An Unfound Door, Chapter Four

Agnes returns to Faloren Castle under the escort of her aide Myla, who had been searching for her. She immediately goes to see her father the king, who is bedridden from a lingering illness. She is met at the door to his chambers by her cousin Galien. Galien has conspired with Myla to hide Agnes’s abduction, and he informs her that it was he who sent the knight Caelif to her rescue. Without inquiring further, Agnes visits her father. He does not wake, and Agnes reflects on the decrepit state of the castle. She excuses herself and uses a discrete servant’s passage to visit the kitchen. The head of the castle’s staff, Taibh, gives her bread and wine and asks no questions.   

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This chapter presents the bleakness of the status-quo world to the reader. There are no people on the roads. The castle town is depopulated. The castle itself is a mess. The king is dying.

Fhiad parted ways with Agnes at some point before the start of the chapter, and she seems to take it for granted that he won’t find anyone in his home kingdom of Erdbhein. This presents a mystery. Why does she think this? What happened there? In Chapter Six, Agnes will explain what she understands about Erdbhein, but the truth is worse. Erdbhein has gone full Dark Souls, and it’s filled with ruin and blight and zombies.

In terms of the Save The Cat story structure, this chapter establishes the “debate” of the main character. Agnes thinks about how she wants to leave Faloren, but she feels that she can’t. In the next chapter, the reader will see that she takes comfort in routines, especially when these routines make her feel smart, powerful, and in control. She ends her debate with herself in this chapter by saying that she needs to concentrate on “work,” which she is obviously using as an excuse for not allowing herself to imagine an alternative to the shittiness of her current situation.

This debate makes a lot of sense to me personally, because I used to be the same as Agnes. I was driven by a need to be “productive,” and I was always working. Those routines made me happy at the time, but they weren’t sustainable. This is all the more true because the busyness distracted me from more important issues, namely, that there was something deeply wrong with my environment.

I had to go through this cycle a few times – and I got very, very good at it – before I realized what it was. I thought I could somehow fix things by simply working harder, and damn did I work hard. Realizing that the cycle itself was the problem was extremely liberating.

I’m not saying that we should all quit our jobs to live our best lives or whatever. Nobody has the money for that. Rather, I think it’s good to at least consider a shift in mindset, and it’s important to chill out and allow room for new ideas and new perspectives.

I also think it’s worth considering that some environments are just rotten. You can try to keep the lights on, but this requires a lot of effort and yields diminishing returns. Sometimes it’s better to allow things to decay.

An Unfound Door, Chapter Three

Early the next morning, Agnes tries to light the campfire with an intonation used by Fhiad the night before. She reflects on how the kingdom of Faloren was once renowned for its sorcery, and how the suppression of magic following the war with Erdbhein led to the king punishing her for her childhood gift for spellcraft. Fhiad wakes up during her attempt to kindle the bonfire, and he mocks her lack of success. Agnes acknowledges that his disdain is not undeserved, and her sincerity convinces him to share more of his story.

Fhiad says he was unsuited to be an emissary and left of his duties to his cousin Lukhara while he studied Faloren legends in the castle library. His interest in a magical relic called “the Eternal Tear of Soreiya” was encouraged by the princess, whom he accuses of manipulating him. He was imprisoned shortly after uncovering a map of its location under the castle, and he claims that he is unable to remember much of anything that happened since then. He tells Agnes that he wants nothing more than to leave the past behind him, and she makes the decision to free him from the silver bridle. They agree to part ways as soon as they leave the forest but end the chapter on friendly terms.

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This is the chapter in which the theme of the character development is stated: Agnes needs to break the chains of the past and move forward in a different direction.

This theme is mirrored by the story catalyst: Agnes breaks the magical silver chain binding Fhiad. She decides to trust what she sees for herself instead of believing what she’s read in books. By doing so, she nurtures the seeds of doubt regarding her kingdom that lay fallow while she was still in the castle. This act is a “catalyst” because Fhiad is going to come back and cause a lot of trouble in the near future. Also, Agnes will never be able to return to her old way of thinking – although she’ll certainly try.

