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 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.



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!


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.




Ages of Aenya Launch Day!

It’s Ages of Aenya launch day everybody! Today, after ten years in the making, my book officially goes on sale on my new author site, nickalimonos.com! It’s available on Amazon, but you can get it directly from me at a discounted price, with free full color maps of Aenya. You can also find exclusive Aenya-related artwork, by Zhengyi Yu, Alexey Lipatov and Frans Mensink, at my store.

If you have been following this blog, have any interest in Aenya or in my naturist heroes, or if you simply love fantasy adventure, you can’t miss picking this up!

Welcome to the world of Aenya!



Aenya Newsletter 10/25/2017

Exciting news, everyone! My book came in the mail today! There’s just something magical, transformative even, when you get to hold your story in your hands for the first time. You know this is it, after more than a decade of writing and rewriting, the novel in its final form. Ages of Aenya is here.

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So where and when can you get it? Well, you can order it from Amazon.com, or next month from my new author site. I recommend cutting out the middle man and getting it directly from www.nickalimonos.com, as I can offer it at a discounted price, along with some Aenya inspired artwork! For all you e-readers out there, a Kindle version is in the works, and will be available next year.

Watch my YouTube video to learn more, or read the transcript below.


“Hi everyone! I’m very excited to show you what came in the mail the other day. It’s my book … Ages of Aenya!

I am really happy with the way this turned out. As you can see, it’s a hefty book. You can really do a lot of damage with this if you wanted. There’s Thelana on the cover, overlooking the city of Hedonia, with the pyramid of Sargonus in the background.

For years, people have been asking me ‘when is your book coming out?’ Well, now it’s here!

So, I really cannot wait to get this into your hands! It has everything lovers of fantasy adventure could ask for: fighting, monsters, exotic locations, romance, naked heroes, not-so-naked heroes; it’s been inspired by heroes like Conan and He-Man, and by writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, HP Lovecraft, and Homer (if you love Greek mythology).

It should be available to order mid-November, or even sooner from Amazon.com. But I recommend you wait and get it from me at my new author site, nickalimonos.com, where I will be offering it at a discounted price, and where I’ll be selling some Aenya inspired artwork. I will be providing links to buy it from my other social media platforms as well, from aenya.net and my blog, writersdisease.net.

Some people have asked me about a Kindle version. The Kindle version will be available early next year, but I wanted to get the physical copy into people’s hands first. There’s just something magical about a physical book. It has weight. It has substance. You can display it on your shelf. Too much stuff these days is digital, on a screen, so I think it’s nice to have something you can touch and feel. And besides, that’s actually a theme of the story!

Lastly, I’d like to thank my beta readers, who’ve supported me all these years. They include David Pasco, Heather Zanitsch, Tobias Tholken, and my brilliant editor, Ava Coibion, whose insights helped make the book even better. And of course my wife, Hynda, who has always been there for me!

So again, I am really excited to get this book into your hands. It’s been my passion for over a decade and now it’s here. Finally. Thanks for watching.”

D&D and the Fantasy Author

Roleplaying games, and by that I mean “real” roleplaying games, the kind with dice and paper, can be a powerful resource for any writer of fantasy, a great source of ideas and inspiration. My most recent novel, The Princess of Aenya, was inspired by a one-day 4th edition D&D campaign. In the game, my wife played Queen Isadora, a cleric. One of my nephews was a ninja/assassin sent to kill her, and my other nephew her protector, Demacharon. I imagined an enormous stairwell spiraling down a chasmic tower, with arrows raining down on them from all sides. Years later, that exact scene made its way into the first chapter of my novel, except Isadora was now Radia, and the ninja assassin appeared later in the story. Incidentally, Radia and Demacharon would later come upon a monster in a crypt, the tetra-claw beast. I first drew the tetra-claw beast when I was twelve, for a 1st edition campaign, and there it sat in my brain for 30 years, waiting to emerge on the stage of chapter 3 to pounce on my heroes!

The beautiful thing about roleplaying is that it allows you to create without having to worry about being judged. Too often, writers are discouraged by the literary world. Want to write a story about a knight saving a damsel in distress? No way! That’s both cliche and “sexist”. Want to have a ninja teaming up with a robot for a swashbuckling adventure? Not if you want to appeal to older, more jaded readers of “serious” fantasy like Game of Thrones. But in D&D, you can do whatever the hell you want. Write like nobody’s reading. Dream like you’re twelve again. And then, as is often the case, lightning strikes. An idea is born that germinates into something great. All it took for Harry Potter to happen is for JK to board a train.

