Ages of Aenya: Thelana’s Perilous Leap

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Lightning strikes as Thelana leaps from her bird onto the beak of a giant caw!

 

They dived, Xandr and Thelana flailing and nearly falling from the bird’s sides. Ahead of them, the sky turned gray, heavy, and wet. A deep rumble rolled underfoot, popped and cracked in their ears—it was deafening. Hair Thelana did not know she possessed grew long and straight out from her body and then everything turned white. She was blind. Pellets of water were pounding her, beading across her bosom, rolling over her every limb. As her eyes refocused, she could make out the jagged blazing tendrils cutting through the haze. A second pair of wings sounded behind them. Its screech was still terrifying, despite the thunderclap that dulled her ears. Looking over her shoulder, the gray void was thick but empty. Her hairs pricked up again and she slammed her eyes shut against the light. A second bolt split the sky. She could see it through her eyelids, and when she looked again, the long purple form of the vulture hawk loomed above, vanishing and reemerging with every flash. Suddenly the caw was at the ib’s tail. Its vulture-like head was bigger than Thelana could have imagined, its beak snapping wildly at anything within reach. When it screeched, the sound came in waves so powerful she thought she could see them, shaking her so violently the noise remained like a poison in her ears.

“Can you hit it?” said a voice, the syllables blown by wind and rain, by the thunder and that awful screeching. “Can you hit it?” Xandr shouted again, “With your arrows?”

“I never miss,” she replied, snapping her sword apart. The presence of arrows, concealed within the blade’s shaft, surprised her as she remembered the battle atop Sargonus’ head, when she was left to fend off merquid with nothing but her sword. Had Ouranos been so thorough in regaining their arms? Had he expected a struggle? With no time to think, she slipped a strange-looking arrow between her fingers, avian in design, as Flick Flack banked in a sharp angle and the caw spun from view. Avia wrestled with the reins, but the bird was terrified beyond her control.

Distance, direction, and wind—every factor amounted to total chaos. The ib buffeted with frantic strokes, making her aim impossibly unsteady, but her target was huge. The arrow escaped into a cloud. Again the ib banked, and Xandr and Thelana were thrown sideways, struggling to maintain balance.

“It disappeared,” Thelana remarked, re-nocking her bow.

“Do you think it’s gone?” Xandr asked.

In answer, the caw’s great beak broke from the clouds, stealing feathers from the giant pigeon, snapping at Thelana’s foot. Now Avia lost all control, and predator and prey fell into a spiraling dive. The surface of Aenya emerged clumsily, rolling overhead. Everything turned sideways, upside down, and right again. Thelana let out another shot to no avail and it came closer, too close, the gold edge of her blade ricocheting off its beak as if hacking at a chunk of iron. At any moment, that beak would clamp down and their mount would be devoured, and then they’d be fodder for the caw. There was no recourse but to do something bold, desperate. Cold dread turned to fire in her veins, when she threw herself headlong at the caw, bridging the gap between the two birds, the mountains like crumpled bedding underfoot. All her weight was in her hands as she came down, her steel breaking through the shell, sinking to the hilt into the monster’s beak.

“Thelana!” Xandr cried. “Where is she?”

Wounded, the caw sailed backwards. Thelana’s feet slipped from its rounded beak, but she was still hanging on, clutching the hilt of her embedded sword.

“I’ll get her!” Ouranos said, twirling back around.

But the caw was already upon them. Its talons cut like a scythe across the bird man’s back and he fell away with a shriek. The second talon hooked through its prey and Thelana tumbled down against the ib. Xandr caught her by the ankle, but the violence between the tangled birds loosed even his powerful grip. Everything was spinning. There was no way to make sense of direction and Avia, their only guide, was nowhere to be seen. Thelana managed to bend into a C-shape before flopping earthbound, her braid a four-foot jumble of movement below her.

Hold me. Xandr.

Without a sound, Thelana slid away from him and into the ether.

 

What happens next? Will Thelana survive her fall? Find out in Ages of Aenya!

 

Ages of Aenya: Thelana Makes a Stand

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Off in the distance, a contingent of archers emerged from their hiding places. “Traitors! They’ve killed the mouth of god!” It was a rallying cry from nowhere, and others joined in the chorus. An arrow went flying at a high angle, descending through Gol’s neck, and the blood shedding ensued.

Merquid bodies, flaccid as dead fish, flew at them, with nothing but claws and jagged rows of teeth. Xandr, Thelana, Grimosse and Demacharon banded to form a defensive ring. The commander moved his gladius with deadly precision, finding vital organs beneath scales, dropping merquid with every stroke of his arm. Within the circle of devastation forged by Grimosse’s hammer, Thelana retreated, folding her bow into a blade, but as the hammer came crashing and the merquid fell into disarray, she emerged, sword in hand. Not a claw or stinger managed to graze her skin, and she relished in the knowledge that her agility protected her more than any armor ever could. She danced in loops, her sword an extension of her arm, and merquid’ heads rolled from the collarbone in flashes of gold. Still, she felt comforted by the fact that Xandr never strayed beyond reach of her, bludgeoning the incoming tide by the pommel and crossbeam of his sword, pushing them through the throng to an open space, where Emmaxis came around in his hands, cutting a path of dismemberment. But the merquid continued to press them, growing in number despite their losses.

“They’re terribly weak,” Thelana said, “like feeble old men.”

“Aye,” Demacharon replied, “but they’re many. Too many.”

The battle drew them inward, to where the idol had collapsed. With nowhere left to retreat, they were forced toward higher ground. Xandr and Demacharon clamored over the knuckles and broken fingers of Sargonus as hoplites fell and were devoured behind them. With nothing but the weight of her sword to encumber her, Thelana was first to reach the head of the fallen god. A cluster of webbed hands groped her ankles as she reached for the earlobe, but her sword was quicker, shortening the reach of their arms as she swung herself up and over the idol face to safety.

