For the ten generations since the evil first came to Woodcutter’s Grim, the Guardians have sworn an oath to protect the town from the childhood horrors that lurk in the black woods. Without them, the town would be defenseless…and the terrors would escape to the world at large.
The son of shape-shifting goats, William Gruff escaped a dire fate when his family is bound to the evil pervading Woodcutter’s Grim, the only shelter for supernatural creatures. Adaryn Azar, a legendary phoenix, changes his lonely life. But a happily-ever-after may be impossible when the hunter who’s tracked her for centuries finds her again. Dying and resurrecting would mean forfeiting the life growing inside her. Unfathomably, Woodcutter’s Grim may be the only safe place left.
GENRE: Fantasy/Paranormal/Mild Horror/Romance Word Count: 73, 478
(ebooks are available from all sites, and print is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and some on Angus & Robertson)
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October 24, 2026
“How do you feel about opening the realty office today?” Jack Shaussegeny, her boss, asked when she stopped in the middle of Main Street to take one earbud out in order to answer her phone.
“Sure. I was just about to do some shopping,” Ember Sidhe said amiably. “What’s going on?”
“Just talked to the Protectorate Guardian. There’s someone new in town. They just crossed the bridge.”
Ember herself had been the last person to come into the small town of Woodcutter’s Grim. The Shaussegeny family had brought her here, promising her a refuge she’d long since believed was lost to her. She’d been desperate enough to accept their generous invitation, but a part of her had assumed she was walking into a trap.
If I hadn’t been at my wit’s end, not knowing where to go or how to hide after being on the run for so long, I wouldn’t have come here.
Who knew hopelessness could lead to the best thing that could happen to a person?
Jack and his loving, very wealthy family had offered her a job at Shaussegeny Realty, one of the many businesses in town they owned. They’d also given her the small cottage she’d come to love and feel at home in the past couple of years. In the last place on the Earth she would have thought to look, she’d found safety and a clan willing to protect her to the death, if need be.
“Gabe verified there are two grown men and a female child of about six. Chances are good they’ll head straight to the real estate agency first, if they’re planning to stay long.”
“I’m already here,” Ember said as she inserted her key into the door of the cozy real estate office. The building was nestled between the beauty shop and the law office Jack had retired from years ago that was now run by his oldest son and daughter-in-law.
“Good, good. You’re a treat, Ember. If you could find out who they are and what they want without being suspicious…?”
“No problem, Jack. I’m happy to help.” Part of her job managing the real estate agency was to be friendly and inquisitive with strangers without raising suspicions about why she needed to know about everyone who entered this town.
Woodcutter’s Grim was far from a normal place, as she’d quickly realized when she arrived. She would never forget her own harrowing crossing.
She hung up, pushing the door of the office closed with her hip, then turning the sign on it to read “Open”. She tucked the Bluetooth earbud she’d removed to talk on the phone beneath the shoulder of her sweater to hold it in place. The music she needed 24 hours of every day played in the other earbud but softly enough that she’d be able to hear easily.
She smiled as she made her way to her desk, stopping to rearrange the number of chairs in front of it to match the number of visitors she anticipated. So few people came into Woodcutter’s Grim compared to any normal place. She couldn’t deny she looked forward to the prospect of discovering something new. As much of a risk as it was, she believed in the Shaussegenys’ cause. They recognized the extraordinary and wanted to preserve it. And anyone coming into Woodcutter’s Grim had to be singular. Just as Jack and his wonderful family had wanted to save her, she wanted to lend a hand in liberating another such as she’d been–lost, terrified, vulnerable in a world that could be never big enough to hide her. There weren’t enough places to seek shelter out there. Not for long. Woodcutter’s Grim was the only option for someone like her.
She pressed the button on the coffeepot near her desk, just in case the visitors wanted some, then she busied herself with examining the available properties for sale or rent in town. Jack and his family had bought up most of the available land in town long ago and they’d built homes and small cottages for rent all around the area. In the last few years, they’d focused on constructing smart, simple homes solely on their vast estate, expanding their fortified walls to enclose as much of the town as they could inside their private fortress.
There was no time to wonder about the visitors before they were walking through the door of the single room (and a bathroom) office. Her gaze quickly verified the two adult men and the child hiding behind them before she was on her feet, a wide, sincere smile drawing them in before she officially welcomed them. “Welcome to Woodcutter’s Grim. I’m Ember Sidhe, which is spelled S-i-d-h–”
“-e,” the shaggier of the two males said at the same time she did. He added the proper pronunciation of the word, “She.”
“Sidhe, like the fairy people in Irish folklore?” the little girl asked in excitement. She squirmed slightly to emerge from between the two men blocking her, almost as if they were trying to protect her.