Sometimes in this hyper-competitive market, we forget just why we read, why we write, and why we play. And the reason, in case you’ve forgotten, is because life is just too short and the world just too small for our human-sized brains. The fantasy enthusiast craves more than one planet to explore, longs to step outside the boundaries and limitations of this one-time existence. This is what novels and RPGs have in common; they are the gateways to something more.

If you’re a gamer, or just curious to read an adventure in a different way (this is where the oft-disregarded second-person narrative thrives) you can download the file below. Whether you’re new to D&D or a seasoned veteran, you may find it useful. And, unlike in the literary world, everyone is free to steal!


Heraldo the Great

5th Edition D&D Adventure

The Princess of Aenya


Radia by Selene Regener

Once, not long ago, there lived a king in the land of Tyrnael, who had but one daughter. This daughter he loved with his whole heart, but upon her eleventh year she fell ill, her cheeks paling like the petals of a dying ilm. Never leaving her bedside, the king called for every physician in his kingdom, but all were at a loss, for her ailment was unlike any they had seen. With enduring hope, the king sent emissaries to lands near and abroad, and learned men did arrive from as far south as the One Sea and from as far east as Shemselinihar, yet all were utterly mystified by her sickness. Beset by grief and desperation, the king offered all that he had, his very kingdom in recompense, to save his little girl from doom. 

And it so happened, that upon this decree, a wizened sage appeared at the gates of the Compass Tower. Examining the girl with care, he declared with confidence that he could make the girl whole again, brewing an elixir so that she might drink of it and become well. And shortly thereafter, the rosy hue returned to the little girl’s cheeks. Overjoyed, the king asked what the stranger wished from him in return, reminding him of his vow. 

“So long as you know,” the sage said to him, “I can stay the hand of the Taker, but only for a time. At the close of three days, before the moon eclipses on the third night, if she does not drink of my elixir, Death shall surely claim her.” 

Hearing this dreadful prophecy, the king turned ashen, but the sage comforted him, saying, “Be not dismayed, for it is not beyond my power to procure this remedy, enough to keep your daughter in good stead for her remaining days. Yet it is not without its price.” 

The king readily agreed, preparing to surrender his great wealth, his kingdom if need be, but the sage asked for one small thing, and one thing only, in return for his ministrations, that the king take as his own a young boy to be adopted. The sage’s own son.


Chapter 1: Radia: Upon her father’s death, Radia inherits the throne of Tyrnael, ancient capital of Aenya. Though she is only 15, Radia finds the courage to refute her brother in court, only to be betrayed by the people she trusted to protect her. Her only hope is Demacharon, an aging soldier from the distant land of Hedonia. But why should a stranger risk certain death, for a girl he hardly knows, when all the military might of Tyrnael is bent on destroying her?

Chapter 2: Demacharon: He has no memory of who he is or how he came to be. He walks through a nightmarish wasteland and his dread is palpable. Is it a dream? The afterlife? Or merely a glimpse of things to come?

Chapter 3: Eros: Like his mother, Eros is branded, invisible to society. It makes him the ideal assassin, the only man capable of hunting down and cutting out the heart of the princess. But can even the self-appointed king of Tyrnael deliver his fee?

Songs and Poetry: Noora’s SongThe Procession

Zaibos Facing You

Zaibos by David Pasco


Races of Aenya: Avian – Bogren – Horg

Eldin’s Brief Timeline

Cosmology of Aenya: The Hayden Planetarium Answers Questions about Aenya: Aenya is uncommon in the fantasy genre in that it follows real world physics. Specifically, it is a moon of the gas giant Infinity. Close proximity to this large planet accounts for the turquoise “moon” Radia and Demacharon can see in the sky. Since one side of their world perpetually faces Infinity, life can be harsh on Aenya. I would like to thank Alejandro Nunez, at the Hayden Planetarium, for helping me add credibility to this fictional world, by answering my questions about an Aenya-type planet.

About the Author: I wrote my first story when I was six, and by age nine, convinced my father to take me to DC Comics Headquarters, in New York City, to solicit my own comic book series. I later attended the University of South Florida, where I graduated with my BA in English Fiction, helped as a tutor, ran a fan-fiction site, and worked as a freelance editor. My short story, The Gorgon’s Lover, was chosen a semi-finalist for the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award. For more about my life, please visit my bio page.


The Princess of Aenya is the second book set in the world of Aenya.

