- The Sea Wolves
He paced the hold, thinking of those who had been in here so recently. Their scents still hung in the air. It was the smell of desperation. He wondered why Ghost wanted Sabine with him now, how the attack would unfold, and what the results would be. Over a hundred people on that ship, Sabine had said. Soon this room would be full once again.
At last Jack sat down, heart heavy with the knowledge that there was nothing he could do. Fate had brought these two ships together—fate, and Sabine’s unnatural skills—and all that was left was for their encounter to play out.
It was several hours until they drew close to the other ship, and then there was shouting, and the thump of hulls nudging against each other. Following that, a strange kind of calm for a while—casual footsteps on the deck above him, the hush of the sea forced between hulls, and once or twice Jack was sure he heard laughter. Down in the dark hold, he stood in silence and tried to imagine what might be happening. He knew that the quiet was misleading.
The first time he heard the sound, he wasn’t sure it was gunfire. He caught his breath and pressed his ear to the door, feeling the cool draft where door met the uneven frame. Then it came again, and again. Crack … crack crack! He’d heard enough shooting in his life to recognize the sound, and now he knew for sure that the attack was on.
Where’s Sabine, where’s Ghost, what is he having her do, is he keeping her safe? These ideas tumbled, stirred by confusion and concern. He paced the room, then started slamming into the door. It rattled in its frame but held fast. He kicked at where he knew the bolts to be, but though the wood creaked, they were firm. He knew that the room was built to keep people in, sometimes for many days, but there was little else for him to do.
“Damn you!” he screamed, frustration getting the better of him. Shouting would achieve nothing. “Damn you, Ghost!”
More gunshots, some screaming, and then a low, deep boom that vibrated all through the ship and seemed to knock the breath from his lungs. He staggered against the wall and felt the echo of the noise passing away through the wood.
With a crash, one of the doors leading into the hold gangway was thrown open. Here they come, Jack thought, and he pressed himself against the wall beside the door.
A terrible idea settled in him then, and it took his breath away that he had not considered it before: prisoners from the Weyden would be thrown inside, and he would be left with them, able to tell them everything that was to come, but powerless to resist … because what if Ghost had tired of him already?
Panic gripped him, more from the idea that he might never see Sabine again than from anything else. Preparing to fight and run, he listened for voices outside but heard only two sets of footsteps.
The door opened and a huge arm swung in, grabbing Jack around the throat and pulling him out. It was Ogre. He flung Jack along the gangway without even looking at him, casting him away like a bag of flour. Kelly was there to catch him.
“Fun’s almost over, Cooky,” Kelly said. “Captain says you can come out now.”
Jack blinked in confusion, and then the truth struck him hard. The full moon had just passed. They took prisoners so that they had something to feed upon when the moon forced them to change, when they were so bestial that they could not think clearly and might end up killing one another if they didn’t have humans to slaughter. But with nearly a month to go before the next full moon, if they took prisoners now, there would be screaming and crying for an entire month, and those unfortunates would need feeding and watering.
Which meant there would be no survivors from the Weyden today.
Jack felt sick. He wanted to kill Ghost there and then. Kelly smiled at him. Ogre saw the look of fury and hatred in Jack’s eyes and backhanded him. Blood sprayed from Jack’s nose and he crashed against the wall again, hauling himself upright only a foot from Kelly. There was a knife in the pirate’s belt. If he was quick, if he moved silently, and if he didn’t hesitate for one instant, maybe—
“Don’t be stupid,” Kelly said. “You think you’re faster than me?”
The pirate glanced sidelong at Jack, and there was blood streaking the man’s shoulder and chest. His shirt was holed, and he held his arm awkwardly. Jack thought it almost certain that Kelly had been shot.
“I hope it hurt,” Jack said, stepping out into the gangway.
“What’s pain?” Kelly asked. Then he slammed the door closed and fixed the padlocks again, and he and Ogre walked away without sparing Jack another glance.
Jack fled in the other direction, back toward the mess and galley. He plucked up a knife and tucked it into his belt. He paused for a moment, breathing deeply and gathering his thoughts. There were priorities here, and he had to ensure he kept them straight in his head. Otherwise—
Another boom pounded through the ship, carried on the air and conducted through the Larsen’s structure, and Jack’s ears ached with its aftermath. He ran back through the mess and up the steep staircase onto the deck, making sure his loose shirt covered the knife’s handle.
