Woodcutter's Grim Series, Book 10, Bridge of Fire, Part 3: Into the Sun 3d cover updated 2023

Woodcutter’s Grim Series, Book 10, Bridge of Fire, Part 3: Into the Sun by Karen Wiesner

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.

Woodcutter's Grim Series, Book 10, Bridge of Fire, Part 3: Into the Sun 2 covers updated 2023A shape-shifting goat, William Gruff escaped being bound to the evil pervading Woodcutter’s Grim, the sole shelter for supernatural creatures. Years later, he and his pregnant wife, Adaryn Azar, a phoenix, have no choice but to flee there themselves. But just one phoenix can exist in the world. Will the powerful magic Liam wields consume him before he can build the only bridge that can take him and Adaryn into the sun of Eternal Paradise?

GENRE: Fantasy/Paranormal/Mild Horror/Romance   Word Count: 66, 176

Author Page thin vertical line Series Page Small

Buy now from Writers Exchange, or from these Retailers:
Buy Now 400 SizedAmazonApple BooksGoogle PlayBarnes and NobleKoboScribdSmashwordsAngus & Robertson Print
Format :
Buy now from Amazon (black graphic)Apple BooksGet it on Google PlayBuy from Barnes and Noble NookKobo LogoScribd LogoSmashwords LogoAngus and Robertson

(ebooks are available from all sites, and print is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and some on Angus & Robertson)

Based on 1 Reviews

Continue the series:

Woodcutter's Grim Series, Volume I {Classic Tales of Horror Retold} (Books 1-3 and The Final Chapter) continue the series updated 2023 Woodcutter's Grim Series, Volume II {Classic Tales of Horror Retold} (Books 4-7) updated 2023 Woodcutter's Grim Series, Book 8: The Deep continue the series updated 2023 Woodcutter's Grim Series, Book 9: Hunters Blues continue the series updated 2023 Woodcutter's Grim Series, Book 10, Bridge of Fire, Part 1: Out of the Ashes continue the series updated 2023 Woodcutter's Grim Series, Book 10, Bridge of Fire, Part 2: A New Beginning continue the series updated 2023 Woodcutter's Grim Series, Book 10, Bridge of Fire, Part 3: Into the Sun continue the series updated 2023

Chapter 1



October 30, 2026


When Liam Gruff arrived at the Shaussegeny Estate and the monitored front gate opened to him without hesitation, he was still marveling that his oldest brother had told him not to come back to the Forge until November 2nd. “Stay in your house and don’t go out at all during Halloween. If you need supplies, get ’em now. And come to work all the earlier Monday morning.”

Liam drove through the gate slowly, glancing back in the rearview mirror to see it already closing behind him. He’d planned to come after work instead of so early in the morning, and the tug of war inside him at losing a day bothered him. He had so much to do in so little time. Losing not just one day, but three, for a holiday was far from ideal. He was driven to excel in this apprenticeship–the faster he reached mastery, the better–and in eight hours he could have made huge strides toward his goal. But he couldn’t focus on that now. There was nothing he could do, so he’d take comfort in the fact that he’d have more time with his family. His wife was already here.

The Shaussegenys, as well as Woodcutter’s Grim’s protectors, believed in the old traditions that the barriers between the human realm and the Great Evil were thin during Halloween–all three days of the Allhallowtide observation. Supernatural beings and the arisen dead were likely to enter the town through portals and move from house to house, playing tricks, dragging off the unprepared, and demanding sacrifices. During this time, the extremely large Shaussegeny clan sequestered inside the fortified walls of their estate. They’d invited Liam and his wife Adaryn, their family Torin and Celee, as well as Liam’s mother, the Protectorate Guardian Gabe Reece and his year old son, and Ember Sidhe, an employee who ran one of their many businesses in town, to stay with them during the lock-in. The last guest wouldn’t arrive until just before dinner.

Driving toward the main house in the center of the vast complex that resembled a castle, Liam waved to several of the workers–strong, young Shaussegeny sons and relations, and trusted employees. He still marveled at what they were trying to accomplish here. They were building a potential community inside these thick walls. The last thing would be to move the Protectorate Building to the center of the estate near the main house, scaling it up to become a proper headquarters. The end game was to encompass as much of Woodcutter’s Grim as possible within the walls of their impenetrable fortress.

