Of What is Red

contract marriage
arranged marriage
female lead
another world
enimies to lovers
kingdom building

I circled him slowly, tracing my fingertips along his back, ribs, and stomach. His hair stood and I saw other clear signs of arousal, but I knew I could do better. I wanted him to beg - for what, I didn't yet know. He would tell me, and I would use it against him.

"Scarlet," he whispered, voice heavy with need.

I kissed his cheek.

My purpose was to serve the Ivory Kingdom. Be their sacrificial princess; enter the Other world; seduce our enemy, Rowan the Crimson King. I did all of these things. Now he would take me to the Crimson Gates and unwittingly break the banishment curse on my kingdom. My kingdom would invade his overnight. But he wasn't the monster I was told he would be. He was precious, playful, and all things good. I didn't want to betray him, but I didn't know what else to do.

18+ for s****l content

TW: mild violence; substance-induced psychosis; recovery from cult/mental abuse.

Of What is Red is created by Diana Regolizio, an eGlobal Creative Publishing signed author.

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Chapter 1: Feed Me Poison
I sat at the foot of my bed, heart racing, feeling detached from my body. The gold lines in the pale marble floor blurred in my mounting state of panic. I always knew this day would come, but now it was here. My dad was a suited barrel-chested silhouette before the one-way window walls in my room, the sun reflecting in his face so I could discern some detail. He offered me a reassuring grin, deepening the lines along his mouth. This grin fooled most people, but it couldn't work on me anymore. It was a calculated expression to put people at ease, making them less inclined to argue. “I thought I was getting married today," I said, not that I was much looking forward to that, either. I was risen from bed early enough, and fed, and showered. My naturally platinum blond hair was still wet beneath the towel. I wore a silk slip beneath my robe - one that was meant to go beneath a wedding dress. “You are," Dad promised. “Remember: you said you didn't want to see this coming." It wasn't about me or what I wanted. It was about the Ivory Kingdom, which I was told existed in a world beyond ours - one from which we hailed a thousand years ago. “I would only need to be a married for a second?" I asked, practiced at not allowing my anxious state to be perceived as hostile. “I thought I was getting married so I can secure my position, as well as the position of my heirs." I had learned not to shudder at the thought of procreating with the Ivory Prince. He was twenty years older than me, and any conversation we had was stilted at best, but duty was duty. Dad patiently explained, “You are marrying Albus to be a princess, so you can enter the Crimson Kingdom and break the curse." If I entered the Crimson Kingdom without a title, it wouldn't break the curse, and my family would still be exiled here. Dad continued, “Just think of today as a coronation with a twist." The twist being: I would drink a “transportation potion" and my body, here on Earth, would die. Or, 'I' would die. Depending on one's point of view. I was mildly relieved to die before consummating the marriage, but I still had to 'die' first. I stood, not seeing a rational follow-through for the urge. The corner of the towel dangled in my face, so I swiped it off my head and hugged it as a bundle to my chest. My wet hair chilled my upper back. “We'll be right behind you," Dad replied softly. “As soon as the diamond glows." The colossal diamond, cut like a delicate rose, served as a ceiling ornament in the foyer. It would cast a blinding glow to signal when the curse was broken, and the glow would transport anyone of Ivory blood back to our home. None of them would need to die to get there, like I would. To them, the existence of the Ivory kingdom would be confirmed, for how else would the diamond glow? To me, the faint possibility remained in my mind that I had been born into a nonsensical cult, and killing me would result simply in death. Tears welled, obscuring my vision. I blinked to let the first roll down my cheek. “Why me," I whispered, but I knew why. “The Crimson King has a soft spot for pretty damsels in distress." Dad crossed to me, holding my shoulder. His eyes held pain for my pain, and in that moment I allowed myself to receive it as love - conditional, but love nonetheless. “You are as beautiful as your mother, Lily. And brave." I sobbed. I didn't want to be brave. Dad continued, “The Crimson King will see you, and he will want you, and you will promise yourself to him in exchange for travel past his gates. And then we'll be there." He pulled me into a hug. I remained with my hold tight around the towel, awkward against his torso. I let my forehead rest against his chest, and any strength I had shattered. Every awful feeling I had came spilling out, and my back shook with a series of sobs that only grew in intensity as the moment stretched. I didn't want to be brave. *** The colors of the Ivory Kingdom were white and creme with gold accents, mirrored in my form-fitting bodice, layered skirts, and opera gloves. I waited before the vanity in my room, staring at my reflection, breathing deeply with the wish to ease my nausea. My light blue eyes were puffy since I'd cried. My hair was completely hidden beneath an ornate headpiece. There came a knock at the door, and the pit of my stomach sank and squirmed. “Come in," I called anyway, my voice surprisingly strong. My