Ascension (The Gryphon Series)

BOOK: Ascension (The Gryphon Series)
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Ascension

A Gryphon Series Novel

By Stacey Rourke

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

 

 

Copyright © 2013 by
Stacey Rourke

Published by Anchor Group
Publishing

PO Box 551 Flushing, MI 48433

Anchorgrouppublishing.com

Cover art
by KC Designs

 

 

 

 

 

To each and every person that reads this book, ma
y you find the gift within you … and give it away.

 

 

 

Prologue

 

Her heels clicked over the
polished white marble floor. She tugged the hood of her violet robe up to cover her auburn tresses as she scurried down the corridor. The Council Master, exiting his office, graced her with a nod as she passed. She returned the gesture but didn’t break her hurried stride toward her destination—The Hall of the Magi. Her hand curled around the door handle that had been painstakingly carved into the images of those that resided within. She bowed her head and gave the customary curtsy as a show of respect.

It took a hefty pull to tug the door open
. Immediately, the deep aroma of the sandalwood incense enveloped her. The hall remained dimly lit, by their choosing. Despite its massive size, the only light was provided by four candelabras mounted to the walls. Outside the boundaries cast by their illumination waited an endless void of space that seemed to extend on forever. Terin had never seen the hall with the lights on, but often wondered about the true size of it. Considering the size of the residents, it could be nothing short of enormous.

With cautious steps—alarm
ing
them
was a monumentally bad idea—she tiptoed to the center of the mosaic Celtic symbol tiled into the floor. Hoisting her robe slightly, she dropped down on one knee and bowed her head.

From the shadows they
crept. No whisper of sound could be heard as they filled the room with their mighty presence. 

“Did you succeed?” a
deep voice thundered to the left of her.

She
kept her gaze averted to the floor. “I did.”

“Well done.
” Steam hissed from the nostrils of her sensei, the Phoenix. Such a gesture was consider a response of approval by their kind.

Terin
clenched her jaw tight and fought the impulse to return the gesture. In this formal setting, it would be insanely inappropriate. “He used his mind control to hijack a semi-truck and blared the song
East Bound and Down
the whole way back, but I got him here.” She cleared her throat before adding, “His morality is still a work in progress.”    

The Gryphon
’s mammoth frame shook with a reserved chuckle. Terin had noticed a change in him since he acquired his Conduit. She couldn’t say he was
softer
necessarily, but the rough edges of his personality had smoothed a bit. At first, Terin viewed this change as a weakness that she held against his Conduit … until she met her. There was no denying the purity of Celeste Garrett’s heart, or her warrior spirit. Despite Terin’s preconceived notions, she found herself counting the Conduit of the Gryphon as her friend. 

Talons
scraped across the floor as the Gryphon stepped into the light. So rarely did either magi show themselves during a summit that Terin had to force herself to be respectful and not stare. For a moment she caught a glimpse. The candlelight danced off the tawny fur of his magnificent feline frame. Ivory feathers, along his head and wide neck, ruffled then smoothed. Feline ears perked with interest.

“The boy is vital,” he declared
and arced his wings out wide behind him. “We need all the pieces of this puzzle to fall into place if we are to win this war. The demon has located the relic. Time is
not
on our side. Both Heaven and Earth are depending on
her
.”

Terin’s
face crinkled as she pondered the drunken pirate she coerced back to Gainesboro. “And Rowan is the key to that? With all due respect, Magi, he handed her over to an army of evil gnomes.”

“Conduit!” h
er sensei snapped, igniting in a warning blaze. The temperature of the room spiked to blistering as the Phoenix ducked his head to eye level with his pupil. Flames from the gargantuan bird caused light and shadow to intertwine in an intimate waltz across the walls. “You will not speak out of turn and
will
remember your place!”

“Easy, old friend,” t
he Gryphon soothed in his deep baritone. “She only voices her concerns of a matter of crucial importance to us all.” 

The tip of his wing tickled across
Terin’s chin as the Gryphon tipped her face up toward his. “Speak your mind, child.”


She’s only one girl.” Terin’s brow furrowed with the guilt of doubting someone she’d come to hold dear. “How … how can she accomplish what must be done?”

The Gryphon’s feline eyes
hardened with steely resolve. His beak snapped as the fur along his spine rose. “She is like no other. She will draw strength from them
all
. Her need to protect them will be her catalyst. Only then can she do what must be done and become the hero we need her to be. Only then will she … ascend.”   

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Somewhere between
asleep and awake he came to me. The mattress shifted under his weight as he settled in beside me.

Warm breath teased against my ea
r. “I could ne’er leave you, lovey.”

His wandering hands gripped my waist
and rolled me to face him. This warbled land governed by sleep couldn’t conjure his whole essence—too much time had passed for that. Instead, it teased me with glimpses of what I’d been missing. Silky hair caressing my cheek. Hot kisses traveling down my neck. Emerald eyes filled with an insatiable hunger. The sensual awakening that jolted through me when his mouth found mine.   

