Home > Witch's Reign (Desert Cursed #1)

Witch's Reign (Desert Cursed #1)
Author: Shannon Mayer

Chapter One

The thing about giants is that while they are dumb as a bag of rocks, they’re fast and mean, and don’t like giving up on prey. Especially prey that is running flat out, prey who just stole a prized possession from them that they believed kept their power at its peak, prey that may or may not have flipped them off as it ran away.

I smiled to myself and dropped my hands. What could I say? The giants deserved at least a one-finger salute.

I bent low over my horse’s neck, urging him to greater speed, even though the ground was rock hard, covered in a thin sheen of ice in some places, and bubbling toxic waste in others. No problem.

A pool spewed to my left and we veered to the right to avoid splash back from the stinking green fluid that could burn through flesh and bone if so much as a drop landed on us. I glanced over my shoulder, then let out a low growl at the big-ass creatures charging down the gorge after us.

Weighing in at five tons per giant, they literally thundered along behind, their feet slamming mini craters with each step.

“Nasty shit eaters,” I grumbled, doing what I could to squash the fear. Really, it was nothing new. Steal the jewel, run from those we stole from. Simple, yet not really. The giants let out a cacophony of roars that made the hair on the back of my neck stand. The sound was like a wicked choir singing for our destruction.

“Zam, distract them!” Steve shouted from ahead of me, panic lacing his words.

I turned my attention to doing just that. Balder, my horse, could outrun Steve’s bigger war horse, no problem, but I couldn’t leave him behind. My job was to get the idiot, and the jewel he carried, back to the Stockyards—preferably in one piece.

I glanced back again at the giants. “Shit.” I whispered the word and Balder tried to turn on the speed, picking up on the tension that raced through me, but the ice below us made traction for that kind of speed impossible and dangerous. If we fell, that would be bad, worse if we tumbled into one of the toxic pits. Even my shifter healing metabolism wouldn’t save me then.

I held Balder back even as the giants closed in around us. He fought and shook his head, knowing as well as I that we were very much the prey of the day.

Seven giants drove us from behind, and that would have been bad enough. But the gorge we galloped through had fifty-foot-high sides blocking any easy escape. But wait, it got better.

On those walls were five more giants, two on the left, three on the right. They used their clawed toes and fingers as if they were enormous, maw-gaping spiders, leaping and working their way toward us on all fours, horizontal. As in sideways. Like gravity somehow no longer existed for the oversized dumbs that they were. Then again, they weren’t so dumb that we’d been able to slip in and out without being noticed.

“Steve,” I growled. He’d just had to try and get all the glory of the theft.

Now, though, I had work to do. I dropped the reins, giving Balder his head despite the danger of added speed. I needed both hands for dealing with our retreat. I reached for the weapon tucked behind my leg. An over-under shotgun with a grenade launcher, one of the few toys of my father’s I still had. And one that I used sparingly. Coming by ammunition was not a small task.

“Please work,” I whispered to the weapon. It was finicky at the best of times in perfect conditions. Of which we were not in, with the cold and ice frosting every damn thing around us.

I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and twisted so I sat backward in the saddle, facing the oncoming horde. Goddess of the desert and all she held holy, they were ugly creatures. You’d think they’d be just upsized versions of the average human. But not so much.

Some of them had two heads or multiple arms. Or two arms on one side, and no arms on the other. They all had disfigured faces thick with teeth, noses, and eyes. Like everything was just larger in terms of their senses to make up for their lack of brains, but nothing was really in the traditional place. Like a mouth on the forehead, eyes on the chin, and that sort of shit.

The giant in the middle was the queen, or what passed for their queen. She was the biggest of the brutes and had three tits that hung almost to her waist. As I watched, two of them swung so hard that they hit the giant next to her, knocking him backward onto his ass.

For once, I was grateful I hadn’t been so blessed in the boob department. A smile twitched over my lips as I lifted the gun. “Steady, Balder, this is going to be loud.”

I aimed for the wall to my right, tucked the butt of the gun against my shoulder as I tightened my legs on my horse, drew a breath and slowly let it out as I pulled the trigger for the grenade launcher.

It blew out with a roar that echoed through the canyon. Before it hit, I spun around to the front of the saddle and jammed the gun into its holster under my leg. Behind me, the explosion of the grenade hitting rocked the air, sending out a shockwave that rumbled through my back.

The reverberation continued through the stones and the ground under our feet. That shouldn’t be happening. What the hell had gone wrong now? I had to dare a look back.

The air was filled with dust and shards of rock, and for just a moment, I thought we’d escaped the big assholes—check that, I’d gotten us clear of them. Steve, as always, was too busy saving himself to bother thinking about anyone else. I frowned as I stared in the direction we’d come. Something was off, my senses twitched and I turned to face the direction we were running.

The scrabble of rocks ahead of me was the only warning we had and Balder saved us both. A giant leapt off the side wall—how the fuck he’d gotten so far ahead in stealth mode was beyond me—and came at us with a wide mouth and three grasping hands.

Balder zigged to the right, turning on the speed, slipping only once as his iron shoes somehow miraculously took hold on the ice. The giant landed where we’d been only a second before, a three-fingered hand that would engulf us both snaking toward us, closing the gap Balder had created. I grabbed the shotgun, yanked it out and twisted around, shooting before I even sighted properly. I pulled the trigger and the gun bucked against my shoulder, unbalancing me. I hit the giant’s middle finger, blowing the tip off. He roared and snapped his hand back but I knew it wouldn’t stop him.

Basically, I’d just pissed him off and given him even more reason to come after me long beyond the edge of his territory.

Good fucking job, Zamira.

I straightened and tucked the gun away, looking for Steve.

His horse was a black bay and stood out against the browns of the gorge walls, which meant I should have spotted him right away.

“STEVE?” I yelled for him. Where was that camel’s asshole anyway?

There was a low roll of laughter from behind me and my heart sank. I spun Balder around and he slid and slipped to a stop.

Behind us was the queen of the giants and at her feet were Steve and his horse. The horse—Batman by name—seemed stunned, but was still standing, if shaking like a leaf. One of the spiderlike giants grinned back at us, preening. They’d gotten ahead of me in the mess and snagged Steve.

The giant I’d just blown a hole in scurried back to his queen, whimpering and whining, holding up his bleeding finger. She grabbed it and shoved it in her mouth, biting the whole hand off. He howled as she chewed as if she’d gotten a wad of tobacco and then spit the mangled limb to the side.

Steve was alive, his eyes about as big as I’d ever seen them, and I’d seen him caught red-handed cheating on his wife. No small thing that was either. I suspected he’d preferred being caught by the giants than by his now ex-wife.

The queen held him up by one leg, dangling him as though she would bring him to her mouth and bite his head off. I sighed. I should probably let her do it as it would solve so many of my current gripes about life.

Steve’s death would make my life a lot easier, yes, but what if she swallowed the jewel? Then I’d have to wait around and dig through her shit to get it. That possibility was not cool; I had no interest in digging through a literal giant pile of shit and body parts for a jewel the size of my fist.

The queen shook him from side to side, her tits jiggling with the movement. “You wanna wanna your mate back? You gimme gimme my jewel.” She smiled—though I use that term loosely with the size of her teeth and the twist of her face and mouth. Blood trickled over her lower lip and she slid an overly thick tongue out to lap at it. I grimaced. Disgusting creatures. How the hell they’d found a jewel and understood it gave them power was beyond me. Perhaps it was the emperor’s way of making a joke. He’d stolen all the jewels from my mentor, Ish a hundred years before and handed them out to others to make her weak. Giving a jewel to creatures like the giants in front of me was a slap in the face.

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