The Deadmen are back…
But so are the demons who have broken free of their eternal prison and are bent on mankind’s destruction. The worst of the lot is Vine, determined to claim their lives for taking hers. She will see the world burn…and has the perfect lure to destroy them all. One of their own.
Kalder Dupree has never known a day of mercy. Born to the cruelest of mer-races, he sacrificed himself for his crew and is in Vine’s hands. He expects no mercy or rescue. Yet Cameron Jack is determined to set Kalder free. As a Hellchaser, it’s her calling, and she cannot allow even a not-so-innocent to be tortured for an act of kindness that spared her damnation.
To defeat evil, it sometimes takes an even worse evil, and Cameron is willing to do whatever she must to make this right. If Vine thought she had her hands full before, she hasn’t seen anything nearly as powerful as Cameron’s resolve.
“When I said I’d give you any hell-locked soul to claim for the Sea Witch’s crew, I’m thinking I should have seriously set some limitations. Sanity being a more obvious one . . . and one that should have gone without saying.”
That comment was met with a stoic glare from the demon who showed about as much emotion as Devyl Bane did remorse for all the lives he’d ruthlessly taken while he’d worn the flesh of a human man. “I’ve agreed to take on all the souls of the damned you suggested without complaint or hesitation, Leucious. Now, I want the Myrcian for me crew. Release him from this infernal realm or I’m staying right where I am and you can face Vine and her army without me. Let’s see how far you get on resealing those gates and holding back the damned then, eh?”
Irritated and furious almost beyond rational thought over Devyl’s insistence on using a name he hated and had abandoned using centuries ago, Thorn dragged his forefinger along his bottom lip while he struggled with the sudden urge to gut the difficult warrior before him. Not that it would matter.
Wouldn’t kill him.
Just piss him off and cause him to return the gesture.
Dón-Dueli of the Dumnonii had ever been the single most aggravating warlord to ever wield a sword against him.
Sadly, he’d also been the most successful, which was why Thorn was here to make this regrettable bargain.
He needed the dark, deadly bastard. And the Devyl’s Bane, as he called himself these days, knew it. Hence that evil, satisfied red gleam in his demonic eyes as he dared him into this with a smirking sneer. He had Thorn by the figurative bullocks.
As much as it pained him to admit it, he couldn’t defeat Vine and her army without Devyl’s help. For that matter, Devyl was the sole reason that particular breed of demon bitchtress had ever been trapped behind the gates to begin with—and that incredible feat the bastard had managed after his death. Which said it all about how crafty and resourceful a beast Bane was.
Still . . .
Thorn turned his attention to the pit where Kalder Dupree was engaged in an impressive brawl against the worst of Mephistopheles’s pets. Using barbed and fiery whips, they were beating the Myrcian warrior down with a sick glee, and still Kalder fought them with everything he had. He met every bloody lash and blow with a defiant curse as he psychotically begged them for more and goaded them to hit him ever harder.
Kalder even questioned their parentage, as if any demon here had a clue as to who or what had fathered them on their whore of a mother.
There was a macabre beauty to Kalder’s stubborn rebellion.
A warrior’s code that few could really understand unless they were one of them. That innate need to give as good as he got. A refusal to surrender, no matter the odds or pain. Indeed, the harder the blow, the more determined the resolve.
With my shield or upon it.
It was a warrior’s code Thorn knew well. One he lived by himself, as he’d been raised up on it by his own merciless relatives.
No damned demon kills me and lives.
If he had to come back from hell itself for vengeance and satisfaction, he would have their throats as payment. Better to die on his feet with blood on his fists than on his knees with piss in his drawers. And he would go out choking on the flesh of his enemies, not on his own bile.
Aye, he understood both of these demon-spawned men implicitly. They were like-minded beasts, even if they had once fought on opposite sides of a most bitter war for the world. Ironic that now they were allies.
How the world changes. . . .
Resigning himself to this inevitable nightmare he was sure to regret, he met Bane’s dark glower. “Is he to be your first mate, then?”
Devyl laughed out loud—a rare sound for him. Then he cut it short as he realized that Thorn had been serious. “I’m insane and rather suicidal most days, not stupid. Big difference, that.”
“Perhaps. But ofttimes ’tis a fine line that divides the three.”
“I disagree. Takes a great deal of intelligence to run insanity and pull back from death before he takes you. You’ve got to know right where that line is at all times. Only the most observant and wisest amongst us can toe it in good measure, and dance its tune without losing the beat, or your head. Nay, they are not lovers, or even close cousins. Rather, they are strangers and should ever remain so if you value your limbs at all.”
