- The Sea Wolves
A monster stared back, rushing toward him through the fog.
In moments the crew had vanished and creatures of nightmare were in their place. All but Kelly, who was the only one of them who had remained human … for the moment.
Kelly headed aft toward the cabin, and the rest of the sea wolves followed.
“Ghost!” Kelly shouted. “Come out and face me! I challenge you! For the pack. For the Larsen. To the death.”
Jack’s mutiny was under way.
Jack stood by the steps that led down into the forecastle as the rain began to fall harder. The wind picked up and the sails swelled as if the whole ship was holding its breath, waiting for the violence to erupt. The wheel was secured, the ship blindly following its last heading, and Jack shuddered at the image of the Larsen sailing forever, everyone on board slain in the fight to come. A ghost ship in the Pacific.
Through the growing storm he could barely make out distant figures at the stern. The masts blocked much of his view, but even over the rising wind he could still hear Kelly shouting for Ghost to appear.
“It’s time, Ghost! Show yourself or forfeit leadership! Or are you a coward?”
This last must have been the final straw, for the timbers shook with the roar that followed, one that could only belong to Ghost. He ought to have sent Huginn and Muninn ahead, but Jack knew that his arrogance and fury would not allow it. Ghost treated his pack with a disdain that had only grown in the time since Jack had come aboard, and now his thoughts would be a maelstrom of hatred and vengeance toward his brother and confusion over Sabine’s betrayal. He would see Kelly’s timing as nothing more than a nuisance to be dispensed with as quickly as possible, but the suggestion of cowardice would enrage him. He could not ignore it. He would relish the opportunity to vent his rage on Kelly.
Jack knew him so well.
“You stupid son of a bitch!” Ghost said. “Now isn’t the time—”
But the words were cut off. In the depths of the fog, the Larsen already looking like a ghost ship, Jack could not see the monster who had become his nemesis, but he heard the thudding of four-footed things pounding across the deck. Someone roared, and perhaps it was the first time he had heard Muninn or Huginn utter a sound as the mutineers attacked.
Jack clasped his knife, but it did not make him feel safer. His senses seemed sharpened by the thrill of fear.
Another scream … and then came the primal sound of animalistic combat.
Soon, he thought, soon, soon, when I hear—
Ghost’s rage-filled voice grew into an animal howl as he found his true form. And now the sea wolves were warring on their own ship, snarling and snapping in a bloody melee that Jack could barely picture in his mind’s eye, its true savagery unfolding behind the mists of the quickening storm.
Jack bolted into the forecastle, sliding down the handrails without touching a step. In the dark, with the wind pushing rain in behind him, he turned to the door leading into the hold. There was one entrance fore and one aft, and that stinking, darkened artery in the ship’s belly was the key to what little plan he had.
He yanked the door open and dropped into the gangway, entering the same way Finn had when he’d discovered Jack stealing the diamonds from the pirates’ treasure cache. Then he dashed, trying to run silently as well as swiftly and praying that the mutiny would not be over too quickly. He raced past the room where the prisoners from the Umatilla had been kept before the night of the full-moon slaughter, then past the food stores and treasure cache, and finally the secure chamber where he and Sabine had been imprisoned for their own sakes, and where they had first shared secrets.
More secrets to come, he thought, but now was not the time for such musings.
As he passed beneath ceiling hatches, he heard the snarling and gnashing louder and louder. Claws scraped wood. Bodies thumped to the deck. Beneath one hatch, rain spitting down through the grille, a splash of hot liquid fell upon him, spattering his face and right shoulder. The scent of blood was overpowering. By now the deck would be awash with it.
The weight of dread for what Ghost might have done to Sabine nearly dragged him down. But Jack London had survived certain death in the Yukon winter, had tamed the wilderness of the frozen north and the wildness in his own heart, had fought an ancient, accursed evil and triumphed. He would not let love be his undoing.
At the aft end of the gangway he leaped up the steps and crashed in through the small door, heedless of what might await him there. He darted through the mess, glanced to the right where the galley awaited, then threw open the door of the chart room. It was empty. He rushed past the door to his own quarters and quickly picked the lock to the captain’s cabin, then threw the door wide.
