AND THE CASE OF THE ROTTING DEATH
Behold the pit. And the beast shall come forth out of the pit to break the heavens and loose the Dragon to burn the world. Then shall be heard singing and joyous sounds out of all dark places, out of peoples of the past. Does the darkness have a tongue and a voice and a name for it’s calling? Om-Nung Rahab Un Ogdru Rama Un Erschung-Gul. It is chaos that is speaking to you. For this moment you were born.
Now become yourself . . . the Beast. Corpse born blinder of innocent women. Heaven, Hell, and human come together as one. Dacci Ab Jura. Anung Un Rama, loose the Dragon for this is the ending of days. You were born into this world for this purpose only. Deliver the world back into chaos. Wake your devil heart. Set upon your brow that crown of fire . . . Your coming of age is the death knell of Man.
You know this is true, you always have. And knowing what you know, still you might deny this truth one last time, and that will be your instant death . . . or become yourself. Take the key you hold in your right hand and open the pit . . . You have only these two choices. Born of human woman in Hell, reborn of human design on earth . . . and now, finally . . .
He gives birth to himself.
The faces of the three prophets faded away into the colors of the room around him. They had been standing so vividly in front of him, almost real as though they had been conjured from his own memories and made material within his sub-conscious. There had been the Baba Yaga hunching upon her cane and palled by shadows, though even through the darkness her grotesque form could not be well-hidden. Above her and to the left stood a demon perhaps as tall as Hellboy himself, the same golden eyes shined alight from his cranium in the half-blackness of the gloom and somehow an appearance of kindness was prominent on his morbid face. And last, the hooded one . . . the face from beneath the cover was stony and jade, almost as though it had been manifested from the gem itself, and it was he who had seemed most appropriate, most sorrowed to deliver the message to the Beast, to . . . Hellboy.
He rolled over onto his side, the springs of the bed creaking under his weight. The many televisions in his bedroom were on and each was flashing different pictures, some of which were cartoons and others real. None of this managed to comfort him, none of it brought serenity or settlement, so Hellboy was left alone to compose himself and his thoughts together as he had for so long. Ever since that incident in Romania he had never really composed himself in any manner, and with Professor Bruttenholm and Liz gone, the only friend he had to talk to was Abe, and even though the mind reader was an intellect . . . the fact that he could, well, read minds was not exactly the sort of counsel that Hellboy was searching for. In fact . . . he didn’t know what he was searching for. He touched his hand to a rough horn stub for a moment.
Shaking his head clear of the words, Hellboy rolled over again and once more the springs groaned under his weight. Looking at the clock across the room, he saw that the time was the same as it had been for the past two months and after every vision, every dream. 12:00 a.m..
“Shut-up, uglies . . . I got plans of my own.” Hellboy pulled the blanket back up over his shoulders, closing his eyes in the utmost attempt to go to sleep. His voice had much audacity in it, but his heart did not truly believe in his speech. But, he knew it would just be like any other night- he would fall asleep only to have the dream repeat itself, and he would wake again, an hour later, in a cold sweat and the visions and horrors of those days in Romania would repeat themselves again and again . . .
“My god, Hellboy, you look dead on your feet, did you sleep last night?”
The coffee mug shook violently in his hands. Hellboy yawned, the dark circles under his eyes were luckily hidden by the usual shadow that masked them. Manning’s concerned expression worried the demon slightly. Hellboy wasn’t much a patron for pity.
“I’m all right, Doctor Manning . . . just didn’t sleep as well as I’d planned last night.” He paused to take a sip of his coffee, which to his disconcert dribbled down his chin, somewhat causing him to look puerile and enervated, then he added; “I’ll be okay by midday . . . what’s up for the day, by the way?”
“Nothing much, just some paper-work . . .” Manning took a great drink from his coffee mug as though trying to stall, “Liz is coming back . . .”
Hellboy stopped in mid-drink. If he hadn’t been so tired he would have felt the flame of joy erupting in his chest, as of now it was more of a spark. He stared at Manning for a moment trying to make clear of what he had heard.
“D’you say Liz was comin’ . . . comin’ . . . back?”
“Yes Hellboy, Liz is coming back . . . but, well . . . I need to go.”
The plump man began down the hallway out of the break-room, his round face turned again to Hellboy as his squinted eyes shifted to keep sight on his red colleague.