I’ve been keeping the initial chapters short and punchy instead of dumping exposition on the reader’s head, but this chapter contains the basic setup of the world of the story. As Agnes makes accusations and Fhiad corrects her, the reader starts to understand Faloren’s history and Fhiad’s place in this history. This chapter also presents a tiny bit of mythology, as well as the first glimpse into what happened in the past to make the present so terrible.

In addition, Fhiad hints that the main villain of the story is the princess of his era. He’s right. This woman is the sleeper villain, and she’s awful (and I love her). Hopefully Agnes will be able to make a different decision when faced with the same choices.

It’s very clear to me that this story sounds like Legend of Zelda. In my first draft of this chapter, I complicated the plot to disguise its origins. I decided to simplify matters in this draft, as I think stories like this work precisely because they’re so archetypal. Also, I think my dystopian interpretation of the Legend of Zelda lore is so niche that very few people are going to understand where I’m getting these ideas. And besides, I like to think that my version of Princess Zelda’s story is much more interesting than anything that actually appears in the games, so hopefully no one will complain even if they do see the connection.

Fright! Horror Zine Preorders Open

Fright, a classic movie horror zine, has opened preorders!

I contributed a story called “The Girl in the Screen at the End of the World,” which is about Sadako from Ringu picking off the last humans to survive the collapse of society. The story gradually comes together through vignettes narrated from the perspectives of different characters, all of whom encounter Sadako’s curse in unexpected ways. Some of these characters actually seek her out, as it’s always good to have a friend to help you deal with the end of the world. If you’re interested, you can check out the zine through these links…

💀 Carrd: https://frightzine.carrd.co/
💀 Twitter: https://twitter.com/frightzine
💀 Bigcartel: https://frightzine.bigcartel.com/

An Unfound Door, Chapter Two

Agnes wakes to find that the boar demon has transformed into a young man who identifies himself as Fhiad of Erdbhein, a notorious criminal who was accused of high treason after attacking Faloren a hundred years in the past. He is cultured and well-spoken, but he doesn’t hide his frustration with Agnes, who refuses to free him from the silver chain that bound him as a demon. He tells Agnes that he never had any intention of attacking Faloren. He claims to have had no interest in her kingdom at all; rather, he was only serving as an emissary because he was ordered to do so. Agnes doesn’t know what to think of him, but she’s exhausted and decides to stop for the night.

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This chapter is about two tired people snapping at each other. Nothing happens aside from the reveal that the demon was originally a person, but I did my best to establish the geography of the world and its history without dumping exposition on the reader.

This is what I want the reader to take away from this conversation: Agnes is from a kingdom called Faloren, Fhiad is from a neighboring kingdom called Erdbhein, and there is someplace called Cretia far to the south. Fhiad, who has no concept of how much time has passed, thinks he recently returned from university in Cretia. This establishes him as being in his early twenties while establishing Cretia as a center of culture in contrast to the forest, which is all we’ve seen of Faloren. According to Agnes, Erdbhein attacked Faloren roughly a hundred years ago, and Fhiad supposedly instigated this attack. Fhiad denies this, but he won’t be forthcoming with more details until the next chapter.

In other words, this chapter establishes the broader conflict of the story through the small conflict between Agnes and Fhiad. This conversation sets up a dynamic of Agnes as the straight man who is pragmatic and emotionally grounded, while Fhiad is the funny man who is well-spoken but catty. Each character gets a “save the cat” moment during which, despite their bickering, their first instinct is to be kind to one another when it counts.

“Bickering” may sound like an inappropriate response to the situation, and it is. In the next chapter, the characters will have an opportunity to reflect on their circumstances, and the more serious aspects of the central conflict will be revealed and discussed with a more appropriate tone.

As an aside, there are a lot of shitty things about being in your twenties, but one of the nicer things is being physically fit by default and being able to walk for miles without thinking too much about it. For me in my thirties, I exercise every day but can still only walk for about 45 minutes before I need to sit down. Youth is wasted on the young etc etc etc.

What Should We Do With Your Body?

I contributed a story called “What Sadie Didn’t See” to What Should We Do With Your Body?, an original collaborative murder mystery zine that’s free to download on Itchio (here).