Sunlight struck him, unexpectedly bright and warm, and he took a moment to absorb what was happening.
The ship was not as large as the Umatilla, but its deck rail was still several feet higher than the Larsen’s. Smoke billowed from its stern, and he could see that the vessel sat low in the water. One of the twins—he could not tell if it was Huginn or Muninn—appeared for a moment, tilted back his head to scent the air, and then slipped toward a doorway and vanished within. A huge wolf shape dashed across the deck, and more gunfire erupted from somewhere out of sight. Jack ducked down and heard laughter from behind him.
“Scared of catching lead, Cooky?” It was Louis, standing close to the Larsen’s locked wheel with a rifle in his hands.
Jack didn’t answer. Instead, he walked along the deck toward the forecastle, keeping to starboard, away from where the ship was tied portside to the Weyden. He passed the place where the skiff had been ripped away by the storm. On the deck stood a collection of trunks, baggage, and leather bags, one of them ruptured and spilling jewelry and coins. Tree hoisted one of the trunks and went into the forecastle, headed for the hold, and Jack realized that the food store down below must also hold the riches the pirates had stolen from the Umatilla and other vessels. Treasure, every piece stained with the blood of its original owners.
Ogre and Kelly emerged from the forecastle—they must have passed Tree—and Jack thought they would carry more of the looted valuables below. Instead, they clambered up ropes to the Weyden’s deck, neither of them sparing a glance for Jack. For such a monstrous mass, Ogre climbed with an unexpected grace, dropping onto the slightly higher deck in a crouch. Kelly stood beside him, scratching at his gunshot wound as if it were an insect bite. He clapped Ogre on the shoulder, and they disappeared through a door into the other ship’s superstructure.
There was no sign of Sabine or Ghost, and the Larsen felt deserted. Everything was happening on the steamship alongside it. Glancing back toward Louis, Jack moved to the railing and waited for the wolf to call him back. But Louis simply stared, rifle resting across his arms. They don’t consider me a threat at all, Jack thought, and he stored that knowledge away.
He’d show them. In time, he’d show them their mistake.
“Nothing you can do,” Louis said. “It’s already sinking. Ghost has scuttled it.”
Jack moved to the ropes Ogre and Kelly had just climbed, feeling the impact as the hulls scraped together and the heat emanating from the steamer’s stern, where the two thudding explosions had originated, hating every moment of his helplessness, wishing for some miracle that would allow him to save even one life.
Gunshots erupted nearby, and he turned left just in time to see the two shapes leaping from the Weyden to the Larsen. They timed the leap well, moving just as the decks were almost level, and they were shooting again as they landed. Louis stumbled back from the wheel, dark patches stitched across his chest and neck. As he went down, Jack heard the two men hissing to each other, and one of them turned around to look along the deck.
As he saw Jack and raised his revolver, his head snapped forward and he fell. The gun skittered into the sea, and beyond him Jack saw Louis standing with one hand clasping the rail, the other aiming his rifle. His chest and stomach were wet with blood.
The other man turned and ran. He almost tripped over his dead companion, jumping just at the last moment, and his eyes were open in terror.
He’s seen what they really look like, Jack thought. Seen the beast. And the man raised his gun, aiming at Jack’s heart.
“Louis!” Jack shouted, wondering how it had come to this, with him staring down the barrel of a revolver and asking a werewolf to save his life. The man would die one way or another, of that he was certain. But Jack had no wish to go with him. Not with Sabine still in this hell ship’s grasp. Sweet, tortured Sabine.
But Louis could not help. Dead or not, he had fallen to the deck and lay still, blood pooling on the planks around him.
Jack threw himself aside, rolling across the deck, sliding beneath one of the secured skiffs. The man from the steamship fired, but the shot went wide.
A shape leaped from the Weyden and knocked the man aside. He flew into the mainmast, his head connecting with a terrible thunk, and then Johansen picked him up and swung him, bashing him against the mast again and again. Jack would never forget the sound that man’s body made striking solid wood. He hoped death came quickly.
