Yet he had come from the water, so there had to be an answer down here somewhere.
Long seconds of frantic swimming went by before Abe felt the real pull of the dragon's wake again, then he saw the flash of its yellow hide up ahead. This time Abe did not slow down. The dragon slithered upward and darted down again. Abe swam too close and nearly collided with the serpent as it twisted toward the lake bottom, eagle talons pulled up tight to its body.
Abe treaded water, eyes wide, peering into the gloom ahead. Where was the dragon going? It darted toward a place where the sandy bottom gave way to the rocky basin of the lake, sloping upward toward the surface. There was a cloudburst underwater, dirt swirling in the lake, and when it had sifted down enough Abe stared in astonishment.
The dragon was gone.
Heart racing, he swam toward the place where he had last seen the Dragon King. The water began to clear, the wake to diminish, and Abe saw that between the slope on the side of the lake and the sandy bottom, there was a dark crevice. An orange glow of fire flickered once in that darkness, then it was gone.
He felt positive the crevice had not been there before. He would have seen it. Somehow the rumbling underground had shifted the lake bottom, releasing the dragon. Or perhaps the dragon could have come out whenever it wanted, and it had made the exit itself. As Abe swam toward it, a chill went through him.
The loose soil of the bottom was sifting into the darkness of that crevice, spilling away into nothingness. Abe wanted to know what was down there, in the gloom, but trying to find out alone would be foolish. Hellboy had asked him to find out where the dragon went, and he'd done that.
If Abe went down there after the Dragon King, he wanted to make sure he knew how to kill it. In his time with the BPRD, he'd learned such things were never simple. Killing a legend was difficult business.
The breeze off the lake made Professor Bruttenholm shiver. To feel cold in the aftermath of the dragon's inferno cut him with the bitterest of irony. Even the burn on his left forearm no longer felt hot. It stung and pulsed, but the pain made him shiver, as though the flesh had been frozen instead of seared.
"You still with me, Professor?" Sarah Rhys-Howard asked.
Bruttenholm blinked and smiled up at her. "No more chest pains, my dear. And whatever knock I took to the head doesn't seem to have addled my brains any worse than they already were."
He hissed through his teeth as she moved his arm and tried not to wince. "That, however, is quite painful."
"I'd imagine," Sarah replied. Moonlight and the dim glow of the small fires that still burned limned her with an angelic light.
But she was an agent of the BPRD, not some angel of mercy. Sarah had cut away the sleeve of his jacket and shirt, and now she held his arm steady as she pulled bits of burned cloth away from the seared flesh. Bruttenholm hissed through his teeth. Sarah was not a doctor or nurse; she did not spare him so much as an apologetic glance. Though she had medical training, she was a field operative for the BPRD, and bedside manner was not her forte. She had retrieved her medical kit from the tent she'd been sharing with Agent Meaney, who was still off with Redfield, bringing help back from Lhasa, and now she squirted an antibiotic ointment onto the second-degree burn on his arm and began to bandage it.
"You were quite fortunate, really."
"I'm aware of that," he replied.
Sarah frowned and glanced at him, then surveyed their surroundings. Smoke still rose from the ruined camp, and tiny flames still lingered in places. Two people had been burned to death. Several others were badly injured, including one young man who might well wish he had died by the time real assistance arrived or he expired from complications due to the severity of his burns.
Anastasia's team had Ellie Morris. Every major archaeological expedition had a doctor on staff, but Ellie served double duty as both archaeologist and medic. Neil Pinborough had given them a report on the condition of the camp, the wounded and dead, and his admiration for the way the woman was dealing with the crisis had been evident. Then Bruttenholm had sent Neil off to lend a hand. There were lives to save. The dig had come to a disastrous conclusion, and now their only concern was getting everyone away from Lake Tashi before the Dragon King resurfaced.
"There you are. That's you, done," Sarah said, standing up and brushing herself off.
Bruttenholm glanced at the bandaged arm. The burns sang with pain, but already it had begun to recede to a throbbing ache, thanks to the topical anesthetic she'd used with the antibiotic. There would be other painkillers to come, he was sure. But not yet. He needed his mind clear.
"Thank you, Sarah."
She nodded. "Not at all, Professor. "You've got a plan, I take it?"