“What Sadie Didn’t See” is a story about the things people throw away. Sadie is the manager of a custodial agency in the isolated town of Rosewater, where the body of a young man named Gabriel has been discovered in an abandoned mining tunnel. Gabriel was the son of the wealthiest family in town, and Sadie’s agency services their manor, just as they handle many of the other notable buildings in town. It’s possible that Sadie may have an important clue concerning what happened to Gabriel, but she has a longstanding habit of remaining silent about what the town residents don’t want to be seen.

I worked for a custodial agency in Atlanta during my first two years of college, and Sadie is based on my manager, a cheerful but no-nonsense woman who liked to say that the most important element of the job is discretion. My manager was kind and supportive to everyone who worked with her, so it was important to me to establish Sadie as a respected member of her community with ties to just about everyone. Although Sadie’s decision at the end of the story may be questionable, I hope it makes sense to the reader why she values the wellbeing of the living and the dignity of the dead over the success of the ongoing police investigation into Gabriel’s disappearance and probable murder.

I’m honored that my story opens the zine, and I hope it provides an intriguing introduction to the town of Rosewater and the secrets of its inhabitants. I’m equally honored to have received a character illustration by ZombieGaby, as well as a story spot illustration by Taymets. The focus of the zine is on the stories told by the characters, but the pages are filled with gorgeous art and graphic design. If you’re a murder mystery fan, or perhaps a connoisseur of Stephen King style peculiar little towns, please consider checking out the What Should We Do With Your Body? zine.

🟠 You can download the zine for free on Itchio (here).
🟠 You can follow Vinegar Zines on Twitter (here).
🟠 You can follow ZombieGaby on Instagram (here).
🟠 You can follow Taymets on Twitter (here).

An Unfound Door, Chapter One

The chapter opens with Agnes walking in the woods while leading a gigantic boar demon on a magical silver chain. To keep herself awake, she talks to it, confessing that she wants to study its magic in an effort to revitalize the fortunes of her dying kingdom. The demon eventually begins to reply to her in garbled human speech. It responds strongly when Agnes asks about a golden medallion that she found on the battlefield after she spared its life. The demon, who is clearly in pain, asks Agnes to place the medallion against a scar on its forehead. She feels compelled by something larger than herself to do as it asks, only to be overwhelmed by magic.

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During the past two weeks, I submitted all of the writing I owed to various venues. I’m sure there are still going to be edits here and there, but I think I’ve wrapped everything up. I want to hold off on writing short fiction for the time being so that I can focus on An Unfound Door, a novel I started last October but abandoned at the beginning of this year due to a major life disruption.

As I prepared to return to the story, I changed almost all of the character names and reconsidered their appearances. To summarize, I was strongly influenced by the visual design of The Green Knight when I first started the project, but I think it might be best to move away from that influence for various reasons. Recontextualizing the characters helped me think through the details of the setting, which I think is much stronger now.

An Unfound Door is a Gothic mystery set in a decaying castle. Agnes, the princess of Faloren, hopes to save her crumbling kingdom by unlocking the secrets of long-lost relic, but she must conceal it from Fhiad, a mysterious emissary with sinister motives. As their paths cross in twisting corridors and hidden passages, Agnes and Fhiad realize that they must descend into the shadows of the past together if they hope to bring light to the future.

This story summary needs some work, but I’ll keep editing it as I write.

In terms of “Save the Cat” story structure, this initial chapter provides the opening image: A young woman sitting at a campfire next to a boar demon in the darkness of a huge forest.

The closing image, which will mirror the opening image, will be Agnes and the now-human demon sitting in the shade of a lone tree as they watch the sun rise. In both cases, Agnes will be leaving the scene of a battle with the demon to return to civilization. What Agnes considers to be “civilization” will have changed, as will her understanding of herself and her relation to the magic she’s trying to harness. And obviously she and the demon will have kissed.

This chapter sets the Gothic tone of the story – a brave but somewhat naive young woman not-quite lost in a dark and sinister place – as well as the central set of mysteries. What is the demon, and where did it come from? What is the medallion, and what relation does it have to the magic that created the demon? Where did the hero come from, and where did he go? Why is Agnes’s kingdom in decline, and why is she alone in the forest with a demon?

