The Conduit (Gryphon Series)

BOOK: The Conduit (Gryphon Series)
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The Conduit

A
Gryphon Series Novel

Written by Stacey Rourke

 

 

 

 

 

All rights reserved. Published by Anchor Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.

 

 

Copyright 2011 Stacey Rourke

Published by Anchor Group

PO Box 551

Flushing, MI 48433

Anchorgrouppublishing.com

Edited by Melissa Ringsted

Cover by K.C. Designs

 

 

 

 

For Ellie and Maddie.

May you both grow to be the heroes

of your own story.

I love you.

 

 

Acknowledgements

             

The last thing I want is to forget to thank anyone that helped with the creation of this book.  I apologize in advance if I do. 

That being said, I first and foremost have to thank my amazing husband for supporting this crazy dream of mine. Even though it often means sharing me with the imaginary people that live in my head.   Thank you for reminding me I was meant to write when the obstacles in my path seemed to say otherwise.

Abby, Bonnie, Sandy, and Hot Alice, I lost count of how many drafts I forced upon each of you.  Yet your guidance, excitement, and creative feedback never wavered. I wouldn’t have made it this far without my wonderful band of cheerleaders. 

Mom & David, I owe the humor in my writing to the two of you. Thank you for teaching me to laugh at myself and to see the humor in every situation.

To my wonderful family, friends, and readers, thank you for your never ending support! I hope you’ll allow me the privilege of continuing to entertain and enchant you with my words.

And last, but certainly not least, thank you to the authors and crew at Anchor Group. Every one of you inspire me
, and I can’t thank you enough for that!

 

 

Prologue

 

At certain moments in life reflection is mandatory. I found being squeezed in the scaly claw of a three story dragon to be one of them. As he shook me like an uncooperative toy, my rattled brain wondered how it was life had led me here. Could I have done anything differently to maybe
not
die horribly at the hands of Mr. Big-Green-and-Ugly?              

But as my constricted lungs burned and ached for even a whisper of a breath, I knew there was no way I could’ve avoided this. No matter where I went. No matter what I did. They would’ve found me. It was inevitable.

A searing pain in my side signaled that my recently mended rib had cracked again. I opened my mouth to scream but could manage no sound. My head wobbled so hard it felt like it might snap off my neck. Black spots danced before my eyes. With them came flashes from a life that wasn’t mine.

With tentative steps the girl walks through the smoldering, charred remains of her tiny village. Her bare feet are burned and blackened, but she doesn’t waver. She lays a delicate h
and on the shoulder of the half-eagle/half-lion creature that saved them all. Well…most of them. Some of the blood spilled in this emerald Ireland valley had been fatal.

His rants turned into nothing more than a ringing in my ears. One by one, my senses gave up. They retreated into the dark abyss and waited for me to join them there.

A look of steely determination overcame the girl’s dainty features. “You didn’t let us stand alone, and I will not let you.”

The Gryphon snapped his beak and shook his enormous head. “No. This war will rage on long after your mortal life has ended. I have foreseen it.”

“Then my heirs shall take up the cause as well!” She lifted her soot-covered nightgown enough to allow herself the movement needed to go down on one knee. Her glorious, ivory wings stretched out wide behind her as she pressed her fist over her heart. “It is my pledge to you that the O’Garren family will join you in this crusade. My people will be your warriors until we find victory or death.”

The pain lessened. Peace replaced it. That pledge
, made centuries ago, is what led me here. If the break-ins hadn’t happened. If I had stayed in Michigan. I’d still find myself here, losing my grip on whatever tied my spirit to this world. Of course, now I knew that those break-ins were them looking for me. And they followed me to Gainesboro. As the last of my strength and energy drained from my body, the thought of my new home made me smile.

Gainesboro, Tennessee. That’s where it all happened. That’s where I learned the truth. That’s where everything changed. That’s where my destiny found me. And now, it’s where I would die.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Long shadows stretched out on the ground as the sun began to set behind the mountains. The competing snores of my brother and sister provided a soundtrack for the drive. I exited the highway and then took Gore Avenue right into the bustling burg that is Gainesboro with its staggering population of 849 residents. Seriously. The hub of the city took up less than a mile
and looked like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting. Red brick buildings lined the street, each decorated with their own colorful awning of choice. Large chain stores hadn’t found this little corner of the world yet. The store owners here manned their own registers and called every customer by name. The most charming aspect of the town was the library. A bright, sunshine-yellow stucco, it stood three stories tall with elaborate, white moldings that had been carved with painstaking detail. Situated on top was a beautiful, Victorian-style clock tower. The ornate building may have looked odd in this minute town if not for the scenery that encompassed it. Gainesboro is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, completely surrounded by their splendor. And now it would be our home. After a series of break-ins in our otherwise family-friendly neighborhood in Sterling Heights, my Mom made the decision to send me, my twenty-year-old brother, Gabe, and my fifteen-year-old sister, Kendall, to live here with our paternal grandmother. Mom would join us in Hicksville, USA, just as soon as our house sold.

I turned on Grams’ street and smiled. She had every light in the house on. As if we could miss our target destination. Every year she had a fresh coat of paint applied to her story
-and-a-half house to keep it a vibrant robin’s egg blue. Frequent paintings also kept the gingerbread trim and front porch a brilliant white. Since we were little, the upstairs of her house “belonged” to Gabe, Kendall, and me. On our visits, Keni and I shared the room that overlooked the front yard, while Gabe got the back bedroom all to himself. Just last year, Grams relented to our nagging and retired our cartoon character bedding for more grown-up prints. Next on our list was to convince her to get rid of the Snoopy shower curtain in the upstairs bathroom.

After I gave Gabe a quick shove to wake him, I climbed out of the truck and inhaled the rich mountain air. Hints of pine and wild flowers mingled in the breeze. It smelled like relaxation.

