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    This is the original version of Crimson Lips, which is being written with the idea of being published as a real book wowie….

    Dear friend… 

    I hope it’s not too presumptuous of me to call you such. I’m well aware I’m just another in a long line of individuals vying for your attention, but considering what’s at stake, I believe it is best to be bold. To hope that if I play my cards well—and goodness, I had better play them well, or else—you will indeed become my dear, dear friend. 

    So, that being said, let me paint you a scene. 

    Inside an opulent white manor, the lives of three women collide violently for the first time. 

    The first is an older woman standing frozen in the doorway. Her perfectly-starched dressing gown and perfectly-combed auburn hair contrasts the makeup-laden tears running down her face. 

    This is Lady Catherine Halifax, one of the most powerful mages in Eventide. 

    On the opposite end of the room stands a younger woman wearing a large coat as rustled and unkempt as her tangled brown hair barely held in a ponytail. Her face, however, is stone-cold. She wears not a single whisper of emotion, which, considering her current situation, one would surely find quite strange.

    This is Sophie Clarke, Lady Catherine’s apprentice and an extremely prodigious mage.

    Tell her.”

    The third and final woman stands between them both.

    Reeking of alcohol and rage and pain and all manner of untoward emotions, she imposes herself between the other two in nothing but a nightgown and a jacket. Her long black hair is a complete mess and her eyes flash wide in the judgemental lighting. To say she looks murderous would be an understatement. To say she looks insane would be accurate. 

    That is Lenore Corbyn, and that absolute mess of a woman is me. 

    “Tell her!” I repeat to Lady Catherine. “Do it!” 

    But Lady Catherine doesn’t reply to my demand. That bitch, I think. 

    “Coward,” I hiss, hot tears burning on my skin. “That’s what you are—a coward.” 

    And finally Lady Catherine speaks in a broken voice: “Please, I—” 

    “Tell her!” I slam my foot against the floor, feeling like I’m bleeding from the inside out. “Tell Sophie Clarke exactly why I am not like her!” 


    “Do it, you bloody coward!” 

    “I don’t know what you mean,” she says, and I could kill her. I could murder her. 

    Because she knows. She knows.

    And Sophie knows. And—eventually—so too will you, as I must now ask you to put this scene to the side and allow me to paint you a new one. 

    A carriage arrived early in the morning. Its coachman yawned heavily, his tired eyes glazed over from his three-day-long journey. His horses, too, plodded along on their last legs, their horseshoes clacking dully against the cobblestone streets.

    Men in clean trousers, clean shirts, and roughly cleaned boots strode out into the streets, ready for another day’s work. Women, some in dresses and some in pants, opened the curtains of their homes to wave to their husbands and children as they left for the day—unless, in some cases, they too were headed to work. 

    Beggars dotted the streets, some sleeping covered with nothing but rags, others barely awake and extending empty hands toward passersby. A child in a dirty dress slept huddled next to an elderly woman against the cold stone, the child shivering in an embrace chilled when life left the elderly woman at precisely half past two that morn.

    All lived in the beautiful and unforgiving city of Eventide.  

    It was a place known to some as the capital of elegance and depravity, and on occasion both pursuits at once. Yet to others it was known as the birthplace of art and magic, while still more knew it as the city made beautiful only by the ugliness lurking beneath its surface. It was the city of parallels and opposition. It was the city of hatred and love.

    Not that Sophie Clarke cared about the latter one. Not yet, at least. Not yet.

    You remember Sophie Clarke, do you not? Of course you do; I just told you about her. The woman who faced a very sordid scene with a stone-cold, emotionless expression. 

    The most important woman in my entire godforsaken world. 

    Inside the slow-moving carriage sat Sophie, her pale, thin fingers brushing the page of an old book dimly lit by a lantern only someone with her talent could use. 

    You see, the lantern was entirely fueled by magic. 

    Her magic, of course—a mystical aura that enveloped her right hand with its signature cyan glow. And one would think someone like her—that is to say, someone innately capable of wielding a power so many could only dream of—would want to share her talent with the world, but…


    Having come from a place where everyone was innately superb at magic, she’d never had a reason to share. 