To establish Agnes’s character as the protagonist, she has literally “saved the cat” here, except the “cat” in this case is a giant horrible boar demon. I assume the “hero saves the princess from the evil demon” narrative pattern will be familiar to most readers, who will hopefully be intrigued by the element of Agnes’s character that leads her to capture the demon instead of killing it. She perceives her need of the demon’s magic to be worth the risk, but she’s also intellectually curious and looking for trouble. Essentially, she is the sort of person who willingly gets herself caught up in forbidden magic.

Agnes is going to start wearing a series of masks once the story gets going, so I think it’s useful for the reader to see her true face at the beginning. As corny as this sounds, the way that Agnes needs to change over the course of the story is to learn to follow her heart, by which I mean she needs to recognize her own face underneath the masks she wears. Also, I want to use the story to explore the beauty of decay, and I’d like to use Agnes to make an argument that some kingdoms should be allowed to crumble.

Gothic Horror Story Elements

In order for a story to be considered “Gothic,” I think it needs to include…

– A house. This “house” can be a castle or a space station or an abandoned medical research facility or what have you, but it needs to be a place where people live and eat and sleep.

– It has to be a big house. In addition to being big on the outside, it should be larger than it appears. The house should have something along the lines of a secret sub-basement, hidden rooms, tunnels in the walls, a House of Leaves style portal to another dimension, or something along those lines. The house needs to be large enough to be considered a labyrinth.

– The house has to be old and in a state of decay or disrepair. In addition, the house needs to be isolated and surrounded by wilderness. Over the course of the story, the natural environment should intrude on the interior of the house. This should still be the case even if the environment is not technically “natural,” as in the case of Suburban Gothic.

– The house needs to be associated with and occupied by a family.

– The family needs to have a dark secret, preferably one hidden within the house.

– At least one member of the family should still live in the house. “Family” can be loosely defined, but the concept of “family” as such is key.

– If there’s no family living in the house, then the story is a “haunted house” story, not a “Gothic” story. This is also the case if the people living in the house aren’t alive or aren’t human (or whatever passes for “a normative person” in the world of the story). This is important, as “Gothic” is just as much of a narrative structure as it is a collection of tropes. For example…

– The point-of-view character should be a member of the family in some way. Often this character will come into the house through marriage or inheritance. Sometimes they won’t initially know they’re related to the family. In the case of servants and governesses and so on, the point-of-view character will either be secretly related to the family, or they’ll be a parent or spouse in all but name. If the point-of-view character isn’t related to the family, they will gradually fall under the delusion that they are.

– The point-of-view character will obviously be privileged, as they live in a large house and are associated with a wealthy family, but they also need to be disadvantaged in some way. The way in which they’re disadvantaged should have some thematic relevance to the dark secret hidden by the house.

– The point-of-view character must be forbidden from certain behavior by an arcane rule or system of rules. The forbidden behavior will generally involve the navigation of space in or around the house: Don’t go into the forest, don’t go into the cellar, don’t leave your room at night, etc.

– The disadvantage of the point-of-view character will compel them to accept the family rules even though they can intuitively feel that something is horribly wrong. This traps them within the house.

– The goal of the point-of-view character is to escape the maze of the house. The only way to navigate this labyrinth is by breaking the rules, engaging in forbidden behavior, and bringing the dark secret to light.

– The primary antagonist should be a living person in the family, related to the family, or emotionally invested in the family in some way. Although supernatural elements are not out of the question, it’s often the case that the phenomena presumed to be supernatural have a rational (albeit psychologically deranged) explanation. That being said, there’s often a Todorovian elision between “natural” and “supernatural,” with the distinction being left to the reader.

– When the point-of-view character reveals the family’s secret, this destroys the house. This destruction is usually literal. The family almost always dies as well. If the point-of-view character is too closely tied to the family, they may die too. Regardless, the reader will understand that the collapse of the house and the demise of the family is a good thing that needed to happen.

– The house and family should represent an older social system responsible for the disadvantage of a group of people represented by the point-of-view character. This system usually concerns oppression on the basis of class or gender, but it can sometimes be about race, nationality, or colonial heritage.