Jack froze in the open doorway, staring, his heart pounding in his ears.
“Thank God,” he whispered.
Sabine sprang up from the chair, almost as if she had been waiting for him all along. She bumped the table, and a bottle of rum rolled off and struck the floor, spilling its contents into the thirsty wood. Jack glanced at the lamp in the corner, knowing there must be a match nearby. But he thought better of it. If they could not escape the ship, setting it ablaze would have been his last foolish act.
“Jack,” Sabine cried, crushing him in her arms.
He kissed her hair, breathing in the lovely scent of her, feeling the press of her curves against his body and knowing that this—her voice and her touch, and the way his heart soared in her presence—was worth braving hell.
Jack pushed her back, studying her more closely. A large red welt colored her left cheek, her lip was swollen, and there was a streak of blood at the edge of her mouth. Otherwise, she seemed unharmed. He could hardly believe that Ghost had not done more to punish her.
“I don’t understand,” he said softly. “I’ve never felt such relief, but I was sure he would have tortured you. He must know that you deliberately hid Death’s arrival from him.”
Sabine nodded, squeezing his hands in her own. “I feared he might actually kill me, but he only struck me once.” She touched her bruised cheek. “That was bad enough. But then he sat and stared at me, drinking rum and brooding.”
“About his brother, no doubt,” Jack said, thinking that perhaps Ghost did love Sabine after all. Forced to confront such feelings, the captain would be coming unhinged, all of his efforts to expunge human sentiment from his heart in peril. “But he’s got more problems than Death Nilsson right now.”
“What is it?” Sabine asked.
“Mutiny.” He smiled grimly and led her from the room.
They hurried to the galley, moving in concert as they started gathering the supplies Jack had secreted away, packing them in small crates. It took only seconds, but Jack heard a clamor coming from the steps up to the deck and left the rest behind.
“Come on,” he said, and they raced out of the galley and back through the mess, each carrying a crate, the ship rocking harder than ever in the growing storm.
“Where did this weather come from?” Jack muttered. “It was nothing but fog before.”
Sabine said nothing, only clutched at the wooden crate in her arms. As they passed the stairs up to the deck, a tumbling series of thuds made them turn, crouch against the hold gangway door, and watch in horror as a shaggy, blood-and-rain-sodden body bounced from the treads and struck the floor. The werewolf had fur so golden it was nearly white, and Jack thought perhaps it was one of the twins. The monster twitched once and lay still, chest torn open to expose a gruesome cavity where its heart had been.
Silver, it seemed, was not the only way to kill a werewolf.
“Hurry,” Sabine said.
They maneuvered the crates down into the hold and ran, carrying them, Jack warning her not to slip in the blood that had dripped down and pooled on the planks underfoot. With the mutiny unfolding on the deck above them, their only hope was to pass unnoticed beneath the fight and emerge on the other end of the ship, where Jack’s plan could be enacted. At the end of the gangway, Jack paused at the steps up to the forecastle, sending his senses outward in an attempt to feel the presence of any wolves.
“Don’t stop, Jack. Truly.” Sabine was almost pleading.
“You know something I don’t,” he said, muscling his small crate up the steps.
Sabine passed him by, starting up the steps from the forecastle to the deck. He spoke her name, too softly even for the werewolves to hear over the howling of the storm.
She looked down at him. “We’re closing on Death.”
“Damn!” Jack said. “How long?”
“Not long enough.”
And then she was out onto the deck. Jack followed her, the crate suddenly lighter in his arms, and heard the werewolves still at it. A handful of minutes had passed, but their frenzied fighting had not abated. Roars turned to shrieks of primal pain. Wood cracked. Part of the mainsail had somehow been torn, and a swath of it hung downward, billowing in the storm. Beyond, close to the stern, Jack could see forms slamming into one another, claws rising and falling, tearing flesh, blood flying.
Freedom or death, he thought. From the moment he had come on board, those had been the only possible outcomes for him. And it had all come down to this moment.
