. His large pupils glowed with the same heat as the tip of his cigarette. He dressed with casual elegance, in a beige linen suit and a cotton shirt, open at the neck.
Hellboy spent his days and nights trying to ignore the reaction most people had to his presence. There were positives and negatives to his infamy, but perhaps the best thing about being a public figure was that, more often than not, people knew whom they were seeing when they encountered him for the first time. The ones who'd never heard of him--they were the ones that troubled him the most.
They reminded him, every day. He didn't have to look in a mirror to see that he wasn't like most people, that he could be terrifying to behold. All he needed was the looks on the faces of the people he encountered. And when they realized he and Anastasia were together--together--it was that much worse.
Not this guy. He smiled and nodded a silent greeting. He stood in front of the seven-foot, four-hundred-pound, red-skinned guy with the sawed-off horns and the hooves and tail--and the ugly disposition--and he was cool. Not just acting cool. Hellboy could see it in his body language, in the bright intelligence of his eyes.
He had never wanted to kill anyone so badly.
"Where is she?"
The man leaned against the balcony railing with the island sunset behind him and Mount Ida on the horizon, and he lifted his cigarette and took a drag.
"The Obsidian Danse has decided that you have ruined enough of our plans," the visitor began.
Hellboy narrowed his eyes. "The what? Obsidian what?"
The man's composure slipped. A tic of anger twitched at one corner of his left eye.
"Honestly, with your lady friend vanishing, I wouldn't have expected such obstinacy."
Hellboy's right hand was not made of stone, but that ancient substance had the texture and weight of stone, and it often felt heavy to him. Just then it had no weight at all. It seemed to float upward. All Hellboy had to do was give himself over to the urge, and he'd be snapping the guy's bones in a heartbeat.
But not until he knew where Anastasia was and that she was safe.
"You've plagued us these past few years, Hellboy," the elegant man with the ember eyes said. "The Obsidian Danse has lost talented operatives, dozens of invaluable artifacts, alliances with gods and monsters, and several opportunities for apocalypse because of you."
"Good for me," Hellboy muttered. He wanted to add, still never heard of you, but thought of Anastasia and kept silent.
"Now you're here. We're on the verge of returning to this world three of the most powerful supernatural creatures ever to walk the earth, and here you are to thwart us again. You and your lady friend and her sniveling little friends from that damnable museum. If not them, your precious Bureau. You vex us, sir. With the Daktyloi as our slaves, we will have all the power we have ever dreamed. Apocalypse will be ours. The Forge, the Hammer, and the Anvil will rise. The weapons they forge will make the Obsidian Danse the masters of the world."
He took another drag on his cigarette, the tip flaring along with his eyes. "And you might have stopped us. My brothers and sisters in the Danse were filled with such consternation when we learned of your arrival, your participation in the excavation--the foolish diggers trying to reach the Daktyloi before us. They feared you because you are like a bull. You would keep charging until we killed you, or you destroyed us, just as you have before. Even in the face of the fury of the Daktyloi, you would not stop."
The man flicked his cigarette over the balcony. His pupils changed color, taking on a shade of violet, like storm clouds at dusk.
"I told them this was not true. I told them you could not stop us, that you would not try, as long as we had your Dr. Bransfield."
Hellboy ground his teeth together so hard that his jaw ached. At length, he opened his mouth, unclenching his fists.
"I'll ask you one more time. Where is she?"
Genuine amusement blossomed on the man's face. "I have delivered a message, nothing more. You will not trouble us any further."
"Man," Hellboy said, shaking his head, "you're making a huge mistake."
"And you watch too many of your American films."
Hellboy stood taller, moved a few inches nearer. "Says the guy who talks like a Bond villain. Thing is, Hocus Pocus, I never heard of you idiots until today. If I wrecked some of your operations, it's sheer coincidence. I mean, I was doing my job, sure, but nobody in the BPRD ever said a word to me about any connection between any of that. I doubt they even knew you existed. Course, you just screwed the pooch on that one."
At last, the moron's arrogance crumbled.
"That's not possible. It couldn't all be coincidence."
"I told you, pally. It's my job. Now, I know you and maybe your other dance partners, or whatever you call them, are into magic. Someone--I'm betting on you--screwed me up bad, dropped me in the bathroom back there. But I've fought sorcerers before. Legends. And I broke them into little pieces. You can slow me down, but you can't keep me from doing the same to you.
"Bring Anastasia here. Now. The same way you poofed her gone. And I'll pretend we never had this conversation. I'd make a whole bunch of threats about what I'll do to you otherwise, but there's no point. I guess you've seen my work."
Dark and elegant, the man regained his composure. Though he'd tossed his cigarette over the balcony, another had appeared in his hand without Hellboy noticing. He took another drag. Hellboy thought about mocking him for the parlor trick, asking if he could pull a coin out of his ear--or some other orifice--but he didn't feel like talking anymore. Again, he slid nearer.
"Perhaps we did make a mistake. But now, the error is yours. Do you want her to die?"
Big as he was, Hellboy was fast. The bad guys always seemed to underestimate him on that score.
"Son of a--" he growled as he lunged, reaching out with both his ordinary hand and the massive, crushing grip of his right.
The sorcerer didn't have time to wave his hands or utter a single word before Hellboy was on him. His left hand grabbed the guy's right wrist and twisted. Bones snapped, and the cigarette dropped from his fingers. His huge right hand closed around the guy's head.
Hellboy opened his mouth to issue the threat, to tell the man with his polished English and his perfect hair that he was going to crush his head like a grape if he didn't bring Anastasia back in five seconds.
Before he could speak, the man's flesh changed. His linen suit felt even softer, and it moved, tickling Hellboy's palm. His hair came alive, undulating beneath that carved, stone hand.
His entire body trembled, then tore apart, separating into a flock of birds. Sparrows. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of tiny sparrows. They fluttered their wings, then flew off above the village and into the sprawling evening.
Hellboy stood on the balcony alone, watching the birds fly as though Anastasia might be among them.
He couldn't stop the self-mockery that came to his lips. "Oh, that went well." But panic seethed inside him.
Whoever they were, the Obsidian Danse were no poseurs. They had Stasia. The question was how long they would keep her alive.
"Caves," Hellboy said.
The helicopter rotors chopped the air, and he had to raise his voice to be heard. He glanced at Abe and Anastasia. Abe stood and peered out the window without leaving his seat. Stasia leaned over Hellboy to get a look at the valley below them. Her hair smelled like mangoes.
"I didn't see them when we were up here," she said.
"You weren't in a helicopter."
Anastasia nodded, knitting her brows. Hellboy knew what she was looking at. They were above Nakchu village, and from above they could see the cave mouths that dotted the face of the mountain just to the north of that settlement. From the ground, and at a distance, they would have looked like outcroppings of rock, or just shadows.
The guide, Tenzin, sat quietly in the back of the chopper. He seemed anxious, and Hellboy figured maybe this was his first time flying. His eyes were wide, and he clutched his rifle tightly.