Authors: Christopher Golden,Tim Lebbon
Copyright 2013 by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
This book is a work of fiction. All characters, events, dialog, and situations in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the authors.
Cover illustration copyright 2013 by Ray Lago
Cover design by Lynne Hansen
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"There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive." — Jack London
A ghost haunts Jack London's sleep.
He feels it in his dreams, a looming presence just beyond his awareness, stalking him through the midnight forest of his subconscious. He cannot identify this brooding presence, though it shadows his dreams with the promise of pain. It might be Lesya, the forest spirit who had professed to love him and tried to force him to love her in return. It could be Ghost, the werewolf sea captain driven by his obsession with revenge. Or perhaps it is the accusing specter of his friend Jim Goodman, murdered far to the north in the Yukon Territory to which Jack is now returning.
Faceless, holding back, teasing him with its true nature, the spirit's foreboding mystery is worse than any truth.
Jack snaps awake and sits up, and the ghost slowly, hesitantly, recedes as the dark ship's cabin echoes back his scream. He clasps his chest and feels sweat.
Why did nobody come?
he thinks. Sabine, his love, has left her side of his bed cold. And the werewolves who are all that remain of Ghost's crew, and who are now his allies? After everything they have been through, surely a scream would have brought them running?
Jack slips on his boots and exits the cabin, walking along the deserted corridor as he searches for the stairs up onto deck. The
is a very different ship from Ghost's ship, the
, much larger and built mainly of metal, and Jack has not been able to get used to it. Even three thousand miles from their battle with Death Nilsson and his crew, and within a couple of days' sailing of Dyea and the gateway to the Yukon, he still finds the vessel cold and alien.
Sometimes, it's almost as if he is not here at all.
He hears a shout from on deck. Immediately his hackles rise, and he slips the knife from his belt.
The remains of Ghost's crew — Louis, Maurilio, and Vukovich — have settled well with Death's old crewman the Reverend, and together they have managed to navigate the ship this far. There has been no sense of competition, no lingering grudges. Louis has taken the role of captain, but only asserts himself when the ship is in difficulties.
Jack cannot think of what might have gone wrong.
, he thinks, and as he runs along gangways and up a staircase, the looming shadow of his dream follows him up.
And there they are on deck, gathered at the stern and pointing, pacing, panicking.
"What is it?" Jack asks as he rushes to them.
Sabine turns, her long hair whipped across her face by the strong breeze. But even then he can see her hopelessness.
"Oh, Jack," she says. "It's the doom of us all."
Jack pushes gently past her and stands at the rail with his skeleton crew. The Reverend is praying in a language, and to a god, Jack does not understand. Maurilio jigs nervously from foot to foot. Louis grips the railing, teeth bared against the sinking sun. Dusk reflects from his golden tooth.
" Louis says softly. "How did we ever believe we could leave him behind?"
It takes Jack a few seconds to understand who he means, what it was that caused the ruckus that drew him up here . . . and then he sees Ghost. The big man, the werewolf pirate, the beast who believes himself above all other men, is swimming after their ship across open ocean. He pulls himself through the freezing waters with strong, even strokes, slicing waves and closing on the
with unnatural speed. For thousands of miles he has followed them.
them, relentlessly. And it all comes down to this.
"Cannons!" Jack shouts, but the crew are already defeated. He turns to the young woman beside him and holds out his hands in an open plea. "Sabine! We can stop him!"
"I don't think so, Jack," she says, so softly. Even in despair she is beautiful. "I really don't."
Ghost strikes the metal hull of the ship and roars. There are no words, only an exhalation of rage and fury over what they have done to him.
"Thousands of miles," Jack says in wonder.
Ghost's hands close around the railing and he hauls himself up onto deck, spinning through the air, landing heavily on his feet and lashing out at Vukovich. The pirate is ripped nearly in two by Ghost's cruel claws.
The Reverend turns to run and Ghost is upon him in two steps. He grabs the tall man by the head and turns, swinging him against the bulkhead. Bones break and the Reverend falls.