“Oh, and Hellboy, Director Aberfoyle would like your report on the ‘Romania Incident’, if you wouldn’t mind, he says it’s about two months late.” The round face turned back as Manning continued his procession down the long corridor. The fleshy man waved a subtle goodbye with one hand, and rounded into a single room as the door closed with a quiet, metallic click.
Hellboy stared into the depths of his coffee cup and watched the black liquid maintain a sort of quivering movement in its porcelain prison. His incident report. He hadn’t actually had the courage enough to approach the subject of recalling the entire event, besides, he did enough of that every night. If he had to write a detailed report on the entire thing he would probably go insane.
“Could probably sum it up in five words . . .” Hellboy muttered, and seated himself in a high-backed chair, rubbing his forehead wearily with his fingers. “Don’t wanna talk about it. Five words. That’s what the report would say.”
“I don’t think that Director Aberfoyle would appreciate such a belligerent and pugnacious rejoinder due to your lack of self-restraint. Believe it or not, he finds you an exceedingly-"
“Just . . . be quiet Abe, I’ve got a migraine.” Hellboy grumbled angrily, his voice barely above a growl. This caused his aquatic friend to frown slightly. Abe Sapien floated backward in his tank behind Hellboy’s chair. A clear film skimmed over his eyes then slid back down gradually. He angled his blue head to one side and smiled slightly.
“My apologies old friend, I didn’t mean to affront you in any way, but I must say, that was a very rude thing to say about your report. I know those visions-"
“Stay outta’ my head, Abe . . . I don’t like it when you do that, and you know it!”
“Then I suppose you don’t need to know why Liz is coming back, do you?”
Hellboy was being bribed, and by an old friend no less. He settled back into the chair, sighing huffily and took another sip of his coffee.
“No . . . why?”
Abe swam right up to the glass of his tank, again the clear film closed over his eyes to clear his vision. His gills swished in the current produced by the giant filter in the corner of the tank.
“You two are going on another mission . . . in Africa.”
“Africa?” Hellboy suddenly thought of natives.
“NO, no . . . not natives, H.B., well sort of . . .”
“Out of the head, Abe.” Hellboy tapped his brow, a smug smile on his face. Abe shook his head and continued with; “Well, the natives there have contracted a deadly disease, something they have named in their tongue, ‘The Rotting Death’.”
“Isn’t that the D.C.P.’s job?” Hellboy asked, annoyance in his tones.
Abe frowned and added in with; “Hellboy, let me finish. The disease is fast spreading, almost the entire bottom hemisphere of Africa have been infected, and it all started in the Congo. The D.C.P. were sent there a few months ago to collect data, but the entire team was sickened within twenty hours of exposure.”
“And this concerns the B.P.R.D. how?”
“Hold on,” Abe answered huffily, “I’m getting there. The infestation is believed to have been caused by a pack of Nundu, or Death Cat, named such for it’s highly virulent breath. They were thought to be extinct, but apparently this bunch survived.”
“Don’t they live in East Africa?”
“Yes . . .” Abe paused, a worried look spreading across his gray-blue face. “That is the strange thing. If this particular group of Nundu had lived in the east of Africa, then why have they migrated and to what end? This is the biggest mystery. I hope Liz and yourself will be okay . . . you are a . . .” Abe stopped himself, he knew Hellboy did not favor being pointed out as a demon, so the fishman added in; “You are different than what they are used to dealing with.”
“Yeah, sure . . . I-"
The coffee mug tumbled out of Hellboy’s hands and shattered into a hundred pieces on the floor, black coffee seeping into the red carpet. He looked up from his mess on the floor and saw Liz standing framed in the bureau door, a fedora perched casually atop her dark hair. she was laden with bags and clad in a long fur coat and covered in tiny snowflakes. There were roses forming in her cheeks from the cold and the crucifix around her neck looked as though she had been nervously fiddling with it more often, its gold paint had lost its former luster and there were actually speckles of silver showing through.
“L-Liz . . . I- I mean, Miss Sherman . . .” Hellboy rose and his trench coat fell around his muscled form. For a moment they stared at each other and suddenly he felt so out of place that if he could have gone any more red he was sure his face would be maroon. He watched her eyes, they roved over him for a second and their green pools rested fretfully upon his own golden ones. She dropped the bags, then, before Hellboy could do anything, Liz had rushed over and was embracing his large form (as far as she could fit her arms around) in a teary hug and began sobbing into his chest.
