That had been hours ago.
Now, Dorian Trent had been nearly forgotten. Bruttenholm idly ran his thumb over the smoothness of the potsherd, careful not to cut himself on its sharper edges. The design of the piece was typical of the region, according to Trent, save for the repetition of an image along the bottom of a single, strangely hypnotic eye, drawn inside concentric circles. The eye of the Dragon King, Bruttenholm presumed, though he would let the experts make that determination for certain.
The shush of shovels in dirt became the regular rhythm of his heart as he stood there on the ridge above the slope that led down to the lake. Normally, he found such work fascinating, the unearthing of the history of a people and their customs and beliefs.
Today, he could only stand, numbly clutching that bit of potsherd, and stare at the sky above the hills into which the archaeologists were digging. He waited for the sound of rotors chopping air or the sight of that helicopter, dark against the sky. Redfield hadn't had time to say more than that the team was under attack, and terrible images wormed their way into Bruttenholm's mind. He feared for his son, and he feared for the others as well. Life had been a chain of such moments ever since he had helped to found the BPRD. Sometimes he wondered why he had not gotten used to it, but he knew the reason.
Having to look out for the lad had kept Trevor Bruttenholm from losing his perspective. Hellboy had kept him human.
He reached into his pocket. In his kit, he carried a rosary blessed by Pope Joan. In times when he could only wait, and worry, it helped him to hold that talisman. He drew it out of his pocket and wrapped it around his fingers. For a moment he closed his eyes and just breathed in the thin, cool mountain air. Already he had tried to radio Redfield in the chopper but had been unable to get anything but static.
Professor Bruttenholm had not been put on this earth to wait while others acted. Age had made it difficult for him, and more often than not he remained at BPRD headquarters while field agents performed the tasks he wished he could still manage. But today, he discovered that being in the field, this close to the action, and being unable to help, was far worse.
"Come back," he whispered.
With Pope Joan's rosary still twined in his fingers, he turned and glanced east along the ridge, to the place where the preparatory chamber had been unearthed. He'd sent the rest of his team off with the chopper to retrieve Hellboy, Abe, and the others. Young Rafe, one of Dr. Bransfield's prize students, had been set as a guard at the door, along with one of the diggers, a Russian-born Londoner called Sima.
The Russian was armed with a pistol. No one would give Rafe a gun, though he'd wanted one. Bruttenholm and Dr. Conrad had both forbidden it.
The professor started toward the excavation of the preparatory chamber. Some of its exterior wall had been revealed, now, and its design and adornment seemed to have once been similar to the interior. There had been no question about the purpose of this structure in those ancient days.
A sudden clamor arose ahead of him. Shouts and cursing and cries of alarm. A chill went through Bruttenholm. If the trouble was at Nakchu village, what was going on here?
Quick as he was able, he jogged along the ridge, never more conscious of his age. Half a dozen men and women had gathered at the rim of the hole that led down to the excavated entrance into the preparatory chamber. He saw Han Kyichu and Dorian Trent, an engineer named Priya Arora, and several others.
As Bruttenholm hurried to join them, Frank Danovich fell in beside him.
"What the hell's this?"
"Not a blessed clue, I'm afraid."
When they'd come within twenty feet of the hole, Professor Bruttenholm saw someone pulling the corpse of Anastasia's prize student from the excavation. Rafe Mattei had been broken so badly that his limbs flailed like a rag doll's as he was lifted from the hole.
"Goddamn it," Danovich breathed.
Bruttenholm did not argue.
Others moved aside to make room as they reached the edge of the hole that had been dug to expose the entrance to the preparatory chamber. The Russian, Sima, also lay in the hole. Bruttenholm recognized him by his belt buckle--an American cowboy buckle--and the still-holstered pistol on his hip. Sima had not had time to draw the weapon before whatever had attacked the men decapitated him.
His head was nowhere to be seen.
Dorian started for the open door, which yawned wide with shadows.
"Not another step, Mr. Trent," Bruttenholm said.
As one, all of those gathered turned to look at him, some of them with obvious surprise. Until now, though he was the field leader of this BPRD investigation, they'd all seen him as an eccentric old man. Now their eyes said something different.