Sabine had already crept along to the closest portside boat, whose securing bolts Jack had loosened, and he followed. They settled their crates into the skiff. Most of the supplies would be fine if the boat did not capsize when it hit the water, but he worried about the water jugs. He had packed them in cloth, but if they cracked, he and Sabine would be without freshwater. But it could not be helped. They were quickly running out of time.
Jack kicked one bolt free, then got to work on the final bolt holding the craft in place. He nodded to Sabine, who cranked the winch, hoisting the boat off its wooden mounting. A howl of pain rose from the savage combat nearby. A shadow flew through the air toward them, a body thumped to the deck and rolled, slamming into the railing only ten feet away. The werewolf, chest heaving, jaws dripping with furious lather, rose on its hind legs, turning to growl at them. A great swath of hide had been ripped from its chest, and its left ear and a portion of its scalp were missing.
“Don’t move,” Jack whispered.
The wolf bared its fangs, and Jack saw the glint of gold.
The Louis-wolf reached them in one bound but did not attack. It shoved the skiff, and the small boat swung out over the water on its boom. The werewolf dropped to all fours again and took a step back, staring at Jack.
“Thank you,” Jack said.
Louis bounded away, claws scrabbling on the deck, tearing up wood as the monster hurled itself back into the battle with Ghost.
Sabine waited by the railing, but Jack saw no fear in her now. She gazed at him with boldness and determination, her hair flailing her face as the Larsen surged across the sea. The rain soaked her clothes and they clung to her, making her look like some siren out of Greek mythology, risen from the sea to tempt him.
Jack threw the lever that released the winch. The ropes rattled through the pulleys on the boom overhead, and the boat dropped into the water. They had only seconds now if they hoped to keep the skiff from being swamped in the rough waters.
“You realize we’re in big trouble if this storm goes on very long?” Jack asked, giving her one last chance to change her mind. But they both knew it was a false choice. If they stayed, they would die. At least in the boat they had a chance, however slim.
“We’ll be all right,” Sabine said, speaking up to be heard over the wind.
She stepped close, kissed him, and took his hand, and together they turned toward the railing. Jack drew in a deep breath—
—and the sky thundered with the boom of the Charon’s deck gun. Death Nilsson’s steamship emerged wraithlike from the storm at the Larsen’s starboard side, powering through the water toward them.
“It’s going to—,” Jack began, and the Charon’s bow smashed into the Larsen’s stern at a sharp angle. The impact was massive, the sound shattering. Deck boards splintered and flew, metal ground against wood, and the larger vessel’s gun boomed once more. The Larsen’s mizzenmast cracked, tipped, and tore rigging and sails down as it fell toward the stern.
Jack and Sabine were knocked from their feet, but she quickly grabbed his hand and hauled him to the port rail. “Come on!” she said, and their boat—their salvation—bobbed on the sea below. The schooner was shoved sideways against the waves by the larger vessel’s momentum, creaking and groaning, and the skiff was being pounded against the Larsen’s hull by the surging water.
“I’ll keep you safe,” Jack vowed. “I swear it.”
She smiled and nodded, but he felt sure there was another component to that smile, and the secrets she had not yet shared with him were deeper than he could know, and perhaps darker.
Jack glanced back one last time, and he knew that the end was close. The Charon’s bow was embedded in the Larsen’s stern, and a dozen men, hardened and scarred, partially transformed into the wolves hidden beneath their human skins, began to leap from the deck of Death’s ship.
Jack laughed as a strange elation flushed through him, and he remembered a truth he had learned in the Yukon: that he was most alive when death was close enough to whisper in his ear.
Jack and Sabine jumped together, hands still clasped as they plummeted toward the churning sea. For a moment as they fell, Jack felt weightless and timeless, and anything was possible. Then the cold water enveloped them, the violent sea tore them apart, and he kicked to the surface. Tossed on the waves, he reached for the skiff but was bashed against the Larsen’s hull. He gasped in pain as his cracked rib was battered, took in a mouthful of water, and struggled upward again, scrabbling against the small boat. One large kick, and he rose high enough to grab the gunwale, and the first thing he did was look up.
The Larsen’s railing was above them, and as yet no one, or nothing, looked down.