    Thus, Sophie Clarke had unfortunately learned to care for only one thing in this grand world: that she excelled at learning—and learning fast

    A snap of her fingers would conjure things I could only dream of doing with my meager magical abilities. 

    And, though it has been said that all the people of our realm have some sort of magical talent, this is a widely-believed lie. You see, only the rich and fortunate have the money to truly capitalize on their magical talents with the necessary classes and studies and books. The rest of us less-fortunate souls have been relegated to living magically uneventful lives. 

    Sophie, as I said, was one such fortunate individual, which is why she cared for nothing but her magic and her studies. However, today she’d added a third item to that list: making a good impression on Lady Catherine Halifax, the Lady who lived in the white manor at the edge of the city.

    It was the same manor whose towers I could see from the window of my room on the highest floor of the Sapphire Cabaret. 

    And at the very same time Sophie’s carriage arrived that morning, I had just woken up from a night’s work and was lazily peering out the window opposite my bed. 

    Someone stirred beside me, and I turned slightly toward them: a half-naked man, covered only by thin sheets and an expensive linen comforter. I thought he would wake, but he did not—instead, he snored rather unpleasantly into his drool-stained pillow.

    I stared at him for a moment.

    There was no sign of crimson lipstick on any part of his body.

    Good, I thought, and brushed my hair behind my shoulders. A lady never leaves a mark.

    Eventually I laid back down and allowed myself to get lost in my thoughts. Perhaps I’d have time to go to the bakery before my first performance. Maybe, if I was lucky, something interesting might finally happen in my life. 

    * * *

    As she stepped out of the carriage and onto the gray driveway, my dear beloved Sophie laid her eyes on Lady Catherine’s manor for the very first time.

    In person, that is.

    She’d seen it before in photographs, and once, when she was a child, in a fantastic illusion conjured by the Lady herself when she’d visited the Clarke family in the North. She’d thought about the illusion for weeks after, imagining herself being able to recreate such a magical feat. In many ways, that manor became a symbol of her arcane aspirations. 

    Thus, it’s not hard to imagine why seeing the place in person was such an Important Event for her. She felt terribly intimidated. It was so large and grandiose that she felt rather small and unimportant in its presence with just her plain clothes and long black cloak—or, as I called it, the Dark and Broody Cape. 

    For the next few years those white walls would be her home, the thousands of books in that library would be her friends, and the woman who lived inside would be her teacher.

    I asked her once, as we sat by Old Man Frost’s shop, if she regretted going to Lady Catherine’s house.

    She stared at me as though I’d gone mad. Of course not, she answered. What a ridiculous question for me to ask.

    If you knew her, you wouldn’t have asked that, she continued playfully, not knowing that I did, and that wondering if I regretted knowing her haunted me long into the night.

    The large oaken doors of the manor opened with a heavy push, and Sophie stepped inside. James Flint, the coachman, brought her belongings behind with him—she had offered to carry them with her magic, but he’d refused. She thought it silly of him. Levitation was child’s play, after all. She had simply packed away her entire life into the absurdly tiny number of a single green bag. 

    Enviable, truly. I’d need six large suitcases at least

    “Here you are, young miss,” Flint said, and put down her heavy bag by the steps with a relieved sigh. 

    “Great,” Sophie replied. “Thank you again for picking me up.”

    “You’re welcome. Can’t remember the last time the Lady had an overnight visitor.”


    That was surprising to hear. One would have thought the reason she would have such a large abode would be to have guests all the time, no?

    “Mm-hm. And it’s been even longer since she’s agreed to take on a student.” He gave her a cryptic look. “She must really like your folks.”

    “…She does,” Sophie replied politely, and let it slide off her shoulders because she was a much better person than me and didn’t tell him off for the implicit cronyism. 

    “I would have defended your honor,” I told her once when discussing the encounter. “The gall.”

    “He wasn’t wrong,” Sophie replied, amused. She was a saint for putting up with me, honestly. “I did only become her student because she likes my parents.”