"Anyone have a clue who is working in the chamber at present?"
Professor Kyichu looked at him. "Ellie Morris is there, with Dr. Conrad. I was about to join them."
"Good that you had not," Professor Bruttenholm said.
"Who would do this?" Danovich asked.
Bruttenholm preferred not to reply, but his gaze shifted for just a moment to Kyichu, who understood immediately.
"They mean to use the chamber," the man said, realization thinning his voice. "My daughter's in there?"
"Dorian, Miss Arora, be so kind as to fetch as many of your colleagues as you can, and as many weapons, and return here as quickly as possible, please."
Trent and Arora hurried away, calling for aid.
"You think my daughter's in there?" Professor Kyichu shouted, a frantic, mad light in his eyes.
The white-haired man did not wait for a reply. He jumped down into the hole and started for the entrance to the chamber. A young student and one of the diggers tried to grab him, but Kyichu slapped their hands away. Fools that they were, they allowed him to do so.
"Danovich, stop him, please," Bruttenholm said.
As the engineer jumped into the hole and lunged for Han Kyichu, Professor Bruttenholm climbed carefully down after them. He bent over the corpse of the headless Russian and slid the pistol from his holster with the same hand that still clutched Pope Joan's rosary. When he held the gun tightly, the beads of the rosary dug into his fingers and the flesh of his palm.
Kyichu screamed and railed against Danovich, but the engineer easily overpowered him.
Professor Bruttenholm walked over to him. "Your daughter is still alive, Han. If we are very fortunate, so are Doctors Morris and Conrad. If you go in there, that might change. Kora, they will not harm unless they can reach the lake, where they intend to sacrifice her. We will not allow them to leave the chamber with your daughter in their hands."
Even as he spoke, sounds of shouting and running feet filled the air. Diggers came with shovels held like baseball bats. Pistols and rifles and a shotgun or two were leveled at the entrance to the chamber. This was not a military operation, but security dictated the presence of guns, and Bruttenholm felt sure he was now seeing every weapon in the camp.
The brave members of the expedition surrounded the hole that led to the door into the preparatory chamber. Professor Kyichu stared at them, chest heaving in grief and fear for his daughter, but slowly he relaxed in Danovich's grip.
Bruttenholm gestured with his free hand for them to leave the excavation, and they began to climb out, leaving Sima's corpse where it lay.
"How did they get through the camp without anyone seeing them?" Danovich asked quietly as he reached down a hand to help Bruttenholm out of the pit.
The professor glanced upward at the sheer, treacherous ridge above the excavation. "They didn't come through the camp. They came down."
"Climbed down that?" Dorian Trent said, coming up beside him. "What are these people?"
Bruttenholm held the pistol in front of him, barrel pointed toward the chamber entrance, the rosary of Pope Joan digging into his palm. A silent circle followed suit, waiting breathlessly to see what would happen next.
"I'm not certain they're people at all," Professor Bruttenholm said.
In the quiet that followed, he thought he heard a sound from within the chamber, the sobbing of a little girl. Professor Kyichu covered his ears and shot a hateful glance at him. Bruttenholm understood. Better to be with his child and die than endure this.
Still, they waited.
Kora thought Dr. Conrad might be dead.
She wept, her eyes tightly closed, and tried to be quiet. Not being quiet, that's what made them kill Dr. Conrad. He'd shouted at them, asked them what they were going to do to her. He'd even tried to grab one of them, but that wasn't why they killed him. Kora was certain of it. When the dragon-man had rushed at Dr. Conrad, grabbed him by the face and smashed his head against the rock wall, it had been only to shut him up.
Ellie Morris wasn't saying a word. She was a doctor, too, but the medical kind. Still, she was so kind that Kora couldn't think of her as anything but Ellie. She'd whispered to Kora a couple of times when the three dragon-men had first carried her into the chamber. But once they killed Dr. Conrad for not being quiet, Ellie stopped talking. Every time Kora opened her eyes, Ellie looked at her with wide, hopeful eyes, maybe trying to tell her everything was going to be okay, or just hoping that Kora would keep quiet.
