Spirit had hoped the train would be unguarded, that his access to his target would be unimpeded. It was not. Two guards, one very short and one very fat, stood in front of the boxcar. Both were armed with rifles.
He sighed. This far away from the mountain, his power was low. He needed to save most of it for the job he had come to do. But perhaps he could spare a little for a distraction.
A brief gesture. A small crunch from the gravel on the other side of the boxcar.
Too small. They didn’t hear.
Spirit closed his eyes, and unwillingly let loose more of his power. The crunch was louder.
“What was that?” whispered Short.
“Dunno,” whispered Fat. “But let’s check it out. You heard the boss. This car don’t get to the camp okay, it’s our jobs.”
They crept stealthily – or at least, they thought they crept stealthily – around the boxcar.
Spirit moved swiftly out of hiding. His feet danced across the platform even as he gestured the door open, and he leapt quietly into the car, slowing his descent as he did so. Not that it mattered. They hadn’t heard him, but he had too little power left to spare any for an audible illusion. They must have heard the massive door slide.
As indeed they had, for their feet came crunching back around to the front. No time, no power for a cloak. Spirit quickly moved to the corner of the car, pulled a blanket off a stack of boxes, and secreted himself. If they found him, he would be able to escape…he had more than enough power for that. But he would not accomplish his mission. Escape would only buy him a little time.
If they found him–
But they did not. They looked around the inside of the car long enough to satisfy themselves that no one was standing in the open waiting to be captured. As if anyone would be so stupid, Spirit thought. Then they left, closing the door behind them.
Spirit sighed in relief.
Shrugging off the blanket, he crept through the car toward the big box in the center. Steeling his strength, he carefully lifted the lid. There they were.
Cogs. Machine parts. His destruction, if they were allowed to reach the logging camp intact.
“Got a smoke?” Fat’s muffled voice still came through the door loud enough for Spirit to hear.
“Sure thing, buddy.”
Concentrating all his remaining energy, Spirit placed his hands just above the cogs, and focused. At first, nothing. Then the metal of the parts began to liquefy. In a few minutes, what remained of the cogs was one vast molten lump, its liquid beginning to burn through the box.
The cogs were useless. Spirit had succeeded.
He concentrated on his reserve strength, to find that it was almost gone. Not nearly enough to aid his getaway. Spirit breathed in shallowly. Well, he would just have to do this the old-fashioned way.
Moving to the boxcar’s other door, he grabbed the handle and pulled. The door grated open.
“What in the hell?” he heard Short cry, and two sets of feet began to crunch around the car.
Spirit dashed to the other side of the car, pulled the other door open, and clambered out. He ran down the platform. If he could only get to the hitching post—
Cries rang out behind him. Then shots. One grazed his shoulder. Spirit winced, grunted.
And kept running.
By the time Short and Fat had made it to the end of the platform, Spirit was astride his untied horse, headed back for the mountain just a few miles away. The mountain, his home, the source of his power. He would reach the rocky den that they had not yet found. He was safe.
Or safe at the moment, he reflected later as he wrapped his shoulder, savoring the aroma of the rabbit over the fire, his brother that had offered itself for his meal tonight. The loggers would try again. They would always try again.
It was his fault they were still here, he supposed. His arrogance, or perhaps simply his ignorance. Spirit had never not lived on the mountain, as far back as he could remember. He knew how closely connected he was to his home, because his powers thinned and vanished whenever he journeyed too far. But on the mountain, he had powers almost without limit, and everything he needed. When the loggers came to this place – Spirit called it Home, they called it Colorado – he left them alone at first. There was enough for him. There would be enough for them as well.
Then they started chipping into his power. Trees came down. And Spirit was lessened.
He tried first to talk with them, to reason. They did not understand. So he had fought back, by destroying their camps, by setting their factory ablaze. It was not enough. They rebuilt better, stronger. They put up fences. They hired guards. They stayed.
Spirit could not find it in his heart to be angry at them. They did not truly know what they were doing. And he pitied those like Short and Fat, whose lives he had hurt. But in the choice between hurting their lives and losing his own, he knew the choice he had to make.
The rabbit smelled done. Spirit pulled it off the spit, let it cool. Then he raised it to his lips, and took a flavorful bite. Delicious.
Spirit lay back, the rabbit still in his hand, and looked up at the vast night sky that was his ever-moving ceiling. The cogs were melted; the machines they were meant to inhabit would not work without them, he knew. He was still safe. The mountain still had so much of its power, and its power still flowed through him.
As he drifted off to sleep, a dark thought crossed his mind.
How much longer?
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