So much for that.
Abe turned and slid down the curving, sloped roof of the temple. The tiles clacked beneath him but did not break or collapse. He caught himself on a small ridge at the edge of the roof and managed not to shoot right off the side. Below was another roof level, but he had no interest in falling.
The dragon didn't care. It slunk down after him, not touching the roof, flying without wings--only the twisting of its serpent's body propelled it through the air. Not fair at all, by Abe's judgment. Especially since the thing darted toward him, most of its face torn away, fire guttering up from the gaping hole in its head.
A buzzing noise filled his ears. The rain felt good on his skin, but the heat of all of the dragons only added to the damage the scalding water had done.
Abe stared at the dragon, and he knew he didn't have a choice. He fell to the roof, rolled off the edge, and plummeted to the next level down. His shoulder flared with pain as he struck the tiles. His gun flew from his hand and went over the side--no great loss, all things considered. The worm slithered across the night sky above him and started to circle around for another pass. He'd been hoping that, like some kind of hornet, it might pass him by and lose interest, but it was persistent.
The thought of hornets brought the buzzing back to his ears, but this was more than a buzz. Abe spun and saw the black helicopters sweeping down across the diminished lake toward the temple. He felt like cheering, but the urge passed when he realized he didn't know what difference more guns were going to make.
He stood on the west side of the temple's roof. From that vantage, he couldn't see up to the shore, couldn't know what Professor Bruttenholm might be planning. All he could do was keep himself alive and see if he could take some of the undead dragon hatchlings out of the game. Many more of them slithered through the air, now, twenty or more, as though they were merely waiting for the Dragon King to awaken.
Except for one.
The thing intent upon eating him, likely charred, slipped down through the night toward him, speeding up as it drew nearer. Abe crouched on the edge of the roof. A third level lay below him, maybe thirty feet, and forty or fifty feet below that, the slick yellow scales of the enormous body of the Dragon King covered most of the stone island around the base of the temple. The master of dragons remained coiled about the place of his worship, the home of his followers, or kin, or children, or whatever they were. Beyond the Dragon King was the water. Abe thought about just taking a dive, but not even a strong breeze would carry him far enough to hit the water. He'd end up landing on that lowest roof level at best, or on top of the Dragon King at worst.
Not much choice.
The burning dragon corpse swept down upon him. Abe faced it, crouched low. Its jaws opened wide, unhinged like a snake's, and he saw the fire ballooning up from inside, about to erupt toward him.
Abe leaped at it. He twisted sideways even as the flames began to vomit forth, and he plunged the fingers of his right hand into the gaping, burning eye socket of the dragon. With all his strength, he twisted its head away from him, and the fire scorched the night air, instead of his flesh.
His fingers, though...his fingers burned.
Abe shouted as he pulled his hand back. Furious, the dragon whipped its serpent body back and forth. Its eagle talons raked at the air as though it wished they were sunk into his flesh. Twisting, it came back on him again.
The roar of a helicopter filled his ears, close enough that the downdraft from its rotors pummeled him. Abe looked up and shielded his eyes as the chopper dropped toward the roof of the temple. Shouts came from within. He saw only silhouettes of figures through the open door at the side of the helicopter--and the barrels of guns. The dragon with its broken jack-o'-lantern head, twisted in the air, its attention on the chopper now instead of Abe. In the light from the burning dead thing's fire, he caught a glimpse of a patch on a jumpsuit inside the chopper.
The dragon darted toward the helicopter. Gunfire punctured the air, riddling the dragon and knocking it backward a few feet, interrupting its attack. But that parchment, withered skin only tore, letting more fire out.
New shouts from inside the chopper. Someone calling his name.
With a noise like the rush of hydraulics, something erupted from inside the chopper. A grenade launcher. It had to be; firing a rocket launcher in that confined space would have been disastrous.
The projectile struck the dragon, tore right through its papery skin...and did nothing. The worm stared at the chopper for a second, then turned to gnash its massive jaws at Abe, tossing its head up, antlers charred but gleaming in the firelight. Then something exploded inside the withered dragon. The fire went out, snuffed in an instant, and the monster froze as blue-white ice crystals formed on its skin.