Gelatinous limbs flailed up, yanking men down from their perches. Merquid were slow to climb and defenseless as they ascended, so Thelana found the killing effortless, but disturbing. Destroying life, even in self-defense, detached her from the world, and made the Goddess feel remote. She would have preferred using her bow so as not to stare into those horrid bulbous eyes, but the compartment that held her arrows was empty, and there were no dead archers around for her to steal from. She alternated between cutting down merquid and reaching for survivors. Most were torn apart before making it to the top, but what of Xandr, she suddenly realized? Her heart throbbed as she dared to glance out across the chaos, where few of the Hedonians’ red and gold armor could be counted among the pale green of the merquid. But her dread was short-lived. They were back to back. She could feel him against her, his warm shoulder blades flexing as he fought.

“I rescued you from that pit only to let you die a few passings later,” he said, without turning to face her.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, finding sanctuary atop the statue’s nose, where she stood above the warring masses that moved in patterns demarcated by bloodshed. Cupping her mouth, she cried out, “We meet Alashiya with courage!”

The Sea continued to rush into the temple and the merquid, weary of battle, found respite at the base of the falls. But the ceiling above was eroded enough for the sky to peer through it, and there the few remaining defenders gathered, under the sunlight, where it pained the merquid to follow. Water tumbled and sloshed in the sun, and the roiling mist obscured sight of all, so that none could say whether the attackers were being repelled, or if the ragtag force of humans was in its death throes.

What happens next? Follow the action in Ages of Aenya!  

Ages of Aenya: Xandr Defends the Temple

Xandr vs. the Merquid

The temple collapses as Xandr battles schools of oncoming merquid! 

 

“Blasphemers!”

The High Priest’s voice boomed from his gaunt frame but none heeded it. There were no formations, no strategic commands being given. Only desperation. Despite the vastness of the chamber, there was little space for the defenders to maneuver, and the merquid pouring into it were overtaking them. Pikeman bled beside shield-bearing hoplite. Archers desecrated altars seeking positions of advantage even as those positions shrank. Scales and human flesh clashed violently. Swords flailed, broken spears were turned to bludgeoning instruments, screams of rage and despair mixed with equal fervor.

“Blasphemers!” the High Priest shouted to no avail, high upon the sacred pool, clutching the Ages of Aenya to his bosom. Behind him, the pinnacle of the obelisk laid in a pile of debris, which archers had taken as a stronghold. From the breach in the pyramid wall, water roared, a fountain of foam radiating from it, running to the alcoves of the eight churches, sloshing about the feet of impassive gods. Already, the statue of Zoë lay in ruin, a terrible omen in the Hedonian’s eyes, and the immense life-size wakefins once pulling Sargonus’ chariot had come crashing down, their toothy beaks now rubble, the gold chains once linked to their harnesses swaying from the god’s outstretched hand.

Aeonus and Demacharon fought before the sacred pool to defend priest and god. As merquid broke through the ranks of lesser men, the two of them turned swords with terrible agility, littering the floor with bodies, turning the white tiles of the temple black with blood.

With the strain of incoming water, worked stone and mortar came raining down, crushing man and merquid alike, and the triumphant arm of Sargonus gave way with a resounding crack. Arm and trident shattered in the watery tumult, despoiling the sacred waters with smoky ash, sending ripples through fin and ankle. Every eye turned upon the idol, hope verses despair, and the whole of Sargonus split, leaving the head to falter between the two halves of the god’s torso.

“What shall we do?” Aeonus cried as the clawing throng pressed him against the pool’s rim.

Demacharon’s gladius punctured the gills of a lunging foe, showering him in gore. “We fight,” he said somberly, booting those fixed to his blade to fell another. “We die.”

“Keep them from the High Priest!” Aeonus cried, as best he could to reaffirm their waning faith. “All can be rebuilt . . .”

But something strange was happening. Merquid shambled forward, ignoring their attackers, their great bulbous eyes locked as though in a trance. An inhuman drone sounded from their mouths, growing into a croaking like chant, and one by one they began to fall prostrate, webbed fingers reaching, trembling, before the timeworn tentacles of coral beneath the crumbling idol of man—toward Gulgola, the squid god.

Thelana and Xandr had worked their way into the midst of the chamber before Grimosse released his weapon, the loud thunderclap filling the domed space. A wave of gurgling voices radiated from the sound, from the carnage made by a monster with a hammer. Man and non-man alike suffered the blows. Shields failed and Hedonians toppled, one against another, in the cacophony of shattering bronze. Merquid were swept away or made permanent to the floor. As Thelana crouched beside the hammer-wielding monster, a dull twang echoed from her bow, the arrows issuing from the taught string efficiently pinning the flat faces of the merquid with fletching. Opposite her, Xandr with his two-handed sword cut a silver-streaked path through the scaly horde, sending high-flying arcs of blood in their wake, as the three moved steadily and violently toward the altar.

What happens next? Find out in Ages of Aenya

Ages of Aenya: Thelana on the Plains of Narth

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On the Plains of Narth, Thelana watches as all of the men in her troupe are killed. Embittered by the horrors of war, she is left with nothing but a longing to return to nature, and to the innocence of home.

Under an orange sky choked by fumes, the din of battle died away over the Plains of Narth. Most of the bodies were human, but the little ones, with their bony frames and taut gray skin and cruel etched faces, were not. Vulture spiders roamed among them, their elongated legs picking among the carrion, carrying the bodies away in web cocoons. Further in the distance, the hills were moving—or things that looked like hills—bashing anything that stirred. Since the dead did not stir, they crossed over to the dying, occasionally crushing the skulls of allies as they went. Thelana knew she was the only one that remained—neither horg nor bogren nor corpse—a small figure flitting swiftly through the haze. It was difficult for her to run without broken arrowheads digging into her soles—they clustered like weeds—but she managed her way back, vaulting herself over the makeshift ramp of sludge and dead and supplies.

