- The Sea Wolves
He jabbed a finger toward the island. Through the waving veils of rain, Jack could see the rowboats making their way out from the beach.
“There they are!” Ghost said. “No witchery required, Jack!”
Jack smiled, hating him more fiercely than ever.
“For all the books you’ve read and all the philosophy you’ve butchered in your monster’s brain, you’re not as bright as you think you are, Ghost. Or whatever your real name is.” Jack raised his voice to be heard over the wind. He wiped rain from his eyes. “You never felt her testing you. Never wondered about sudden changes in the weather, or questioned decisions that might have surprised you. Sabine made this storm! She summoned it, because she has power you have not even begun to imagine!”
The look of confusion, and then hatred, on Ghost’s face was like a gift.
“If you all want to survive, you’re going to need our help,” Jack said. “And to get it, Sabine and I require promises. A truce, and a bargain. You won’t kill us. You won’t lay another hand on either of us, for any reason. And Ghost, you will not attempt to punish the rest of your pack for their mutiny. We all live together or we all die together. But you’ll die alone unless you agree to our terms.”
Louis and Tree both nodded in approval. Jack saw Vukovich and Maurilio regarding him with new respect and interest. He had linked them all into this bargain, made their forgiveness one of the terms of the deal. They could not help but see how all their fates were intertwined, and that Jack and Sabine were more concerned with their welfare than Ghost had ever been.
Jack offered his hand. “Do you accept the terms, Captain?”
Ghost looked revolted, his eyes full of loathing.
But he shook Jack’s hand.
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Thunder rolled across the Pacific sky. Lightning danced in the clouds as if the gods of war were crafting their weapons … and it was weapons that Jack and the sea wolves required. The odds were against them, and even with Sabine’s help they would need luck and ferocity to survive to see the sun again, or bay at the moon. Three rowboats were crossing the rain-lashed sea, and they brought a terrible storm with them.
Ghost led the way below, checking the Charon for guns and knives, and Jack knew that they were all hoping to find something silver. As Maurilio and Vukovich ransacked the crew’s quarters, Louis headed down to the stores in the hold while Ghost and Tree searched the rest of the ship for some kind of armory.
Jack volunteered to check the galley for blades that might be useful. A butcher knife would not kill a werewolf, but the right wound—or a great many of them—might slow one of Death’s crew enough for Jack to get the upper hand. But as he moved through the aft cabin, he passed an ornate door, from which wafted an animal musk so powerful that it could only belong to the captain.
With a quick glance over his shoulder, Jack pushed open the door, twisting his face away as if that would protect him from the stench. It was horrific, reaching inside to scorch his nostrils and rake claws across the back of his throat. But what he saw in that cabin was even worse. Death Nilsson was a more vicious pirate than his brother, and far more of an animal.
In the corner of the chamber was a large, carved wooden furnishing that might have been an infant’s cradle if not for its size. The woman folded half-eaten into the cradle had been dead for perhaps three days, but Jack had seen no sign of other prisoners on board the Charon. She must have been the last, he thought. The captain’s private stock.
Bile burned at the back of his throat, and he concentrated to keep himself from vomiting. He breathed through his mouth so that the stink of death and Death would not push him over the edge. Ghost might appear in the doorway at any moment, and Jack wanted to search Death’s cabin without that hateful bastard looking over his shoulder. So he forced himself into action, moving swiftly, searching the cabinets and beneath the small dining table and behind the bunk. A bookless shelf against one wall was laden instead with charts and maps, a leather-and-brass telescope, and an antique sextant that Jack imagined Death had retained as a souvenir from some great captain. On the top shelf was a sword in its scabbard, and Jack plucked it down and drew out the blade—a Spanish naval officer’s sword, engraved with a message.
Is mejor morir con honor que vivir sin ella.
Jack sneered with derision. It’s better to die with honor than to live without it. What would Death Nilsson know of honor?
He sheathed the sword but had no intention of using it himself. His skills at swordplay were amateur at best, and it might be more of a hindrance than an aid in fighting werewolves. He glanced once more at the top shelf and had already begun to turn away when he realized there was something else there. He reached into the shadowy space and retrieved a carved cherrywood box. It felt heavy and almost warm in his hands, and he stared at the lock on it for a moment or two before dashing it against the corner of the shelf. Once, twice, and with the third impact the hasp tore away from the wood and the box flipped open.