Another shape dropped down from the Weyden. It was Finn. He moved silently, crouched low as he watched Johansen battering the man to death. He glanced right at Louis, who lay still, blood running in rivulets across the deck. Then Finn looked left, and from his hiding place, Jack saw the sailor’s eyes. There was murder in them, but murder of a different kind. This was not bloodlust; this was revenge.
He didn’t see me, Jack thought. The sea roared, hulls bumped and grated, Johansen swung the man against the mast one more time, and another voice screamed somewhere on the steamship. But right then Jack was sure that the loudest noise was his heart.
From beneath the skiff he watched Finn take five quick, silent steps across the deck to Johansen. Just as the first mate dropped the leaking bag of broken bones and ruptured flesh that had once been a man, Finn threw his arm around Johansen’s face, pulled his head back, and slit his throat with a knife that glinted silver in the sunlight.
Johansen struggled and thrashed, and Finn slashed again and again. Then he started stabbing the silver blade into the first mate’s heart.
Jack closed his eyes, but he could not shut his ears against the terrible sound. There was hissing and gurgling, and then grunting as Finn dragged the bleeding man across the deck. He heaved Johansen over the rail, and the first mate hung on for a few moments. Jack saw him staring up into his murderer’s eyes, and then Finn sliced his knife across the rail’s upper surface and Johansen’s fingers, and he fell between the ships.
The Weyden rose, the Larsen fell, and hulls ground together as the vessels danced close.
Finn glanced around again, guilt and delight drawing his grin, and there was something else about him … something terrible. His face began to distort, his jaw widening and his nose lengthening. His hands turned to claws, teeth growing thick and long, and there was a sheen of fine brown hair sprouting across his face, following the contours of his ugliness. He still stood upright, but his legs changed shape, forcing him to hunch down. He laughed, and it sounded more like an animal than a man.
Blooded, Jack thought, and actually seeing what these things might be brought the true terror home.
Finn froze in place, sniffing at the salt air, alert and searching, and Jack realized that the monster had somehow sensed his presence. Was it his scent, or had he made some noise? Jack didn’t know—perhaps Finn simply smelled his fear, which grew as he watched the way the monster’s head twitched. A low growl issued from Finn’s throat.
No, Jack thought. If Finn saw him, he would not escape. But there were ways for him to remain unseen. In the frozen north he had learned a subtle sort of magic from the forest spirit Lesya. Now he had to put that knowledge to use. He closed his eyes tightly, clearing his thoughts and exhaling as he reached out with his own spirit. When he sensed the voracious beast at the core of the werewolf, it was all he could do not to recoil. Instead, he touched Finn’s essence, bared his own teeth, and let himself feel the bloodlust and the violence that boiled inside the monster. Finn’s heart beat wildly, and Jack matched his own pulse to that rhythm, felt the growl building in his own chest.
If Finn sensed anything now, it would be another wolf, another monster, but Jack hoped he would sense only his own wildness. He had merged his presence with Finn’s, become a mirror of the beast.
Finn breathed deeply, grunting decisively as his concern abated. He was convinced his crime had no witness.
Someone shouted, and it was a voice of authority. Ghost. Finn darted away, snuffling heavily as he flitted past the small boat and disappeared forward. Jack exhaled, shaking with revulsion as he let the persona of the wolf wash from him. He was grateful for the gift Lesya had given him, that small talent she had taught him, but also disgusted. It might have saved his life, but the idea that he could so easily match his spirit with that of a monster disturbed him deeply.
His heart still racing, he pushed himself out from his hiding place just in time to see Finn leaping ten feet across and up onto the Weyden’s stern deck. Smoke and flames rose there, and the larger vessel was canted at an unnatural angle away from the Larsen.
“Back to the Larsen!” Ghost’s voice called. “Hole the lifeboats, and leave the rest to their fate.”
Finn had returned to the sinking ship just in time to be ordered back to his own—so that no one would ever know he had been apart from the boarding party.
Jack stood and ran to the stern, where Louis was slowly hauling himself upright by the steering wheel. He had been shot at least four times, and his gold tooth glittered in his grimace.