I Didn't Ask To Be The Demon Queen
Book 2: At Light's End
Chapter 1: Literary Analysis
Stories are, by their very nature, fickle things. The same stories have been told, over and over again, and every time they change, and every time they stay the same. The more a story is told, the more it changes. Sometimes the hero fights, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes she gets the girl, sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes they die, sometimes they don’t. But the story, the core of it stays the same. Love triumphing. Good prevailing. Heroes, Gods, Demons and Queens, they always play a part, if a little different each time.
So there was a story about a Demon Dragon Queen, and a Hero. You know the one.
The one where they died before the story even started, and the people who took their place traveled across the world to fix things that had been broken long before either of them had ever opened their eyes in that world.
The Serpent of the North traveled with eight companions, traveling through places named Amethseryne, Vigilance and… err… Stephen. Or was it Steven? She went through many perils, narrowly escaping doom in the depths of the Redwood, the ancient Deepwood, where shadows older than the youngest species whispered lies and secrets, and even losing someone dearly beloved on their escape. They recovered on the backs of the giant reptiles that crossed the Red Dragon Wastes. They mourned a lost friend. After that things get a little blurry. There was an uprising, a fire, a castle, a Dragon! And then… peace.
And there was a story. Of an Evil Demon Queen, and a Hero. You know that one, too.
The one where they died just a little ways into the story, and woke up in a hospital in a world that was completely alien to them. Where they had only their wits and each other to fall back on, and slowly and surely they fell in love, because that’s how things go.
In one, the new Queen changed her name to Liz and contacted the previous Queen, asking for help. In that story, at the end of her journey, with her one lover Kazumi, she tried to reach out to the other, Sabine, and found it impossible to drag her closer. On the other side of the divide between worlds, that lover woke up, and found the previous Queen, who had now changed her name to Lisa (it was a whole self-discovery thing. Best not to ask). It was all left on something of a cliffhanger, really. Whoever told that story had quite a few questions to answer.
In the other story, Sabine was never found. She wasn’t mentioned, even, which seems rude, but it wasn’t really her story. There was no portal, either. There were conversations, held calmly and quietly in the space between worlds. With effort, Liz and, presumably, anyone else at hand, managed to get enough magic over to the other side to either bring Lisa and the Hero back, or give them both a little magic. Enough for some gender-affirmation. They took the latter option and didn’t even look back. Started a family.
In one story, there were a few months between the end and the epilogue.
In the other, over half a decade passed. That’s a discrepancy that will need to be addressed, if we want to move forward. And we do. We will.
Accept that stories change. The act of telling a story changes you, even more than reading one does. And this story has been told many times, and now, it will be told… well, not again. This will be a different story. But there will be a Demon Queen. Two Queens, as often as we can spare them. And there will be a Hero. Maybe a couple. It’s a bit vague on that. But we’ve got these two stories? How do we move forward? Where do we start? What do we accept as true, and what do we reject?
What of Sabine? She is very, very dead. And then she’s not. Some people will not even know her name, knowing only about Daniel and Lisa and their love for each other.
What of Daniel and Lisa’s children? The children should have probably been mentioned earlier. Those who knew about Liz’s journey, her struggle to accept every aspect of herself, will not even know about the children, only that Lisa became an author.
And Sally, dear reliable Sally, unrepentant flirt in one story and not even interested in romance in another? Well, that part stays the same. Asexual, aromantic people can just as easily be shameless flirts. But her parents, her family… In Daniel and Lisa’s story, Sally’s parents were awful and close-minded and there was no mention of younger relatives. In Liz, Sabine and Kazumi’s tale, we met two younger kids, of whom Sally was fond, and felt a great deal of responsibility towards.
The first thing we will accept, then, is that a great deal of time has passed. A Tick in one world has gone Tock in the other, as it so often does. Time gives us the space to tell a story where our characters are a little older, a little wiser, and allows us to step into the story somewhat fresh. The weight of years flattens some wrinkles in the cloth of history. But now we need to set a new scene. More changes need to be made, and we can’t let anyone down. Some people have read the story of Liz, the Demon Dragon Queen. Others have only read the story of Daniel and Lisa. Neither story is more or less important. Neither reader is more or less important.
Time has passed. Enough time for Liz and Kazumi to mourn their partner. Enough time for Daniel and Lisa to have children, and for their family to be both unorthodox and wonderful. Sally has become a messenger of sorts, flying from this place to that, the sound of her beating wings seen in many cities and towns as the bringer of good tidings. Her smile is as recognizable, and as fawned over, as her little red horns are. Liz lives in a house, having relinquished her castle, north of the river that divides the old Demon Queen’s lands from the rest of the once-monarchy of Wydonia. It’s a large house, because, at nine feet tall (ten, with horns) Liz needs a lot of space. Her love, Kazumi, is still a highly regarded politician, although these days she only represents her own race, the snake-tailed Lamia.
