Death Doesn’t Bargain – Sherrilyn Kenyon

“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 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. “Captain?” 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. Belle Morte. 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. Unstoppable. Untamable. 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. 1 North Bimini, 1717 “Welcome to Hell, Mr. Death.” “Deeth!” William corrected habitually, knowing his dark and deadly captain couldn’t care less how to properly pronounce his name. Cantankerous tosslington did it apurpose, as he lived to rankle everyone around him, especially his crew. Proof to that point came as an amused, sharp glint in the depths of Bane’s demonically red eyes. Even so, and ever reckless in the face of imminent threat, Will cocked a brow at the aptly named Devyl Bane and his screwy sense of humor as they approached a dingy yellow building in the middle of a rain-soaked street in the Bahamas. Only as they neared civilians whom they were supposed to hide their preternatural existence from did Devyl dampen the hue of his eyes from red to black. “Interesting way to open up a conversation there, Captain. Feel like you ought to have some sort of evil laugh to punctuate it.

You know? Just for affectation.” With a wicked grin to make Old Scratch proud, Bane clapped him on his shoulder. “Not really.” He jerked his bearded chin toward the devil-emblazoned tavern sign over their heads. “Name of the place. Hell’s Underbelly . I’s merely welcoming you to it, since we should be at home here. Though this one seems a mite tame when compared to the one Thorn dredged us from.” It did, indeed. In spite of the rough drunkard who was thrown through the doors by two burly blokes to land sprawling at their feet.

Devyl didn’t break his stride as he casually stepped over the battered man’s prone body and entered the dark tavern. Unsure of how he felt about the captain’s disregard of the drunkard’s plight, William skirted around the side of the unfortunate man and followed the captain in, where he was met by the sound of shrill revelry and foul curses. Then he rethought his earlier assumption about the place, since it smelled about the same as the sulphuric pits they’d once called home. Rotten, unwashed humans … Rotten, farting demons … Both disgusting in equal measure. Only difference was killing demons, unlike humans, didn’t get you damned to hell, it got you liberated out of it. Hence why they were here. Save some humans. Kill some demons. Same mission. Different day.

Or was it different mission, same day? Here lately, it was getting harder to tell those two apart. Maybe they were in hell again, after all … It’d be just the kind of sinister trap Lucifer might concoct as punishment for them. Old Scratch was a treacherous blighter that way. Suddenly, Will’s gut was tight enough to form a lump of coal at the thought. “What’d you do to poor Will now, Captain? He looks like you just gave him watch duty over Mr. Meer’s nastiest boots.” Will stepped back as Cameron Jack joined their meager company. Dressed as a lad in a red linen coat and tan breeches, the lady held a quiet, respectful grace. Her dark chestnut hair was pulled back into a circumspect queue and hidden beneath a sharp black tricorne that accentuated her pretty, angular features. How he’d ever mistaken her for a man, he couldn’t fathom nowadays.

Yet the first time they’d met, he’d definitely been fooled by her boyish garb and sharp, crisp mannerisms. Only Devyl had known that night in the back room of a Port Royal tavern. He’d blame it on the dim lighting, but then no one got anything past their captain. “What kept you?” Cameron passed a small parcel to him. “Lady Belle told me to give this to you. She said the one to be bartered with will require it.” There was no missing the guilt in her eyes as she spoke those words, and none could blame her there. Their missing crewmember, Kalder Dupree, was only trapped in hell now because he’d swapped places to free her and her brother. Since then, they’d all been desperate to get him out. Having been abandoned and betrayed by their families and the world, none of them were willing to do it to each other.

The Deadmen were their own family now. Not crew or shipmates. Family. One and all. Brothers. Sisters. And crazy uncles they had to keep from drinking too much on holidays and special occasions. With a tighter bond than any born of the same womb could ever achieve. And their rebirths had been no less painful. Devyl took her parcel and tucked it into a leather pouch that dangled from his belt.

“Let’s see this met. It’s time we brought our brother home.” “Agreed.” William didn’t speak. There was nothing to say, as he concurred with that. Yet there was a feeling in the air and in his gut that he couldn’t quite shake. A sense of mistrustful unease. As if someone had walked upon his grave again. You’re being paranoid. Perhaps.

But that was a normal state for the likes of them. And given what unholy threats they faced on a routine basis, none could find fault there. Hard to relax your guard when there were devils and demons abounding. All out to steal or devour your soul and end your life. “Head! Get some good head here! Big head. Little head. Matters naught! I’ve something for every budget, mates! Just tell me what’s your pleasure!” Stunned completely, William drew up short. It took him a second to realize the man yelling had a basket of shrunken heads he was peddling to the occupants, who were basically ignoring his grisly wares. Arching his brow as the grimy man brushed rudely against them without a polite acknowledgment, Devyl swept his hand over the shrunken, leathery offerings. The instant he did so, their shriveled mouths opened.

As did their eyes. With an echoing shriek, the man dropped the basket of heads, which began singing hymns a cappella like a bunch of Sunday Protestants, and ran for the door. William snorted. “You’re an evil bugger, Captain.” “Merely putting the fear of God into him, Mr. Death. Besides, it’s what he gets for soliciting head in a public place. I’m just trying to keep the pub decent for hardworking sailors.” As if! William laughed while Cameron let out a squeak of horror at his indelicate language. “Well, well,” a deep, sultry voice said beside them.

“I can see the rumors that your newly married state has mellowed you have been greatly exaggerated. You’re still the same rotten beast, mon cher, you’ve always been.” All the humor died on Bane’s face. A tic started in his jaw. “Menyara. You old sea hag. What are you doing here?” Will blinked, then blinked again and rubbed his eyes that had to be deceiving him. Unless Bane was drunk, and the man had never been such that Will had ever witnessed, there was nothing old or ugly about the tiny little island woman in front of them. Indeed, her caramel skin was flawless. Her braided hair intertwined with expensive beads and colorful ribbons.

And though she barely reached mid-chest on him, her voluptuous body said she was certainly no girl, yet by no means was she matronly. Fortunately, she took Bane’s insult in stride. “Is that any way to greet an old friend, cher?” “Friends? You stabbed me. Thrice.”

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