“Y-you’ve b-been h-having them t-t-too . . .” She looked up at him, speaking in between tautly bouts of tears, which were still spilling from her eyes. Now that Hellboy noticed, she also had large circles of dark beneath her eyes. “T-tell me y-you’ve b-b-been having them t-t-too! T-tell me y-you d-do!”
“Please calm down, Miss Sherman, it’s all right, I’m here now . . .” He stroked her hair. “It’s okay, I’ll try to understand, if you just tell me, I ca-"
“He kills you!” Liz suddenly shrieked. “H-he kills you a-and t-then I w-wake up a-and I-I’m crying a-a-and nothing m-makes any, any sense!” She crumpled to the floor, but Hellboy had hold of her arms sternly. But, as she heaved on the floor, her hands swiftly erupted in yellow flames, which quickly spread up her arms and around her neck. Her panic only increased, tears flooding down her cheeks, and the confusion among the members of the room was immense.
“She hasn’t spoken to anyone in days . . .” Hellboy said, pacing his father’s study. Professor Trevor Bruttenholm sat calmly as ever in the high backed chair next to the large, circular fireplace, the elderly man held no esteem for over-exciting oneself though Trevor could not deny that Liz’s latest manifest of fire was disturbing and rather troublesome. His great, red surrogate son halted in front of him, two angst and golden eyes burning into his own like yellow lamps.
Professor Bruttenholm erected himself in the chair, face pale, and placed the book on the table beside him. He couldn’t stand seeing his son so worked up, so he gestured to the chair beside him and ushered his adoptive son to sit. Hellboy did so (with some slight difficulty, considering his size) and lowered his head in an exhausted sort of manner. Professor Bruttenholm placed a hand just behind his horns and said in his most tranquil voice; “We can’t solve all of our problems through magnetism, you know? I’ve seen many things, in . . . in my lifetime, many things.” Trevor smiled as Hellboy lifted his head. “But, I believe the most extraordinary demean that I have ever witnessed is the feats that a lone individual is willing to endeavor for the sake of their beloved. But . . .” They both sat there for a moment searching each other’s eyes, Professor’s face fell into a most staid and sagely expression. “But, Hellboy . . . before you go and act out of sheer passion for your beloved . . . be sure they would do the same for you . . .”
Professor Bruttenholm sat back in his chair, Hellboy’s eyes roved over the red of the floor. He bit his lip, nothing came to mind for him to say, not a single spoken word but in his mind the name repeated again and again in it’s endlessly nagging rhythm. Liz . . . Liz . . .Liz. The great, red demon had never doubted Liz’s affection for him, at least as a colleague he knew she cared and as a sister she treated him gingerly in every respect . . . but as a . . . a, for lack of better word, girlfriend he really didn’t now she felt. There were still three days left until the trip to Africa, still three days left to speak to her on casual terms. Perhaps he would ask her, or perhaps he wouldn’t, but at the moment he . . .
“Hellboy . . .” The voice struck hard like a brick to his head. The large, red man’s head snapped up, barely in tune with reality and spinning to boot. He needed more sleep. Lloyd stood there in the doorway, oil covered and grimy as ever, a jolly look on his tanned face. Hellboy frowned slightly, what’d he want?
“Yo, Hellboy. I got some new equipment I wantcha’ to try out real quick, that is if your not busy or nothin’. Hey, Professor Bruttenholm!” Lloyd waved a gloved hand, Trevor returned the gesture, but did not hinder in his reading. Hellboy rose, glad for a reason to leave the study, to take his mind off of things. Unfortunately, Lloyd’s gadgets tended to explode about thirty seconds into usage (at least when Hellboy used them), but oh well. Hellboy liked explosions.
Hellboy sat up in bed, face drenched in clammy sweat. His heart was pounding, a caustic tightening pain was there and he could hear the blood rushing through his ears. But something wasn’t right, as a matter of fact, everything seemed very wrong. He looked over at his door, the lock was turning but by the clock on the wall it was only a little past midnight. He stood up, shirtless and huffy, the blankets falling off of him like cocoon sheddings. The door creaked open as he stood there, cats curling up around his legs, meowing to be fed. He ignored their calls. Doctor Manning poked his head in through the door, causing alarm to creep up through Hellboy’s spine like cold fire.