Gabe rubbed his hands over his face and buzzed head to chase the sleep away and then reached over the seat to shake Keni awake. She fell asleep with her face mashed against the side window. As her heavy lids struggled open, she attempted to untangle her long dancer’s legs from the back seat before her brain had awoken enough for such a task.

“What? We…here?”
             

“Yep
,” I answered as I stretched my arms out wide.

The front door squeaked open as Grams bounded onto the porch. From the neck up
, she looked like a typical grandma, her short, wavy, grey hair even worn in the standard old lady ’do. However, instead of a floral print apron or high-waisted pants, our Grams had on a zebra print muumuu she customized to fall just above her knees and a pair of hot-pink wedge heels. We stopped cringing at her choice of attire years ago. Every aspect of her reflected her feistiness, and we adored her for it. In addition to the crazy way she dressed, she lived for fun, and always spoke her mind—often to our chagrin. She, like me, measured in at just over five feet tall and only broke the hundred pound mark by a pound or two.             

“There you are! There you are!”
She shouted. “Celeste, pull that truck into the garage. We’ll unload it in the morning. Gabe, Kendall, get your fannies in here and kiss your Grams.”

They both happily obliged.

Relieved to have the twelve-hour drive behind me, I took a few minutes to appreciate the beautiful surroundings. Quaint, impeccably-maintained houses lined the street and created a wonderful, small-town ambiance. I meandered to the garage and reached for the handle. Before I could give it a yank, a light appeared in my peripheral vision. I swiveled around to investigate. Above the neighbor’s oak tree flew a glowing ball of light. The unidentified orb couldn’t be a shooting star; it was too low to the ground. But it resembled one. I thought it was a small asteroid about to crash to earth — until it darted from one side to the other. Whatever it was, it was alive. In an elaborate motion, it swooped down and buzzed my head. I squeaked and covered my head with my arms. What the heck was this thing? I’d heard bugs in the South were big, but this was the size of a house cat! It swerved in again, this time close enough to brush against my hair. That garnered a squeal as I lurched to the ground in the fetal position. It whizzed past my head one final time. Then silence. Of course my brother had to pick that moment to appear.

“Whatcha doin’?” He asked. I actually heard the smirk in his voice.
             

“Big mutant lightning bug!” I yelled.

“Your courageous display must have scared it off, ’cause I don’t see anything,” he snickered. “But if you’re worried it’s going to come back for another vicious attack, I could pull the truck in. You can go hide inside.”

With my arms still shielding my head, I tossed him the keys and rushed inside.

“Whoa! Where’s the fire?” Grams asked as I flew in the door.

“Tennessee bugs are terrifying!” Safely inside, I relaxed and gave my beloved grandma a long awaited squeeze. “Hi, Grams.”

“Hi, baby. Don’t worry about the bugs here. They might be big as a Volkswagen, but they squish just the same. Now, come grab a plate. I ordered pizza.”

Grams’ heels clicked against the hardwood floors as I followed her to the living room. The pizza
box waited for us on her glass-top coffee table. As soon as Gabe came back in, the three of us kids swarmed the tasty treat. We didn’t bother with the plates but gathered around the box to eat. Mom would never have let us get away with that. Grams just hung back, a safe distance from the feeding frenzy.

“Want a slice
, Grams?” I asked between bites.

“No thanks, I already ate.”

“More for us,” Gabe muttered through a mouthful.

We were well on our way to consuming our individual body weights in
the cheesy goodness when Grams rose from her leather recliner. The determined look in her eye should’ve been our first clue something was up, but she lured us into a false sense of security with food. Wiley minx.

“While you’re busy stuffing your faces and therefore can’t argue, let’s go over some ground rules for while you’re here.”

Our chewing slowed. Rules? At Grandma’s house? What kind of backward, twisted dimension had we slipped into?

“First, I am not your maid. As long as you are here, you will pick up after yourselves. Are we clear on that?”

Kendall didn’t hesitate. Her waist-length pony-tail bobbed as she nodded her agreement with enthusiasm.

Gabe snorted. “Yeah. Sure, Grams.”

I swatted at my much bigger, big brother. Then gave him a pointed look as I stated, “It won’t be a problem, Grams.” I got an eyeroll from him in response.

“Good. Then secondly, you need to know your Grams has a life. Like tonight, I had to skip my Salsa dancing class so I could be here when you arrived.” She waggled her hips to demonstrate.

I quickly dropped my gaze to the table and tried not to visualize Grams Salsa dancing. Beside me, Gabe gagged on his pizza. The image must have crept in. Poor guy.

“That means I won’t be here to entertain you. I expect each of you to keep yourselves busy and out of trouble.”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Keni declared, her ocean-blue eyes wide and eager like a happy, little puppy. She flipped her annoyingly perfect, golden hair over her shoulder. “I already looked online and found out when auditions for the Community Players production of
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
are. I would, like, die for the chance to play Maggie the Cat!”

“Good girl, Kendall.” Grams gushed and my sister beamed. Kendall wasn’t trying to be a suck
-up. It came naturally. Grams’ gaze turned disapproving as she focused on Gabe. “What about you, young man? Your mother tells me that you have made no plans to go back to college after your little incident last year.”

I paused mid
-chew. Grams just touched on a taboo topic. One that could make Gabe transform from playful jokester to snorting buffalo in an instant. He had been on a full-ride football scholarship at Michigan State University when our Dad died in an accident a year and a half ago. A few months later, he decided to cope with his mourning by indulging in a little underage drinking. The result was a DUI, the loss of his driver’s license, plus getting kicked out of school. His dreams destroyed, he moved back home. Since then if anyone even inquired about his future plans, he’d snap and yet another tirade would ensue.

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