“Torgin is down,” she said calmly, pressing her back against the rampart beside him.

“Are you sure?” Dantes said uneasily. “Did you see the body?”

She wanted to tell him how she’d found him, how his brains were splattered against a horg’s iron, how his lazy eye was as still as any other, but she answered simply, “Yes. I’m sorry.”

Usually, Dantes would say something to stir the soul, or mutter some prayer to his gods. But this time, he cursed. Dantes loved Torgin as a brother. “What about the lines? Are they intact?” There was real desperation in his voice, unlike anything she had ever heard.

“I . . . didn’t find anyone out there, Captain. I believe they’re all—”

“Damn it to Skullgrin, Thelana!” he screamed.

Even after cycles of fighting, he had called her, ‘new girl’. ‘Come here, new girl,’ he would say, or, ‘What did you find out, new girl?’ She hated it at first, but gradually came to think of it as a sign of his affection for her. After all, much to the irritation of the others in her company, he made tactical decisions that, one way or the other, put her out of harm’s way, using her swift footing, for instance, for scouting out the enemy. Only recently, when their numbers began to dwindle and her bow came into play more frequently, did he begin calling her by name.

“It’s over, isn’t it?” she asked.

Dantes was never known to admit defeat. Most often, as in the case of recruiting his youngest and best archer, he would get his way. It was what Thelana loved about him. But now his pride, his refusal to retreat, had led his friends and comrades to their deaths. “It’s over for us,” he said quietly, “but we’ve done our duty. That is all the gods can ask of us. We’ve slowed their advance, that much is certain, and the city guard will be waiting.”

“But what will we do? Where we will go?” She was frightened of the answer even as she asked.

“We will stay,” he replied, without a trace of hesitation. “We will fight to the end.”

Having lost so many lives, to flee could only bring him shame. Men of honor could not live with shame, yet she pressed him. “But what good will it do? Let’s leave this place. Together. Begin a new life somewhere far away.”

“No,” he said, without argument, without explanation of any kind.

“But—”

“Am I still not your Captain?” he shouted. “Every second we delay those monsters, every second they spend fighting us, is another second we give to the people of Kratos.”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly, her hand moving close enough for him to feel it. “I was being selfish. But—but if we are to die,” she started, surprised by her nervousness even in the face of the Taker, “at least tell me what I mean to you.”

His gaze fell hard on her, as if suddenly realizing that a woman was fighting alongside him and an uncomfortable space started to form between them. “I don’t know what you’re trying to . . .”

She had always believed, or was it mere hope, that he would be expecting such a query. Is it too soon? How can it be? Unless he doesn’t know . . . unless he feels nothing.  “I thought you cared about me. You always sent me on those scouting missions, and in battle you kept me close to you—”

“Thelana,” he said, his face souring, “of course I care about you. You’re a great archer, a loyal ally—”

She cupped his hand with her own. His knuckles were hard, her palm scabrous—their scars fit together in places. “Dantes, that’s not what I meant.”

The words froze between them. She searched his face for any sign of affection amid the anguish for his men. He averted her gaze, focused on her as he would any soldier. But he understood the meaning in her questing eyes, saw the love he could not return. And suddenly she felt ashamed, wanting to take back even those simple words.

“Thelana, you’re a very young girl and I have, well . . . I have a wife waiting for me.”

“You’re joined?” Her heart tightened against the pain, but the revelation kept digging deeper like a bogren’s spear. “I’ve never seen her! You’ve never mentioned her!”

“And I have daughters as well. One of them is your age.”

She wanted to cry out, to weep, but amid so many dead and dying, love seemed like a foolish thing to weep for.

“Now you know why I can’t retreat,” he said. “My wife and children are in the city. I need to give them time. It is for the families of Kratos that we face the Taker.” As he finished speaking, a terrible groan echoed across the plain, making them rattle in their armor.

“It’s close,” he said.

She pulled herself over the heap of dirt and broken bodies. It was there at thirty paces, a grotesque heap of fat. Boils popped from its folds, sizzling on the ground. The blood of its victims gleamed from a gargantuan battle-ax. Its skull was cut open like a melon, revealing a brain and the cords stretching out from it. A little gray creature sat on its shoulders, massaging the brain into submission, manipulating the strings with its other hand to move the horg’s massive limbs like a marionette.

Thelana ducked back under. “It’s a smart one.”

“Can you take it down?”

“Do you have to ask?” Peering over the mound, she surveyed the broken landscape for unseen dangers, but there were none she could see. She slipped her longbow from her shoulder, nocked an arrow in it, and waited for the monster to turn her way. Horgs were nigh invincible, could take dozens of arrows in their leathery folds and keep coming. But they were also as stupid as herd animals. Without their bogren masters, they were easily trapped and killed. Her arrow went soaring just as the gray one’s eyes narrowed in her direction. The bogren shrieked and tumbled from its perch—the cords attached to the horg’s brain pulled tight and went slack. Without a creature to control it, the horg shambled toward her, bellowing in agony, swinging its enormous ax at invisible enemies.

“Dantes!” she cried. “It’s coming straight for us. Run!”

“No,” he said, hiding his dark brows beneath his helmet. “We must meet the enemy head on. There’s no other way.”

“We’ll be killed.”

“One less horg for the city guard to worry about!” he cried, less to her than to himself. With shield and sword high, he rushed at the monster, without strategy, without an ally with whom to organize an effectual assault.

No, Dantes, this isn’t like you . . . this isn’t like you at all . . .  

He ran into the arms of the Taker as he ran into the monster’s ax. Thelana shouted after him, but turned away at the final moment. Suddenly, all her years of daydreaming came to nothing. A thick lump welled up from the base of her being, up into her throat, choked her.

He was gone. The man she had loved.