The revolver thunked to the floor, and bullets rained down around it. Silver! They gleamed even in the wan light filtering through the salt-grimed window, a chance at salvation.
With a furtive glance at the door, Jack dropped and began picking up bullets, shoving them into his pockets. A quick tally gave him a count of nearly twenty, and his heart swelled with the meaning of that number. More bullets than sea wolves. That didn’t mean each one would find its target, especially if he was shooting while trying to avoid attack, but it gave him a way to fight them. It gave him a chance.
Hurriedly, he loaded the gun, and had just thumbed a bullet into the last chamber when he heard the floor creak behind him. Jack turned to see Louis standing on the threshold, one eyebrow raised.
Louis flashed his gold tooth. “Looks like Death left you a little present.”
Jack hesitated, wondering if Louis would try to take the gun from him. They had been allies thus far, and he thought the werewolf liked him well enough. But would Louis let him keep possession of a gun full of silver? For half a second Jack thought about aiming the pistol at him, just to be safe, but Louis had helped keep him alive more than once. If he didn’t trust Jack with the silver, then Jack would give him the gun.
“If anyone should have it, you should,” Louis said, as if reading his mind.
Jack exhaled, relaxing. He picked up the scabbarded sword with his free hand and tossed it to Louis.
“I thought you might like this,” Jack said.
Louis caught the sword, his smile turning to a playful grin. “I’ve always had a fondness for sharp things.”
Jack closed the box and replaced it on the top shelf, hoping Ghost would not notice it.
“I want to thank you for speaking up for me,” Jack said. “That’s not the first time you’ve prevented me from having my throat ripped out.”
Louis’s grin faltered and his gaze dimmed. “That’s not the worst thing that could happen to you.”
“I know,” Jack said. “I owe you.”
“Maybe,” Louis replied. “Though it must be said, I do not think he would find it so easy to kill you.”
“I’m just human,” Jack said. “Just me. I wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“You’re clever, Jack,” Louis said, eyes darkening further. “Your life is precious to you, as well as the life of another. There’s great power in that. You will kill to live, but Ghost lives to kill. He is a hollow man.”
The laughter from the gangway froze them both where they stood.
Ghost stepped into his brother’s quarters and studied Jack and Louis as if they were misbehaving children.
“You’re mistaken, Louis,” Ghost rasped. “Hollow I may be. But I am not a man.”
Jack felt the weight of the gun in his hand, the poisonous reassurance of the silver, but he had formed an alliance with Ghost and would not break it. Despite the monstrous brutality of the creature, some part of Jack could not help but admire his survival after his brother’s betrayal, and wish for Ghost to have his vengeance. And with Death Nilsson and his men on the way, Jack’s fate was intertwined with Ghost’s.
“Did you find anything?” Jack asked.
“Maurilio and Vukovich found plenty of weapons in the crew’s quarters,” Ghost said. “Nothing truly useful. Blades, but no silver.” He nodded toward the weapons Louis and Jack now wielded. “I see neither of you is empty-handed.”
“We’ll have to make do with what we have,” Louis said, undoing his belt and threading it through the slit on the scabbard. “If that means I become a swashbuckler, so be it.”
Ghost laughed, but the humor did not reach his eyes. He set his gaze upon Jack.
“Louis likes you, Mr. London,” Ghost said. “For some reason he ascribes to you extraordinary abilities. Don’t let his faith in you make you do something stupid that might jeopardize our pact.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Jack replied.
“Of course not,” Ghost said. “You won’t kill unless your hand is forced, isn’t that right?”
“I’d almost forgotten.” Ghost’s fingers crooked into claws, as though he wished for nothing more than to tear Jack apart. “But not to worry. You’ll be forced soon enough. A baptism of blood for you today.”
Jack didn’t like the sound of that. Ghost had wanted to infect Jack with his curse—turn him into a werewolf and part of the pack—and perhaps that was still his plan.
