Paul Campbell's dig, she thought. Yet the only people in sight were the two sorcerers who strode ahead of her and the woman and three men who followed her, prodding her now and again with the barrels of their guns. She staggered and went down on one knee.
One of the sorcerers, whose dark, Mediterranean features would have made him exotically handsome if not for the cruel flint of his eyes, turned and hissed at the lackeys who escorted her.
"Careful, idiots," he commanded them in archaic Greek. "We haven't time to find another sacrifice now."
Anastasia searched her head trying to find another translation from the Greek for the word, but came up with nothing. Her bones were cold, despite the heat of the night. The smell of wildflowers carried to her on the mountain breeze. She found pleasure in them, though inside she felt empty.
Hellboy would have come for her. He had to be dead. They'd wanted to use her as bait, but now that that didn't work, they'd found another use for her. Whatever they were up to--whatever the reason they'd arranged somehow to get Campbell's entire archaeological expedition away from the dig tonight--it required blood sacrifice.
"Move," said a gunman behind her, prodding her with his weapon.
Anastasia planted her left foot, spun, pushed off with her right, and drove her head into the man's ugly face. His nose shattered. She felt his blood spray across her cheeks. One of the others shouted. With her hands cuffed behind her, there was no hope of her getting the fallen man's gun, so she simply ran.
Half a dozen steps, and she tripped, tumbling, then rolling down the side of the mountain. Stones cut and scraped her as she fell end over end. A thick bush tore at her right arm as she plunged past. Anastasia held her breath because trying to breathe through her nose with the gag over her mouth would only have panicked her. She whipped her legs around, trying to slow herself down, and her right ankle struck a rocky outcropping with a crack that sent spikes of alarm through her heart.
The slope leveled out for a few feet before dropping off again. Anastasia managed to stop. Bruised and bleeding, trying to breathe through her nose, trying to shake the gag out of her mouth; she put her legs under her and tried to stand.
The pain in her ankle put stars in her head.
At last, fresh tears came.
And then a voice.
"No need to cry, little one," said the sorcerer as he stepped out of a cloak of night, and her nostrils filled with the stink of burning plastic. The handsome magician in his stylish clothes--one of the two who had stolen her away from the balcony that night--gestured with one hand and the darkness enfolded her, picked her up.
He moved toward her. Anastasia tried to pull away, but the night held her fast. The sorcerer gathered her up in the darkness and reached out a hand. She spun toward him as though they were locked in some marionettes' tango, and then she felt it happen. Just as it had the night she'd been taken by the Obsidian Danse, the world rushed into darkness around her. Anastasia felt plucked from the ground, thrust into the air, then released.
When she came down on her shattered ankle, the pain drove a scream up out of her throat.
The darkness cleared, leaving her in the midst of Paul Campbell's excavation. Lights had been strung through the cavern on the face of Mount Ida. Perhaps twenty of the men and women who served the Obsidian Danse were spread about the place, guns at the ready, watching every corner for some surprise attack. Others covered the entrance.
There were eight sorcerers all told. Five men and three women. Anastasia found that she hated the women more. She knew her own sex could be just as vicious as men, perhaps even more savage at times, yet still she felt a strange betrayal at their presence.
They were elegant people, these sorcerers, sophisticated and well-dressed. Perhaps they hoped to persuade those around them that they had some gift of enlightenment, but their eyes were full of the same dull motivations she'd seen in far less powerful creatures--greed, zealotry, lust for power. Why was it that such characters were always so full of ignorant and destructive notions? She wished she knew.
Of course, it would do her little good. Their notions were about to spill her blood in sacrifice to some ancient deity.
Anastasia felt tired. She wondered if she would see Hellboy again, afterward, if there was some place their spirits might be able to encounter one another. She didn't expect eternity with him. What a naive hope that would be. All she wanted was an opportunity to tell him good-bye, and that she'd loved him.
"Bring her," one of the female sorcerers shouted in French. She had long, red hair that fell in curls around her shoulders, as though she'd just come from the salon. Likely she had.
The three thugs who'd escorted her before surrounded her.
"Where's your friend?" she asked. "Migraine?"
