“Sahib! Down!” Braxton flung himself into the snow as Benny Fish cocked his rifle and began to fire at the red and black robed man that stood unmoving at the entrance to the bridge. His hands moved automatically, firing and reloading more swiftly that the eye could follow. But each shot went strange, twisting impossibly or stopping short.
Lieutenant Baker ran to Fitzroy watching dumbstruck at what could not be.
“Faith. Faith is more powerful than any bullet, English.”
The Lama moved forward, but his feet did not touch the earth. His robes fluttered in a wind that did not reach the others.
Chandra Singh moved after Baker, he kept his rifle trained on the Lama, whose movements blasphemed against natural laws.
Zukharov adjusted his monocle, blinking hugely. The air seemed very thin to him suddenly, and he groped in his coat for something he had kept unused through all the fighting. His insurance.
Baker rushed to the Lama, swinging his sword with a savagery that would have cut any other man clean in two. He was carelessly tossed aside with a wave of the Lama’s hand, landing feet away in the snow.
Singh began to fire now, moving closer and closer to the floating Lama, his mouth set in a hard scowl as the crack of gunfire died too quickly in the silence that enveloped them. The bullets all went wide. Benny Fish joined in the fusillade with his own dwindling ammunition. The Lama’s face twisted in a grimace. It was clear that whatever puissance he had called to his aid was not easy to maintain. He was exerting himself.
Baker picked himself up again, rushing to the Lama with a defiant cry. He was swatted away again, less far this time. The mad monk buckled slowly, sinking closer to the ground. He spoke, nearly pleading, and a twisted beneficence passed over his face.
“Can you not see that I only wish to save this world? Can you not see that I am salvation? I am here to break the endless cycle of violence. I am here as peace. I am here as love. Death brings new life, and I will bring death in order to bring life. To love all so deeply and not act, that is the crime!”
His words went without understanding to the ears of all save Zukharov, Fitzroy and Singh, and none of them were ready to accept such things.
Singh kept firing and reloading, and not a shot touched the man. This could not be.
Baker shook his head as blood trickled from his nose, and he rose unsteadily once more to his feet. He staggered to the Lama and swung again as Singh fired ineffectively. The Lama barked words that twisted and snaked through the air, flinging the pundit backwards against an exposed gnarl of stone, and as he did so, he stretched out a hand, catching Baker’s sword mid-swing and wrenched it from his grasp. With a yell, a blast of impossible air knocked the Lieutenant backwards, flat on his back.
Benny Fish fired one last shot before he tossed the spent rifle to the ground, drew his kukri and rushed this man who had killed his men, who had denied them a warrior’s death. He did not get far before he joined Chandra Singh, knocked out cold by the stone he had landed against. The world went dark for the Havildar.
Braxton Fitzroy stood cold in the silence that followed. Not a shot sounded, not a blade cut true, and the wind even had ceased to blow. He looked about. Baker lay collapsed in the snow, and Benny Fish and Chandra Singh had been knocked unconscious. It would be up to him. There was no fear in his mind. Only a rage moved through him as the Lama’s robes touched the snow. The monk spat blood. His magic had taken a toll. His small eyes caught Fitzroy’s own, and now the Englishman could see the weird glow that smoldered deep within them. He said something, a whisper. Fitzroy didn’t care. He was going to kill the man with his bare hands.
He took only a few steps when he realized that his feet would move no more. His boots had been stuck fast, ice clutched at him, rooting him to the mountain.
The Lama labored for breath.
“Your time will come, English. But first…first…I must deal with those who would betray me…”
Zukharov had stayed at the rear of the fray throughout, his hand in his coat. He began to step backwards as the Lama moved to him, closing the distance with a shuffle that could not have carried him as quickly or as far as it did. He snatched the Russian’s collar, breathing heavily, his words slow with pain.
