Here you go gang, the very first sneak peak of my book THE CONDUIT. What follows is the prologue, the legend behind the story. I hope you enjoy it.
A Young Adult Fantasy Novel
By: Stacey Rourke
“To know what is to come, you must first know what has been. That story takes us to the green sprawling hills of Ireland in the 17th century. It was the bloodiest time in the history of Ireland. Civil wars were tearing the country apart and ending lives. The most brutal phase came when Oliver Cromwell led his troops on a mission to conquer Ireland for the English Commonwealth. His soldiers showed no mercy as they slaughtered all those that dared to cross them.
One of the most ferocious of Cromwell’s soldiers was a warrior by the name of Barnabus. He took great pleasure in torturing his victims before he finally granted them the mercy of death. Cromwell chose to turn a blind eye to the rumors of the soldier’s deviance and instead rewarded Barnabus’s achievements in battle. He promoted him with a troop of his own to lead for their mutual goal. This newly granted power made Barnabus thirst for more. He began to ponder why he was fighting to help England, when instead he could rally his troops to bring himself to a position of strength. Gaining the support of his soldiers was simple enough; if Barnabus ruled they would hold court with him and reap all the benefits. Yet at that time their throng only consisted of roughly two dozen soldiers. Nowhere near the number they would need to accomplish their jaded goal.
Barnabus then plotted to target the small, insignificant villages. They would storm into the tiny settlements and demanded all the men and boys join their army. If any man refused, their family would be killed on the spot. For if their family was dead what reason did they have for not joining the army? If all the men dared to refuse or tried to take a stand the entire village would be torched and every resident slaughtered.
With all the upheaval the country was in, the destruction of these lives and communities went almost unnoticed. Whispers of the massacres still began to spread. My own village caught wind of the potential threat. The men took turns acting as look outs. They made makeshift stands on the four corners of our town and kept watch at all hours. I was sound asleep in my bed when I heard the loud trumpet blasts. We scrambled to collect the children and gather in the home of Liam and Celia O’Gara. My father was a look out that night. As soon as I saw his face I knew the news was grim. He hugged my brother and I tightly to him, then took my mother in his arms and buried his head in her shoulder. He was already saying his goodbyes. The look outs reported that there were roughly two hundred men on horseback heading straight for us. Our village was in a narrow valley between two large, rolling hills. Instead of coming over either rise, they were marching straight up the gorge. They made no attempts to hide themselves. They were daring us to try and escape. They were armed to the teeth with broad swords, axes, arrows and other torturous paraphernalia. While a few of our men had weapons of their own, the soldiers’ heavy armor would protect them against any paltry blows we could throw.
We considered running. Unfortunately the only escape, the path to the north, was straight up one of those large hills. There was no way to get all of us up before the army descended on us. The decision was made that two of the women would load the young children into a wagon hitched to four of our strongest horses. They would make their escape, while the rest of us did our best to hold off the army. Kissing my cherub-faced brother goodbye and then watching tears stream down my mother’s cheeks as she loaded him into the wagon is the last memory I have of him. I never saw him again.
With the wagon on its way, the men armed themselves and went to stand guard. The tension was unbearable. The echo of hundreds of hoof beats rang through the valley. A rhythmic percussion signaling the end was near. We clutched to each other, trembling. It was the homeowner, Celia that broke away from our cluster. She stumbled on shaky legs to the middle of the room, where she fell to her knees. With a bowed head and folded hands she began to pray in urgent, hushed tones. One of the other women found her actions to be complete lunacy. ‘Do you really think you are going to accomplish anything by doing that?’ she asked her. This brought stillness to Celia for a moment and then she looked up at the woman. There was no doubt in her voice when she responded. ‘If all that comes of this is preparing my soul for death, then yes. I whole heartedly believe I will accomplish my goal.’ The words cut to the heart of everyone in that room. I knew these women, knew that their views on faith varied. At that moment it failed to matter. Each one of us fell to our knees and prayed. Prayed for our loved ones to be spared. Prayed for the children to reach safety. Prayed for mercy from the dark soldiers. Prayed…for a miracle.