thirteen-year-old sister, Tulip, slowly entered, wide-eyed. “Lily?" She was also dressed in our colors. I stood and faced her in full. This was the first time I'd seen her all day, and I wanted to crumble again, but I couldn't. I opened my arms for her and she dove into my embrace. I held her close. “What if it doesn't work?" she whispered, muffled through my top. I wouldn't ever tell her this was something I feared as well. “It has to," I answered instead. “And when the diamond glows, you'll see me again." She squeezed me tighter, sniffling. I kissed her white-blond hair. Another knock at my door. “Come in," I called again. Two handmaids entered. It was time. Tulip held my hand for as long as she could while the handmaids led us down the hall and to the second story landing. The rose diamond sat high above us, spanning the entirety of the ceiling. One of the handmaids motioned for Tulip to let go of my hand, but Tulip only held tighter. I returned the hold with a deliberate look at the handmaid. The handmaid relented. “Your father will separate you in a moment." “Then let him," I replied coldly. Tulip and I descended the stairs together, seeing our small kingdom gathered in the grand foyer. The ceremony would be held on the wide quarter landing at the center of the double-sided staircase, elevated from the onlookers. Prince Albus stood beside his elderly father, the Ivory King, both in white and creme tuxedos with gold buttons. Sashes slung across their torsos, and ceremonial blades hung at their hips. Albus smiled widely at me. He seemed handsome enough, but he behaved exactly the way anyone would expect unchallenged royalty to behave. Privileged and entitled. I hated him and he would never know. I smiled back. Dad stood at the foot of the stair closest to me. I stood beside him with Tulip. The ceremony began. I didn't need to be present - I only needed to be standing, conscious, and pretty. I focused on breathing. Tulip's grip on my hand tightened. “Lily," Dad whispered, directing my attention to the Ivory King who gestured for me to kneel. I exchanged a look with Tulip. She wouldn't let her face betray much, but she released my hand. I noted the faces of my handful of friends in the crowd. They would miss me. They didn't believe I would die here, but they worried about what I would find on the Other side. I worried, too. I stepped forth. The first part of the ceremony was the marriage. I tuned in to a line which the king uttered by accident, “ - till death do you part?" “I do," I answered anyway. Dad made a sound of annoyance behind me, but the worst case scenario, in his mind was that we'd have to marry again in the Other world. The Ivory King continued the ceremony. “I do," said the Ivory Prince Albus. Everything in my body recoiled and I had to find a manual switch in my head to turn it off. I let myself be a vacant doll in the Prince's hold, and when he kissed me I kissed back with the minimal verve required - just enough to convince him he didn't repulse me. Next came the coronation. I adjusted my skirts effortlessly as I knelt. The Ivory King spoke, and at a pause I said my line, “I will." He continued his speech, and I heard the soft sounds of metal-to-metal and felt the weight when the simple princess's crown was added atop my headpiece. With the crowning complete, I stood and faced my cheering kingdom. While they knew the events that would proceed, they didn't expect the following spectacle. I bowed my head for Dad to remove the headpiece, which I wouldn't take with me to the Other world. Then, before my newly blood-red hair could register in the eyes of my witnesses, I twirled so that my skirts floated, undoing a hidden series of buttons to seamlessly transition into a plainer, but still pretty, red dress with black and gold details. The crowd gasped and cheered louder. A handmaid gathered the discarded skirt, and I handed her my gloves. A glass of wine was handed to me, and I saw Tulip held one less than half-full. She didn't seem to care about the opportunity to drink underage; she just stared at me, wide-eyed. They likely hadn't poured her a full portion to begin with. Everyone in the crowd had a glass as well. Dad approached me, so Tulip approached with him. “Don't worry," Dad said in my ear. “This blend disguises the taste. It'll be quick, and painless." Silence soon consumed the room. Everyone's eyes were on me. They wouldn't drink their wine until I drank my poison. I raised my glass and mustered all my strength into my voice. “When the diamond glows!" “When the diamond glows!" they echoed back. With a certainty I hoped was convincing, I locked eyes with Tulip, and emptied my glass in an uninterrupted series of gulps. My thoughts slipped into a fog, and kept slipping. Surprised, I wobbled in place. “That was fast," I said. Dad held me by the elbows when the room seemed taller. “Lily!" Tulip shrieked, followed by a crash. Glass pieces scattered across the marble floor, and I realized that was once my wineglass. I'd dropped it. 'They really didn't plan for me to die so fast,' I thought. A part of me found it funny. An audience of sheltered civilians witnessed an equally sheltered 23-year-old woman die. I didn't pass on peacefully and gradually in the decorative casket in the parlor. I made an ugly surprised face as I tried to breathe. Nothing about this was graceful. Maybe I wasn't supposed to chug the poison. Or, “potion." I struggled to keep my eyes open. I laughed at a cliche made real: everything faded to black.

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