“Hellboy. . .” The plump man stated, his small eyes rather serious. “It’s your father . . .”
Manning couldn’t finish, his voice was shaking with pure melancholy, but Hellboy’s mind was suddenly fraught with unrelenting panic, and he was seized by anxious thoughts. He rushed forward, pushing Manning aside with a great gesture, and began down the length of the corridor at full, unrestrained speed.
The doors to his father’s study were open, and there were men there, dozens of them. Liz stood poised in fear and confusion in the doorway, her usually pale skin nearly translucent even beneath the glow of the firelight. He didn’t even pause at her side, he continued his sprint into the library, and there, in the same high-backed chair he had been so quaintly seated in not but six hours ago, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm was still there, his head lying in a limp, motionless pose on his shoulder, a book clutched tightly in his hands. Hellboy bolted to his side, collapsing on his knees beside the chair, his insides restricting in painful knots. Why now, why tonight? Any other night, any other day . . . any other time, any other way. The adoptive son grappled the surrogate father’s hand in his, icy death against anxious, living warmth. Tears would fall, but Hellboy didn’t know how to cry, the notion to had left him somewhere in Romania when he had found out his true meaning in life, his true calling.
Hellboy picked up the book, its worn Burgundy cover cracked and bent. The picture that fell out of Trevor’s book was a familiar one, one Hellboy had only seen twice in his life but knew well of what and how it came to be. Fifteen profoundly dirty men, one of which was a young professor Bruttenholm, and amidst this nest of normal folk, a lone red child sat with an oversized right hand and the horns of Satan himself, a hell child, a demon baby. Hellboy sat up, still holding onto his father’s cold hand, and flipped the book open. There scrawled on the pages the picture had fallen out of were words in his father’s handwriting. They said;
January 30, 2004 ~ Unnamed Backroad in Africa
Hellboy sat on the crate in the back of the cargo truck watching Abe heave on the opposite end of the trailer. Liz was curled against the wall across from the great red demon, her knees folded tight against her petite form as she twirled a rubber band almost instinctively around small fingers. Bruttenholm’s death had not been easy on a single one of them, especially poor Abe who repeatedly blamed himself as he had been in the exact same room at the time of Trevor’s passing. But, Hellboy and Liz constantly reminded the fishman, that he couldn’t have done anything because he had been asleep, and a heart-attack was not exactly a loud death. Abe, however, insisted on the entire incident being his fault and that he could’ve called someone, anyone if he’d been awake.
Liz was also taking the situation in a most difficult manner, often she would burst into awful bouts of tears over it, unlike Abe who remained quiet and conceded. In a way, Hellboy supposed, it was more difficult to watch him suffer in solitude.
“Three more miles, Hellboy.” Manning’s voice said over the communicator in the red man’s ear piece. “Have your team ready.”
“Was that Manning?” Liz asked, her green eyes peeking over black-clad knees. Hellboy nodded solemnly.
Abe looked up from his hunched position and said; “How much further?”
“Three more miles . . . be ready, you guys.”
“What do you think we’ll find?” Liz asked, angst prominent in her shaking voice. Abe also turned eyes on Hellboy with the rise of this comment.
“You know, the usual . . .” the red man said, trailing off in mid sentence.
“Trouble.” Liz finished, green eyes swimming with anxiety. Hellboy peered into their depths, they cried out to him, pleading him for something. He shook the thought out of his mind, the last thing he needed was a worried gut. But he couldn’t help but ask himself the same question.
"What do you think we’ll find?"
It was significantly hotter once outside of the cargo truck. Hellboy placed sturdy feet on the ground, observing the terrain surrounding him and mapping it out as a sort of mental map. Liz clutched tightly to the jacket draped around her slender form, making worrisome grasps at the black fabric blazoned with the B.P.R.D.’s insignia over her heart. Manning stuck his head out of the cargo truck’s passenger window and spoke to them.