No one stood alive on the Plains of Narth, no other human but her. The emptiness was overwhelming, but such emotions were a luxury afforded to mothers and wives and to those wealthy enough to purchase walls. The world stood vast and barren all around her, but the weight of its people still pressed her. Broken swords, clutched by inert fingers, spread like blades of grass. The horror of it—so remote from the simple world she was brought into—shattered something inside her and she ran screaming, clumsily in her boots, into the midst of the dead.

Unsatisfied by Dantes’ blood, the horg lumbered for another kill, braying like a bull. She tugged at her beloved’s shield until his body surrendered just as the ax came crashing against it, laying her flat. She fumbled for a sword—any sword—and sprang back to her feet. The ax came around again, splintering the wood from the boss and tearing it from her arms. With the shield in pieces and her shoulder aching from the impact, she stumbled over the fallen bodies of her regiment, knowing that soon the horg would cut her down and all her pain would be over. But a distant memory was teasing her—she had to keep moving. Against the overwhelming force of the horg’s ax, her leather bindings were inconsequential, a hindrance that weighed and constrained her motion. This was not the way that Ilmar fought. Dantes had given strict orders that she keep her clothes on. You’ll lose face, he’d said. You will not look a soldier and the men will think you’re available. But Dantes was gone and every eye that might have shamed her was closed forever. In their armor, she was a prisoner, her breeches shackles of shame from a world she scarcely understood. She rounded the monster, keeping safely from its whizzing ax, and piece by piece, the accouterments of the Kratan soldier dropped like empty shells, the horrors of war peeling away with her chain greaves and belt, her brassiere and boots. She tore at the stitching as if burned by it. Even the fine muslin tunic Dantes had given her, the only article of clothing she had loved, crumpled in the dirt.

Wearing nothing but a sword, she stood under the sky, the Goddess a river surging through her. She closed her eyes to the enveloping touch of the battlefield, the shift in the ground as the horg stomped in blind circles, the small hairs of her body prickling as the ax came around and around.

He was twice her height. Ten times her weight. One blow and she was pulp. But having lost everything, she faced him. The horg charged, and she met him first, clambering up his rolls of fat, crossing his arm like the bough of a tree. Before his dimwitted mind could work out where she’d gone to, she was riding his back, plunging her sword into his exposed brain. The horg gave a confused groan and toppled like a column as Thelana rolled from his shoulders.

 

Where does Thelana go next? Find out in Ages of Aenya

 

 

 

Ages of Aenya: Thelana Leaves Home

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‘Thelana Leaves Home’ by Nicholas Cannan.

Somewhere in the dense fauna her younger siblings were busy at being children. Heimdl and Lodr and Baldr, Anja, Brittania and Nicola—all of them dodging chores for games of tag and hide and seek, running and climbing, tumbling and collecting bugs. Vaino and Laine, who were older, hammered posts to fence in the hens, complaining of life’s various drudgeries, while Aliaa and Amina were turning their feet purple in baskets of mashed blackberries. They would be delighted to know of the meat, even if the rabbit provided only a sliver each. And for a moment, against her heart’s desire, Thelana’s mind turned to her eldest sibling. Borz loved the taste of rabbit. He would have greeted her with a broad grin, tousling her hair. Oh, Borz. A sigh came up from her throat, bringing lumps of pain. Where are you this moment?

From within the root folds of Old Man oak, the house rose up like a fallen seedling. Over the years, Baba and his sons had set a myriad of stones and beams—now mired in moss—though the original post and lintel structure had been erected by a much older generation. Built into the side of the house was a silent water wheel, fed by a stony brook that branched from the Potamis. When the climate edged toward cooler winds, bougainvillea speckled the house in icy pinks as though flicked from a paintbrush.

From where she stood, she could see the sharp shadows cast by the ancient tree, and the house felt strangely forlorn, an odd thing for a dwelling of fourteen. Memories beckoned at the gates of her consciousness, but they frightened her, and she pressed on. Remembering her mother’s oft-repeated reproach, she scraped the dirt and blades of grass sticking to her soles and pushed against the door. Its hinges creaked, a noise usually lost amid the bustle of work and play. Nicola was at Mother’s side, a silhouette of braid and buttocks and jutting spine. She was weeping because a spur had embedded itself in her toe. Thelana frowned—how did Nicola expect to survive, being so weak? Hesitantly, Nicola pulled away from Mother’s hair, which was thick with gold braids and flowers and was sometimes all encompassing and could heal bruises of the heart. Mother hushed her younger daughter with a kiss and shooed her from the house, and as the girl moved away, Thelana noticed Baba. They were seated beside one another, Mother and Baba, neither working, which was unusual, for it was midday, and at once Thelana feared them ill.

Whenever Baba was unsettled, he would ring his great hands, as if feelings could be scrubbed off like dirt. When Borz went away, he shed no tears, but there had been much hand scrubbing.

Now he sat still, his hands resting on the table, tightly intertwined.

Thelana slid her bow and quiver against the door, as if slowing her movements could hinder the passage of time. The rabbit carcass, which had carried her home with such swiftness, lay forgotten.

“Baba?” she whispered. “What is it? Has something happened?”

“No, Thelana,” he said. “No.” Mother sat quietly, dressed in strands of gold hair and petals, with moons and stars of henna about her nipples. Even after twelve children, her body retained its vigor. When Thelana thought of the Mother Goddess, no other came to mind but her own mother. But now, beneath that stoic face, Thelana saw something fragile flickering.

“I brought a rabbit,” said Thelana, but the words did not sound right—she’d stressed the wrong syllables.

“We can see, Thelana,” said her father, clearing his throat. “Sit down. You must be tired.”

Sit down? You must be tired? Her father didn’t say things like that. “No, I can stand. I’m strong, Baba.”

“Of course,” he said. “We know you are.” He attempted a smile.

“Is this about Borz?” she asked.

He glanced suddenly to Mother, taking up her hand. She looked strangely detached. Her eyes met his, focusing on him only after a time and lacking consolation. “Not about Borz,” he said, but it was a half-truth and Thelana knew it.

“You’re going to sell me?” Thelana heard herself say.

