Wolf Island / Chapter 19 LAST MAN STANDING



I want to leave the island immediately, take a boat and sail for civilisation, to be reunited with Dervish. But there are details to sort out first. As anxious as I am to press on, I don't want to leave a job half-done.

First, with Timas leading the way, we sweep the compound in search of any survivors. I'm not sure if I'd take them captive or kill them, but there aren't any, so that's a question which ultimately doesn't require answering. Werewolves howl gratefully as I pass. Their previous leader never treated them to anything like this. They think it's going to be like this all the time, dozens of soldiers to feast on every day. I'm sorry that I'll have to disappoint them. Maybe I can round up more of Antoine's collaborators and send them over-home delivery, Grubbs Grady style!

Once we're sure the compound's clean, Prae asks if I can move the werewolves out, so that she can reestablish the perimeter.

"Everything's changed," she sighs, running a hand through her grey hair. "We can't take them back-I won't subject them to slavery and experimentation again, not after this-but we can't just leave them here. They'd starve."

"I'm taking some with me," I tell her and all three of them stare at me. "The attacks won't stop. Juni will send others against us. We'll have to fight again. And again. I'd rather do that with my pack than without them."

"But how will you control them?" Meera asks. "Off this island... in a city... you can't keep them like hounds."

"Yes, I can," I growl. "I'll have to treat them to a kill every so often, but that shouldn't be a problem, not with the sort of action I'm anticipating. I won't take them all, just the more advanced. Thirty, forty... no more than fifty."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Meera says.

"Too bad," I grunt. "Demons can't be killed by normal humans, but these have been tainted by the blood of the Demonata. They're creatures of magic. They can kill just about anything Lord Loss sends against us. So they're coming with me."

"What about the rest?" Prae asks before Meera can force an argument. "Will you move them out of the compound, so that I can restore the wall? I'll remain here and order supplies, do what I can to make their lives as pleasant as possible. This will be my new mission, putting right some of the many things I did wrong."

"You really think you can?" I frown. "Antoine wasn't working alone. The Lambs betrayed you. Are you sure you can make demands of them now?"

"I know most of those who sided with Antoine," Prae says, cheeks flushing with anger. "I'm sure I can expose the rest. I'll knock the Lambs back into shape. Remind everyone of our original mandate-to help those afflicted with the curse. We'll still search for a cure, but we won't breed or lie anymore. We won't even need to execute. We can offer an alternative now-this island."

"A holiday resort for werewolves?" I chuckle.

Prae smiles. "It sounds crazy, but why not? We couldn't do it before-they'd have ripped each other to pieces. But they've been altered. The modified creatures can control the others. We'll do the rest, feed them, guard them from the outside world, introduce new members into the fold as we reap them over the years."

I like the idea of a werewolf sanctuary. "OK. I'll give the order to retreat. You get to work on the walls. But Prae," I stop her as she turns. "If you don't treat them right, I'll come back. Understand?"

"My daughter's one of them," Prae says tightly. "I'll treat them right." Then she leaves, Timas in close attendance to help her with the computers, while I howl and direct my pack towards the exits.

As the werewolves depart, I scan them for the strongest and smartest. I grunt at those I like the look of and hold them back. They willingly group behind me. They don't know what I want, but they trust me and wait as patiently as they can.

I gather thirty-seven in total. Large, muscular, spectacularly ugly beasts. The weirdest personal army in history, but they won't let me down. We'll kill demons together, as many as Lord Loss and the Shadow pit against us. Bathe in their blood. Grow fat on their flesh. Sharpen our fangs on their bones.

My wolfen troops put Shark's dirty dozen to shame. I smile wryly when I think about the ex-soldier. He would have appreciated the final push, the slaughter and blood-drenched victory. He'd have understood why I had to kill Horwitzer. Antoine was a worm who had to be squashed. Meera thinks I'm a monster for ordering his death, but Shark would have done the same. So would Beranabus and Dervish.

A year ago... hell, even a few hours ago, I wouldn't have. I was a child, with a naive sense of honour. Not anymore. We're fighting a war. The survival of the human race is at stake. Winning is all that matters. If we have to become kill-crazed beasts to defeat the demons, so be it.

We don't have the luxury of guilt. Those of us who protect the world must place ourselves outside the morals of those we fight for.

When the last sated member of my pack crawls past, dragging a half-chewed leg, I give Prae and Timas the signal. They throw the relevant switches and the panels of the wall rumble back into place, sealing us off from the open spaces of Wolf Island. As the panels clang shut, my heart aches slightly. I want to be outside with the jubilant werewolves, running free. But I have obligations. My place lies away from this island.

"Come on," I growl at Meera and Timas. "Let's lower the boats and get the hell out of here."

"If you need help sorting out the Lambs, give me a call," Meera tells Prae. "I'll do whatever I can."

"Thank you." Prae smiles weakly. "I think I'll be able to handle matters myself, but I'll bear your offer in mind. Good luck with whatever you're heading off to do. I suspect our problems are minor compared to yours. I hope-"

"Wait!" I snap, stopping near the edge of the cliff. A few of the boats were torn to pieces by the werewolves while we were waiting for Timas to open the doors of the compound, but most are intact and secured in place. One, however, has been lowered, and a rope ladder dangles next to where it stood. Creeping forward, I glance over the edge and spot a figure below, bobbing about in a boat. It's a man. He's lying on his back, as if soaking up the sun.

"No way!" I roar.

"Who is it?" Meera shouts, but I don't stop to answer. Grabbing hold of the rope ladder, I throw myself from rung to rung. I'm dimly aware of Timas and Meera scrabbling after me, but most of my thoughts are focused on the man in the boat.

As I draw close to the last few rungs, I turn to study the figure. A dark mood descends. I'm convinced I was mistaken, that I only saw what I wanted to see. Or if it's really him, that he's dead. But when he half-raises a hand to salute weakly, I know that he's real and alive.

"Shark!" I yell, jumping into the boat and grinning with open joy.

"You look... weird," Shark wheezes, running a dubious eye over me.

"How?" I gasp. "The cave... the werewolves..."

"What?" the ex-soldier scowls as Meera and Timas climb into the boat and stare at him like he's a ghost. "You don't think I can... take care of a few werewolves... by myself?"

"But..." Meera shakes her head, smiling slowly.

"I'd have been in trouble if... you hadn't swept the rest of the pack away," Shark mutters, sitting up, leaning forward and wincing. "But when I came out of the cave and found... the island deserted, it was simple to hobble over here and... lower a boat. I wanted to come and see what... was happening inside the compound, but that would've... been pushing my luck. Besides, I thought you might need to make... a quick getaway."

Shark's bleeding all over. His left ear has been bitten off. I can only barely see his right eye- it's a miracle he didn't lose it, as most of the flesh around it has been clawed away. He's missing the tops of all four fingers on his left hand, and the thumb and half his index finger on the right. As he leans further forward, I see a jagged hole in his lower back. Timas sees it too and bends over for a closer look.

"Some of your entrails are poking through," Timas says, reaching out to prod them back into place.

"Leave my guts alone," Shark growls, slapping the taller man's hand.

"You're a bloody wonder," I chuckle, then grab hold of the ladder. "Patch him up," I tell Meera and Timas. "I'll sort out extra boats for the werewolves."

"Werewolves!" Shark squints.

"We're taking some with us. I'm their leader now."

"I can't wait to hear about it," Shark says dryly. "Just keep them well the hell... away from me."

"You're getting yellow in your old age," I grin, then shimmy up the ladder.

The last thing I hear, as I'm climbing out of earshot, is Shark asking Timas and Meera, "So, who's good with a needle and thread?"

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