Liz herself has taken to studying magic. She’s not very good, but her teacher, Elena, is a lot more patient than she once was. Together, they are exploring the extents of Liz’s dual heritages. It’s been a bit slow-going, but she’s determined. She’s had a feeling, and she’s incessant. And there is the new nursery to prepare. Certainly, there’s no children on the way yet, but she and Kazumi have been talking, whispers at night where the darkness can hide uncertain smiles and hopeful kisses.
And we accept that travel between these worlds requires some very specific circumstances, or a lot of energy. To go one way, at least. That’s how things are. The membrane between realities is thin, but it’s also very tough and very elastic, and one wrong move can send you hurtling back to where you came from.
We are Now. A little before the end of Daniel and Lisa’s story. Before something went Tick again. Before things changed, across all of these two very fragile realities.
We are Here. A white light walks across a white field in the deepest depths of night. This cloaked figure walks forward with the kind of determination reserved for Black Fridays and Epic Quests. Snow is being blown gently against their coat, but the traveller does not waver, holding their lantern high. Only the flakes closest to them, only a small circle around their feet is illuminated. The night is dark, as dark as it gets north of the Dergow in winter, and even with their hands covered in white gloves, they shiver for a moment as they gather their bearings. Their sense of direction, and their faith, are absolute.
Finally, a small shimmer flickers between the waves of snow, and the figure smiles under the fur-lined hood. After another half-hour, they stand in the shelter of a small gate to a big house. A small chime rings as they cross the threshold. They gently shake; the coat remains white as the snow is thrown off. The figure waits by the large gates, but they don’t have to wait very long. A door opens.
“Hello?” Kazumi asks, holding a candle aloft. Her slitted eyes are narrowed by the brightness of the small flame, and her forked tongue pokes out of her mouth for just a moment, trying to smell the stranger she can’t make out through the snow and the obscuring hood, until finally, Lillian, paladin and old friend, takes off her hood. “Oh! Come in!”
Lillian smiles gratefully and steps inside, quickly taking off her gloves and blowing into her hands. “Thank you,” she says, looking around.
“If you’re looking for any others, it’s only myself, Liz and Elena here. Sally’s taken John back to the old castle to pick up some things,” Kazumi explains, referring to Elena’s lover and an extraordinarily gifted mage. “You know how long it can take to move.”
Lillian laughs softly. “How have things been?” she asks as Kazumi guides her through a mostly dark house, although she still holds her own lantern up. It has been useful in the snow, it is useful now. Kazumi’s candle can’t hold a… well, you know. “Has John been any trouble?”
Kazumi sighs softly. “He has been high-strung, but it is Elena I worry about. If it wasn’t for the snow, John would have been back and she would be more relaxed. We have kept her distracted, though;”
“Oh?” Lillian says, raising an eyebrow.
“She has been teaching Liz Necromancy,” Kazumi says, matter-of-factly, carefully watching Lillian out of the corner of her eye. Necromancy is a dirty word around those of the holy persuasion like Lillian. The Paladin cringes, but doesn’t speak. “We are trying to contact Sabine again.”
“Wh-- is she--”
Kazumi shakes her head, cutting off any questions. “It’s complicated. There was a… feeling. We had to.”
“After all these years?”
“Huh,” Lillian says, and bows her head as they turn a corner. Lillian, once a stalwart of her faith, has been questioning her own beliefs since she met ‘Eliza’, now Liz, Queen no more but still very Demon. She’s not stopping now. She holds her lantern a little tighter, a little higher, and focuses her eyes on it.
“What’s with the, uh…”
“The lamp?” Lillian asks. Kazumi nods. “After meeting Liz I… have been forced to question many things.” She holds open her coat, revealing the absence where her holy armor once was. She is wrapped in off-white clothing that looked, if nothing else, warm. The fur collar is just the icing on the cake, really. “I have spent years meditating and have found myself having to reject the teachings of my order. They are not… as relevant as they once might have been. I have to find my way. I will follow the light where it takes me, as tradition dictates.”
Kazumi nods. “And that brings you here?”
Lillian smiles. “It seems so, although I’m afraid I am also the bearer of ill news.” Kazumi waits but no more explanations come. Some things are best said when everyone who needs to know is present. They arrive at a door and Kazumi holds it open for her. “I thought the Room of Relaxation was in the black castle?” Lillian asks, observing the magical space. She has only been here once, and the enchanted room that would supply what was needed to relax was as impressive as it had been the first time. Warmth and a very gentle music coming from seemingly nowhere greeted her.