Passing enormous pile after pile of construction material, Liam wondered that he and his family had only been in town a mere week and already things had gone from the insanely improbable to new heights of blow-the-mind impossible for four transmutants on the run.

In this short time, they’d met the Shaussegenys, cured of the curse that had made them werewolves. Ember was a fae creature whom the Shaussegenys had brought through the portal and rescued. The Protectorate Guardian’s beloved had been taken by a vampiric creature. Their son Prince was a child of prophecy, being born and reborn until he fulfilled his destiny. Ransom Shaussegeny’s wife Tess was a minion of the Warlock Lord, though she’d broken all ties and now fought the evil alongside the Shaussegenys.

They’d yet to discover who or what Nazarha Pallaton and her mother before her were. Nazarha, the final, highly anticipated guest to arrive, was the Guardian’s half-sister. According to the eldest Shaussegeny, Jack, they had much to discuss once she arrived, and the family estate was the only truly safe place for those fighting the evil to talk in all of Woodcutter’s Grim, other than the Protectorate Building, currently situated behind the police station in town.

Liam parked the car, getting out slowly, aware that his preliminary pang of regret when he’d met Baor at the edge of the woods was fading. Initially, he’d merely been surprised to see his oldest brother alone in the clearing. Their middle brother Rove had no love for the task they were forced to perform–let alone true aptitude–but he would never dare be late for work. Without preface, Liam had learned why Rove was absent. Baor had told Liam to go and stay away for three days for Halloween, as his family and Rove’s would.

The magic that enthralled them was evil. Liam knew that. It leeched life away, feeding itself, leaving the user depleted on a daily basis and worse over time. Eventually, they would no longer be human. In their father’s case, no longer goat either. The magic had distorted his appearance, mangling it and twisting him almost beyond recognition into the hideous troll under the bridge.

This is what happens when we give ourselves to the magic, become its slave–willingly. And I have to fight that.

He’d been in hiding for 20 years, isolating himself as much as possible. Meeting Adaryn, realizing she was a phoenix, had changed his life. He had to protect her. Protect their child, growing inside her right now.

But the magic’s hold on him… It was cumulative and devastating, taking over every facet of his being. We could see the changes in Dad after only a few months of moving to Woodcutter’s Grim. He started resembling a massive ogre, patchy hair, distant eyes. Always, he was thinking about the magic–the bridges that mattered more than anything else to him. He never wanted to leave the Forge. He’d become the Bridge Master in no time at all once his enslavement took hold.

When Liam returned to Woodcutter’s Grim about a week ago, accepting the renewal of the blood contract, his elder brother Baor had ordered him back the Forge. Rove was still struggling in the first two level exercises. In the short time, Liam had not only surpassed him but also himself. Each day, Liam increased his skill. Despite Baor’s cruelty in sending him back to the start, Liam gained new levels every day.

I want the challenge. I believe I can do what’s never been done before. Whether it’s the magic ruling me or my own will combined with inborn talent, I don’t know.

Jack met Liam on the great stone porch before the double doors of the main house. They shook hands while the older man propelled them inside, saying, “If you hurry, you can be there while my daughter-in-law and Ransom examine Adaryn and the baby’s growth.”

Jack led the way to the Ransom Tower hospital wing. At the door of a closed private office, Jack said, “Knock after I’ve gone. Once you and Adaryn are finished, we can talk more about this evening’s festivities.”

“Festivities?” Liam asked in surprise at what seemed like an inappropriate term for a holiday where evil flourished.

“We’ve never been closer to accomplishing our goals,” Jack said with an energetic smile. “That’s worth celebrating, isn’t it?”

Liam couldn’t deny the truth of what the man was saying, but in his mind they were nowhere near reaching anything that could be described as a goal.

But I can worry about all that later. At the moment, his concern and excitement about his upcoming child took precedence.

As soon as Jack disappeared down the hall, he knocked on the door. Marnie, Jack’s daughter-in-law, appeared through the crack that opened to him. “Oh, Liam, what a blessing!” she said in an instant, opening the door wide to allow him inside. “We’re just getting set up for the ultrasound.”