And Du was always good at keeping himself intact—as well as his men and army. Of all the warlords, gods, and demons Thorn had battled over the centuries, none had been more skillful or cunning than the beast at his side. Had Du’s wife not cut his throat, and slit his gullet, he’d have taken the world and they’d all have been paying homage to this bastard’s sword.
Which was exactly what had brought them here today.
Aye, he needed Devyl’s extreme form of fighting. To face madness, it took madness.
Evil to combat evil.
And no one understood Vine’s insanity or war plans better than Devyl did. If the world was to be saved this go-round, their only hope lay in the hands of this demon and his band of . . .
Thorn cringed at the thought of the Deadmen Bane had assembled to fight for the world and save it.
May the gods help us all.
This had disaster written all over it and he was about to sign them all up for a front-row seat at the Apocalypse.
Relegated to his part in this disaster, Thorn gave him a curt nod. “Let me see for the bargain.”
Devyl turned his attention back to the fight as Thorn left his side to negotiate for Kalder’s soul. The Myrcian was badly dehydrated—no doubt part of his torture. As a mermaid, Kalder needed water much more than a regular human or any other species did. And it appeared as if he’d been without any for weeks now. Point of fact, his skin was peeling back from his very bones. Something that had to be excruciating.
Yet it slowed him down not at all.
Nothing ever had, and that was one of the things Devyl respected most about the much-younger warrior. He was a creature to be reckoned with and feared.
He glanced over his shoulder at the tiny, powerful West African shaman they’d picked up earlier. Her dark skin was flawless and made her amber eyes practically glow. Though she was currently dressed in rags, she carried herself with the presence of a noble queen and he gave her the due of one.
She was a creature of many secrets, but he saw her heart as clearly as he saw the Myrcian’s. She was a woman to be reckoned with and admired.
If not always trusted.
“What is it, Lady Belle?”
She jerked her chin toward Kalder. “Why that one?”
“You’re questioning me?”
She rubbed her hands over her arms. The gesture rattled the multitude of silver bangles that lined both her wrists. “He’s a deep darkness in his heart. Not like the others you’ve chosen thus far.”
Nay, he was nothing like the others. Kalder had always been unique unto himself. And that was why Devyl wanted him as part of their crew.
“So you think I should leave him to rot and bleed here, then?”
Belle bit her lip and scowled. “Most would say you should have left me, Captain. That I not be worth a chance for salvation, given what all I’ve done.”
“Are you one of them?”
She glanced around the fiery pits where so many were being ruthlessly tortured to consider her answer carefully before she stared at the new mark Thorn had placed on their wrists when he’d pulled each of them from similar hellholes and made their sacred pact—a bargain sealed in blood and marked with their “Deadman’s” brand—a ribbon with a skull in its center. That unique brand designated them as part of Thorn’s Hellchaser army, and temporarily kept their rotted souls in the mortal realm so that they could fight for a chance to save their own condemned souls from the damnation they’d earned while human.
This was the only chance most of them would ever have to spare themselves infernal torture and damnation.
Belle shook her head. “I’m too grateful for your mercy in giving me a second chance when no one else would. I would never betray you.”
And that was why he’d agreed with Thorn to spare her soul. She saw more than the others. Deeper. Nothing and no one could hide from her sage seer’s sight. “Anyone else is fair game, then?”
One corner of her mouth lifted ever so subtly, letting him know that he’d been correct in surmising her character. “Nothing escapes your notice, does it?”
He glanced back at the Myrcian as he laid low one of the fiercest of the demons. With a hell-born growl of glee, Kalder ripped out the heart of the beast in such a manner that it caused three of them to shrink back in sudden fear of him. No easy feat, that, to cow the fearless and set them on their heels. And it said it all about Kalder’s skills and why Devyl wanted him for this mission.
To fight the damned and hold them back from the world of man, you needed someone who didn’t flinch at their approach. Someone who had nothing to lose.
More than that, Devyl had once known the man’s father. A fierce, nasty bastard.
Filled with such rage that he’d destroyed an entire population and cost thousands their lives. He wondered if Kalder’s mother had ever shared that story with her son. For that was the thing of the Myrcians.
You never really knew where you stood with them.
They would lure you in, make you comfortable, and then serve you up your own intestines.
While smiling in your face.
He respected that about them. And it was what had caused Kalder to be damned here. The mother who’d raised and nurtured him had murdered him when he’d gone to her for comfort after the death of his younger brother.
Aye, they were all a treacherous, bloodthirsty lot. It ran deep in their bloodlines and was part of their genetic stock. You could bank your very death upon it.
And Devyl would have it no other way.
Copyright © 2018 by Sherrilyn Kenyon
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