“You will be searching for any unusual activity in the area, any unauthorized personal that is seen must be interrogated and brought back to temporary H.Q. immediately. Stay clear of any contaminated folks, the symptoms are; black patches on the skin, severe tooth decay and thinning hair, glazed eyes, and uncontrolled coughing or wheezing. There may be other signs, but these are the only common traits we have been able to spot out in victims. H.Q. will be stationed two kilometers west of here. You will report back in three hours, I suggest you split up. Good luck.”
With his final words, the truck began to pull away, leaving Hellboy, Abe, and Liz to stand alone under an immense canopy of trees and foliage. There was silence in the trio for a moment, then Abe sighed heavily.
“Miss Sherman . . .” Hellboy said. “I think you and Abe will be better off to go together, seeing as you might be easily caught off guard. Make sure you’ve got your guns . . .”
“W-what about you, H.B.?” Liz asked, though anyone who heard it could’ve sworn she was trying to swoon him not to split up. Hellboy face contorted in anguish at what he was about to say: “I’m going to circle around on the main road that we came in on and head south from there into the forest . . . alone.”
“You can’t just!” Liz shrieked, stopping herself from continuing. She lowered her head sulkily, eyes searching the ground as though it would supply a sensible answer for her worry. Hellboy began trotting off, beginning his way northeast on the road as quickly as he could stand to as his heart broke under the weight he was forcing it to carry. He looked back, watching Liz and Abe shrink into the foliage of the canopy.
“You are such a jackass.” He told himself, slowing to a steady walk along the gravel of the road, circling the sphere of tall trees and grasses. “I should’ve went with her.”
“Abomination to the word invention! Infernal bit of mechanical scum!” Hellboy looked up, hearing a wry voice calling out at him from a piece up the road. A small old man, perhaps eighty, was screaming and ranting at a smoking vehicle parked slanted on the side of the road. He kicked its wheel then hopped around a bit, holding the end of his foot in pain.
“Good for nothing pile of RUBBISH!”
“Hey now, don’t give yourself an aneurysm.” Hellboy said, stopping short of the little hopping man and his problem. The tiny guy stared up at him, eyes working to stay in focus, then he leapt back and started screaming; “DEMON! Foul, wicked, tempting demon . . . eh-oh . . .” the old man stopped in his jumping and crouched low, asking: “Are you by chance a mechanic?”
“Uh . . . no.”
“DEMON! Debauched and wicked soul, spawn of Satan! Bearer of destruction and-"
“Shut up!” The man’s mouth clamped tightly, causing the wrinkles around his lips to become more prominent and making him look older by far. Hellboy softened, after all he had always been told to respect his elders; “I’m sorry, sir. I’m just in a sort of hurry, looking for stuff . . . you know-"
“He is here, but you will never find him.” The man’s tone was suddenly serious and solemn, his eyes focusing on Hellboy’s right hand. “You have brought him what he needs to complete the plan, he will have her.”
A nerve jerked somewhere in Hellboy’s head and his eyes widened involuntarily. He felt like grabbing the smaller man up by the neck and wringing every last bit of information he could out of him.
“The firestarter . . .” said the old man, as though reading Hellboy’s mind.
“Who wants Liz?”
“Why are you scared, creature?” The old man continued his
voice barely audible. “You were born of flame . . . and you will
return to it. You have no choice, do as the master will have and take
the throne you have so long denied as yours. Take the key you hold in
your right hand-“
“Open the pit . . .”
“Open the pit and become the Beast!”
Hellboy could take no more. With a great heave, he tossed the little man across the road with all the might he could muster. After that, there was silence - severe, undaunted . . . deadly silence.
“Miss Sherman . . . do you copy? Over.” Hellboy curved round the road and trudged into the lush foliage just at its edge, attempting once again to reach his colleague. “Miss Sherman . . . Liz, Liz, do you copy? Over.”
“Yeah H.B., I hear you. What is it? Over.”
“I’m heading south bound now, toward the canopy we started in. I’m going to do a search in the forest, are you and Abe all right? Over.”
“Yeah . . .” There was a loud heaving over the ear piece. “Abe went back to the site with Doctor Manning to examine some rock samples. Said something about traces of radioactivity or extra-terrestrial material in the soil . . . I don't know, science guy talk I guess." Hellboy smiled - at least she still had her sense of humor, "So, did you find anything? Over.”