Adaryn’s previous visits had allowed Marnie, an OB/GYN doctor, and her youngest son Ransom, a brilliant scientist, to understand Adaryn’s human/phoenix anatomy. They’d learned on her first visit that, similar to egg-laying mammals, Adaryn had a pouch where the offspring she carried would develop.

They could only guess at how long the gestation period their child was now in would last, especially considering that Adaryn couldn’t be entirely sure of the date when she’d conceived. The passage of time inside the phoenix sanctuary was completely different.

Based on the things they’d observed in her pregnancy, Marnie and Ransom were assuming Adaryn would be pregnant for little more than a month–meaning they needed to exam her on a daily basis to gauge the stages of development. Preliminary evidence suggested her due date was somewhere around November 10th.

A deadline in more ways than one. And the paramount reason why I only have a month to not just learn how much control I have over the magic but to become a master and complete the magical bridge that leads to the sun portal inside the phoenix sanctuary. 

Liam took his wife’s hand, recognizing the agony in her expression. She felt vulnerable and exposed in the position she was in, awaiting the ultrasound, but also thrilled to see him. Because of his work, he hadn’t been able to do anything but watch recorded videos of her prenatal appointments up to this point. In awe, he watched the movements on the screen. While nearly everything was undecipherable, the heartbeat and undeniable activity were real-time and humbling. Life was growing inside Adaryn, something they’d made together.

Everything we are, everything we do comes down to protecting, saving, giving this child meaning and direction and a safe haven. But, although Adaryn and I haven’t discussed it because it’s brutal, what does saving our daughter mean? Taking her with us through the Eternal Gate of Paradise…or leaving her behind?

Only one phoenix could exist during a cycle. When Adaryn gave birth to their child, her own cycle would invariably end while their daughter’s began.

If Liam could re-forge the bridge in the sanctuary, would their daughter go with them? If she did, what would happen to the human realm and all its occupants? Just by existing in the world, the phoenix made it a better place. Without a phoenix healing them, would they fall into chaos and ruin? Could they take their daughter away from her primary impetus for the undeniably selfish goal of protecting her?

Liam had no answers for their course. Until the bridge could be rebuilt, there was no way across and no need to answer questions that might not matter in the end.

Adaryn’s fingers flexed inside his, and he saw the sheen of tears in her eyes after Marnie measured the distance from her pubic bone to the top of her uterus. “Well, it’s hard to tell how far you’re advancing because phoenixes don’t gain a lot of weight apparently, the way humans do over the course of their pregnancy, let alone display similar symptoms and progressions, but the fundal height has increased slightly since yesterday. You and your baby appear to be very healthy.”

A few minutes later, Marnie left the exam room so Adaryn could get dressed. Liam helped her up, instantly kissing her, then resting his forehead against hers when she was sitting up on the table. “This is real,” he said, feeling a strange dawning that he should have experienced previously. But he’d never seen any of this in person before. The videos on a tablet hadn’t captured the magic of their child’s existence.

Drawing back a few inches, Adaryn laughed, sniffing a little. “I know. I felt that way, too, at first.”

“Just at first?” he asked.

She nodded, looking very serious suddenly. “I can feel her growing inside me. Every second. It’s incredible. Humbling. A little frightening. Because there’s so much–“

We have to do. That could be left unfinished. And that won’t be good for our daughter. Or the world.

Adaryn intended to give her daughter everything she needed to understand the world she’d been born into, the human realm, as well as comprehending who and what she was–how a phoenix cycle worked. When she’d been born, she’d been given almost nothing from her parents to guide her on her path and understand the centuries’ long lifespan of her existence. She’d felt abandoned despite realizing that her parents had had little time to tell her anything, let alone everything she’d need to know. Adaryn planned to do things differently. She wanted their daughter to have everything necessary to aid her adjustment once she was inevitably on her own.

“You didn’t tell me this before,” he said softly.

“I didn’t know exactly what I was feeling for a while. But I understand now. I sometimes feel like I can communicate with her. Inside. Without speaking. I can… feel her there, growing and developing. Like we’re one. I should have realized how much I can come to love a person more with each passing second. I felt that way with you. With Torin and Celee.” She smiled suddenly, brightly. “I want to name her Cendrillion. It’s French for ‘little ashes’ and similar to Cinderella, which was what I first thought to name her. We can call her Endril for short.”