“It was,” Elena says, her arms crossed as she turns to the two people who just entered the room. “It’s been acting up.” She sounds frustrated. She stands in the middle of the ornate room, close to the giant form of Liz, who is mumbling in the kind of language that makes nineteenth century authors wake up screaming racial slurs and invent new mythoses (the actual correct term is mythoi, but that one is impossible to read and not pronounce as ‘ahoy’ and isn’t used in polite company). Black tendrils flick around Liz’s mouth and fingers, but they fizzle out and disappear after a few seconds. “Hello, Lillian,” Elena says with a little wave.
“Hey,” Lillian says softly, hooking the lantern on her belt.
“How’s it going?” Kazumi asks.
“No luck yet,” Elena says, “but we’re getting there. I wish I could do more here, but I only know the theory.”
“No worries,” Liz says as she lowers her hands. “I’m giving up for the night. There’s something right on the edge, but I feel like I can’t focus. Sorry.”
Kazumi bops her on the head. “No sorry. I’m proud of you.” Liz smiles happily as Kazumi gently kisses her on the head.
“It’s good to see you again, Lillian,” Liz says as she sits down at the table Lillian could have sworn wasn’t there a moment ago. The Room of Relaxation gets like that.
“You as well, Eliza,” she says, and walks a little further in the room now that the darkness of Necromancy is no longer hiding in the shadows. Sure, she’s being a really good sport about what she’s always been taught was evil, but this kind of thing takes time. It’s one of the reasons she’s here in the first place.
Liz motions at the large pot of tea and the cups that have just appeared. Food in this room is for taste only, but the facsimile is enough to fool even the sharpest senses, and who doesn’t like a hot cup of tea on a cold winter night?
“Can we help you in any way, Lillian?” Liz asks. Lillian sits down and puts her lantern on the table next to her, its soft white light pulsing unobtrusively.
Lillian repeats to Elena and Kazumi what she mentioned to Kazumi. Liz listens intently, pouring everyone a cup of tea. “I have been on the road for some time,” Lillian says. “Things are changing, Liz. The world is changing.” She puffs up her collar if she’s trying to hide inside it, despite the Room’s heat being more than enough even without her coat. The cold she feels goes a lot deeper, and isn’t warmed by fire. “I passed by Vigilance on the way here, and I was reminded of a conversation we had, once.”
Liz raises her eyebrows. “Oh?”
Lillian stares at the lamp for a bit, her eyes big, then turns to Liz again and blinks once, twice. She takes a deep breath, tries to speak, and fails several times.
“Hey,” Liz says. “You’re fine.”
“I am not,” Lillian says. “I am having trouble hearing the divine.”
“A crisis of faith?” Kazumi asks.
“Yes,” Lillian says, “and no.”
“You’re gonna have to elaborate,” Liz says.
“I have trouble hearing the divine through the background noise,” Lillian says. Liz, Kazumi and Elena all look at each other for a moment.
“What does that mean?” Elena asks.
“I do not know,” Lillian says. “But I’ve been pulled here, and hearing you’ve felt something too tells me things are afoot. Bad things. Dark things.”
“I wonder,” Liz says as she stands up, “if it is the reason I can’t focus. If that is why Sabine feels so close and still so far away. Maybe I can…” She raises her hands, and black tendrils, like a shadow of dark flame, wraps around her fingers.
“Are you sure you should--” Lillian says, uncomfortable with this kind of magic, but she doesn’t get very far. A tear in reality opens, and the air is suddenly full of living shadows and colours, bursting forward into the world, before Liz can close it again.
“What was that?” Kazumi asked. “What is happening?”
“Bad things,” Lillian said.
“That’s not supposed to be possible,” Elena says, “but it explains your background noise. Punching a hole through reality is supposed to be an almost impossible task. It tore like wet paper.”
“What does this mean?” Liz asks.
“I believe this means the end of the world as we know it. Perhaps the end of the world in general, if we want to be dramatic about this.”
“Do we?” Kazumi asks.
Elena shrugs. “Up to you.”
“We’re going to need some help,” Liz says, more confident than she feels. “Elena, I’m going to need your assistance.”
“We’re readjusting the parameters for our search. Not looking for Sabine anymore.”
“Oh? Then what?”
Somewhere, in a story, Liz straightened her back, her horns curving upward proudly. This is her story to tell, after all.
“The original inhabitant of this body,” I said. “If anyone will know what to do, it will be the original Demon Queen.”