Ember grinned, going down on one knee to reach the adorable child’s level. “Exactly. You like folklore?”
“I love stories–real or made up.”
“So do I. What’s your name?”
“Celestial. But everybody calls me Celee.”
Ember murmured in awe. “What a beautiful name. I’m pleased to meet you, Celee.”
“I like your name, too.”
The little girl had long, thick, blondish-brown hair with brown eyes and an angelic smile. She wore a flowered shift over leggings. Her feet were bare and extremely dirty, maybe as dirty as Ember’s were hidden away in her slippers. She never wore foot coverings in her idyllic herb and vegetable garden, where she spent most of her leisure time.
“Thank you.” The urge to tell this sweetheart her real name–Fête–almost glided out of her mouth without restraint. That was far from a natural impulse with her, given her usual wariness about revealing anything personal about herself, if she could get away with it.
She stood up and kicked off her pantofle, revealing long, slender feet covered with dirt from her morning wandering among her plants while drinking tea. Celee giggled at the sight. For a moment, Ember wondered if the munchkin would hug her but then the shaggier man reached forward and lifted her in his arms. The guy next to him who was almost as tall but definitely less hairy took a step forward.
“I’m William Gruff. My family knows me as Will. I come from Woodcutter’s Grim. Or at least I lived here…once upon a time.”
Ember opened her mouth in a gasp. “Gruff? Then your mother must be Asmari! I know her well, Will.” She laughed at her awkward phrasing. “In any case, Asmari and I share a love of horticulture. Oh, she’ll be so happy to see you, Will. She’s spoken of you…but…sadly. I assumed because she hasn’t seen you in so many years.”
Will was taller than most humans at 6’4 at least and muscular with dark hair and strange, compelling eyes. Something about him reminded her of Syle, her first and only love, the only male she’d allowed into her heart. When they ran away together, abandoning their clans, they convinced each other nothing could hurt them. That, because they loved each other so much, being outcasts wouldn’t bother them. Even the danger on their heels from every side couldn’t touch them. But they’d been so naïve and foolish.
A second look at Will forced her to see he was nothing like Syle, though he was almost unnaturally handsome. Syle had been slender in the sylphid way of their people, his skin a pale, shimmery, sage green, his flowing hair nearly the same shade.
Even as tears stung her eyes, she forced herself to smile and shake herself out of ancient history. Folklore. “Are you back to see your family?”
Will nodded. “I hope to and soon. My wife will be…appearing shortly.” He turned slightly, gesturing toward the other man holding the child. “This is Torin Valais, my wife’s brother. And you’ve met his daughter Celee.”
Ember’s gaze stole to Torin, noticing again just how insanely tall he was. And husky. His shoulders might have been as wide as a semi rig. His silver-shot black hair was long and bushy, just as his beard and moustache were. If not for his gentle brown eyes, so like adorable Celee’s, he might have struck her as fierce and intimidating.
“I’m so pleased to meet you, Torin,” she said, realizing suddenly how soft and shy her voice sounded even in her own ears. Swallowing at the sense that she’d left herself vulnerable, she glanced quickly at Will again and said, “I look forward to meeting your wife. That is, if you’re planning to stay in town for a while?”
“That’s actually why we’re here. We’re hoping you can help us. Are there any places in town for rent?”
Adaryn Azar realized how much she hated waiting when she teleported into her home on Feenyx Island, the place in the human realm where she was safest. Liam had told her to come here just before they reached Woodcutter’s Grim in north central Wisconsin while he assessed if she would be safe there. He, Torin, and Celee had gone there in advance to secure lodging.
Liam was convinced that the place he’d escaped the first time when he was just 16 would be the most secure place in the world for supernatural beings such as them. Unfortunately, the evil entity that controlled the pocket realm had built a magical bridge in and out. Some creatures of lore had escaped, or were allowed to leave for whatever reason. Even finding the town was nearly impossible, since it wasn’t on any map, and it seemed that only the being in charge could grant the permission to enter.
When Liam’s family had gone there to escape persecution when he was 14, a troll under the bridge had demanded a toll for safe passage into the town. Liam’s father had signed a blood contract, giving all the males in the Gruff family the means to build magical bridges. With everlasting bridges, whatever the creature was that had dominion over the town could control those who entered, abided in, and left its borders. The tradeoff for their eternal service was peace and safety from those who feared their kind.
Liam’s father and two older brothers fell under the spell almost immediately when they began their bridge building apprenticeships. Their mother had known the time would come too soon for her youngest son to give his life in service to the magical entity. She began searching for a way to save him, but his training had begun before she found the means to free him from the enslavement enough that he could leave town. She’d risked everything to help him escape his fate, allying with the guardians in the town who fought against the Great Evil.