“I love that.” Liam smiled, his throat tight and his eyes wet. He tested the name out loud: “Cendrillion. Endril.”

She sighed. “I better get dressed. I can’t sit on this table all day naked.”

Liam grinned, chuckling emotionally.

“I’m so glad you’re here and could see her on the ultrasound. But why aren’t you at the Forge?” she asked when he helped her down off the table and she moved to put on her clothes.

“Baor was waiting in the clearing when I got there. He told me to go home and stay there throughout Halloween. So Jack wasn’t just kidding about how seriously everyone in this town takes the danger involved in this holiday. You should have seen it when I drove through this morning. Everything’s shut down–the businesses, the church. I guess even Baor and Rove are staying home with their families behind locked doors during the next three days and nights. It was like being in a ghost town until I got here. Everyone’s buzzing on the estate. Jack called it ‘the festivities’, like this is a celebration.”

“I think it is,” Adaryn said as she covered her striking torso with a velvety tunic. “They’re planning a huge feast for the evening, which will be served after Nazarha Pallaton arrives.”

Apparently the woman liked to take long voyages on the lake and beyond in her houseboat. She’d been so far out they hadn’t been able to contact her until she headed back. Jack had said she was scheduled to return just before nightfall.

Liam lifted an eyebrow. “Maybe we can figure out who this VIP is and how she fits into everything then.”

“Jack and Gabe already told us she’s Gabe’s half-sister and that she, like her mother before her, is helping them fight the evil.”

Nazarha’s mother had apparently found a magical mirror. The looking glass that was talked about in fairy tales. Using the looking glass had allowed her to have contact with someone in a ‘Mirror Darkly’ version of Woodcutter’s Grim. The Mirror Darkly World was essentially a mirror version of the real world. The Shaussegenys and the Protectorate were all over there on the other side with mirror counterparts, only there were differences between them. Nazarha and her mother had been in contact with Gabe Reece’s mirror counterpart’s father, Camoren Pallaton. Camoren was the one who’d helped them make sense of the dual worlds. He’d drawn a diagram to help them visualize how the two mirror worlds co-existed:  

Woodcutter's Grim Worlds



The origin portal in Woodcutter’s Grim led to the space between the worlds and presumably it was the only way to access any of these places. In the Real World, the Great Evil was identified as the Warlock Lord from Rapunzel and lived in the Amethyst Tower. In the Mirror Darkly World, the Great Evil manifested as the Evil Stepmother from Snow White. She lived in the Mirror Darkly equivalent Amethyst Tower.

In the Mirror Darkly World, the last of the Protectorate was barely holding on, trying to save a dying world that had fallen to the evil. There, they’d moved the Protectorate Headquarters into the Shaussegeny Estate and their fortress enclosed inside held the last of humanity. What Camoren told Nazarha and her mother was happening on his end might also happen in the Real World eventually, which was why they were working so hard to be ready if the worst happened. 

“Jack talks about Nazarha like she’s some kind of seer,” Adaryn added.

Liam nodded. “I still feel like we’re not being told why Nazarha is so important.”

He was hesitant to say what he was really thinking. How is she important to us? Woodcutter’s Grim and the world need help to survive in the future. No two ways about it. But what can I do? My purpose is clear. I need to protect Adaryn and our child first and foremost. In that way, I am helping Woodcutter’s Grim citizens. But I know they want us to help more than that.

The thought wasn’t a pleasant or comfortable one, any more than it was for Adaryn. She wanted to save everyone. Liam just wasn’t sure that was possible. One way or another, he had hard choices in front of him. His path couldn’t have been more direct and straightforward. Did he dare make a detour from his focus for any reason, even for a cause just as compelling and necessary?


Chapter 2



Jack and his lovely wife Catherina were in the Great Hall enjoying coffee and fresh fruit with their son Gav, grandkids Glynnis and Lance, a few of the many great-grandkids, along with Liam’s mother Asmari. Celee was playing a Cat and Mouse game similar to Tiddlywinks with Glynnis and Tess’s daughters.

Apparently the construction on the property was continuing for part of the day so most of the rest of the family were taking part in the labor. Marnie had also gone in to work after examining Adaryn. She was head of the OB Department at the Woodcutter’s Grim Hospital.

