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.