“Yeah . . . some loony old guy, but I took care of him . . .o-over.” There was a long pause, then Liz said; “H.B. . . . is something wrong? Over.”
“No . . . but, Miss Sherman . . . please be careful, watch your back, okay? Over.”
“How can I not?” She laughed. “You know me, Miss Paranoia of the year. Over.”
“Okay. I’ll see you at H.Q. in about two hours, okay? Over.”
“All right. Over and out.” Hellboy flicked on the red light on his indicator belt, eyes roving over the humid landscape. He lit a cigar, pushing branches and grass out of his path and taking his first step into the dampness of the shady forest. There were uncertain noises all around, echoing off of one another in an endlessly reverberating symphony. He took in every little thing he saw. For an hour he walked on, lethargic and bored stiff- every where he looked he saw green.
“Child.” Hellboy spun around, heart pounding. The voice was a familiar one, accented with the spice of a Russian tongue. There was a long shadow looming on an aged, green tree branch just above the red man’s head. He allowed himself to look, certain trouble was at hand.
“Anung Un Rama . . . why have you forsaken your purpose in the Dragon’s plan.”
“Screw the Dragon!” Hellboy called. “You can take that pit of yours and shove it up your ass! I’ve got a life, I like the way I live it!”
“Child . . . what is it that this world has to offer?” The voice was suddenly empathetic, different. “The mere company of mortal friends? Frail humans that die and change, who become ill and old . . . they will die in your arms and be gone forever . . . are they worth such pain?”
“I already told you!” Hellboy called, anger writhing like irritated snakes in his gut. “I don’t want a damn thing from you! I like the way I live, the way I am! I don’t need some sacrilege, occultist moron telling me - "
“You do not like the way you are,” the shadow urged, still empathetic, “Why must you lie? Does it amuse you? I know your thoughts, Child.”
“Shut up!” Hellboy cried, raising the Samaritan to aim at its target. It shook with the tremors in his arm, but he was determined to rid himself of his stalker.
“Shoot me, Child, will it ease the pain of the truth? I cannot die . . . I will not die, until you have unlocked the gates and loosed the Dragon.”
“Fine. Tell me, Raspy, how’s immortality?” Hellboy squeezed the trigger, a bullet volleying full force from the barrel of the tremendous gun. It made impact, but the shadowed figure remained perched on the branch, mocking Hellboy with his sturdiness.
“Loose the Dragon, Child, become the key. You have no other choice . . . there is no other way ..."
The hammer collided with the back of his head so forcefully that he actually felt his eyes go crossed. The shadow’s feet were in front of him, on the ground as Hellboy lay there feeling consciousness slipping from his finger tips and they were joined by another pair, clad in heavy black boots.
“Take him to the creatures’ den . . . they will be hungry.”
Hellboy’s eyes opened and he gasped for air. Immediately he was greeted by intransigent darkness that pressed against his eyes and weighed heavy on his chest; or perhaps that was the atmosphere. The air was stale, ancient . . . lifeless, and the room itself– impossibly still. The hush caused the hairs on the back of his head and on his tail bristle as a chill ran the length of his spine. He turned in the darkness, his eyes searching for anything; any sign of life. His eyes darted vagrantly in the dense shadows but found nothing.
Something brushed against his tail. Something very furry.
He reeled, heart drilling like a battering ram against his ribs. His breathing became erratic, lungs suddenly constricted and he screamed; “Who’s there!” Much to his surprise there came a voice. Broer. Ons broer. Hellboy paused, listening and reached for the Samaritan. It was gone His next move came delayed as he searched the many pouches of his belt and produced a small, but powerful flashlight. When he switched it on, fast scampering sounds erupted from the darkness, and in the slim beam of the flashlight, Hellboy caught a glimpse of several long, thin, cat-like tails retreating into the shadows.
“Don’t like the light, huh?” The red-man asked, and a prideful smile crept across his shadowed features.
Nee, the voice from before answered, duister kwaai, seer. Aanneem ver!
“What?” Hellboy said with critical amusement. “I can’t understand you.”
Hellboy was suddenly flung backward as several furry things latched his torso and knocked him to the floor, knocking the flashlight away. He raised his right hand to block the beasts from his face. One lunged at his chest and stung him there, in his sternum and he peered into the darkness, eyes focused only on what he could see in the blurry glimmer from the hand-light. It was as though they had manifested from nothing at all, as though the ample claws were wielded by the night itself.