“Junior doctors and other critical staff start their three-day lock-in after sundown,” Gav, Marnie’s husband, told them.

“Lock-in… as in they stay in the hospital throughout the Halloween observation?” Liam asked in surprise.

In the short time they’d been in Woodcutter’s Grim, Adaryn had become familiar with the strangeness of their population’s lives–the dangers few talked about or admitted to themselves, yet accepted and heeded, especially concerning the woods.

“A hospital is one of the few businesses that can’t simply shut down and send everyone home. Same with the police department,” Gav stated. “But Marnie won’t be participating in the hospital lock-in this year. She and Gabe will be here this afternoon.”

“Torin and Ember also went to see their two hospice patients.”

“Ember mentioned she found the work rewarding as well as slightly dangerous.” Jack’s expression held a bit of amusement.

“At the very least, they don’t have to worry about the splintercat that pursued them whenever they visited their first patient,” Adaryn commented.

“Really? Why is that?”

“The little beast misgauged its aim so badly, trying to charge at them, it all but busted its head wide open. Torin had compassion when he saw it was near death. He stopped the bleeding and bandaged its head. It woke while Torin and Ember were ministering to it and… well, it bonded with them. Ember says it often hangs out in her garden. Celee plays with it most evenings.” Adaryn’s affectionate smile turned on the little girl. “Don’t you, honey?”

“Fable is sweet as a baby. But he still likes to hide. Papa says I should try to teach him not to crash into trees, especially while he’s healing… but he doesn’t listen very well to that!”

“I suppose it’s in its nature,” Jack conceded. “I also heard something about a potential leshy. Now that’s a fearsome creature, prone to playing tricks and becoming angry if you don’t find them amusing.”

“Papa says the leshy likes to whistle and sing,” Celee offered as she flicked her mouse piece into the cat’s open mouth. “He sounds jolly. I wish I could see him.”

“Perhaps at first blush, the creature is a bowl full of laughs, child. Nevertheless, Leshys are nothing to trifle with, especially if they believe someone is harming the trees or wildlife in the part of the forest they protect. Staying away from them and doing no harm while in the woods is the best policy.”

Adaryn saw the worry on the little girl’s face and said, “Torin and Ember are being very careful when they visit their newest patient.”

She shared Celee’s misgivings about Torin and Ember venturing so deeply into the Black Woods to provide care to their two hospice patients. Especially now, when Torin has finally found love again–not something he ever expected after losing Celee’s mother and the rest of their children to a hunter of supernatural creatures.

Torin and Celee had been spending most of their evenings with Ember at her tiny storybook cottage. They came home later each night, not yet “having a sleepover” there. Given their extended lifespans, Torin and Ember were both very traditional, holding to conventions of propriety that had been religiously adhered to in their cultures at least at some point. More than once Adaryn had wondered if the new couple was considering marriage, but she hadn’t wanted to be the one to bring it up.

If nothing else, she and Liam were blessed to spend so much time alone together while Torin and Celee were away. They were still newlyweds, and each time Adaryn thought of how quickly the time was passing, blurring together the most important parts of their lives so they seemed like one event instead of many, she wanted to slow it down.

In the phoenix sanctuary, peace reigned, giving every single second weight and depth, and allowing them to experience the full scope of their interactions. She wanted that now, but ironically returning to the sanctuary would signal the beginning of the end for them. Life would never be the same once their precious child was born. The thought of making decisions about what to do after she was with them…

A dull ache started in Adaryn’s throat as questions rattled through her brain against her will. Would Liam build the bridge to cross the chasm in time? Would they go through the Eternal Gate of Paradise with their daughter? What would happen to the world if there wasn’t a phoenix healing the human realm? Would Torin and Celee come along with them if it meant leaving Ember? Would Ember want to join them in paradise? Would the Real World fall just as the Mirror Darkly World had? Could anything they did save Woodcutter’s Grim let alone the world at large?

The answers felt out of reach–capable of being accessed only in the moment they were required. They had work to do now. And it was more than enough to consume the rest of the time they had left to them.

Adaryn realized she’d inadvertently left the conversation. When Liam took her hand, she saw in his expression that he felt her palpable tension. She also sensed he wanted to be alone to talk about things that were clearly disturbing to both of them.