– The Gothic genre is not conservative, because it’s essentially about how outdated systems of privilege that still continue to oppress people are deeply fucked up and unhealthy and need to be destroyed. “Haunted house” stories are often conservative, but I would argue that Gothic stories advocate for radical systemic change and the self-realization of freedom from social expectations.

– At the same time, Gothic stories are not didactic. The lure of the forbidden goes both ways, after all, and the reader should be able to understand why the point-of-view character allows themselves to become trapped in the house. The old castle is majestic. The beast-husband is attractive. The spoils of ill-gotten wealth are luxurious and comfortable. The ruins are delightfully mysterious. The poison apple looks delicious. The story is queer and problematic, and that’s precisely why it’s appealing.

There are numerous cross-genres and sub-genres of Gothic that have their own specific conventions, like Gothic Romance and Boarding School Gothic. I didn’t address the visual language of the Gothic, or how tropes and conventions vary between times and cultures. Still, I think this is the core of the genre.

Eight Quick Editing Hacks

It’s always a good idea to take time with editing. Giving your manuscript time to rest and breathe before returning to it with a critical eye can work wonders. Deadlines will not wait, however, and sufficient time may not always be available. That’s when editing hacks come in handy!

This post lists eight of my favorite editing hacks, four for deleting extraneous words and four for catching typos. Each of these editing hacks is painless and intended to help you apply a final layer of polish to your writing before you send it out into the world.

Four Quick Style Hacks with Ctrl+F

Find + delete quantitative adverbs.

This especially applies to Americans, who tend to use quantitative adverbs to add color and rhythm to their speech. Unfortunately, these adverbs don’t often translate well into writing, and they can usually be deleted without affecting the meaning of the sentence. “A lot” and “a bit” are common, as are “only” and “very.”

Crtl+f + ly.

This will help you catch quantitative adverbs like “really” and “completely” and “extremely.” I’m a big fan of adverbs, which add texture and flavor to writing, but many writers tend to have a few specific adverbs they overuse in their initial drafts. Searching for all instances of “ly” in your manuscript is a great way to rein them in.

Find + delete words for facial expressions.

“Smile,” “smirk,” “chuckle,” and “sigh” are some of the common ones. There’s nothing wrong with these words, of course, but many younger writers tend to overuse them. Instead of describing what’s happening on someone’s face, it’s often more effective to convey emotion through action or dialog. You can usually delete words that describe facial expressions or tone of voice without hindering the reader’s understanding of the situation.

Find + delete academic transition words.

I’m referring to words like “therefore,” “moreover,” “conversely,” and so on. Although these words can help you structure your ideas as you write, few people use them outside the context of academic papers. This applies to fiction, obviously, but it’s also relevant to nonfiction that you’re pitching or submitting to an editor at a website, newspaper, or magazine. Many people cultivate a habit of using formal transition words while learning to write in high school and college, and unlearning this habit is a process. In the meantime, ctrl+f can help you weed out any holdovers from academic writing.

Four Editing Hacks for Catching Typos

Apply a different font.

This is common advice, as changing the font of your text can trick your eyes into seeing typos that you would have glossed over otherwise. I have to admit that this has never been effective for me. This is what works instead…

Copy and paste your work into a different word processing program.

If changing the font is too superficial, it may be more effective to change the entire text field. I write in MS Word and Scrivener, but I like to copy and paste my manuscripts into Google Docs for two reasons. First, it’s free; and second, it doesn’t mess with the text formatting. As an added bonus, Google’s grammar check has become remarkably sophisticated during the past two years. Sometimes it’s dead wrong, but sometimes it will surprise you with an excellent suggestion. Free grammar check websites such as Slick Write can also be useful. You may not need help with grammar, but a “copy and paste your writing into the text field” site like Slick Write can point out passive voice, frequently occurring words, and other stylistic issues that it can be easy to miss if you’re on a deadline.

Send the text of your writing to yourself in the body of an email or post it onto a private blog.

