Home > Dragon's Ground (Desert Cursed #2)

Dragon's Ground (Desert Cursed #2)
Author: Shannon Mayer

Chapter 1

I lay on my back in my bed inside the place I called home and thought of all the ways I could kill my ex-husband and get away with it.

Poison in his food.

Smother him with a pillow.

Trampled by giants.

Trampled by anything big enough to trample him.

Knife him right in his stupid face with a dull blade. Or maybe a spoon.

The list was long, and sure, you might say those sorts of morbid thoughts are a common fantasy for an ex-wife when her husband turned out to be a cheating, lying, manipulating asshole of the kind the world sees only once in a generation, but for me it was a bit more.

I was actually plotting how to make it happen.

Because my ex-husband was not only all of those things, but he had threatened my life and the life of my brother.

The scene still reverberated through my skull and it made me boil with rage, homicidal thoughts rolling through me all over again.

Steve grabbed my arm as we left Ish’s chamber, right after we’d returned to our home in the Stockyards. As our mentor and leader, Ish had given Steve the position of alpha of our pride. Sure, the decision was based on lies, but I couldn’t prove it. I glared at him, slowly looking to where his hand gripped my arm.

“If you value your fingers, you’ll take them off me now, you camel-fucking asshole.” I snarled the words but didn’t jerk away. He would either drop his hand or I would go for his throat right there and not feel an ounce of sorrow over it.

“You are not in charge, Zam.” He peeled his fingers from my arm, slower than I wanted but at least he let go. “Be glad your brother isn’t here to see this.”

I narrowed my eyes farther. “Don’t you dare even think it, Steve.”

He smiled, his canines showing clearly in the light of the flickering candles. “He’s a blight, a weak link in our pride. He should have been put out of his misery years ago.”

There was no thought process for me at all as I launched myself at him.

Darcy caught me around the waist in midair and held me back—but barely. “Stop, Zam, stop! This won’t do anyone any good, least of all your brother!”

She was right, but in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to grab Steve’s stupid, sneering face and shove it into a deep water bucket until he stopped thrashing.

He snorted and shook his head and spoke as if he’d read my mind. “You should have been drowned as a cub, Zam. Useless and weak. That’s you and your brother.”

I sat up, and my bed springs creaked as I swung my long legs over the side. My emotions rolled from anger to worry, to hatred and fear, leaving me unable to sit still.

Above and behind me, my horse, Balder, stuck his head in through the window that connected his stall to my bedroom. His lips flapped as he wiggled them against my head, messing up my long dark hair before he let out a big snort that sent horse boogers all over my scalp.

“Nice, thanks,” I grumbled and pushed him away gently. He was as antsy as I was, being cooped up for three days. Three days of finding ways to avoid Steve, because the truth was, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t attack him.

He’d threatened me before, lightly, subtly. But never my brother.

That I wouldn’t stand for.

I blew out a long breath and scrubbed my hands through my hair. “Fuck, we need to get moving, Balder.”

He bobbed his head in agreement, but of course, there was nothing he nor I could do about our current situation.

Three days ago, we’d returned to our home in the Stockyards.

Two weeks before that, I’d pulled Steve, his current girl, Kiara, and my best friend, Darcy, out of the dungeons of the Ice Witch of Pojhola. The Witch’s Reign had nearly killed me on multiple occasions and I’d thought that our mentor and leader, Ish, would have been happy to see us all home and alive.

Yeah, that hadn’t been the case, not in the least. She wanted the Ice Witch’s jewel—a sapphire that would give her additional power over the weather. She’d been furious that we’d not returned with it. Or at least that was what I let her believe.

I reached under my shirt and touched the sapphire that hung on the chain around my neck next to my father’s ring. A part of me knew I had made things worse by not giving it to Ish. If I’d done that, I could have proven I had been the one to save the day against the Ice Witch. Could’ve shown clearly that I should be the one to lead our lion pride despite my size and gender.

I should have given it to her. I really should have.

But I didn’t, and that other part of me knew I’d been right to hold it back. Something was off with Ish, something dangerous and dark that I’d never seen in her in all the years I’d known her.

That took my thoughts down a path I didn’t like, one that left me unable to trust even the woman I’d thought of as a mother. I frowned and let go of the sapphire. At least, for now, it was safe with me. I was no mage, so there was no call on me to use its power.

The caw of a raven startled me and I spun around.

“Balder, am I hearing things?” I asked as I climbed onto the bed and peered out the connecting window.

He snorted and flicked his head up and down as if agreeing with me. I smiled and reached out for him. He was such a good boy, steady and . . . a second caw cut through the air and a flash of white whipped across the courtyard I could see through Balder’s stall.

I grabbed my kukri blades and leapt through the window, then over the half-open Dutch door in a single bound. I landed in a crouch, the two blades held out to either side of me. I kept very still while my mind raced with all the possibilities. I’d faced the large, magical White Raven in the land of the Witch’s Reign. I’d traded for my life by giving her the flail of Marsum, a weapon that was powerful and deadly.

I’d considered it an excellent trade, seeing as the weapon had tried to kill me more than once.

I shifted in my crouch, leaning to the side so I could check out the overhang above me. No bird sat there. Probably I was just on edge because I’d been—

A caw shattered the air and my heart clattered into overdrive. I wanted to leap up and fight, but the caw of the raven came from all around me.

“We made a deal!” I shouted.

“We did . . . that is true,” she called out, her words bouncing around me like the ping pong balls in the game room.

I pushed my back against the wall of the building and slid to my right, one quiet step at a time. “What do you want?”

“I bring you a gift.” The Raven’s words were suddenly soft on the wind. “My mistress regrets . . . things.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at her choice of words. “Regrets . . . things? You mean like trying to kill us, or worse, handing us over to the Jinn?”

“Yes, those things, amongst others.” There was a sound of talons on metal and my head snapped up. Above me to the right was the curve of the tip of one talon as she gripped the metal roofing. I continued to move her way.

“Okay, fine, let’s act like that wasn’t a fucking shit show. Why would she send me a gift?”

“Maggi went to the Oracle . . . who told her that you need your weapon back.” The talon lifted from the metal roof, disappeared, and then came back into view with . . .

“Oh, fuck no.” I stood and stepped out from under the overhang, staring hard up at the huge white bird. “Are you serious?” I pointed at the flail in her claw. It looked small in her grasp. But it was a fucking monstrous weapon that not only killed with glee, but drew the energy and life off anyone who used it for killing.

So, you’d kill your enemies, but you still died. What a deal.

The raven tipped her head to one side as her eyes narrowed. “The Oracle knows better than all of us. You will need it. Do not let it out of your sight again.” She let go, and the flail dropped to the ground, a clatter of metal against the scattered paving stones.

“Wait!” I held up both hands as she crouched, her muscles bunching to launch her into the air. “Just . . . is Maggi really Ish’s sister?”

That probably wasn’t the best question, but it was the one that burned in me. Because of all the implications it led to. That Ish had held information back. That Maggi had thought Ish cared enough for us to save us from her. And Ish had done nothing of the sort.

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