“I have no interest in being anointed,” Jack said. “Only in being alive when the storm clears, whole and human. And if my hands are stained with wolf blood when it’s done, it’ll wash off easily enough.”
“Because my kind are less than human?” Ghost asked, ready to debate the point.
They fell silent. With Louis looking on, one hand on the hilt of his newly acquired sword, Jack and Ghost stared at each other for long seconds. The tension was interrupted by heavy footfalls pounding along the gangway outside.
“I’ve lost interest in talking philosophy with monsters,” Jack said.
Before Ghost could reply, Tree burst into the room, grim resignation etched upon his features.
The storm had worsened. The Charon swayed violently, the creak of wood and metal like the wail of the banshee, harbinger of death.
“There!” Maurilio shouted as Jack, Ghost, and Louis ran onto the deck. There were four wolves in each of the three boats, and Death Nilsson’s pack was rowing hard for their ship. As expected, the gunpowder explosion had brought them in a hurry.
On board the Charon, the five beasts remaining from the Larsen prepared for a fight, bearing long knives and machetes, and a pair of rifles. Jack held on to his pistol, the secret of its silver ammunition acknowledged in silent exchanges between himself and Louis. Once the enemy started to board, there would be claw and fang, flashing blades and close-quarters murder, and they would earn either victory or death. But for now they wanted to harry Death and his pack as much as possible. To that end, Tree and Vukovich, the best marksmen, took aim with the rifles and began to take shots at the boats as they came within forty yards of the Charon. With the churning waves rocking them all, there seemed no chance of finding a target, but at least two of Death’s pack caught bullets.
The wounds would be little more than an annoyance, though they might slow them down during the crucial first moments of the boarding. Jack held his pistol, waiting for the boats to draw nearer, knowing the limits of the weapon and his own aim. His bullets would do far more than slow the wolves down. But only if he made the shots count.
“Where is the witch?” Ghost asked, taking up position next to Jack at the railing.
Jack was relieved to see no sign of Sabine on Death’s boats. Somewhere on the island, or in the waters offshore, she waited for him, and she would do whatever was within her power to help.
“They didn’t find her,” he replied.
Tree and Vukovich kept shooting as Death’s crew rowed the three boats closer. The veil of rain confused Jack’s view of the boats, but he flinched as a bullet punched through the skull of one of the men on the rearmost boat. The pirate tumbled over the side and into the churning water. The rest of Death’s pack continued on with barely a glance toward the place where the pirate had just submerged. Jack wondered if the sea wolf would drown before he could heal, but a moment later he saw a monstrous head come up from the water, partially transformed, and a huge, clawed hand grabbed the back of the boat.
A flash of lightning seared the sky, so bright it drove him back from the railing. Arcs of fire splintered the air around the ship, and thunder crashed in the heavens, rolling away on the storm.
“This is her?” Ghost demanded. “This is Sabine’s doing?”
Jack nodded, getting a tighter grip on his gun.
Louis shouted for him, beckoning urgently from a place along the railing. Jack ran to join him and looked down to see Sabine crawling up the netting on the side of the ship. The three small boats were thirty feet away, rising and falling upon the swells, and the wolf-men snarled and shouted the filthy things they intended to do to her.
“Sabine,” Jack breathed.
Maurilio had joined them, and he grabbed one of Sabine’s wrists and lifted her over the railing. Jack reached for her, the deck rolling underfoot, the rain soaking them all to the skin. He had feared that he might never see her again, and now, though Death’s pack was moments from boarding, he needed to touch her, embrace her, just to assure himself that she was truly here and unharmed.
Sabine looked at him, but her gaze flickered past Jack’s shoulder.
Ghost caught Jack from behind and hurled him aside. Jack dropped the gun and it slid across the deck in the rain. He scrambled across to the gun, snatched it, and turned to see Ghost grab a fistful of Sabine’s hair and hoist her off the deck. The captain held her up, screaming hideous abuse whose precise phrasing was lost to the wind. His features had begun to contort, fangs stretching his mouth wide, snout pushing forward, body distorting and fur sprouting. Sabine’s feet dangled beneath her and she kicked, batted at his grip, clawed at his arm. Whatever hex she might use, Jack feared she would not have the time or focus to defend herself.