"Not a good one," Bruttenholm replied. "Would be a damn sight better if we didn't still have a day or two yet before reinforcements arrive. For now, we'll simply--"
He caught sight of Hellboy, and all thoughts left his mind. Professor Bruttenholm had barely been aware of how worried he was until that very moment. Now, as Hellboy and Anastasia strode toward him across the remnants of the archaeologists' camp, a grim satisfaction filled him. When Hellboy had run off after the dragon as it made its return, firing his ridiculously enormous pistol, Bruttenholm had feared he would do something foolish--something that would cost his life. But, no, Hellboy was fine. Others had died, but not his son. It was dreadfully selfish, but he was only human.
Sarah turned toward the new arrivals.
"The dragon's back in the water?" Sarah asked.
Hellboy nodded toward his father in greeting, then turned to Agent Rhys-Howard. "Yeah. For now. I sent Abe down after it. If we're going to deal with this thing, we're gonna need to know where it's hiding out."
"You sent Abe?" Professor Bruttenholm asked, aware how cross he sounded. The searing pain in his arm grew worse.
"I know you're field leader, but you were off the board. Command decision."
"I see." Bruttenholm narrowed his eyes. "And has Abe returned yet?"
Hellboy met him with a slitted gaze that was almost a mirror of Bruttenholm's own. "Not yet. But he will. I see you're feeling better."
"Quite a bit, thanks to Sarah, here."
"How bad is the burn?" Hellboy asked her.
Sarah took a breath. "Could be worse. There'll be some scarring, but how noticeable it will be depends on how well it heals."
"What about the rest of the camp?" Bruttenholm asked.
Hellboy's expression darkened. "Redfield better get back from Lhasa quick, and with a full fuel tank. We need to get the injured out of here and get Kora as far away as possible."
As he spoke, Anastasia watched him. Her heart must have been broken over the deaths of her team members and her friends, and the ruinous end to her expedition. But she gazed at him with such tenderness in her eyes that Professor Bruttenholm could not help being touched.
"The injured and the girl first," Sarah replied, "but we need to get everyone out of here."
"What we need is to kick the crap out of that dragon, put him back where he belongs," Hellboy said.
Bruttenholm grimaced. "It's never easy to put the genie back into the bottle. I suspect it won't be as simple as having superior firepower. Even if it were, I doubt the cavalry will arrive with rocket launchers and tanks. Assault weapons are not going to stop the Dragon King."
"It'd be a start," Hellboy said.
"Too right," Anastasia said bitterly. "But I agree with Sarah. The sooner we remove everyone from the area, the better."
"On that, my dear, we are all agreed," Professor Bruttenholm said.
Anastasia's expression remained grim, and she did not respond. After their last conversation, the professor could not blame her. Seeing her with Hellboy--witnessing for himself the way she obviously still felt about him--he felt regretful.
"Dr. Bransfield," he said.
Her brows knitted as she regarded him coolly. "Professor?"
"My behavior earlier was boorish and inexcusable. I'm an old man, and sometimes I come to believe my age allows me to speak with candor that I later regret."
She blinked, obviously startled, then tried to brush the words away. "It's fine. Really."
"No. It isn't at all fine. Regardless of my feelings, I have no right to meddle. I dislike viewing myself as a troublesome old crank. Please accept my apologies."
Anastasia smiled softly. "Of course, Professor. I do. Thank you."
He allowed himself a moment of contentment, nodding at the woman, then he glanced at Hellboy and Sarah.
"All right, then. All the injured will be prepared to travel to Lhasa. We'll give Mister Redfield a brief respite upon his return, then he'll have to fly again. Sarah, I'll want our entire team here on the ground, so Ellie Morris will have to travel with the wounded on the helicopter."
Bruttenholm went on. "Dr. Bransfield, you'll need to break camp. Anything that can be salvaged should be packed up and ready to move. In your survey of the area, did you locate any caves or other structures nearby to which we can retreat until help arrives?"