“No,” Mother objected, a bit too loudly, “it’s not like that. We made a mistake with your brother.”

“You are different,” her father said, the words flowing more easily and deliberately. “You are special, like the spirit of the wind. No one place should keep you.”

“Like the spirit of the wind?” Thelana echoed. “What does that even mean—?”

“You can no longer stay with us,” she heard him say.

This was supposed to be a special day. Mana and Baba were to shower her with praise, spend the day skinning her catch, boiling water to cook the meat. It was not supposed to be like this. “Baba?” she implored. “Mana?” Thelana searched her mother’s eyes. They were hazel, sometimes gold. “You’re sending me away?”

Father stood and went to her, took her up by the shoulders. How many times had he embraced her so? How many times had he lifted her onto his back or tossed her into the air? “Try to understand. You are not meant to be here—your abilities—the gods have shown us you were meant for greater things. You must go out into the world and do great things.”

Thelana was unable to think, unable to digest the words and come to rational thought. She was there with Baba, and then Mother began to sob.

“If this is about food,” she started—food was a thing she could understand at least—“I can hunt more, eat less. I can, I can . . .” she stammered.

“No,” he whispered at last with a sudden hard edge, his face grown still, impassive. “I have made my decision. It’ll do no good to beg. Now be strong, my child. Just as Ilmarinen becomes harsh where the world encroaches—so you must be strong to survive, and shed no tears, nor think on us any longer. Do you understand?”

She took in a deep breath—she could be strong. She’d show him. “When do I leave?”

“Now,” he answered her.

“No!” her mother’s voice rang out, laden with hysteria. “How can you be so callous? Let her stay a little while—”

Baba scolded her with a glance. “Bryseis,” he said, “we’ve been through this. We’ve kept this from her for a reason. If the children were to know, it’d make difficulties.”

“Wait.” Thelana interrupted him, quivering. “I can’t say goodbye?”

There was no answer, though she heard her father’s voice. “Bryseis, get her things.”

“But how will she live?” her mother argued. “You said it yourself—the world beyond is cruel. And she’s only a child!”

“Silence yourself, woman!” he cried. “The girl’s as strong as she’ll ever be. Nothing will happen to her.”

“Don’t you dare say that!” she contested, throwing her arms up, half in frustration, half in prayer. “You’ll give her the bad eye talking like that! You’ll bring the gods’ envy down upon her. Go knock on wood.”

He rolled his eyes and then, thinking better on it, found the lintel of the door to rap his knuckles against it. “There. Now will you go get her things?”

Mother stood mechanically, gathering items into a blanket: a gourd with a cork stopper, an assortment of breads and berries, flint stones for lighting fires, a small paring knife. Her hands shook so violently that her fingers fumbled to knot the four corners. Thelana was quick at her side, adding her fingers to the task.

“Now you remember to keep yourself clean,” her mother said as though reciting a verse from the songs, “. . . and making a fire, you know how to do that?”

“Of course, Mana.”

“I think that’s everything you’ll need. I pray the gods I not forget anything. I even made extra pasteli. It’s still your favorite, isn’t it?”

Thelana nodded. Her earliest memories included the chewy mix of sesame seeds and honey. She remembered how her mother used it to soothe her childhood sorrows. Now she was being sent out, like a grown woman, but was she so different from that child?

“Good,” said Bryseis. “Remember to eat it sparingly, as it won’t spoil.” She continued to ramble nervously as her fingers twitched, though the supplies were all packed for the journey. After fastening the bindle to her bow, her mother left the room to return with a long piece of fabric, yellow with patches of brown.

“What is that for, Mana?”

“Something I nearly forgot . . . and I spent weeks at it! Well, it’s the best I could do.”

“It’s a goat,” said Thelana, her stomach turning sour. Goats were saved for milk, never for slaughter. Hides stored foodstuffs or were used to make tents. By the pattern of spots, she recognized the young kid. It had been no taller than her kneecaps. She remembered its gentle nature, the way its tongue tickled the straw from her fingers. Now its dead skin was being prepared to cover hers.

Her mother worked up a weak smile, stretching and turning the fabric this way and that. “You remember the soldiers who sought shelter from us? How they were covered?” Spread to its full length, the goatskin tunic dwarfed Thelana’s slim frame. With a small knife, Mother cut and rearranged it, imagining how it might go.

“I don’t need that,” said Thelana. “I shall stay as I am, an Ilmarin, no matter where I go.”

“That may be,” her father answered, “but Alashiya, who protects us, is weak where other gods are strong. In the West, men burn under the sun of Solos, and in the East, cold winds blow from the trumpet of Strom. In other parts of the world, you will learn, clothing protects man from these cruelties.”

Baba came nearer, embracing her. “But even where the gods are kind, you must be wary of men, for men can be worse than any gods. In the lands far from home, men do not thrive as part of Aenya, but apart from it, seeking to possess every little thing within it. Lust for possession drives men of the outside, causing every evil and misery. If a man should lay eyes upon you, it may drive him to madness, and he will then seek to possess you. From this you must hide yourself, your body.”

“I don’t understand,” said Thelana.

“Trust in our wisdom!” her father said forcefully. “We learned much of the world when the soldiers came. Do you remember how they looked at us, at you? If you reveal yourself, at the very least, they will shun you. Hidden by clothing, they will not know you are Ilmar.”

Bryseis pressed her daughter to her bosom, just as Thelana appeared to founder with realization. “You will always be Ilmarin within your heart,” she added, “and no one can take that from you.”

“Never,” Thelana murmured. “I’d never forget you.” She grimaced as her mother worked the stiff tunic over her head and down past her knees. But it was a small discomfort amid the uncertainty churning inside of her.

“Where will I go, Baba? What will I do?”

“Follow the river,” he said. “Continue until the hills of Ukko become faint, and the ilms sparse. Do you still remember the speech the foreigners taught you?”