“I’m always with you,” Caleb whispered against my lips.

I twined my arms around his neck and pulled him closer, a move that garnered a low groan of appreciation. His hands roamed up my arms and encircled my wrists. In a sudden, shockingly violent move, he forced them down against the mattress and pinned me there.

I gaped in confusion as green eyes blinked to sapphire blue.
His seductive stare twisted into visible disgust and hatred. Like ink dumped from a bottle, the black drained from Caleb’s hair. The dripping color leaked away to reveal long, strawberry blond hair, pulled into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Alec. Not the latest version of him currently possessed by a three-hundred-year-old demon, but the Alec I first met while rolling a tire. The carefree boy I had started to fall for before fate intervened. Yet the look that darkened his gaze was more murderous than welcoming. I thrashed and bucked beneath him but couldn’t seem to summon one iota of strength. His grip on my wrists tightened to the point of pain.

“Is he worth it?” h
e hissed in my face. “Is he worth the blood on your hands?”

Crimson red blood bubbled up Alec’s throat. It seeped between his teeth and dribbled down his chin. “Will he still want you when he knows what you’ve done and what it cost?”

Squeezing
my eyes shut, I cringed further into the mattress as blood rained down. The warm stickiness, with its pungent rusty smell, dripped on my face and soaked my shirt. 

I risked a glance up to see Alec’s lips curl in an evil grin. “Now, how ‘bout a kiss?”

He bowed his head and crammed his blood soaked lips to mine. My muffled scream quickly turned into a gurgled gasp for air as I fought not to drown in this crimson hell.

I flailed and writhed for all I was worth, until the blood that poured turned cold. Ice cold. Enough to jar me awake and snap me upright: soaking wet, shivering, and gasping.

Kendall
stared down at me, her ocean blue eyes widened into saucers. She righted the water bottle she’d been dumping on me and set it on our desk. “Easy, Warrior Princess. The only one here is bound by a sacred oath to protect you. You can consider this a safety zone, where those balled-up fists are unnecessary.”

“Was I screaming?” I
asked, pushing my damp hair behind my ears.

She nodded, causing a lock of bright pink hair to fall in her eyes. A couple
of weeks ago she got bit by a nasty demonic spider. Its venom led her on a dance with the dark side, during which she dyed her platinum blonde hair jet black. Every hairdresser in Gainesboro—all three of them—tried to restore her natural color. None were successful. Instead, they suggested an alternative: long fuchsia bangs with short, lilac spikes in the back. If I attempted that hair-do I’d look like a meth head. On Kendall it was adorable.

“At the end, yes, you were screaming like a crazy person. But the water was for the moaning and writhing that came before that.” She cocked her head and raised one eyebrow. “You were heading toward
50 Shades
of traumatizing your little sister.”

I cleared my throat and stared down at my comforter
. The memory of my dream romp with Caleb reddened my cheeks. “It wasn’t like that.”

“Ye
ah, I’m sure you moan like that when you’re dreaming of frolicking in a meadow and chasing bunnies,” she scoffed.

I opened my mouth to argue, but she was already flitting on to something else.

She shrugged off her fuzzy pink bathrobe and dug in the closet for something to wear. “You need to get dressed. Big Mike said we need to leave for the Spirit Plane in an hour. Sophia’s funeral has to be tonight. I guess the moon will be at its highest and that makes the passage between realms easier. What do you think is appropriate to wear to the birth place of all things mystical?” Keni spun toward me with a dress in each hand. “White and lacy or black and demure?”

“You saw Alaina’s get-ups before she became mortal. I’m pretty sure you could go there dressed in feathers like a Vegas
showgirl and still fit right in,” I responded tightly as my thoughts drifted to Sophia: my muse, my co-worker, my friend. She had the unfortunate distinction of being the first member of my team to fall since our battle against the Dark Army began. Tonight, we would say our final goodbyes. Weeks had passed since her death, but the ache of her loss had yet to ease.

“Yeah, I think I’ll go with tradition over feathers.”
Kendall hung the white dress back up and spun toward the door, the hanger holding her black shift dress hooked on her index finger. “Alaina is hogging our bathroom … again. I’m going to use Gram’s.” Pivoting on her heel, she strode from the room. As she walked, she wrapped her arms around herself and rubbed her own back. “Oh, Caleb, I love you. I miss you and all your Irish hunkiness so much!
Mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah
!” She paused right before stepping out of the room, and glanced back with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Or maybe it was Rowan?” She gasped and covered her mouth in a mock look of shocked disbelief. “Were you letting the pirate do a little pillage and plundering, Cee?”

I
didn’t bother with a witty rebuttal. Instead, I whipped a pillow at her. She ducked out of the way and sashayed down the hallway, giggling.

Still
grumbling under my breath, I went to work gathering up the damp bedding. I wound the sheets around my arm and turned to deposit them in the hamper when three distinct taps shook my window. I glanced up … directly into a yellow reptilian eye that filled the window pane. The black slash iris gave me a jaunty wink. Being the all-mighty Chosen One, I handled this with my usual savoir-faire … I screamed, tripped over my own feet and landed in a heap under the water soaked sheets.