    “Well—! Well, still! I crossed my arms. “Who cares what she thinks? She has terrible taste, anyway.”

    Sophie laughed. “Considering she likes me… Gosh, thanks.”

    “As for the lady,” Flint continued, “she’s not home at the moment, but she encourages you to explore the estate while she is out.”


    She tried to hide her disappointment.

    “And if you still haven’t found your room by the time I finish with the horses, come and fetch me.”

    “All right,” she replied, and decided she ought to use her time exploring to rehearse her re-introduction to Lady Catherine for the twenty-fourth—yes, twenty-fourth—time. “Thank you for your help.”

    Flint offered a gruff smile and then marched outside to the horses. Once he was gone, she left her luggage by the front step, took a deep breath and stepped forward to explore her new home. 

    Now, let us play a game. 

    I want you to imagine what a fabulous manor would look like. Picture it. The kind of place one dreams of owning as a child, with as many rooms as one needs and then double that. Hold that image crystal clear in your head.

    Do you have it? Well then, whatever you are imagining, know that the Lady’s home is far, far grander.

    I could, quite frankly, take audience suggestions for a room, and chances are the manor would already have it. A tea room as any lady should have! An entire room for eating cookies and debating books! Five different libraries for some ungodly reason! Then another for wasting the day away watching cinema on a projector, and so on. So many rooms of all kinds! 

    And yet.

    And yet, Sophie noticed as she stepped into another hallway lined with doors, the only thing the manor seemed empty of was people.

    It makes sense, she thought as she walked to the nearest door. The Lady has magic.

    Yes, indeed. Whyever would one need a cumbersome staff of maids, butlers, and cooks when one had boundless magic at their immediate disposal? With just a snap of her fingers, surely the house would be pristine in less than a second!

    Who needs others, Sophie thought with a smile, when you have magic?

    Not that Sophie was seeing any sign of said magic. 

    Since the Lady was a reputable mage renowned throughout the world, Sophie had expected her to have archives and artifacts and… and anything to do with magic! She’d found a room for practically everything else in the meantime, save for the one thing that she cared most about. 

    As she moved on, her hopes of finding magic were once again dashed when she entered the next room: a small, tidy study. 

    Despite her disappointment, she found it an interesting little room, with an empty desk in front of the window on the far wall, and dozens of photographs decorating the walls on either side. Every single one of them had been mounted in an ornate blue frame, Sophie noticed. And, every single one of them featured the Lady.

    She examined the photographs with unreserved curiosity. In one, the Lady waved brightly from atop a camel, ancient pyramids towering in the background; in another, she giggled from the sidelines as stuffy-looking men and women gawked at her magically powered vehicle; in the next, she and a black-haired woman posed with some kind of local diplomat. 

    A smile crept across Sophie’s lips. Rather than looking at the camera, Lady Catherine was politely glaring at the woman next to her, who herself looked as though she would much rather be anywhere but there.

    That must be her sister, Sophie thought. 

    She didn’t know much about the Lady’s sister, except that her name was Lorelei and that she apparently was equal in power to the Lady herself. 

    Then, as she continued her visual tour of the Lady’s life and her many achievements, she noticed a most peculiar sight:

    A mistake in the middle of the wall.

    Well, no, not a mistake, per se, but certainly something wrong amidst the sea of images. While all the other frames had been ordered in a meticulous fashion, she noticed a spot where the gaps between them became larger and uneven. Almost, she thought, as if the photos had been shifted to try and hide the spot left behind by an absent frame.

    Maybe it fell and broke? 

    But with nothing left to look at, really, she left the study and moved on to explore the next room. Once at the door, she moved to try its doorknob, then stopped. 

    There was a silver bracelet hanging from the handle.

    Curious, she picked it up and turned it over in her palm to examine it, and it was only then that she noticed the inscription along its length:

    We were strangers when first we met…

    “We were strangers when first we met,” she murmured, and stared at the phrase for a moment. She turned the bracelet over, expecting to find the rest of the sentence and yet finding nothing at all.

    She frowned. Right.

    Why would someone leave a bracelet hanging from a doorknob? 