Maurilio kneels before Ghost and accepts his bloody fate.
Louis tries to fight. Jack feels a pang of pride in this unwilling beast, this man taken and turned into something inhuman. Ghost stands massive and brutal — he has grown through his swim, and is now perhaps taller than any man who has ever lived — and he swats Louis aside with one heavy fist, crushing his spine.
Ghost growls at Jack. Every part of him promises pain, from his clenched hands to his bloodshot eyes. He is more of a monster than he has ever been, and this time Jack knows there will be no dance of intellects, and no debate about right and wrong and the extremes that lie beyond.
"I have moments to live," Jack hears himself say.
Sabine glares at him. "No, Jack!" she says. "No.
You have to live forever! Because if you don't . . ." She trails off, and beyond her Jack can see Ghost staring at her beauty.
But the look in his bestial eyes is a thousand miles away from love.
"No, Jack! Wake up!"
Jack opened his eyes just as Ghost came for him, and everything he had been through was nothing to the fear he felt right then. He cringed back against the wall, hands held up to ward away his doom.
But Ghost was no longer there.
"Sabine," he breathed.
She sat on the edge of his cot, her weight a welcome reality. Sabine gazed at him with her lovely copper eyes, and he felt his fear abate.
"The dream again," she said.
Jack sighed as he nodded, letting his breath settle and his racing heart return to normal. The nightmare of imminent danger took longer to fade, and he knew it would never vanish entirely. He had been through too much for that.
"Sometimes I think we should have let the crew kill him," he said.
"You know you don't mean that," Sabine said, turning his face and kissing him softly on the lips.
Jack sighed again. She knew him so well. He reached up and traced his fingers along the line of her jaw, her coffee skin so soft that just touching her never failed to lighten his spirits.
"It's a beautiful sunrise," she said. "We're about to dock in Seattle. The others are up on deck already."
"Aren't they always?"
"I don't think they sleep well," Sabine said. "I'm not sure any of them have since Ghost turned them. Or since Death Nilsson claimed him, in the Reverend's case. The beast inside won't let them rest."
"But they're happier now that they're free," Jack said, thinking of the half-man, half-wolf creatures he thought of as his friends — or at least his allies. "Aren't they? You believe that?"
"I hope." Sabine stood from the cot and opened the cabin door. The sea witch turned back to Jack and gave him her smile. It was alluring and amazing in equal measure — she looked young and fresh and vital, and yet her eyes betrayed her incredible age.
Even she doesn't know how old she is
, Jack thought. The mystery and wonder of her made him love her more.
Jack slipped on his boots and jacket, slid his knife into his belt, and followed her from the cabin. The
was a sister ship to the
, the vessel Jack had first sailed on to the Yukon, and from which he had been snatched by Ghost and his werewolf crew on his journey home. But unlike the
on his last journey north, the
was half empty, its holds all but devoid of the goods and equipment needed to prospect for gold. The rush had faded almost as quickly as it had begun, and many of those on board the northbound vessel were due to disembark at Seattle.
Not Jack and his companions, however. They were bound for more distant shores.
Jack was glad to be on the move again. His was a journey as yet unfinished. Sabine's soul was unsettled, and though they had professed their love for each other, he knew that there was much she still needed to know. While she had been kept captive on board Ghost Nilsson's ship, the captain had referred to her as a sea witch, and there was a certain truth to that. While on the open water, Sabine could locate others who were also at sea, could even touch their minds with her own, and Jack had seen for himself how — through the sheer force of her will — she could influence the weather around her. Yet her connection to the sea was more primal than anything that could be classified as witchcraft. Sabine's fractured memory went back countless centuries, into a vague nothing-time that she could no longer recall. Jack believed that her power came not from witchcraft, but from something innate, that she must be some sort of water spirit or elemental goddess. He had met a woman like that once before — the forest spirit, Lesya, who had help him captive just as surely as Ghost had held Sabine.