Some people swear by the email method, which allows you to read your writing with fresh eyes on a different screen. Unfortunately, there are times when my own email inbox gives me anxiety, and I’m sure this experience is relatable to anyone dealing with deadlines or a high volume of correspondence. Instead of using email, you can set up a private blog (on Dreamwidth, for example) and post your writing as an entry. If it helps to maintain separate spaces for different writing projects, you can set up as many journals as you want and delete them when you’re ready to move on. A few of my nonfiction writer friends tell me that they do this with wiki software, but your mileage may vary.

Use a free text reader tool like NaturalReader or Voice Dream.

Many writers read their text aloud to check for typos, but this is time-consuming and not feasible for people who write in shared spaces. Although text readers are still far from perfect, they’ve gotten much better over the past few years. Commercial text readers offer a range of natural voices, but my own experience is that listening to a slightly mechanical voice read your writing makes typos stand out more than they would in a human voice. NaturalReader is easy to use and works well in a desktop browser window, while the Voice Dream app is good if you prefer to listen from your phone.

All of these hacks are designed for spot checks once you already have an edited manuscript. I’m curious if anyone has any quick and easy strategies that they use to edit manuscripts (fiction or nonfiction) at an earlier stage. Also, if you’ve created a short list of “find and delete” filler words that you’d be willing to share, I’d love to see it!

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This post originally appeared on Get Your Words Out, a community of writers aiming to maintain healthy creative habits and writing productivity. Membership to the community opens at the beginning of the calendar year. Its content is limited to members who maintain their writing pledges, but the GYWO Twitter account is accessible to everyone and posts encouragement, prompts, and writing resources at a steady but manageable pace.

Your Journey Awaits! Pokémon Fanzine

I’ve spent the past several years in the Legend of Zelda fandom, but I have a deep and enduring love for the Pokémon series. Although I’ve taught classes and given conference lectures about Pokémon, I haven’t written fanfic about the series in years. When a few fandom friends announced that they were putting together a zine about the small towns where your avatar characters begin their journeys in the games, I was onboard.

The story I contributed to the Your Journey Awaits! Pokémon Fanzine is “The New Kid in Postwick,” which is about Sonia and Leon from Pokémon Sword and Shield. It’s about Sonia’s childhood in the small rural town of Wedgehurst, her friendship and rivalry with Leon, and the ambitions underlying her decision to set out as a young Pokémon trainer. Here’s a short description of the story…

Sonia has lived in Wedgehurst her entire life. Despite the beautiful nature and rich history of the area, she’s started to feel isolated from the wider world. Her anxieties are exacerbated by the boy who just moved into an old farmhouse in Postwick along with an exotic Charmander. Although he seems confident and carefree, Leon has problems of his own, and he’s ambivalent about moving to the country from Wyndon. Sonia and Leon gradually come to understand one another as they train together, and they seal their friendship by making a promise to venture out into the Wild Area together.

You can read my story on AO3 (here), and you can check out previews of the work appearing in the zine on its Twitter profile (here). The zine itself can be downloaded for free on Itchio (here). Along with a PDF of the zine, the download includes all sorts of fun digital extras like icons and wallpapers. The illustrations and stories are accessible to readers of all ages, so please feel free to share the zine with any younger Pokémon fans in your life!

Ceres and the Poison Sea

I just finished Chapter 10 of The Demon King, an original fantasy novel about adult wizards making terrible decisions. This chapter is an extended flashback to the time before the apocalypse that created the world of the story. Although I’m still brainstorming the details of this disaster in terms of the universe’s magical system, what essentially happened is that a frustrated researcher with a wealth of funding but no oversight managed to create the equivalent of a miniature sun that exploded into a supernova before collapsing into a black hole. This set off a chain reaction that rapidly accelerated climate change, which in turn significantly raised the sea level and irradiated the ocean.  

The researcher’s tech firm was located in New York. Because of the disaster, the city no longer exists, nor does anything east of Newark Bay and the Arthur Kill Straight. In order to prevent the decimation of the entire Mid-Atlantic region, mages pushed the landmass of Manhattan Island and Staten Island westward to create a mountain range protecting the mainland from the toxic ocean and its storms. This mountain range also serves as a water filtration system that feeds a system of freshwater lakes and rivers to its immediate west, which has become a kingdom known as Whitespire.