If Kora hadn't been afraid to talk, she would have told Ellie it wasn't going to be okay at all. She didn't understand a word the dragon-men said, but she knew that much. They were monsters, with their long claws and their snouts and their scaly flesh, and fire burned in their eyes. When one of them carried her, Kora could feel the heat from inside it, from those eyes.
Sima and Rafe were dead, too. She'd seen them murdered.
One of the dragon-men hissed at her. Kora just kept her eyes closed. She could feel them pulling at her, tearing at her clothes. They poured warm water over her, and she smelled something awful, some weird, earthy stink like rotting plants, before one of them started to smear some gristly goop on her forehead and cheeks, on her throat and arms and legs.
Kora cried harder, thinking that rough hand, that stinking smear, would be used to cover her body. They all hissed at her, and she knew they wanted her to be quiet--knew if she didn't, she might end up like Dr. Conrad--but she could not help it. The tears came. The sobs came up out of her, and she couldn't stop them.
But then the hands went away, and she let out a breath of relief. She tried to get hold of herself, to slow her tears. Her chest rose and fell in even breaths.
The dragon-men began to chant in a language that was not what she had heard them speaking before. Language was her specialty. Her father loved language--old, dead languages especially. Kora was only eleven, but she found the different tongues people spoke around the world fascinating, and spoke half a dozen languages passably well. But she only liked the languages people still used.
This wasn't what they were speaking before. This tongue was harder, uglier, with little howls and yelps that made it seem as though it wasn't a human language at all.
A little sob escaped her. Of course it wasn't a human language.
Her eyes opened. The three dragon-men stood around her, one at either shoulder and the third at her feet. She lay atop some kind of altar. Dr. Conrad's corpse was sprawled on the ground beneath the streak of his blood on the wall. Only a few feet from him, in the light from the lamps that had been rigged in the chamber, Ellie stared at Kora, still trying to communicate some hopeful message without speaking.
The dragon-men weren't even looking at her. They had their heads thrown back, weird, crocodile jaws moving with that chant, and the flames danced up from their eyes.
Tears still spilled down Kora's face, but she was catching her breath at last. She glanced quickly around the chamber. In the light she could make out some of the images on the walls that illustrated the ancient purpose of that room...she saw the lake, and a group of people carrying a child toward the water, hung upside down. The child had designs on her skin and a red cloth tied around her waist.
A red cloth, just like the one she'd seen around the neck of one of the dragon-men.
Kora stared at the ancient, faded images on the wall, studying them.
A child, painted with designs and tied with that red cloth, plunging into the lake...and up from beneath her, jaws opening wide, and fire raging upward, scorching the drowning girl.
Kora's tears stopped, and she began to scream.
Outside the preparatory chamber, Professor Bruttenholm heard the terrible sound emerging from the doorway--the terrified cry of that girl--and for a moment he couldn't breathe. That scream would drive Kora's father into a frenzy, would surely make some of the others want to rush into the chamber. These people had no history with crisis situations. They would not be thinking rationally.
He glanced down at the gun in his hand. What precisely do you know about rational thinking, Trevor?
The girl's screams were drowned out by a sudden roar from above. Professor Bruttenholm threw back his head and watched as the helicopter came slowly over the ridge. Redfield was jockeying it into a holding pattern just above their position.
Two hundred feet above their heads, the side door rattled open. When Hellboy thrust his head out and looked down, Professor Bruttenholm laughed out loud in joyful relief.
"That's my boy," he whispered.
Hellboy turned to shout something back to the others inside the chopper. He braced himself a moment, then leaped out of the helicopter. The chopper swayed badly from the sudden release of ballast, but Redfield knew what he was doing. The pilot got the helicopter under control even as Hellboy careened through the air and struck the face of the ridge above them. He hit the sheer, rocky surface with hands and hooves thrust forward, but the impact slammed him hard. His heavy, arcane hand caught a grip, the fingers plunged into rock and earth, and he dangled there a moment.
Then he started to try to climb down, and the ridge gave way.
"Move!" Professor Bruttenholm shouted.
Guns and shovels clattering, the archaeologists and diggers scrambled to get out of the way as Hellboy slid down the ridge amid a small avalanche of stone and dirt. He hit the lip of the ridge above them and plummeted to the ground, landing right in the hole that had been excavated to enter the preparatory chamber.