Jack saved her from giving voice to things she wasn’t ready to face yet. I’ll regret that. Whether or not I’m ready, we need to do everything to can to have our plans in place when the time comes. Because that won’t wait. When it’s time, we darn well better be ready to face whatever we have to, come what may.

“Well, Adaryn, I’ve found a few other manuscripts pertaining to phoenixes in Patrick’s library,” Jack said with more enthusiasm than Adaryn could muster for herself. “Would you like to peruse them in the library?”

“I’d love to,” she answered, accepting Liam’s kiss and saying she’d be back in a few hours.

Jack’s best friend Professor Patrick Welsh had been the leading authority of ancient supernatural folklore at the time of his untimely death two years ago. Jack had procured his entire book collection at that time, allowing him access to many tomes devoted solely to phoenix lore. Adaryn herself had a collection without equal concerning phoenix lore, but all of it was based on myths, not the reality of what it was like to exist as a phoenix.

As she and Jack made their way to his extensive library, he said, “Two of the books I found for you aren’t necessarily about phoenixes. Instead, it appears to be a two-volume diary written by one of Patrick’s ancestor’s.”

“Welshie?” Adaryn asked in excitement.

Though Adaryn’s parents had been unable to tell her everything she needed to know about being a phoenix, they’d left a sanctuary in the human realm that contained centuries of collected legends and forklore about their kind and other extraordinary creatures. There, she’d found letters from a male called both ‘professor’ and ‘Welshie’ who appeared to be a friend of her parents. The last dated letter stated that Welshie had found Adaryn’s father Rom’s diary:


“You probably won’t get this letter, but in case you do, when you tossed your diary out of the portal and into my backyard, I did find it. It’s safely in my collection. Rest assured, if I can get it to your offspring, I will. In the meantime, my kin will keep it safe until we can give it to the one it belongs to.”


When Jack first mentioned to them that his late friend Patrick’s surname was “Welsh”, Adaryn and Liam had wondered if there was a connection. Was ‘Welshie’ in fact Patrick Welsh’s ancestor?

Inside Jack’s majestic book repository, Adaryn was led to the spacious table supplied with paper, a variety of writing utensils, a wand scanner with an SD card that she’d brought home with her each night in order to transfer everything to her own files that could be accessed from her sanctuary in the human realm, Feenyx Island.

Jack’s selections for her this day were two very old bound volumes. “I did peruse both of these, and I believe there can be no doubt on the basis of these that the Welshie your parents knew was indeed my friend Patrick’s ancestor. Your parents are mentioned by name in these. I so dislike a spoiler but, from my reading, I’m certain the benefit of these particular volumes is solely emotional. We’ll learn nothing particularly helpful to you or your daughter, let alone about phoenix pregnancy and childbirth.”

Adaryn was anxious to get reading while Jack tormented her just a little longer with his usual small talk. When she finally sat down, she was swept into a world of wonder. Without question, Welshie had been friends with Adaryn’s father. Rom and Welshie grown up together as boys, attended college together…

Piece by piece, Adaryn came to the conclusion that Liam wasn’t the only one with ties to Woodcutter’s Grim. Liam once said that a place like this doesn’t really have coincidences. It’s all by design. My father must have been human. A human who lived in Woodcutter’s Grim. He met my mother after he left here. Somehow, somewhere I may never know. Either Welshie visited them or my parents visited him here in Woodcutter’s Grim because Welshie knew my mother’s secret. He was bound by the phoenix contract, and that must be why he couldn’t talk about any of it in his letters, nor even in his private journals. But he cared about my parents, loved them like family as they did him and his relation…

Why do I feel like the whole of my existence has come full circle with this information?

Adaryn recalled the conversations she, Liam, Torin, and Celee had had when Liam first accepted the phoenix contract and was allowed entry into the phoenix sanctuary.

“I’m a goat shifter. I’m stronger in that form, but there’s nothing special about it, other than my vision is panoramic. I can also climb faster and better than probably any living thing. But I don’t really possess magic. I apprenticed but never finished my training while in Woodcutter’s Grim as a kid. Whatever magic I had was decoration. I can’t imagine how valuable I could be to anyone.”

“Your name–Liam Grund–isn’t who you were born as, is it?” Adaryn guessed.