Liam had fled Woodcutter’s Grim, promising his mother he’d never return. The magic he possessed was undeveloped, since he’d only just begun his apprenticeship when his mother secured his escape. He used what skill the magic had imparted as a master engineer, building human bridges of transmundane beauty around the world. But he described what he was capable of as mere decoration or gilding.
Our meeting changed everything. Two lonely souls who can’t be a part of this world the way others are allowed fell in love. Together, a goat shapeshifter and a phoenix created a new and singular life. We only just escaped my centuries’ old enemy, Polyhedra, and now we’re together the way we’re meant to be.
During their time in the phoenix sanctuary, where Adaryn respawned following each fiery death, they’d discovered the truth about each other. Torin had been the first to recognize Liam as a lore being–an entity so rare and unique as to be impossible, possibly extinct. Creatures of lore had a name, an identity that even humans knew about. Lore beings were able to change the shape of history and mold the future.
Other supernatural beings like Adaryn, Torin, and Celee–the latter two St. Bernard shapeshifters–existed in the world, did good in it, and healed what and where they could, but they were unable to change it in any significant or permanent way. Additionally, they didn’t have readily identified names, instead representing their unique kind facelessly.
While in the phoenix sanctuary, the four of them had made their plans while Liam learned about the Eternal Gate of Paradise within the phoenix refuge, where creatures passed into a higher dimension of existence for all eternity. Adaryn knew little if anything about that “sun portal”. During her original birth, the bridge from the sanctuary to the gate had been intact.
Far too soon, she’d been thrust from the sanctuary without her parents that first time. They hadn’t given her explanations. After returning to the sanctuary following her first burning, she’d found the bridge leading to the Eternal Gate of Paradise broken beyond repair. Since then, the Unfathomable Chasm had created intense questions about where her parents had gone and what had happened in the sanctuary to destroy the bridge, along with a very tangible impasse of reaching the Eternal Gate of Paradise ever again.
Liam had realized there was nowhere in the entire universe the four of them could go and be safe from danger, except the sun portal. But, to build a structurally sound, magically enchanted bridge to cross the Unfathomable Chasm, he would need all the training he would have gotten in Woodcutter’s Grim if he hadn’t run when he was little more than a child. He’d decided the benefit of going there outweighed the risks.
Adaryn could feel the tension inside her, a living thing, as she paced the house on Feenyx Island, waiting for him to summon her.
Why did I leave them? I should have–
But the fight left her in an instant. Liam wouldn’t have allowed her to come along, not before he knew whether the magic in Woodcutter’s Grim could sense individual magic or if all magic was simply part of an indistinguishable pool. In the latter case, the Great Evil wouldn’t specifically know about Torin, Celee, and Adaryn, supernatural beings, inside the pocket world Woodcutter’s Grim inhabited.
That was the best scenario. The worst… What would Liam do if the being tried to bind her, bind Torin and Celee, in exchange for the safety they’d be granted inside the town? Even in that situation, Adaryn knew Liam would have no choice but to agree to the contract. Her enemy had gotten so close, almost tearing her and Liam apart for all time, and left Torin in the position of having to expose his existence to the hunter in order to save Liam, who was now also on its’ radar.
Polyhedra–a construct of a million faces–hunted phoenixes, their immortality and rarity his presumed focus. Polyhedra might also be the hunter who’d kidnapped or killed Torin’s siblings, his wife, her family, and Celee’s brothers and sisters. Magical energy drew all hunters, and Polyhedra was the most powerful of all. Just one of Adaryn’s tail feathers could allow the creature to gain entry into the phoenix sanctuary, possibly into the sun portal, which would put every being beyond it in jeopardy from the monster the construct served.
Adaryn barely noticed her surroundings–an isolated, tropical paradise that provided everything she could ever need except purpose. Hidden in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean–literally surrounded by a magical barrier that prevented anyone who didn’t already know about it through the phoenix contract from discovering it–she and those she loved could exist here, just as they could in the sanctuary, for a short time in complete safety. But they couldn’t stay. While the phoenix sanctuary actually thrust them out when she was full-grown or if danger lurked at the borders, here at Feenyx Island she was far from helping anyone, just as Torin and Celee were. As important as their personal safety was, they were beings willing to sacrifice themselves to heal the world around them. In this place, that wasn’t possible.
What was happening? Why wasn’t Liam summoning her? If Woodcutter’s Grim was safe, wouldn’t she already be at his side? Her ability to embed a small piece of her magic inside a person or location so she could return there whenever she wanted, whenever she was called, was something that happened in the blink of an eye.
