Excerpt from Crimson: Fablelands series by Julia Lela Stilchen
Rumors about the shifters roaming at night, deep in the dark forest of Grimwood, were spreading like wildfire. When they gather in groups, their eyes ignite like blazing red spheres lurking out from the shadows. No one knows what the shifters do in their gatherings but many believe they are in search for a new victim. Children, like Hansel and Gretel, have mysteriously turned up missing.
Something strange was happening in Northhaven and everyone was becoming paranoid. Red’s parents, in particular, began to barricade all the windows and doors. Her father purchased special candles, made from dragon whale wax, lighting them all around the cottage. He believed it would help mask their scent to prevent the shifters from tracking them.
Recently, their daughter, Red had begun to sleepwalk. At first, they hoped it was a temporary phase and that everything would just go back to normal. Then, they found her wandering throughout the village in a complete daze. On another occasion, she had climbed high up in a tree; sitting on a branch next to their cat, blink.
When villagers began to take notice and even questioned if she was under some witch’s spell, her parents tried to avoid the attention by confining Red to the cottage. It was getting harder for Red to do anything on her own. She hardly had much freedom to go where she wanted. Her parents voiced their concern with Red, if she continued to sleepwalk, they would have to seek further help, or alternatively, as much as they would rather avoid as a last resort, lock her in her room at night, to ensure her safety.
One night, the wind blew very hard outside, bursting the window in her room wide open. The draft drowned out the heat from the flickering candles, leaving maroon-colored trails of swirling vapors that lingered before fading away.
Red opened her eyes, snuggled in her warm bed beneath the covers, yet unable to sleep. Soon, it was going to be her twelfth birthday and her friend, Aria, was going to visit. They had known each other ever since they were toddlers. However, they hadn’t seen each other since before winter and the spring festival was just around the corner.
A sharp howl interrupted the low moans of the wind. She sat up in her bed and gazed at the bright moon beaming in the dark sky, framed perfectly in her window. The cool breeze bit against her fair skin, sending goose bumps up her arms, making her hairs stand on end. Loose wavy strands of her dark burgundy hair brushed against the sides of her face. She crawled out from her warm bed and reached out to shut the smooth window. As she turned toward her bed, a whisper of her name called out to her.
“Who’s there?” She spun around. She wondered if it was Aria outside, perhaps a surprise visit, but, it was rather late.
She crept up to the window and peered out into the blackness. There was a rustle of some kind but no one was in sight. She rubbed her eyes and then leaned out from her window. The moon’s light highlighted the edges of the leaves on the trees just beyond the yard.
“Aria?” She scanned the landscape; glowing lights emerged from the bushes far out in the woods. The soft lights wobbled like several blurry orbs moving in and out of each other.