Captain Aola. She was the only one kind to me, teaching me the bow, the language of Kratos. Thelana nodded slowly.

“Seek them out, anyone who speaks the same language. Show them what you can do. A skilled bowman has great value in the outside. But do not show fear, or be overly trustful, or let them cow you into service. Promise me never to suffer your brother’s fate. And promise one more thing—do not permit yourself to starve. Do what needs be. Understand?”

With a will not her own, Thelana pushed the door open. The tunic, her quiver and bow, and a sack sat heavily upon her. The rabbit lay forgotten in a heap of fur and blood. As the door shut behind her, she slumped onto the porch with great sobs. Faces fluttered in her mind and her heart drained into her stomach. “Why can’t I say goodbye!” she cried. Her shoulder fell against the door and it gave with a groan, but her father stood on the opposite side.

Thelana slapped at the door as her father wrestled to shut her out and keep Bryseis away, who sobbed and pleaded for her daughter. “Don’t make this harder on your mother!” he shouted. But there was no cruelty in his voice. “Go, child!”

Time lapsed strangely, and when exhaustion set in, her heart toughened and became proud again. She became still, surrendering her struggle to reenter her childhood home.

“I cannot send you away,” Baba finally said, his voice muted by the door. He sounded broken, defeated. Finally, he stepped outside, and took Thelana in his arms.

“No,” she said softly. “I must go. I’ll come back. I’ll find gold and jewels, like the men of Kratos had, and there will be food for us always.”

“That’s my brave girl,” he said, stroking her hair as he had when she was a small child. “That’s my Thelana.”

Her mother remained in the house as her father escorted her to the edge of the porch. At the foot of the steps, an ilm grew from between the floorboards. How many times had her mother made tea from it, for a broken bone, for Vaino or Laine, or even that one time when Lodr attempted to chase Thelana up Old Man’s branches? The memory made Thelana smile. Her eyes brimmed with hot tears, the kind that sting—she would never again laugh with her brothers.

“Even here,” her father began, thumbing the orange petals, “they grow rarer.” With a twist he broke the flower from its stem. The orange blossom filled her cupped hands. “Remember: we are children of the ilm. As long as you keep it close to your heart, this land will never be far behind.” The delicate petals trembled, and she forced herself to nod.

Where does Thelana go? Does she ever return to find her family? Get the whole story here!

Why I Gave up Video Games for Tabletop Role Playing

Don’t get me wrong. I used to get excited about video games. My first system was an Atari 2600, followed by the Nintendo NES, Super Nintendo, GameCube, Wii, Wii U and the Switch. I’ve owned a Saturn, a Dreamcast, an X-Box, X-Box 360, a Playstation, a PS2 … 3 … 4, not to mention the ten grand I’ve plopped down on gaming computers. Among my favorite series is The Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter. But my feeling of tediousness has been steadily growing over the years, and now unopened games just sit on my shelf for months. At some point in time, gaming became a chore. When I look at an inventory screen to get bombarded by a hundred little empty boxes, I just think to myself . . . work.

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After almost four decades of tapping away at controllers, I feel that I’ve seen and done it all. There are very few original ideas in gaming, and even when you come across the occasional weird indie title (Typoman comes to mind) the question then becomes: why would I want to play that? Almost all games fall neatly into a genre: platformer, action, role-playing, racing, fighting—and they are ALL, with little exception, painfully similar. For someone who immerses themselves in gaming culture, the slightest innovations appear to be groundbreaking, but more often than not, these are little more than tweaks. Nintendo’s Wii, with its motion censors, was perhaps the only genuine revolution in recent memory, but then for some reason it was abandoned. Virtual Reality has also failed to wow the general public, because really, who wants to pretend to go to work?

The biggest new idea in shooters, to my knowledge, is auto-cover, a mechanic made popular in Gears of War, and it felt fresh and exciting upon its release, but looking back at it now, much of what you actually do in the game is the same as in every other shooter—running, taking cover, and shooting—just like in Doom, Duke NukemRed Faction, HaloMass Effect and in about a thousand other clones and sequels. RPGs, if you can even call them that, are no different. Whether it’s World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Oblivion or The Witcheryou are like a hamster on a spinning wheel, repeating the same actions over and over ad nauseam: killing monsters to collect XP, so you can level up to kill more monsters. Rinse and repeat until the boss is dead and a cut scene comes up to let you know the game is over. Sometimes there’s a decent story in there, but for every Eternal Darkness, The Last of Us or Deus Ex, there are about a hundred titles with zombies/demons/aliens invading [insert fantasy realm here] for no damn reason. Even when the story is passable, I am forced to do so much grinding that my life feels wasted. A few years ago I gave up on a game with great animation, engaging characters and a lot of unique ideas, Ni No Kuni. Beautiful though it was, I simply could not play it. After spending the better part of a night trying to kill the first boss, I realized that I needed to grind to progress in the game, and for those of you not in the know, grinding is the process of fighting the same repetitive creatures, in the same repetitive way, while watching the same repetitive animation, sometimes for hours or even days, just to become powerful enough to win. It’s like trying to watch The Lord of the Rings, and having your Blu-Ray player breakdown so that the same scene plays ten times in a row before moving on to the next scene.

The last game I had the patience to sit through was Star Wars: Battlefront for the PS4. Now I know this isn’t the best example of great game design, but it really isn’t so different than any other FPS, where you are ducking behind walls, taking aim and shooting, like I’ve been doing for the past two decades. Quite frankly, I am sick of it. I AM BORED!!!

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Now I won’t go into why tabletop RPGs (real RPGs) like D&D are superior to video games, nor bother explaining how they are tangible, or allow you infinite freedom, or are more social. You can read that here if you want. But I do want to explain why D&D excites me, because with D&D, I get to do different things. Really different things!

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Fun with real people!