Trying to distract herself, she went to the library, where centuries of collected legends and folklore concerning phoenixes, magic, and other supernatural beings had been placed by her ancestors. Unfortunately, for the sheer number of volumes they’d collected, all dealt with the myths of phoenixes, not the history or reality of being one. Nothing practical that could teach her about herself and all those that came before. But then she knew it wouldn’t be safe for a book that could tell her the truth about phoenix existence to be freely available. If such a volume fell into the wrong hands, it could have meant their extinction.
In the center of the library stood a glass-encased display plinth that had been empty for all that time, no ancient, rare tome gracing its velvet covered display easel. When she’d tried to put books there, all of them had somehow found their way back to the shelves they’d originally been occupying.
She’d barely perused the volumes dealing with creatures of lore before she felt Liam’s thoughts enter her mind: We’re here, and…I can’t believe it, my love, but I think we’re safe. We’re being escorted to a house we’re going to rent by the local real estate agent, Ember Sidhe. She knows my mother. Ember’s in the car ahead of ours. I’ll contact you again after we arrive but, when you come, stay hidden. I don’t know if I should trust her. I’m wary, though it’s hard to imagine someone so gentle could have nefarious intentions.
Adaryn understood his reticence about accepting anything at face value in a place like Woodcutter’s Grim.
Wait for me to summon you. It shouldn’t be long.
His thoughts dropped back from her so she felt even more anxious, her mind choosing to focus on the real estate agent’s surname. She? Shee? Or Sidhe–of the ancient fairyfolk tales? Or is her last name simply a coincidence? In a place like Woodcutter’s Grim, were there actual random occurrences?
When Liam summoned her, she appeared at her husband’s side and he quickly motioned for her to stay in the upper room he’d come into by himself. But, now that she was here with the rest of those she considered her family, she couldn’t resist checking out Ember as surreptitiously as she could. Long before she saw her from her concealed position, she sensed magic, however muted.
Ember looked young, but her abilities might provide her longevity such as Adaryn’s magic provided all those who’d accepted the phoenix contract. Only in the phoenix sanctuary did any of them age.
“Jack’s fine with renting, outright purchasing, or even renting to own,” Ember told Liam and the others.
“We only need to rent, but we’d prefer it furnished.”
“That’s not a problem. The Shaussegenys can make all the arrangements for whatever you need. I’m perfectly willing to liaise with the rental place we have in town to furnish the house for your stay. Also, if anything needs to be repaired, I can have one of them out to do anything necessary ASAP.”
“Your job covers a broad spectrum of tasks,” Torin commented.
Adaryn sensed a very slight tremor of wariness in Torin, though Celee was already holding Ember’s hand and treating her like a long-lost friend. The two St. Bernard shifters could sense danger as acutely as Adaryn did. Yet Torin seemed to be in conflict over this creature while his daughter was unfathomably won over without the slightest doubt.
“I’ll contact you after my wife arrives about renting whatever we need to furnish the house,” Liam said.
“Sounds good. Will you be okay for today or do you want me to contact Jack? He can ensure the rental store will open for a short time, if you really need anything.”
“No. That’s all right. It is a weekend, after all. We’ll worry about it another day.”
Ember smiled widely. “Jack will expedite your move-in in the morning.”
“On a Sunday?” Liam asked in surprise.
“He has connections all over town. It won’t be a problem, if tomorrow morning works for you?”
Liam nodded. “It’s more than I hoped for. Thank you.”
Ember smiled again, putting her hand on the top of Celee’s head and stroking her shaggy hair affectionately. Then she looked at Liam again. “I hope you don’t make your mother wait too long before you visit her, Will. I know she’ll be thrilled to see you.”
“Do you know my brothers?”
“I know of them and their families. But I’m afraid it’s really only your mother–and her glorious roses and plants–that I know well. The Shaussegenys adore your mother as well.”
“They seem to be the people to know around here.”
His comment made Adaryn aware that hadn’t been the situation in the past, when he and his family first came to town.
“That’s true. I know they’ll want to meet you all personally soon.”
Ember handed over a folder, telling them it contained the basics about Woodcutter’s Grim, including restaurants and stores, the bank, hospital, and post office, if they needed anything before morning.
Was this welcome too effusive and open-handed? Adaryn had little experience with people in the human world. She didn’t often get to know the people where she dwelt. But she sensed and instantly knew, as Celee did by her expression of disappointment after Ember waved and took her leave, that the young real estate agent’s kindness was genuine, if nothing else.
Adaryn stayed hidden to watch Ember get into her car and immediately dial someone on her cell phone. Reporting to Jack Shaussegeny, their apparent benefactor?
Who were these people? Did they want something from them? Or was their outspoken concern for their wellbeing sincere?