Like a River Glorious Page 77

Voices carry now, men’s voices, coming toward us.

“Lee!” Jefferson pleads.

I turn to flee, but in that moment, heaven opens up and dumps all the water of the world atop our heads. My racing lick of fire winks out, two paces short of the mine entrance.

This can’t be happening. My one shot, lost to a stupid storm.

Figures move just beyond the firelight. Hiram’s men have returned.

The gunpowder is soaked. Ruined. But I can’t make my feet move.

“Here,” Jefferson says. “Give me the rock.”

A growing flame still licks the end, partly sheltered from the deluge by my own body. The bundle is warm in my hand. Shielding it as best I can, I give it to Jefferson.

“I’m going to throw it. With luck it will hit one of the barrels inside.”

“That will never work!”

“Get ready to run, just in case.” And with that, he sends it sailing in a long arc.

By some miracle, the flame survives, and Jeff’s throw is a bull’s-eye, landing just inside the entrance.

The explosion shakes the ground all around us, and dust chokes the air as something flies out and hits my cheek hard enough to draw blood.

I wipe at my cheek as Jefferson grabs my hand and pulls me away. “Let’s go!” he says. But we’re too late, because an enormous shadow bears down on us—an impossibly tall, broad man in a hood.

Wilhelm.

The sudden flood of rain has all but put out the fire in the barracks, so I can hardly see his face, but he stands strong before us, arms crossed, as if daring us to pass. From behind him come the sounds of approaching men—angry voices, boots scrunching through mud, someone yelling orders.

“Oh, Lee,” Jefferson says, despair in his voice, and at first I think it’s Wilhelm he’s worried about, but then I realize he’s looking toward the mine. “The entrance is only half collapsed,” he says. “The other barrel didn’t ignite.”

Water must have rushed into the mine as soon as the storm hit. My plan didn’t work at all. And now we’re caught.

Jefferson and Tom will be whipped and beaten. I’ll be tied to the bedposts again. Hiram will find himself a new batch of Indians to work until death. It was all for nothing.

I fall to my knees in the mud. Rain streams through my hair and down my face, blurring my vision. Thunder claps overhead.

My hands form fists that beat at the ground, splashing mud and water everywhere, but I’m so angry I can’t seem to stop, and it’s impossible to tell where the rain ends and my rage tears begin.

“Leah? What happened? What did you do?” It’s my uncle’s voice. He’s coming for me. He always comes for me. My fingers burrow into the mud, as if by clenching the earth I can keep from being dragged away.

Gold tingles in my fingertips. Spreads up my hands and arms like liquid sunshine flowing through my veins. My chest swells with the sense of gold, my legs shiver with it, my mouth and throat practically hum.

I sense it all now. The whole of the earth glitters with gold, interspersed with tiny veins weaving everywhere. It’s like the earth is alive, and gold is its lifeblood.

I stretch out with my senses, taking it all in. I want this one thing, this one, beautiful, shining moment before I’m my uncle’s forever.

The ground trembles.

“What was that?” yells someone, Abel Topper maybe, but I’m too far gone to care.

I reach farther, coaxing, caressing, apologizing. I’m so sorry. You deserve better than my uncle.

The earth shakes again, dropping someone to his knees beside me.

Wind whips my hair, and tiny flecks of mud swirl around me, sticking to my arms, my face, even my dress, until I am covered in the stuff. The tiny bits of mud are like a blanket wrapping me tight, warming me.

Shakily, I gain my feet. Someone nearby holds up a lantern. “Miss Westfall? What in tarnation . . .”

The lantern glints against the skin of my hands, the lace at my sleeves. It’s not mud swirling about, sticking to me like a long-lost friend.

It’s gold. I’m covered in the stuff.

Its light courses through my blood, and its warmth washes the air around me. A mere thought is all it takes to sense a tiny nugget nearby and bring it flying toward me.

Someone screams. The nugget drops into my palm, but it’s smeared with blood.

The gold is my servant, obeying my every whim. It comes when I call. I could do anything with it. I could move mountains.

I turn and face the mine.

“Jefferson,” I say, my voice dark and deep even to my own ears. “Take cover.”

I send my witchy sense inside the deep cavern. Our failed explosion didn’t wholly collapse the entrance, but it did notable damage. Ore lies in chunks along the path—the gold inside it gives me a decent understanding of their shapes and sizes. A new vein is exposed on the north wall.

I reach and reach, sending tendrils of thought through every vein, every nugget, every bit of dust in the mountain.

“Come to me,” I whisper.

The earth trembles as the gold struggles to reach me. People around me start yelling—no, screaming—but I pay them no mind.

Come.

The gold strains toward me like a dog on a leash, trying, trying, trying, and though my witchy powers could easily make a bit of gold worm through dirt or water or something soft like flesh, granite and quartz and shale are another matter.

The mine shakes. Clouds of dust pour from the entrance, only to be immediately tamped down by pouring rain. So I pull harder. More gold coats my arms and legs. I don’t have to look to know I am a golden statue, shining like the daughter of Midas. Except the gold is mine. I’m the one in control.

Come.

The mountain vibrates. A pine tree beside the entrance topples over, crashing into the arrastra, leaving its gnarled roots reaching for the air. I sense everyone around me fleeing as the earth heaves and bucks like a colt with its first saddle.

I close my eyes, reaching one last time for every bit of gold inside Hiram’s mine. I imagine I’m gripping it all in my fist. I imagine I give it all a twist.

The earth shakes violently, and the mountain crumples in on itself, so suddenly that it seems the very air gets sucked away. I open my eyes just in time to watch the land cave in, tossing rocks and trees in all directions. Then the rain finally succeeds in dousing the barracks fire completely, and I can see no more.

I am wrung out. Spent.

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