“No. I was William Gruff. Will, my family called me.”

“Gruff… as in The Three Billy Goats Gruff?” she asked in astonishment.

Liam laughed, looking slightly embarrassed by the reference.

“You’re a creature of lore, Liam! Lore creatures have a name, an identity that even humans know about. Lore beings change the shape of history and mold the future. But none exist anymore. Now all we have of them are fairy and folk tales, fables and myths.”

“But wouldn’t you and Torin and Celee also be creatures of lore, since you’re supernatural?”

“No. It’s not the same. We simply represent our unique kind facelessly. We do good in the world, but we don’t change it permanently the way lore creatures do. Our power is transient, only during the time and in the place we dwell. The creatures in the stories of lore disappeared suddenly and without warning. Some say they were drawn into a pocket realm and only exist there now.”

Liam shook his head. “I’ve never heard anything like that. But… none of you have ever heard of Woodcutter’s Grim. So few know about it. I suspect this hunter after us–Polyhedra–doesn’t know about it either. The creature that rules here protects magic. But, if it did allow Polyhedra in, it would be to take control of this thing you call a construct. It would gain dominion over whatever’s employing the construct. I have an idea about that as well.”

“What is it?” Celee asked.

“I think the magic that lives in Woodcutter’s Grim needs creatures of lore to work its purposes. My father was a master engineer, even before he was given the magic. That’s why the magic called to him, offering him something irresistible in exchange–“

“–for taking everything,” Adaryn commented with barely contained revulsion.

Liam nodded.

All of them had connections to Woodcutter’s Grim, Adaryn realized, because they were supernatural beings and the origin of such magic was in this place and this place alone–a pocket world that it was possible for some to leave, some to enter. Because whatever ruled this unique town needed some of them to stay indefinitely, some of them to leave, and sometimes to return in the future. Torin’s ancestors must have also been here at some point before going off into the world. But he and Celee came back. Because there are no coincidences here. It’s all part of the plan.

She remembered what Gabe had told them of Nazarha’s contact with the looking glass. The magic mirror had told Camoren: “All things are made ready for the end of the story at the start. The characters serve the purpose of the story. The story must play out. Finishing the story is vital.” And we’ve all assembled here now to do just that.

Adaryn fought the explanation that the Great Evil here was all-powerful. No, there had to be something more, something good–a balance that was ongoing, each side vying for supremacy. And that means that those of us fighting for good have just as much of a chance to win this war as the evil does. But we can’t focus on our own tasks to the exclusion of the greater purpose, nor can we do it alone. We have to work together–

Though the library was a sanctuary that seemed remote and cut off from the rest of the house, allowing the reader peace and quiet, a noise loud enough to make her rise and rush to the nearest window sounded. She flew from one window to the next, trying to see what was going on even as the volume and intensity increased, but she was unable to discover the cause of the commotion.

Helplessly curious, she left the library, drawn to the front door stoop, where most of the family was gathering and listening to one of the great-grandchildren gush in bursts due to having run all the way there from the lake shore. Adaryn only heard the tail-end of excitement. Nazarha Pallaton had arrived, she gathered just as Liam emerged from another part of the property. Beowulf–Lance and Heather’s youngest son–had spotted Nazarha’s houseboat far out on the lake.

The massive group surged in that direction, Adaryn and Liam exchanging a look of bewilderment as they trailed behind. Yet again, Adaryn wondered who Nazarha was, why both the family and the Protectorate seemed to value her so much. The young adults seemed just as excited about seeing Nazarha as the older Shaussegenys. The work crews had stopped to join them as they wound their way down the path toward the lake shore as a very large group. From the shore, the kids cheered the closer the old floating houseboat got.

She’s beloved by them, Adaryn realized as soon as the boat docked and the grandchildren swarmed onto the deck.

Adaryn’s first glimpse of the woman surprised her, making her wonder what she’d expected Nazarha was at least as tall as Liam’s 6’4 height, possibly an inch or two taller, and muscular in a way that some would consider unflattering on a female. Her thick, dark hair was caught back without care in a loose, messy ponytail. The clothes she wore were clearly castoffs, old and threadbare, not intended to compliment a woman’s curvy form.

