An Unfound Door, Chapter Six

The summer court opens with a celebration attended by the wealthy families and nobility of Faloren. After the ailing king retires for the evening, Agnes is introduced to Fhiad, who claims to be a university student from Cretia studying architecture. Fhiad has altered his appearance and accent, and he pretends not to recognize Agnes. Later, when Agnes escapes to a shadowy corner for a moment of quiet, Fhiad approaches her. He initially seems kind but quickly becomes cruel and insulting. He tells Agnes that his homeland of Erdbhein has been destroyed, and he declares his intention to take revenge by visiting the same ruin on Faloren.

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This chapter is the transition between Act One and Act Two. Fhiad, the B Story character, has returned, and he establishes himself as an antagonist. He states his goal to uncover Faloren’s magical artifact with the intention of destroying the kingdom. In Chapter Eight, Agnes will state her own intention to solve the problem he represents by opposing him. Fhiad’s anger is not the real problem, however, and this is the wrong solution.

It’s always bothered me when a villain is angry about something legitimately upsetting, but then the writer has them kick a puppy to show that this anger is bad. What I mean by “kicking a puppy” is that the villain will do something excessively violent or disturbing that is either entirely out of character or framed in such a way as to make their actions seem irrational and done solely for the sake of being evil.

A villain typically represents a challenge to an established order, especially an order built on arbitrary divisions that inform a strict hierarchy. In the case of fantasy especially, there is often a class of “monsters” who are sentient yet still positioned as being okay to kill. When a villain wants to establish an alternate power structure in which “monsters” are not killed, it’s only natural to wonder if they might not be justified in doing so. The villain must therefore be shown kicking a proverbial puppy so that we do not begin to feel sympathy for them. Based on my observations of various fandom discourse wars, a surprising number of people take this puppy kicking very seriously as an indication that a villain is irredeemably evil.

It’s important to me that Fhiad is portrayed as a legitimate antagonist, at least at first. In this chapter, he proves himself to be two-faced, manipulative, and more than a little creepy. He invades Agnes’s personal space, physically threatens her, and mocks and insults her. He verbally attacks her at a vulnerable moment, and he says horrible things that are all the more hurtful because they’re true. Even worse, he’s cruel to Agnes precisely because he knows she can do nothing to stop him. In addition, the curse laid on him is still active, and it’s implied that he may no longer be entirely human.

Still, the root cause of Agnes’s problem – the decline of her kingdom – is not Fhiad, nor is it anything he’s said or done in the past or the present. Rather, this problem is a direct result of a horrible atrocity committed in the past by Agnes’s ancestor. I therefore had to make sure that what Fhiad does at the beginning of Act Two is upsetting but doesn’t fall to the level of puppy kicking. In other words, I attempted to create tension by means of the antagonist’s bad behavior while still being fair to the complexity of his character and his experience of justified anger.