Anger flickered across the faces of the two men, but the woman was stoic. She merely gestured with her gun toward the rear of the cavern. The sorcerers were gathering there, and the shadows slithered along the floor. The bright lights set up by the archaeologists could not penetrate them.
Then, for the first time, Anastasia looked carefully at the strange columns that lined that wall. A wave of understanding crashed upon her, and she stared, shaking her head. For those four columns were not stone at all. They were something else--something no human could have identified, though it must have been some kind of flesh. They were the fingertips of something unimaginably large.
And the huge rectangle that jutted up like a table from the floor of the cavern--thirty feet across--that was not stone, either.
The hammer. The anvil. The forge.
Vague recollections of conversations she'd had with Paul Campbell came back to her, now. He'd talked to her of local folklore before he'd departed for Crete. Paul knew she fancied such tales. The Daktyloi. Demons or gods or simply monsters, beings who should not exist in this world; they were the Forge, and the Hammer, and the Anvil. She did not remember their names of legend, but what did that matter, when she could see the anvil on the floor, see the four fingers of some antediluvian deity jutting from the stone?
The Obsidian Danse meant to use her blood to bring them to life.
Why? she wondered, before realizing that why mattered not at all.
Tendrils of shadow pulled at her, wrapping around her arms and legs and sliding her through the air, placing her gently upon the anvil.
Close your eyes, she told herself.
But Anastasia could not look away. They were going to kill her, but she wondered if she would live long enough--her blood seeping away--to see that hand come to life, and what might come up out of the mountain behind it.
The red-haired sorceress stood above her, a silver knife appearing in her palm as though it had been forged in darkness and produced through some sleight of hand. Only then did the weight of reality descend upon Anastasia. Death had come for her.
She trembled in dreadful anticipation and wondered how much pain there would be.
An explosion rocked the cavern, and part of the roof caved in.
Rock rained down only a few yards from her. She rolled herself off the anvil. The sorceress cursed in some ancient tongue and grabbed a fistful of her hair, silver dagger raised high.
And then the woman's gaze shifted toward the sounds coming from the pile of rubble from the collapse of the roof. The movements, there.
Hellboy stood, and the shattered rock fell down around him, so that for a moment he looked quite like a statue himself, save for the leather satchel that hung from one shoulder. He glanced once in obvious curiosity at the giant hand thrust out of the stone behind him, then ignored it. Anastasia's breath caught in her throat, and she quivered with relief to see that he was alive and had come for her. Even if neither of them got out of there alive...he had come for her.
"Fool," said that elegant, exotic sorcerer who had picked her up off of the mountainside.
"Yeah. Hey. How's it going?" Hellboy asked.
The idiot lackeys with their guns started to gather around, but the sorcerers waved them away. Those arrogant magicians circled him like lions on the veldt, all save the redhead who still twisted her hand painfully in Anastasia's hair.
"You've given us precisely what we wanted," the sorcerer continued. "I thought you had abandoned the woman. Instead, you deliver yourself to us. It's a gift, Hellboy. You will make a far more substantial sacrifice than Dr. Bransfield...and then you will plague us no longer. What is it they say? Two birds with one stone."
Hellboy narrowed his eyes, and the anger there was more powerful than any sorcery. "See, there you go again. I told you, dumb-ass, I never heard of you losers before. Just so we're clear that you brought this on yourselves."
The redhead was the first to laugh. Then the other two sorceresses joined in. The men shook their heads in amusement. One or two of them seemed actually nervous, but they were confident in their greater power. There were eight of them, after all, and twenty fools with guns.
"We shall try to remember that when the world is ravaged by fire and despair."
Hellboy sighed, reaching into the leather satchel he carried. "You guys ever heard of Aksobhya the Immovable? He was one of the Five Jinas, the guys with the Mandala, all that? Point is, he didn't like magic, wouldn't have it in his presence."
The sorcerers moved nearer as he spoke.
"What are you prattling about?" one of them snapped.
But the most vocal, the one Anastasia thought of as the leader, scowled. "Don't listen. The fool is going to try some enchantment. Just kill him."
Whorls of darkness filled the air, rushing toward Hellboy across the cavern. In the same moment, Hellboy pulled his hand from the satchel.