Then something leaped at him . . . several dark, furry somethings. Lanky, cadaverous things with long, tapered hooks for fingers and gleaming eyes of stunning, dark, frozen beauty. They chiseled him deeper into the ground and others emerged from the shadows of the room to claw at his eyes, hissing. They moved like ebony lightening, flailing limbs and claws flashing, that Hellboy could not even begin to tell how many there were. Five . . . maybe six. Even that might be wrong, given the way they seemed to merge with the darkness in the room.
A clawed hand whistled through the air and scraped vainly against one of the stumps on his forehead where his horns had once been. Though it did not cut him, it sent a spike of anger into his chest.
He sat up and one of them leaped on his back, and Hellboy wrenched it off, threw it across the room where it collided with one of its fellows, and they skittered into the distending darkness. He swung his tail at another of the things. It slashed the thick hide of his tail, claws slicing a gash there just before his tail cracked its skull against a wall. The thing collapsed to the ground, head cleaved open and suddenly the thing exploded in a flash of fire that engulfed its entire body. It curled into smoldering ashes.
“What the hell?” Hellboy said, staring at the glowing embers, even as he backhanded another of the things.
With his attention directed elsewhere, the things moved in. One of the beasts nipped at his thigh while another bit him just under the rib cage. Sharp as the teeth were, they could not penetrate through the muscle there. But it hurt like a son of a bitch. It shouldn’t have— after all, that was what made him such an effective field agent for the BPRD— he was unbelievably indestructible; hard to hurt, even harder to kill.
Shouldn’t have, but it did.
Hellboy raised his stone right hand and swung it in a huge arc that beheaded another of the sable beasts. He swung once more, so with great force that it obliterated the head of the nearest creature, its decapitated body tumbling toward the floor as it burst forth into a bright, orange blaze. He jumped and rolled cross the floor to grab the flashlight. In its dim beam, three more of the creatures backed away from him in horror, vanishing into the darkness, whispering to themselves in the ancient, croaky language.
Hael die dam . . . hael die seun ann vlam.
The room suddenly flooded with white light, and somewhere a door opened. Hellboy looked with sore eyes to the opening where three figures stood. One was clad in the clothes of a monk, his head shaved bald with a tapering beard growing thick on his chin. His hands were folded into his sleeves and the most solemn expression was pinned on his stony features. Off his right shoulder a blonde, full-figured woman stood with angry looks, her red lips pinned together in a thin, red scowl. Heaved over her black garbed shoulder was a heavy machine gun, loaded and waiting. The other man was a peculiar character that Hellboy recognized at once as Professor Doctor Karl Ruprect Kroenen. Once friend and college to Doctor Klaus Werner Von Krupt, Kroenen now donned a black mask and coat raiment with the collar pulled up, making him appear sinister and threatening.
“Child . . .” the monk rasped, and at once Hellboy knew. Rasputin.
“What the hell were those things,” the demon inquired with fake amusement, “your welcome wagon? ‘Cause boy, I’ll tell ya’, whoever sold em’ to ya’ needs to be shot.”
“Silence,” Ilsa Haupstein snarled and she readied her gun, “you’ll speak when spoken to, creature.”
“My love,” Rasputin said as he placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder, “he is our guest and should be treated as so. Although I must admit, the fire witch put up more of a fight than I would have expected.”
“Liz . . .” Hellboy gasped, and his muscles suddenly tensed, “where’s Liz? Where IS she?”
“Preserved,” Ilsa bristled, “waiting for the ritual.”
“What ritual?” Hellboy growled, suddenly fierce. The three at the door exchanged menacing glances. The red-man became fierce and charged for the door, heading straight toward Rasputin. The imitator-monk bent his knees, and in a sudden flourish of movement was gone. Hellboy skidded to a halt and Kroenen and Ilsa traded bewildered looks.
“Master . . .” Ilsa said questioning the darkness, and it answered back.
“Child,” Rasputin whispered, his form emerging from the darkness as though he were one with it, “you know so little.”
“I think you’d better tell me where Miss Sherman is.”
“No,” the Russian replied curtly, but then he continued, “you will see her soon enough.”
“No, I think you’d better tell me right now.”