Instead of the otherworldly, moody expression Adaryn realized she’d anticipated, Nazarha was smiling wildly, pleasant as she laughed with the children of Jack and Catherina, sharing with them of her recent travels. The woman gave each one of the Shaussegenys her attention in turn.

What we’ve heard about her gave me the impression she was some kind of transcendent sage or something. Even if she is… well, she’s also loved for a reason–because she loves every one of them, freely and without inhibition.

The dark glasses Nazarha wore that were closed on all sides to prevent light from getting in were all that could be considered out of place. Even before she wondered if the woman was blind, she refuted the possibility. She had no trouble getting around, even surrounded with people. She was agile and surprisingly graceful for one so large as she leapt off the boat onto the floating dock that was far enough away to make the gap awkward.

Adaryn braced herself when Jack introduced her, Liam, and Celee. Nazarha turned to them with the whole of her attention and removed her glasses, revealing disturbing eyes without a trace of iris. While in the back of her mind, Adaryn concluded instantly that she must be afflicted with total aniridia, with no color separating the whites of her eyes from the black pupil and therefore suffered sensitivity to light (hence the glasses), nothing could have prepared her for the impact of Nazarha’s soul-searing gaze.

The stranger might have been looking into Adaryn’s entire life at a glance. She felt naked before her, all her secrets laid bare. Jack wouldn’t and couldn’t have told her what I am, since he and his whole family accepted the binding phoenix contract of secrecy. And, yet when she looks at me, I feel like she does know. That she can see me as I am in the phoenix sanctuary, where all living things exist in each of their transmutations simultaneously.

“I serve the Shaussegenys, the Protectorate, gentle creatures like your mother, Liam, and Ember,” Nazarha said sincerely. “I look forward to getting to know each of you better.”

“My papa’s not here. He’s with Ember,” Celee told her, apparently not disturbed at all by Nazarha’s striking eyes. “But he’s a gentle creature, too.”

“A very special one, too, I wager. I can see the same in you, little one.”

“What do you see?” Celee asked.

Nazarha kneeled before her, though she still towered over the little girl by several feet. “I see strength, the willingness to protect and serve, and the friendliest tail ever granted to such an adorable pup.”

Celee’s laughter rang like sweet silver bells in the crisp fall air. Nazarha easily joined in the mirth.

“What do you see for Liam?” Celee turned to look up at them.

Nazarha rose fluidly. “Something similar. Strength, one who protects and serves, certainly, and climbs better than most people can walk, if I’m not mistaken. But this one is rare indeed. Rare enough to be in a class by himself.” The woman nodded, contemplating in the utter silence that now reigned. “The future rests on his capable shoulders and few can help him bear it. But he will take back the night and blaze a trail evil can’t stand against for long.”

“You can see all that?” Celee asked happily. “With just your eyes?”

“Physical eyes and inner eyes.” Nazarha grinned down at Celee, saying as an aside, “I can also see Mr. Gruff has an exceedingly fine beard.”

While everyone laughed, Adaryn could no longer deny to herself that Nazarha saw more than the average human. She was indeed a seer of sorts. She proved it after Celee asked her to describe what she saw in Adaryn.

Nazarha’s omniscient gaze turned once more on her. Her voice was low, respectful, humbled when she said, “A uniqueness. Majesty. Healing for the whole world resides on and in this one and the precious life she carries. Her mate will take back the night and stand against the powers of hell while she lights the darkness with a cleansing fire that can’t be quenched… nor can it or should it be contained.”

Not a sound could be heard. Adaryn swallowed against the suffocating lump that filled her throat when Nazarha stepped closer to her and said in a voice that continued to hold everyone captive. “But I don’t envy the choices before you. To save that which you love is to allow the world to fall to ruin. But such sacrifice is too painful to comprehend. Who could blame you? Who can heal a being of your singularity regardless of your decision?”

Adaryn gasped as the life inside her stirred, quickening as if by flames invoked and stirred by Nazarha’s seemingly prophetic words.

Nazarha slipped her dark glasses back on, saying brightly, “I hope there’s a feast in the works because I’m absolutely starved right about now,” effectively breaking the spell she’d cast over the large group.


Woodcutter's Grim Series, Book 10, Bridge of Fire, Part 3: Into the Sun print cover updated 2023

Leave a Reply