Geographically speaking, Whitespire is somewhere in the vicinity of Elizabeth Seaport in New Jersey. Although a great deal of I-95 is underwater, Route 1 still functions as a major trade route, and Whitespire is about halfway between the Northern Kingdoms (Hartford, Springfield, and a bit of Rhode Island) and the Southern Territories (Baltimore and Washington DC). Because of changing climate patterns, everywhere north of Albany and south of Richmond is uninhabitable, as is the land west of the Appalachian Mountains. Meanwhile, most of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania is a wasteland where water is scare and nothing grows.

The Northern Kingdoms are governed by draconian regimes that are constantly at war with one another, while the Southern Territories are lawless and threatened by the steadily rising ocean. Whitespire is the only real civilization left on the East Coast of North America, which has been isolated from the rest of the world by the impossibility of travel by sea or air. The citystate thrives because of its mild climate, access to plentiful fresh water, and relative distance from other centers of power.

Whitespire is ruled by a royal family whose primary duty is to ensure that the system filtering the seawater through the mountains continues to function properly. The bloodline of the royal family is not strictly hereditary, as anyone able to command the necessary magic may be adopted into royal line. Generally speaking, however, knowledge of the kingdom’s secrets and rituals are passed from parent to child. The queens and kings of Whitespire are supported by a religious order dedicated to preserving the magic necessary to protect the kingdom.

Under the stewardship of its royal family, Whitespire has been peaceful for several hundred years, but this doesn’t mean the monarchs have absolute authority. Political power is shared between the noble lines that maintain the rivers and lakes that spread from the Whitespire Castle, and there are occasional disputes over succession, taxes, and territory rights.

Ceres is the current reigning queen of Whitespire. For reasons known only to herself, Ceres’s mother resolved disputes among Whitespire’s aristocracy through strategic assassinations, which eventually resulted in her murder. As a result, Ceres ascended the throne during a political crisis when she was nineteen. She is a supremely competent ruler, but her reign has been marred by lingering political tensions. She navigates this challenge by presenting a wise and virtuous image of herself in public but being crafty and merciless behind closed doors.

Ceres was born to be a queen, and she plays her role with style and grace. Her only concern is that she is entirely ignorant of the vast majority of Whitespire’s deep magic, as her mother never shared the kingdom’s lore with her. To make matters worse, the former queen killed many of the people who were close to her, along with the entire order of priestesses dedicated to the worship of a deity called The Weaver, who supposedly established Whitespire by wresting the primordial world from the control of demons.

Although the truth is more complicated, “demons” are believed to be powerful monsters whose magic can’t be controlled and can thus only exist in a state of madness and chaos. Demons are real; and the eponymous “demon king” Ananth, who has traveled centuries into the future from a time that he considers be the pre-apocalyptic present, is one of them.

Ceres is primarily a foil to Ananth during the first two narrative arcs, but I plan for her to become the main viewpoint character during the third and final part of the story. She befriends Ananth mainly for political reasons as she attempts to prevent a coup organized by operatives from the Northern Territories, but her real interest in him comes from his openly stated intention to steal the hidden relic that’s the key to the magic of the royal family. Ceres needs this relic just as much as Ananth does, so she aids his plans with the hope that he’ll find it for her. As someone who possess powerful magic of her own, Ceres has full confidence that she can fight and kill Ananth if necessary, so she’s completely unbothered by his antagonism toward her.

Ananth doesn’t treat Ceres like a queen, so she returns the favor by not treating him as a demon capable of destroying her kingdom whenever the mood strikes him. As a result, they gradually form an unlikely friendship that gives Ceres a stage to be her best and most authentic self, namely, a strong and self-assured woman who loves drinking and dick jokes. It goes without saying that she’s a joy to write.

The illustration above was created by Doc Hollibee, who is on Twitter (here) and Tumblr (here). Doc drew me a picture of Princess Zelda with a sword (here), and I loved it so much that I asked her to draw Ceres with the same energy. Doc creates marvelous illustrations that depict the women of the Final Fantasy games as beautiful but still powerful and full of personality, and I’m thrilled and delighted to see the same artistic sensibility applied to my own original character.