With that, Hellboy lunged once more at the figure emerging from the shadows, but again Rasputin jumped. The leap ended as he landed beside Ilsa once more and whispered something. Hellboy turned just in time to see Ilsa, firearm at the ready, shoot tranquilizer into his arm.
Hellboy woke in a strange place to foreign smells and curious music. As
his head snapped up his eyes blurred in and out of focus, but across from
him he could make out a small, pale figure. He shook himself to wake,
and his vision came all the way into focus. As he looked around, still
dazed from the tranquilizer, he could see he was tied tightly around the
middle with a thick rope, and across the chest by a chain that formed
an X. He hung on a tree. Hellboy saw that he was also about six feet off
the ground, pinned to a tree in an immense forest clearing beneath a darkened
sky. Above, a scarlet moon was waxing. Below, dancing around a roaring
fire like pagans were three of the furry, black creatures he’d encountered
earlier. They whipped around the fire, spinning and flipping, wauling
and spitting, tails streaming behind them with ghostly grace, talons gleaming
red with the flames they encircled. Then, the figure he’d seen at
first caught his eye. Liz.
Oplei, God om vlam, en brand die hemel.
“Rise, God of fire, and burn the heavens,” Rasputin said, issuing from the shadows of the forest, “this is what they sing, this is their wish.” The monk began towards Liz and touched her feet with his hands. A spike of anger struck Hellboy, suddenly. Then, Rasputin craned his head, dark eyes peering at the red-man, and he whispered, “Do as they wish.”
“No.” Hellboy spat, heart racing, “No. I won’t do it.”
“You will . . .” the words were not a plead, but a command, “right now.”
“No, I won’t do it,” Hellboy repeated. He strained against the chains and ropes but they wouldn’t budge. Rasputin gave a whisper of a laugh.
“They will not break child, I blessed them myself. Dipped in the waters from the River Stix. They are unbreakable. I have . . .”
Several seconds passed as Rasputin fell into a ramble. Hellboy’s eyes darted from tree to tree and finally an idea struck him. If only Liz were awake. The bonds holding him would certainly not break, but would they burn? He had to try.
“Liz!” Hellboy suddenly called, and Rasputin stopped speaking. The fire-starter remained still. “Liz! If you can hear me, I know you sometimes hate it when I smoke, and when I’m mean to Abe, but I know you love me . . . as a brother, of course. But— HEY!”
Very suddenly, one of the three creatures that had been dancing broke off from the group. It leapt and climbed up the tree, monkey-like, and bit down hard into his neck. Hellboy roared with pain, but try as he might he couldn’t shake the imp off. He tested his judgment to head-butt the thing, but it back-flipped and latched onto his arm with razor-sharp claws and bit him in the ribs. Once more, the red-man howled with agony.
Across the clearing, Liz’s head snapped up. But she was not awake, not by a long shot. Hellboy looked up to see the fire-starter’s eyes go crimson and suddenly her entire body was plunged into a lotus flower of flames. Rasputin stepped back, eyes wide with shock at the sight of her. Liz’s restraints did not burn, but the tree holding her caught fire and sent a plume of smoke rising several hundreds of feet into the air. Other plant-life also commenced to burning, and soon most of the clearing was engulfed with golden beauty, flames licking at everything with tendrils of orange and yellow, turning whatever it touched into black char and red coals. Rasputin looked ill, his usually pale skin turning perfectly white. He turned, shaking, to Hellboy and let out a cry that echoed even over the roaring of the blaze.
“YOU!” He bellowed, “THIS IS YOUR FAULT! YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING! STUPID BEAST!”
But, across the clearing there came a voice, deep and resonate, a desirable female voice Hellboy had never heard before and yet it was coming from the one person he’d known his entire life. He looked up into the sky where Liz was adrift, arms outstretched like a great eagle and black hair streaming around her head like a fantastic, raven halo. The golden orb of power that surrounded her was both beautiful and terrifying, like God and all His glory.
“Devil!” She boomed, her unsettling crimson eyes resting on
the monk, “Death shall come as a thief in the night!” And
with that, a column of flames spouted from her like hellfire. The blast
eradicated everything in the clearing.
On the flight back to America, Hellboy swore to himself that he would never tell a soul what had transpired that night in Africa.
Not even Liz.
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