    Hoping to find answers within the room, she finally tried the door but found it locked—a fact which did little to dissuade her curiosity. Her grip tightened around the doorknob, and a second later her fingertips lit up with a cyan-colored light.

    It would be very easy to use an unlocking spell on the door. Less than a second’s work, really.

    But then the light in her fingers faded out as quickly as it had appeared, and she slowly let go of the knob. As much as she wanted to know what was behind the door, the last thing she wanted was to intrude on the clearly established privacy of her hostess.

    Instead, she went back to examining the bracelet. She ran it through her fingers, brushed the inscription with her thumb, then nearly jumped right out of her skin when a gentle voice behind her spoke:

    “Pretty, isn’t it?” said the voice. “I engraved it myself.”

    “La-Lady Catherine!” Sophie gasped, and turned on her heel at the same time as her heart nearly jumped out of her chest.

    Before we continue, I’d like to take a brief moment here to… gossip, shall we say, about the Lady. 

    You see, anyone who was anything knew of Lady Catherine Halifax. And you certainly had to be something for her to even speak to you. 

    But, even if you weren’t something, if you were ever so lucky that she might deign to converse with you, you more likely than not would find yourself in a strange position—you could be meeting her for the very first time, and yet she would still speak warmly to you, as if you were the best of friends catching up after a long time apart.

    It would feel as though she somehow knew everything about you. And she probably did. 

    …That’s how I felt, at least. 

    I was almost nineteen the last time I visited her gardens. A child who’d only recently become an adult. 

    We met briefly that day, the Lady and I, and I remember her very clearly still, in her summer dress and summer hat and summer smile that cast a deep shadow over everything she disliked. 

    “I hear you’re a…” 

    The pause felt eternal. As burning as the sun.

    “…an entertainer at the Sapphire now. Is that true?”

    Shame, like her pause, burned me. I felt short of breath. And there, in the gardens and in my shame, I turned round and ran.

    But enough about me.

    The Lady towered over Sophie in all her glory, staring down at her with gleaming eyes and a smile filled with no small amount of mischief.

    “Lady Catherine,” Sophie repeated after she’d reacquired some sense of composure. She bowed politely. “I, uh—”

    “Oh, Sophie,” the Lady interrupted, and smiled wider. “You haven’t called me Lady Catherine since you were a child. Trying to remind me of how much older I’ve gotten since then?” Then, when Sophie’s expression shifted to horror, she laughed. “I’m only teasing. But truly, just ‘Catherine’ will be enough.” Her eyes glanced down at the bracelet practically crushed in Sophie’s grip, and she added, “Now, before we get too far, shall we perhaps find you something a bit less painful to squeeze?”

    Sophie blinked. “Huh?” she said—so eloquently—before she realized what the Lady meant and her cheeks flushed faintly with red.

    Thankfully, Lady Catherine paid her response no mind. She reached out and took the bracelet back, giving Sophie a glimpse of a similar bracelet around her wrist as she did. “It’s very pretty, isn’t it? But…” She reached toward the doorknob and returned it to its place. “Some things are best left where their owner will find them.”

    And after that the topic was closed, and she led Sophie away from the locked door and the bracelet with only one half of a message.

    The Lady spoke of trivialities as they walked, and Sophie tried to respond as best she could. It was hard for her to keep up with Lady Catherine’s quick-fire questions, which ranged from the well-being of Sophie’s family, to her studies in school, and then to her thoughts on the house. 

    Her family was fine, she had graduated summa cum laude, and the house was truly quite impressive.

    “I haven’t seen anyone else around the manor,” Sophie said when they stopped before a set of tall oak doors. “Do you not need staff?”

    The Lady smiled. “I only need dear old Flint.” She winked. “But don’t tell him I said he’s old.”

    The doors swung open with a snap of the Lady’s fingers, and Sophie followed her into her private office. Compared to the rest of the house, the office was actually rather… well, rather unimpressive. Simple wallpaper, a few simple paintings, an oak desk, and two chairs before it.