“I saved you, cur, and you have the…audacity…to dishonor me so… When I found you in Cairo you were a shell of a man… You were nothing… Riddled with vermin…wounded…impure with whore-gotten diseases…hiding with rats infested houses to avoid the men who wanted you dead… I bought your freedom. I had seen you in my visions, traitor… I knew you would be the one to bring guns to my monks, but I had not foreseen this…and for this, you will die.”
Zukharov twisted his hand inside his coat, and a shot rent the air.
The Lama looked incredulously downwards to the hole in the Russian’s jacket, and the hole in his own robes.
“Insurance,” said Zukharov with a smirk, pulling out the smoking Mauser he had kept hidden there.
“Folly,” smiled the Lama.
Zukharov’s face fell. The Lama delivered a backhanded slap that send the arms dealer reeling, as he pulled from within his robes a dagger, and advanced with murderous intent. The Russian’s monocle popped from his eye as he tripped backwards into the snow, a desperate panic seizing him. His eyes flickered to all those who might have intervened. Only one still stood, pulling impotently at legs that would not move. Zukharov did not think about what he did next. Instinct guided him. The arms dealer gripped the Mauser by it’s searing barrel and threw it with all the strength and accuracy he could muster.
The gun arced in near slow motion through the air, spinning in lazy circles as Braxton and the Lama both looked up. The Englishman over extended himself as he reached out his hand, his momentum causing him to fall forward and crack the ice that held him fast. He landed face first on the stones and snow. The Lama looked behind him with a snarl and turned once again to advance on the prone and helpless Zukharov.
“Your aim is as poor as your judgment, cur.”
Zukharov swallowed. Perhaps that had been a poor idea after all.
Down the way, Braxton smiled.
He had caught his gun during the fall. The ice around his legs had snapped. He could move once again.
The Lama knelt on his betrayer’s chest, his old knees jutting hard from his robes, pushing the breath from the Russian’s lungs. Zukharov’s insurance had obviously had an effect though. The Lama’s movements and words were thick with fatigue and blood flecked his mouth.
“You destroyed my house… You betrayed my monks… You have thrown away salvation to lie with dogs… Perhaps I was the fool to think you could have been saved in the first place. But now it matters not. Goodbye, cur.” He raised his dagger for a killing stroke, when an unexpected crack rang out.
The Lama arched his back in pain, his free hand flying to the new wound. He forgot his pain, rising from the Russian’s chest and began to move through the snow to his attacker.
Captain Braxton Fitzroy walked slowly towards him as he kept firing, his arm held straight, his aim true.
The Lama staggered after each shot, but still he moved, still he advanced, and his eyes still burned with an unnatural light. Braxton did not stop. The two closed to yards, then feet, closer and closer and closer until only a few steps separated them.
Fitzroy aimed at the Lama’s heart.
The Lama faltered, but kept moving.
Fitzroy sighted down the barrel of his gun.
The Lama drew back his dagger to end this.
The Lama looked curiously at Braxton. The Captain looked back. He had made himself a stone once more. The monk staggered, he moved his mouth to speak, but only managed two words.
The monk collapsed forward against Braxton’s boots, slumping into the snow.
The wind began to blow again.
Fitzroy looked down at the dead mess of robes and wrinkled skin and fading sigils that lay pooled at his feet, stepped over them, and walked to Zukharov, who had begun to stand.
“I knew you would get him, ol-…”
Braxton kicked Zukharov square in the gut, grabbed a handful of his coat as he doubled over, and brought the butt of his Mauser down onto the back of his head. The Russian curled up in the snow, coughing and sucking in air. He looked pleadingly at Fitzroy.
Fitzroy knelt and grabbed a fistful of his hair.
He placed the barrel of the Mauser to Zukharov’s head.
“Braxton, please old friend, please…”
Zukharov smiled with a sickening desperation. All Fitzroy could see were his dead Gurkhas. The stone in his chest hardened.
He pulled the trigger.
The Mauser was empty.
“I am not your friend.”
Fitzroy let go of the arms dealer’s hair, and stood.