“When I said I’d give you any hell-locked soul to claim for your crew, I’m thinking I should have seriously set some limitations. Sanity being a more obvious one.”
That comment was met with a stoic glare from the handsome demon who showed about as much emotion as Devyl did remorse for all the lives he’d ruthlessly taken while he’d worn the flesh of a human man. “I’ve agreed to all the ones you suggested without complaint or hesitation, Leucious. Now, I want the Myrcian. Release him from this infernal realm or I’m staying right where I am and you can face Vine and her friends without me.”
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 beast 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 Dumnoni 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 damnable bargain.
He needed this 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 in to this. 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.
Still . . .
Thorn turned his attention to the pit where Kalder Dupree was engaged in an impressive brawl against the worst of Mephistopheles’s pets. 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 code Thorn knew well. One he lived by himself.
No damned demon kills me and lives.
If he had to come back from hell, itself, for vengeance and satisfaction he would have their throat as payment. Better to die on your feet with blood on your fists than on your knees with piss in your 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.
Resigning himself to this inevitable nightmare he was sure to regret, he met Bane’s dark glower. “Is he to be your firstmate, 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.”
“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 wise 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.
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. The Myrcian was badly dehydrated— no doubt part of his torture. As a mermaid, Kalder needed water much more than a 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.
He glanced over his shoulder at the tiny 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 rattling the multitude of silver bangles that lined both her wrists. “He’s a darkness in his heart. Not like the others you’ve chosen thus far.”
Nay, he was not. And that was why Devyl wanted him as part of their crew.
“So you think I should leave him to rot and bleed here?”
Belle bit her lip and scowled. “Most would say you should have left me, Captain.”
“Are you one of them?”
She glanced around the fiery pits to consider her answer carefully before she glanced down at the new mark Thorn had placed on each of their wrists to designate them as part of his army and hold their rotted souls in the mortal realm. She 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. She saw more than the others. Deeper. Nothing and no one could hide from her seer’s sight. “Anyone else is fair game, then?”
One corner of her mouth lifted ever so subtly, letting him know that he’d surmised her character aptly. “Nothing escapes your notice, does it?”
He glanced back at the Myrcian who laid low one of the fiercest of the demons. With a hell-born growl of glee, he ripped out the heart of the beast in such a manner that it caused three of them to shrink back in sudden fear. 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.
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.
He respected that about them. And it was what had caused Kalder to be damned here. His own mother had murdered him when he’d gone to her for comfort.
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.