“You have
got
to be kidding me!” I threw the bedding off, marched to the window, and slid it up with enough force to exhibit my irritation, without actually breaking glass. “Alec! Or … Barnabus! Whoever the heck you are!
What are you doing
? I have neighbors!”

The bedroom light
glistened off olive green scales as the dragon swung his massive head my way. He folded his tiny T-rex arms on the window ledge and leaned in. “Not any more. I ate them.”

My hands fluttered up to
cover my gasp of abject horror.

“I kid!” He waved the joke away with the flick of
a three-fingered claw. “I cloaked myself, so you’re the only one that can see me.”


Ya know, if you came here in human form you wouldn’t have to cloak yourself at all,” I pointed out.

He clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Yes, but whenever I’m around you in that meat suit you get all moon
-eyed.”

“I do
not
get moon-eyed!”

“You get a little moon
-eyed,” he dead panned and pinched two of his Polish sausage-sized fingers together to add the insult of a visual aid.

“Remind me why
I’m not ramming a barb into your chest …
again
.”

“Because we’re friends now, remember? Th
e whole ‘enemy of my enemy’ rigmarole.”

“Friendship implies trust and we come up tragically short there.”

“Now, now. Don’t be nasty or I won’t give you your gift,” he purred, wiggling his fingers. Blue smoke swirled between them, accompanied by small purple sparks. In his waiting palm appeared a glowing crystal discus.

Trepidation dropped my voice to a whisper.
“What is that?”

“This, my dear, is a token of good faith. It has many
… abilities, which can be useful to the both of us. For example …” With the flick of his wrist, he tossed the discus in the air. It hovered there and began to spin. Faster and faster, until it reached a speed so rapid it hummed.

Something flickered within the
object. Not trusting my eyes, I blinked hard and took a cautious step forward. Like an old time projection film, the image clicked and flickered in and out of focus. However, there was no mistaking the star of this particular show.
Caleb
. Down on one knee, with his raven hair falling across his forehead. I swallowed past the lump that formed in my throat. My hand instinctively rose to fiddle with the chain around my neck. Twisting the emerald and diamond ring that hung there between my fingers, I watched as the love of my life slid that same ring on my finger. The night I said goodbye to him forever. And a pain was seared onto my heart that remained raw and oozing despite the months that had passed.

I expected some snarky comment
from the giant lizard. His attempt at a sincere tone of respect stung far worse. “That was a brave thing you did, sending him away. Remove his identity, remove the demon in him, and give him a fresh start with no memory of you. Few people could make such a noble sacrifice.”

I cleared my throat and swiped at my dripping nose with the back of my hand.
Maybe I’m a slave to pride, but I refused to cry in front of a homicidal reptile. “What can I say, I’m a regular hero to the people.”

“Not that you didn’t
get a fun little consolation prize, am I right?” He wiggled one digit. The discus immediately halted then whipped around in the other direction.

One simple image was all it took for me to run
the emotional gambit from sappy, heartache to boiling rage in a nanosecond. My upper lip curled into a snarl. Golden hair, tanned skin, toned, rippling muscles; Rowan Wade fit the part of the swashbuckler he had once been. True to the pirate nature, he couldn’t be trusted. Oh, but he played me well. He put on the hang-dog eyes, assumed a role of lovelorn dejection, and confessed his “feelings” for me. I’d even felt guilty for hurting him … right up until the moment he
sold me out to an evil army of garden gnomes!
There’s no coming back from that. If he ever showed his smug face around Gainesboro again, I fully intended to get a little pay back by impaling him with a lawn flamingo.

The scene in the dis
cus was no memory of mine. Rowan sat at a booth in some dive of a diner. Dark shadows rimmed his bloodshot eyes. Judging by his greasy, disheveled hair there was either a water shortage or he had opted out of basic personal hygiene. Across the table from him sat a curvy red head. Immediately I pitied her. That was one ginger that was gonna hate herself in the morning …

“Ooh.”
Barnabus sucked air in through his jagged teeth. “How awkward for you. Granted, we can only see the back of her head, but I think she might be prettier than you.”

I ran my tongue over my teeth and huffed
out a humorless laugh. “Can you let me know if these impromptu visits are going to become a regular thing? If so, I need to invest in a giant mongoose.”

“No
need to get testy, or I won’t let you keep this little gift.” He snapped his scaly fingers and the light inside of the discus extinguished. It fell to the carpet with a dull thump. “All you have to do is float it with your telepathy and think of what it is you want to see. Easy as that.”

“A
nd what do you get in return?”

“Nothing
... at first.” One corner of his gator-like mouth curled up in a grin. “Play with it all you like as my gift to you. Then, if you decide that you want to take me up on my offer, we will corner the Countess—
together
. You will touch the discus to her and recite the words ‘
revertere ad formare, revertere ad normam
.’ That’s all it will take to return her mortality.”

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