He held a yellowed, human skull.
The shadows dissipated, the lights flickering once, then the sorcerers stood there, gaping dumbly at Hellboy and at one another. Their hands danced in the air uselessly, and they twisted their bodies in spastic motion, but to no effect.
"Meet Aksobhya," Hellboy said. "Toldja he didn't like magic."
The grip in Anastasia's hair tightened. The sorceress holding her screamed in fury, and she felt her head jerked back. She saw the silver dagger flash down out of the corner of her eye, then it wavered. The knife slipped away, and Anastasia found herself free. Behind her, she heard the sorceress crumple to the ground, and she turned to see the woman lying there, her beauty gone, her flesh withered, now that the magic that had preserved her had been dispersed.
A blowgun dart jutted from her throat.
Anastasia spun to see Hellboy just tossing the small blowgun aside.
The thugs in the employ of the Obsidian Danse started shouting. Sorcerers called out orders. Some of their lackeys fled. One of them shot a sorceress through the head in what Anastasia could only imagine was revenge for some slight--or a thousand. The rest of them started to move toward Hellboy, weapons at the ready.
Shouts came from the entrance. Many of the thugs turned to watch as dozens of soldiers and BPRD agents swept into the cavern.
Hellboy didn't even pay any attention as the Obsidian Danse began to surrender. His eyes were on Anastasia. He carried the skull under one arm like a football and ran to her, leaping up on top of the anvil.
"Hey," he said, reaching down for her with his free hand.
"Hey." Careful with her broken ankle, she let him help her up onto the stone platform. Shouts and activity were all around them, but neither of them were paying any attention. "Took you bloody long enough. Got it in my head you might be dead."
He cocked his head, a mischievous light in his eyes, and held up the skull of Aksobhya. "Nah. Just knew it wasn't going to be a matter of busting in and beating these guys into submission. For morons, they had some serious mojo. I needed to do a little research first."
Warmth spread across her chest, and she reached up to trace the contours of his face. "You hate research. You did your homework for me?"
Sheepish, he shrugged. "Yeah. Of course."
"God, that's romantic."
Abe Sapien emerged from the water of Lake Tashi and stood on the shore, surveying the tent village that the archaeologists had created with their camp, and the BPRD tents erected nearby. Ever since they'd arrived, Abe had felt the terrible weight of some imminent terror. At first, when they had discovered the true nature of Nakchu village and its inhabitants, and when it seemed the missing girl, Kora, might be murdered as a sacrifice, Abe had presumed those things had caused his unease.
Now the dragon-human half-breeds had returned to their village, and the little girl was safe. Though three men were dead, the crisis appeared to be at an end.
Yet Abe felt more unsettled than ever. He'd never been a precognitive--this was more primal than some kind of clairvoyance. The fish in the lake had been darting back and forth erratically. He could not ignore his own nature. Abe Sapien might not know his origins, but he existed as both a humanoid and an aquatic being. And something primeval in his makeup was reacting to a disturbance in the natural order of things.
Hellboy would tease him mercilessly if he brought it up. Just as Abe would have done the same had it been his friend who broached the subject. But they would both take the ominous feelings seriously, regardless of how odd things might seem.
Abe had other reasons to seek Hellboy out. In fact, he thought it was time to have a conversation with Professor Bruttenholm as well. The behavior of the fish in Lake Tashi wasn't the only unusual thing he'd encountered in the water. The weather had not changed substantially since they had arrived here. The sun was warm, the wind off the mountains quite cool, and at night it grew cold.
But in the depths of the lake, the water had gotten warmer. Down near the shifting, formless bottom, the temperature had risen enough that he would almost say it was hot.
Under the circumstances, this seemed like spectacularly bad news.
Long arms swinging at his sides, Abe walked toward the cluster of tents at the edge of the camp. His gaze scanned the ridgeline above. Though evening had arrived, lights burned around the main excavations, and a number of people were still at work up there. The dark shape of Hellboy was unmistakable. He stood on an outcropping of rock with a silhouette that had to be Anastasia. This time of day, when the darkness had not fully gathered, his eyesight was not what it became in the fullness of night.