Anastasia glanced up at the ruin of the dig. "There are caves on the other side of the lake, but given what we've just seen, I think going inside of them would be a spectacularly bad idea. There is an abandoned monastery not far--"
"It'll have to do," the professor said. "Hellboy, talk to Anastasia, and to Professor Kyichu about what he read on the inside of the preparatory chamber. If there's a clue in the legend of the Dragon King about how to destroy it, or at least to defeat it, we need to know. And we must all gather whatever weapons we can find. Fighting the dragon may be useless, but we must make the attempt."
Bruttenholm had been sitting at the base of the slope that led up to the archaeological dig, in the same place Hellboy had left him after Abe had pulled him from the burning tent. Now, from the darkness of the slope above their heads, came a sibilant whisper.
Hellboy drew his pistol and aimed it at a scattering of large rocks on the slope. His tail swayed behind him, and his huge right hand clenched and unclenched.
"Who goes there?" he demanded.
Bruttenholm heard a hiss and narrowed his eyes until he could make out a figure among the rocks, perched at an angle, head downward. Twin candles of flame flickered to life, and as the figure moved, he saw that it was one of the dragon-men.
"Koh?" Anastasia asked.
Hellboy glanced at Anastasia and nodded. "Get Tenzin."
She turned and ran toward the makeshift camp, calling Tenzin's name. The professor and Hellboy and the dragon-man, Koh, all stared at one another. Koh must have realized what they were all waiting for. Less than a minute after she'd departed, Anastasia appeared once more, walking toward them with the guide and translator, Tenzin, following behind.
Tenzin did not flinch at the sight of Koh, clinging to the ridge above their heads. He knew precisely why he had been summoned. Before anyone could ask it of him, he began speaking to the dragon-man. Agitated, Koh pointed to Hellboy and rattled off angry words.
"His village is destroyed," Tenzin translated. "His father is dead, burned before his eyes. At least half of the villagers are dead."
Tenzin's voice rasped as he repeated this horrid news. Though Koh spoke no English, the anguish in the dragon-man's voice was terrible to hear, in any language.
Hellboy slid his gun back into its holster. He shook his head slowly. "I couldn't stop it. I know I said I'd take responsibility, but I never thought--"
Tenzin began to translate.
Koh dropped to the ground, landing in a crouch among them. Sarah moved protectively to Bruttenholm's side. Anastasia took a step back. Tenzin glared at the dragon-man. But Koh paid no attention to any of them. His focus was entirely on Hellboy.
Koh spoke again, and Tenzin quickly translated.
"Those of us who survive will hold you to your vow. To take responsibility, as you swore you would, there is only one thing you can do. You must destroy the Dragon King."
Professor Bruttenholm saw the tension in Hellboy deflate.
"Yeah. We're on the same page, there. We were just talking about that. I don't plan to leave without making sure the dragon isn't going to bother anyone else. The way it sounded in the legend, he'd just keep traveling farther and farther to get what he wanted--mainly, death and destruction and human flesh."
When Tenzin had translated, Koh shook his head, frowning.
"The Dragon King wants fear and worship," Anastasia said.
Sarah laughed softly, without amusement. "Well, he's got step one all sorted."
Hellboy stared at Koh. "If you have any ideas on how to take him down, chime in anytime."
Koh's fiery eyes widened as Tenzin repeated the words in his own language. He said something quick, his expression grave.
"What was that?" Sarah asked.
"The only one who was ever able to defeat the Dragon King was Dwenjue," Tenzin said.
Professor Bruttenholm frowned. "Even if we presume that because the Dragon King exists, the rest of the legend must be true, Dwenjue lived many centuries ago."
"According to the story, Dwenjue disguised himself as a child and had the villagers throw him into the lake," Anastasia said. "He fought the dragon for seven days and seven nights before slaying it...or, at least, mortally wounding it and trapping it beneath the lake."
"Yeah," Hellboy added, "that's not exactly helpful. Dead, dwarf, warrior monk isn't going to show up to save the day this time."
Koh crossed his arms defiantly.
"Are you quite sure of that?" Tenzin asked.
Bruttenholm stared at him. "Do you mean to say that Dwenjue is still alive?"
Tenzin asked Koh the question.
The man with dragon blood gestured toward the lake.
As he spoke, Tenzin gave voice to his words. "The Dragon King still lives," he said. "I do not know if Dwenjue is still alive, but the legend says that if the king rises, the monk will also return to battle him."