If Jack was right, then Lesya might be able to shed some light on Sabine's true nature, unravel the intimate mystery of a past that so deeply troubled this woman he loved. If he was right, the voyage north was moving toward a revelation for Sabine, and perhaps an end to this part of Jack's journey.
But life, he knew, would never stop moving. He was keen to see what came next.
had barely made it to San Francisco. Death's ship had been damaged during the battle in which the werewolf brothers — Ghost and Death Nilsson — had at last resolved their differences. Death, the eldest, had been killed along with all but one of his crew, the Reverend. Jack and Sabine had enlisted the aid of Ghost's crew, and the werewolves had turned on their captain. Determined to prove himself something other than an animal — to prove himself human, instead of a beast — Jack showed mercy to the overthrown Ghost. They abandoned the werewolf on the shore of a small, deserted island. He'd had his vengeance on the brother who'd made him a monster, but would have no pirate plunder, nor any ship to captain ever again. They'd left Ghost with nothing.
Despite himself, Jack had felt a small speck of sympathy for the abandoned wolf. Ghost had been betrayed by his older brother, transformed into a monster, and then spent years trying to scour from his own heart any semblance of humanity or compassion, so that he would be heartless, merciless enough to murder his own brother when the time came. Now, with his brother dead, Ghost had nothing. But even with whatever tiny fraction of sympathy Jack felt for him, there was never any debate about bringing Ghost along. He was simply too dangerous. He would kill Jack and his former crewmen without hesitation or remorse.
Sabine, on the other hand . . .
Jack felt sure Ghost would have other plans for her. The scrap of humanity left in the former captain stemmed almost entirely from the feelings Ghost had for Sabine — a love the werewolf captain had tried to deny to all, himself included, but which had been evident in the way he looked at her, and the storm that her mere presence could create in his heart.
Jack and Sabine and the handful of surviving wolves had formed an uneasy alliance, using the damaged
to strike out east across the Pacific toward San Francisco — Jack's home. The vessel had been taking on water for the last three hundred miles of their journey. Worried that it would be recognized as a pirate vessel — the Reverend told them that Death had plundered at random all across the north and east Pacific — Jack had suggested that they make land in the ship's remaining lifeboats. Rowing away from the
had felt good, and watching it sinking into the ocean behind them, Jack had mused upon the souls that ship carried down with it. He only wished that the vessel's demise could bring peace to the many lives it had seen destroyed.
Their short time in San Francisco had been a strange experience for Jack. So much had changed for him since he had left for the Yukon that his mother had barely recognized him. He had placed the small bag of gold in her hands, and she had wept. He'd believed it had been from relief and gratitude, but later his sister Eliza told him that she had also been afraid. Jack had left as himself, but returned as someone different.
It's like you've become larger
, Eliza had said, unable to explain things better than that.
They had remained in San Francisco for the night of the full moon, when its power was strongest and the werewolves could not prevent themselves from transforming. Most of the time, they could change at will, and when they were in that monstrous form, they could still be reasoned with. But on the night of the full moon, they had no control — no reason. They were savagery unleashed, primal and voracious. That had been a terrifying time for Jack and Sabine. On board the
, they had been able to lock the wolves in the hold. In San Francisco, it had been a harder trick, finding a place where they could be locked away and would not be disturbed, and where their howls would not bring anyone out to investigate.
Jack had secured the use of an old fishing dock, owned by one of the men he used to poach oysters with, and the secure storage compartments in the small shack on the dock had been put to good use. The werewolves had given themselves over to incarceration willingly, and in each of them Jack had seen the hope that their curse might yet abate. It had been a constant source of discussion and debate on their eastward sea journey, and Jack had started to believe that with his help they might yet master the wild within themselves.
But they had been in San Francisco, where Jack's family and hundreds of thousands of other people lived. Nothing could have been left to chance. There might yet come a time when the wolves' humanity would be tested, but it would have to be far, far away from innocent people. That also meant that if they were to book passage aboard a commercial ship from San Francisco to the Yukon, they had to make haste to be sure they could complete their ocean journey before the moon waxed its fullest again.