Abe could only stare at it as fresh gunfire erupted from inside the helicopter. This time, the bullets struck the dead, frozen flesh of the dragon and it shattered like glass, pieces of its dead flesh skittering across the tile roof with a tinkling like wind chimes.
"Agent Sapien!" a voice shouted from the chopper, barely audible over the sound of the rotors. "Let's go!"
The helicopter dipped closer to the roof. Abe didn't hesitate. He ran to the edge and leaped into the air. His belly hit the bottom of the door frame and he scrambled for purchase, reaching inside the helicopter for something to grab hold of as his legs kicked in the air.
Then strong hands grabbed him and hauled him into the chopper, and he looked up to see faces, some familiar and some not. All of them wore jackets emblazoned with the insignia of the BPRD. The nearest agent to him, one of the men who'd hauled Abe into the chopper, was Gawaine Johnson, who'd been there for one of Abe's first solo missions with the BPRD, back in the early eighties.
"I see someone has a plan," Abe said.
Gawaine smiled and lit a cigarette. As the chopper rose up into the darkness, he took a drag. His words were smoke. "Liquid nitrogen."
"You think it'll work on the Dragon King?" Abe shouted over the roar of the helicopter.
"One thing at a time."
Abe looked out through the open door of the chopper and saw that the rain had stopped. In the night sky, some of the storm clouds had begun to break up, and he could see glimmers of moon and starlight peeking through.
In the sky above Lake Tashi, above the temple of the Dragon King, helicopters buzzed toward withered, corpse-dragons nearly as large as the helicopters themselves. The dragons were easy to track--they were all on fire, like beacons in the sky.
One by one, he saw them begin to fall, their fire extinguished, ruined, icy flesh disappearing into the darkness of the lake water below or crashing into the temple and shattering.
And at the base of that ancient structure, the Dragon King began to stir once more.
Redfield would live.
Professor Bruttenholm knelt by the injured pilot and checked him over for broken bones. Blood streaked his forehead from a cut on his scalp and ran down into his beard. There were a dozen other small gashes on his face and arms, and there would be terrible bruising where his restraint belt had pulled taut against his body during the violent landing of the chopper. The bird was ruined, but it was a lot easier to replace than a pilot with the loyalty and skills of a man like Redfield.
The pilot's breathing seemed shallow, and his eyes were a bit too dilated. Bruttenholm figured him for bruised or cracked ribs and a minor concussion. His spidery hands moved over Redfield's limbs, and the man hissed in pain when the professor touched his left forearm. A broken bone, for sure.
Even so, Redfield would live.
The professor told him as much, speaking low comfort to the man, even as he rose, his old knees paining him terribly. A dozen feet away, Lao's commandos were seeing to the body of their comrade, the soldier who'd been aboard the helicopter with Redfield. The commando had been unrestrained, probably even standing in the back of the chopper when it went down. The cranial trauma had been too much. Bruttenholm figured he'd been killed on impact, but didn't speak enough Chinese to offer this small comfort to the other black-garbed soldiers.
Worry wrinkled his brow as he turned to watch the helicopters in combat with flaming dragons above the ancient temple and the lake. He couldn't see Hellboy and his odd companions down in the water, or on the shore of the rocky island at the lake's heart.
The Dragon King had begun to stir. It raised its head and slowly slid in a circle around the base of the temple.
Hurry, son, he thought.
The radio on his hip crackled. "Professor?"
He knew the voice immediately. Snatching the radio from his belt, he lifted it and thumbed the button on the side.
"Abe? You're all right?"
"Debatable. But I'm alive," he said. The roar of a helicopter distorted his voice, and Bruttenholm knew he was aboard one of the birds. "Gawaine Johnson's leading the reinforcements, but you're field leader. What are your orders?"
A shiver went through Trevor Bruttenholm, but he did not hesitate. "You're using liquid nitrogen?"
"Johnson's idea," Abe confirmed.
"Tell Gawaine to get a chopper to my location ASAP. Redfield's injured and needs attention and evac. The rest of you, destroy as many of the dragonlings as you can. If you must engage the Dragon King, try for the eyes, throat, or the red scales of its underbelly. The liquid nitrogen grenades will not puncture the yellow scales of its hide."
The radio crackled. Abe's voice nearly drowned in the chopper's thrum. "What about the king, then?"