We had no way of knowing that the answer to our prayers was already on his way. He was a servant of heaven, the Protector of the Divine. He had heard the pleas of our collective hearts and could not let them go unanswered. Fearing he may not make it to us on time, he gave us a fighting chance by passing pieces of his powers on to every villager. To the women he granted the protective forces of the eagle. To our shock and amazement wings suddenly sprouted from our backs giving us the ability to fly to the aid of our loved ones. The men were given the form and strength of the lion. Two hundred soldiers quaked in their metal boots as they watched these ordinary peasants transform into massive roaring beasts.
There was no time for us to question these transformations. The soldiers responded to their initial fear by attacking. Arrows sliced through the air, aimed at the new pride of lions. We used our wings, which we quickly learned were impenetrable, to deflect them. The lions sprung at the soldiers, knocking them from their horses. Barnabus shouted to burn the village. Before we could stop them, torches were cast onto the rooftops and our homes were ablaze. We could do nothing to prevent it. Doing so would mean turning our attention away from the bigger threat; the Dark Army. Some of the newly winged women grabbed soldiers right off their horses and flew them over the south hill. There they dropped them from a height that would not kill, but would ensure they would not be returning to the battle any time soon.
Even with our new gifts, we were losing ground. Dozens of soldiers would team up against one lion. We tried to fly down and shield them, but the soldiers closed into tight circles and blocked us from reaching our loved ones. We watched in horror as some of the mighty cats fell by the blade.
Suddenly, a deafening screech pierced through the night. Soldiers and villagers alike froze as a creature unlike anything we had ever seen flew over the burning town and landed in the heart of the battle. He had the head and wings of an eagle, with the body of a lion. He was the creature known as the Gryphon. Many of the soldiers ran when they saw him. He towered over their horses, causing the spooked equine to rear up in protest and head for the hills whether their riders stayed on or not! He joined the fight in our defense, tossing grown men about like they were nothing more than rag dolls. With his strength combined with ours, we were actually able to push the hordes of soldiers back. Barnabus and his men were losing control of the situation. The men in his army that had been forced there against their will noticed that as well. They took advantage of it and turned on their captors, fighting with us instead of against us.
The numbers turned in our favor. Every blow they tried to strike was blocked by either a steel or feathered shield and was then countered by the swipe of a flesh shredding claw or the swing of a blade. Some lost their lives. Some surrendered and ran. Their numbers dwindled as we pressed on. When Barnabus realized there was no way he could turn the battle around in his favor, he ordered what was left of his troops to fall back. They gratefully turned tail and ran.
Barnabus, himself, was the last to ride off. He eyed the Gryphon with malicious contempt. Determination dripped from him as he raised one armor clad arm and pointed menacingly at the creature. Then he abruptly yanked his horse’s head around and galloped off into the darkness.
The only sounds that could be heard after he vanished were the snaps and hisses of our burning cottages. All of us stood silently in the smoke filled valley looking at the destruction, death and ravaging the Dark Army had brought down on us. It was horrific, yet we had survived. Most of us anyway. We owed our lives to the gallant being before us. All eyes turned to him. He was still staring off in the direction Barnabus had gone; only now his noble head hung in despair.
Celia approached him and laid her hand against his mahogany shoulder. He craned his mighty neck down so he could see her. She thanked him for his aid and inquired about what was troubling him.
The Gryphon spoke in a deep, resonate voice that trembled the very ground we stood on. ‘I can feel the obsession I created in that man by showing myself. He will not stop. A war will follow.’ He explained.
Knowing the creature had put himself at risk to save them, Celia asked what would happen if Barnabus succeeded in capturing him. The answer was bleak. If Barnabus found a way to kill the Gryphon or harness his powers all that he protected would fall into the hands of the evil tyrant. Barnabus would then have the strength and abilities to lead the world into darkness.
Liam walked up behind his wife and grabbed her hand. Together they faced the Gryphon and stated they wanted to help any way they could. Our champion declined by explaining the war would rage on long after their mortal lives had ended.
Celia stood her ground and declared. ‘Then our heirs will take up our cause as well! You did not let us stand alone and we will not let you!’
Moved by her determination the Gryphon relented; “My acceptance comes with strict conditions. First, I will only call upon your family if all other choices are exhausted. Secondly, I will choose only three. One will be the Protector, one will be the Guardian and the third will be my Conduit of Power. That chosen mortal will be the being I channel my powers through, a true hero on Earth.’
The O’Gara’s whole heartedly agreed and a pact was made.”