    “I apologize that I wasn’t here to greet you,” the Lady said, and sat down behind her desk. “If I’d have known you’d be arriving so early, I would have postponed my appointment.”

    “Oh, it’s alright,” Sophie said, quickly. “I enjoyed looking around.” She paused. “…Where’s the library? And the spellcasting practice room?”

    The Lady smiled. “Right to it, I see!” 

    Sophie flushed. “Sorry, I—”

    “Don’t ever be sorry for being passionate,” the Lady gently interrupted. “I’d much rather have a student who puts magic first over one who doesn’t. Unfortunately, that will have to come later. I need your help with something else first.”

    “My help?” Sophie turned to her with an eager expression, no doubt already anticipating being asked to assist with some sort of wondrous magical marvel. “Of course! What can I do for you?”

    “I’d like you to go into the city for me,” the Lady said at length and absently straightened a frame pointing towards her on the desk. “Just for a quick errand; it won’t take too much of your time.”

    “…Of course,” Sophie repeated, masking her disappointment with agreement and ignoring the fact that she knew nothing about the city, nevermind how to find her way through it.

    The Lady smiled brightly, then jotted an address down on a piece of paper and handed it over alongside a small purse filled with coins. “I normally would ask Flint to do this, but I think he’s snuck off to have his daily nap. Besides, this is a great opportunity for you to get to know Eventide. The city, the people!” She giggled. “They’re just as interesting as magic, too, you know?”

    If Sophie had no manners, she might have snorted. Finding something or someone more interesting than magic? Now that would be the day, she thought. A horrible day, even!

    …And it would be.

    For me. 

    Shoutout to my editor Evelili for holding strong even as I whined very loudly over having to kill my darling.

    Anyway, everyone comment pretending you’ve never read this before.

    You can support me on


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    1. AppleTank
      Jul 22, '23 at 9:41 pm

      Ooo, the suspense from this mysterious narrator is killing me! And maybe … has already killed.

    2. Olden Bronie
      Jul 20, '23 at 8:15 am

      Such a great start to a story! Drama, intriguing characters and a fascinating setting. So much has transpired in the first chapter! I’m already a fan of Lenore!

    3. Shayana Delfine
      Jul 20, '23 at 4:50 am

      I actually never read Crimson Lips so I’m very intrigued at this beginning of a story! I’m so incredibly curious about the characters. Sigma’s assertion that Lenore is Catherine’s daughter fascinates me. I really want to see how this turns out! The writing is top-notch. Thank you for sharing, Mono!

    4. A Deer
      Jul 20, '23 at 1:15 am

      This first chapter really starts the story out strong. I love the mystery being created with things like the bracelet and Lenore’s narration. Already questions are forming in my mind about Lenore, Sophie and Catherine and their stories. And I think it’s helped a lot by how interesting they feel already. Each one already feels distinct to me.

      The discription of the manor and the city also stood out in my mind. I like how it flows with the story and adds the right amount of detail. I felt like it also added to the emotion. Like the description of the city where people are leaving for work while others are struggling on the streets gave me a feeling of contrast. And it goes with Lenore talking about the city being of parallels and oppositions. And it seems to fit Lenore and Sophie too with regard to Catherine. Sophie esteems Catherine and Lenore is pretty much opposite. And maybe the parallel is how they each first got to know Catherine.

      Great start to the story!

    5. SigmasonicX
      Jul 19, '23 at 10:27 pm

      Interesting start! So the narrator is Lenore? Guessing she’s Catharine’s daughter, given that one flashback and the missing photo. I wonder what the story is behind her leaving, then.

      Sophie seems silent yet snarky, which could be fun.

      It’ll be interesting to see how Sophie and Lenore become friends. I hope they don’t become lovers, as I am homophobic rust belt true American who stands proud before the flag.

      Last edited on Jul 19, '23 at 10:27 pm.
    6. not lili
      Jul 19, '23 at 10:02 pm

      SPLENDID AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE i am so fucking proud of u!!!!

      i am going to put sophie in my pocket and lenore in my other pocket and carry them around with me all my life knowing the Horrors and the Drama that await them that They Are Unaware Of At The Moment

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