Bruttenholm watched as the Dragon King slithered up into the sky, fire issuing from its nostrils and the corners of its mouth, streaking back along its body. The worm's serpentine body was at least one hundred feet long, five times the largest of its withered followers. It soared into the sky and began to twist in on itself, surveying the conflict that churned around it.
How anyone could reach it from the ground--even his son and a mystic warrior who'd defeated it once before--Bruttenholm didn't know. He tried not even to think about the size of the thing.
"Hellboy's on it," he said.
"Yes, sir," Abe replied, as if that was all the explanation he needed.
Professor Bruttenholm realized that it was. Helicopters, guns, and liquid nitrogen were all well and good, but once again it had come down to the inevitable--Hellboy was their best chance at destroying the Dragon King and getting off that Tibetan plateau alive.
What had once been the shore of the lake was now a ridge atop a long slope that led down to the Dragon King Pool more than two hundred feet below. Anastasia stood on the edge and felt a wave of vertigo wash over her. Behind her, Lao's remaining commandos had begun firing at the Dragon King once more. The gigantic serpent swam across the sky, and missile after missile arced above the lake and the temple. Some struck the ancient myth--most of those bursting harmlessly on the thick yellow scales of its back and sides--but others went wide. One projectile struck its antlers and exploded, splintering a branch and sending that shard tumbling down into the water far, far below.
At the center of what remained of the lake, she saw Hellboy, Koh, and Dwenjue climbing out of the water. With the Dragon King now airborne, a stone ledge perhaps twenty-five feet wide had been left unguarded around the temple. The smaller dragons--servants of the king, she presumed--were in combat with the BPRD and Chinese government helicopters that had arrived with such fortuitous timing. More than half of them had already been destroyed, and she'd seen only one of the choppers spinning out of the sky in a flaming ball of wreckage. Anastasia did not have a callous heart, but she could not help thinking of this as an acceptable loss.
It meant they were winning.
At least, the others would see it that way. Behind her, she could hear Lao exhorting his soldiers. Some of the commandos cheered when two of the dragonlings crashed down onto the temple roof and shattered into fragments. They were exultant, and why not? To them, the tide had turned. But Anastasia knew that their real problem remained. If they could not destroy the Dragon King, it would all be for naught.
Hellboy, Koh, and Dwenjue seemed to pause a moment. Then Koh pointed toward the temple of the Dragon King, and Anastasia squinted to study the flicker, burning windows of the place. Shadows moved there, and she understood that there were still some of those dead-looking dragonlings inside.
Koh started for the front of the temple, leaving Hellboy and Dwenjue behind. She wished she had field glasses so she could get a better look at Hellboy's face, perhaps read his lips, something at which she had only a little bit of practice.
Dwenjue raised his mystical blade again. Hellboy stood behind him, glancing around as though protecting the dwarf while he performed this task. The blade began to glow that eerie yellow once more.
"Do you think they'll be able to kill it?" a voice said beside her, loudly enough to be heard over the firing of the missiles and the roar of the helicopters.
Anastasia flinched and turned to find the digger, Gibson, and Alan Corriveau just a few feet away, staring down into the lake below with twin expressions of dreadful uncertainty. Though they had worked for her on this dig, she didn't know either of them very well.
"It's Hellboy," she replied, as though that were answer enough. For her, it was. They didn't look convinced.
Motion on her left made her turn, and she saw Professor Kyichu walk tentatively to the edge. He gazed in open wonder at the Dragon King flowing through the air and the choppers in combat with its burning kindred.
"Extraordinary!" the man cried, almost jovial. He turned to look at Anastasia, the thrill in his eyes repugnant. He'd sent his daughter away in the hands of strangers after she'd been through trauma unimaginable for a child.
"We're making history, Stacie!" the man said, hardly seeing her, intoxicated with the horror all around them. "Think of it. We'll be legends ourselves, now. All of this...they'll be teaching our names at universities for centuries, if your ex can just kill the beast so we can get back to work."
A shiver of disgust went through her, and she cocked back her fist and swung. The crunch of her knuckles on the side of Han Kyichu's face resulted in a pain that was awful and satisfying, all at once. The man staggered back and fell to the ground, staring up at her in fury and humiliation.