Part of the fun for me is creating the game. I get to be a storyteller, an artist, and a level designer. Our current campaign is set on Middle Earth, and the first thing I did was research Tolkien’s world, picking up The Silmarillion, Beren and LúthienThe Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin. Keep in mind, nobody was telling me to read these books. I read only so much as I was enjoying it. To simulate the war against the Witch-King of Angmar, I bought a 3D puzzle of Middle Earth. Again, I could have bought a simple foldout map from Amazon, but I wanted the 3D mountain pieces. Then I went to a hardware store to get a custom cut of plexiglass, and after careful measuring, added squares to the glass using ribbon tape, resulting in a clear chess board. Placing the board over my Middle Earth map, and chess pieces to track the movements of each unit, I ended up with a layout of the war. This was a personal quest I had set out to achieve. Nobody had told me what to do or how to do it. And it involved a lot more thought than simply following an arrow on a screen. The final product is something I truly feel proud of—an actual, real-life achievement.

To invite my players to our game, I wrote a letter imitating Tolkien’s writing, urging them to send reinforcements for the impending war. It was printed on faux-aged paper, and sealed with the Tree of Gondor, before being sent through the mail. This was a real letter, dripping with ink and melted wax, that you could actually hold in your hands. Unfortunately, I received zero response from my hardcore gamer friends, because when a real letter comes in the real mail asking to embark upon a real-ish quest, I suppose they got confused because there was nobody there to tell them what to do.

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A real letter!

For our most recent D&D session, I made a fort and a giant stone head using styrofoam, caulking, Play-Doh and paint. I am always on the lookout for things to make, or unique things I can do, to play outside the box, and by box I mean X-Box.

 

Now you may be thinking, Nick, I don’t really like making things. I don’t like painting, or sculpting, or being creative in any way. And that’s fine. TRPG’s aren’t for everybody, and I suppose there will always be those who prefer multiple choice gaming: Picking between Door A or Door B. Me? I’ll choose to break down a wall every time. The thing about D&D, and tabletop games in general, is that they can be whatever you want them to be. You can even incorporate video games into it, if you want. I actually did this once, using Super Smash Bros. for a Zelda themed campaign. But D&D never forces you to slog through the same repetitive actions over and over, unless you have a bad DM, in which case you can tell him, “Hey, this is boring. Let’s do something different.” And the best part is, every game is unique. NOBODY else is playing your adventure but YOU. Millions of kids have been Link and Mario and Master Chief and Geralt of Rivia. But only I have been Sir Marek the Brave! And this makes for a truly special experience.

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Sir Marek the Brave

In a few weeks, I am planning a kayaking trip with my players. Yes, a real life kayaking trip, and this is going to be part of the game, because we need to get down the Anduin River somehow. Anything goes in my games, and that will always be more exciting, for me at least, than pressing buttons.

The Cloud Breaker

Who doesn’t love airships? I know I do! The Cloud Breaker features prominently in my upcoming book, the second in the Aenya series, The Princess of Aenya. Again, I worked with my excellent Ukrainian artist, Alexey Lipatov, to help make the Cloud Breaker a reality.

Unlike many other flying fantasy ships, I tried to add an element of real-world physics to the Cloud Breaker. This is something I have long strived to give my world, to write sword & sorcery & sandal fantasy, while still acknowledging the parameters of science. With that in mind, I base the Cloud Breaker’s flight capabilities on hot air balloons. Two burners create a draft of rising air, which in turn inflate a special light-weight material, whisper-fabric, which is known only to those of the avian race. Could it work in reality? Probably not, at least not with regards to the weight ratios between hull and sail- volume, but even hard Sci-Fi will sometimes run into problems of plausibility.

CloudBreaker

HISTORY: The Cloud Breaker was built by the people of Yefira, who have a long history of experimenting with aircraft. Ages ago, they learned to take advantage of the region’s powerful wind currents, fashioning windmills, giant-kites, and short-distance gliders called “whirlydinghies”. The Great Chasm, which splits the planet into two hemispheres, provides a perpetual updraft for increased lift while traversing the rift.

The Cloud Breaker is the biggest ship ever to be built by the Yefirans. It is captained by Davos and his mate, a clipped avian named Krow. In calmer winds, the Cloud Breaker sails the waters of the Potamis, the life-giving river of Aenya, along which Davos trades goods from throughout the north-western territories of the world.

STORY: Crossing above and beyond the Crown of Aenya Mountains, to the north pole, the crew of the Cloud Breaker discovers the ancient city of the Zo, Mythradanaiil, known by its citizens as Tyrnael. What Davos uncovers in that fabled land will alter his life, and the future of his people, forever.

Be like Davos! Discover the world of Aenya for yourself! Get Ages of Aenya NOW at www.nickalimonos.com!

 

D&D in the Faerie Tale Kingdom

As I’ve focused my attention away from The Writer’s Disease, I’ve been spending more time on gaming with my kids. Aside from family, my chief love remains storytelling. If I could not write books, I would make screenplays for TV or movies. Barring that, I could settle for a good campfire.

Story gives life meaning. It defines who we are, what we believe, and provides an answer to the deepest questions of existence. History, religion, even the memories we have of our own lives, is little more than the stories we tell ourselves. Before YouTube, Netflix or PS4, there was fire, and the images our minds formed from the heart of the flame. Playing D&D with the family is a continuation of this old age tradition, and it beats any other entertainment medium IMO, because other mediums lack the human connection that comes from sitting face-to-face with your storyteller.

If much of this sounds grandiose, my apologies, poetic license is a bad a habit. On a more down-to-earth note, I am learning the ways of YouTube, how to stitch audio and video together to give my fans more Aenya-related content in a new way, and so that I may reach out to those unfamiliar with the Aenya-verse. The story below may also, in a loose way, serve as inspiration for upcoming novels. It is a bit long for YouTube, admittedly, but it recounts our seven months of gaming. Enjoy!

 

Lilliea and Rose Mathonway continue their adventures through the multiverse in the Faerie Tale Kingdom! This is the complete retelling of our seven-month fairytale themed D&D campaign, featuring the fifth setting in the three years I have been DMing for my family and friends. I’d like to give a special thanks to my players: to my two daughters, who play Lilliea and Rose, to my wife, who plays Kalima, and to our closest family friend, Elgy “Mimi” Marie, who rocks it as Sekhmet. I would also like to thank my nephews for their occasional contributions, to Fonda, who gave life to Kraktock, and to Arthur, who shamelessly took on the mantle of Alabaster, daughter of Snow White. Without you guys, this otherworldly experience could not have been possible. I would also like to thank all of the people who’ve contributed art and inspiration to this project.

 

Aenya Newsletter 03/21/2018

Existenz.

Existenz is a 1999 Sci-Fi flick about a virtual reality world much like the Matrix, which happens to have been released the same year as The Matrix. Every morning, I wake up with this word in my head. Existenz. I am not thinking about the movie, however, but the ideas the movie explores, the notion of existence itself. At forty-three years of age, the act of simply existing is beginning to weigh on me. I feel the heaviness of life’s tribulations, and a mountain of day-to-day responsibilities. What concerns me most, is that my life may resemble that of Sisyphus, the Greek king who was punished in Hades, forced to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back again and again for all eternity. What headway am I making in the world? What does it all mean? And what value is there, truly, in becoming known and recognized, given the inevitable cold death of the universe?

Sometimes I wander my neighborhood in the bewitching hours of the night, racked by these thoughts. My blog, I am continually reminded, is aptly named. It is no exaggerating to say that artists suffer. I suppose I should take my suffering with pride. Creativity brings me great joy; it is a conduit through which to explore other worlds. But by the same token, it makes me an outsider. I am like a superhero, like Dr. Manhattan. Nobody can relate. The way I see it, I’ve got another good decade and a half to open the world to Aenya. I want people to visit this universe in my head in the way readers vacation to Middle Earth and Narnia and Westeros and the Wizarding World. With time running out, I’ve decided to give my parents two-years’ notice. Come Hell or high water, I’ll be quitting my pizza job by 2020, to turn my efforts to Aenya and beyond. 2020 is a nice round number, as is 45.

If I am Sisyphus, and the goal is nation-wide recognition, I can honestly say I am getting there. I have been receiving some really great praise on Amazon. Ages of Aenya stands at 4.5 Stars, with 10 reviews in, and 1-Star from my pet troll (hey, where you at? Miss you!). Some of my commentators are particularly eloquent:

 

At a deeper level, Ages of Aenya explores the conflicting human impulses for myth, religion, and scientific reason by mixing them together circling through the minds and discoveries of the characters he has created. There’s plenty to ponder here about what makes us human. The unashamed nakedness of the main characters strongly integrates the real and the metaphorical dimensions of honest and authentic humanity.

 

Thelana 2018

Every year, since 2003, I have commissioned a portrait of Thelana, my favorite heroine, and you don’t need heroin when you’ve got heroine. Sorry! Hal Glick used an advanced 3D modeling program for the 2018 rendition, and while I am less a fan of computer-generated art than what can be generated by the human hand, I can’t deny the beauty of this piece. Conveying the power and dignity of the nude form can be a challenge in modern day America, and as I have been discovering with the release of my book, it isn’t the feminists who give me trouble, but the men who cannot help but think of Thelana in terms of pornography. It has gotten to the point that I may abandon naked heroes altogether, not because I do not love the idea, but because this country has yet to grow out of its awkward teenage phase. Fortunately, I feel that Hal managed to steer clear of our lowest instincts with this piece. So, if you’re more than a halfman and can keep it in your pants, check out Thelana’s other portraits in my Deviant Art gallery.

 

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Thelana 2018

 

 

To Be Read: A Literary Podcast by Nick and Mars

It has become clear to me that people are moving away from blogs to podcasts and YouTube videos. I don’t blame them. While I still believe in the power of the written over the spoken word, humans are lazy, and are simultaneously being drowned by information. Who has time to sort through the noise? What makes writing so special is the depth and richness of information something like a novel can provide. No other media, film or otherwise, can fully convey the worlds contained within The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones. It is for this reason, precisely, you always hear people say “the book was better.” But the advantages of a blog are minimal. Still, I love fiction, and talking about fiction, and so my partner-in-crime, Mars, has started a literary podcast, with the aid of yours truly. Every week or so, we will be chatting up our favorite books and authors, and more importantly, we’ll be discussing current events in this crazy world we happen to be living in, and how those events are reflected and informed by literary works both classic and modern. And really, I am starting to think this is a simulation, or at the very least, that when the wave-function last collapsed, I barely slipped through to this reality . . . Ah, never-mind.

So be sure to hop on over to our new blog to hear Mars and I talk books at To Be Read.

 

Ages of Aenya Kindle Edition Now Available!!!

The long wait is over. If you’ve been living in another country, planet or plane of existence, and you have access to a smart phone or other e-reader, and if you are dying to explore Aenya, NOW is your chance!

Get Ages of Aenya Kindle Edition from Amazon for just $9.99. It’s the greatest thing since the replicating molecule.

Ages of Aenya Holiday Special!

Whether you commemorate the birth of your savior or honor the Green Goddess of the Ilmar, ’tis the season to celebrate!

Starting today, I am offering Ages of Aenya at the DEEPLY discounted rate of $10.00. That’s down from $17.95! This is my GIFT to you!

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So if you’ve been sitting on the balustrade about taking your first step into Aenya, NOW is the time! Don’t know what to get the book lover in your life? Tired of waiting for George RR Martin to finally finish Winds of Winter? Itching to find some new fantasy series to lose yourself in? Explore Hedonia before the Sea washes it away. Lose yourself in the Great White Flat. Brave the pewter peaks of Northendell. Follow Thelana and Xandr as they brazenly hunt the Wildwood. But you’d best hurry, because this offer is only good for the holidays, and supplies are limited.

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