The Nomad: A Love Story DLC

The Nomad is a love story, a mythical tale of heroism and enduring faith, parts Odyssey, parts The Arabian Nights

Like the Greek hero, Odysseus, Dynotus is twenty years from his homeland, searching the desert for Sali—the woman he loves—who has been taken as a slave. It is rife with fantastic locales, mythical monsters, and epic bloodshed, all set against the endless sands of the Sahara.

The Nomad is my first novel, that I wrote when I was in high school. It is presented here for the first time in its entirety in PDF.


[The Nomad: A Love Story]


The Skyclad Warriors

The Ilmar by Mensink


Xandr stood at the prow of the Horizon Chaser, watching the waves split apart and close together, his thoughts flowing like the water. They had been traveling for more than a cycle, down the Potamis toward the Sea, and in the confines of the ship, he had been forced into clothing. It was not as though the captain or crew had done anything to threaten him, but he knew their customs, knew they would look upon him with revulsion should he expose his genitals, and he was not one to draw attention to himself. He loathed civilization nearly as much as he adored solitude.

Despite the years he had spent living among outsiders, covering his body had never felt right to him. He was Ilmarin, of the first humans to stand upright, and clothing was as superfluous to his people as it was for any other animal. And that, he knew, is how they saw him. Only for the Ilmar, all humans were animals, and every other species a cousin.

Even now, he could feel the leather kilt girding him, grating him with every step, suffocating the life from his loins. But in their southerly course, the ship had delivered them far from the snows of Northendell, and in waking that morning to the warmth touching his cabin, he had made his decision. With a breath of finality, he tore the kilt from his waist, and offered it to the wind. It flailed in his fist for a moment and was taken, across the sails and down into the river’s depths. Elation followed, a sense of freedom from constraint, and of finding oneself.

As he made his way down the ramp to the middeck, he crossed the captain. She eyed him without a word, stealing furtive glances at his manhood, and continued on. Thelana was sitting at the edge of the guardrail, still in her tunic, where she delighted in the spray of the rapids.

“You know they won’t let you.”

He shared the spot next to her, the wet air filling his lungs. “We can never be. They will never simply let us be.”

“Our customs offend them—you know this. We are few, my lover, and they are many.” She tucked her knees under her chin, rocking with the dip and swell of the ship, until finding herself against him. “When we reach port, they may not give us audience, not if they think us savages, not if we do not look like them . . . dress like them.”

“I know, Thelana. But at least for now, upon the Potamis, I will commune with the Goddess.”

“It is different for you,” she said. “You are fortunate.”

“Why is that?”

“I am a woman. You do not know how they see me, how they look at me. An outsider cannot look at a woman without desiring her.”

He made a sound of disgust. “If anyone touches you, I will tear out his member!”

Sif returned with her first mate. Already there was grumbling. He knew that the crew detested the thought of savages sharing in their food, slumbering in their bunks. But the captain remained adamant.

“But captain, must he go around like that, with all his bits dangling in everyone’s faces? Are we to respect them when they don’t have the decency to act like human beings?”

“It is their custom,” she answered. “Just as what we wear is ours.”

“But he’s naked as a newborn babe, he is!”

“Their bodies are sacred to them,” she said slowly. “To touch the goddess, they cannot be clothed. It is the way of the Ilmar. Respect it, or take your leave below, where your eyes may not find injury.”

He knew that the captain was not fond of the situation, and that, if he had not done what he had in the mountains, if all Aenya was not calling him Batal, she might hold a very different view. The truth about his people’s customs was more hazy than she let on. No doubt he could feel the Goddess’ presence in the wind, in the sun and in the water and in the earth, but had she been absent from him in Northendell, in the cycles living among the Delians, eating and drinking and dressing as they did? The other matter was that of his two-hander, Emmaxis, a weapon not of his kind but of the Zo, which burdened him to such a degree, he was made to visit the city tanner. His new baldric was of iron rivets and worked leather, which fastened around his torso and thigh to distribute the sword’s weight evenly. He was far from freedom while wearing it, but the sword was his burden to bear, and now its weight had been lifted to some degree.

Split between his longing to feel the world around him and the need to conform to society, Xandr fell silent, until Thelana turned to him, saying, “No, you are right. Wherever people gather, anywhere in the world, they are dressed as their custom dictates. Hedonians wear the chiton, Delians the tunic, women from Shemselinihar the niqab. Why should we do otherwise? I mean . . . if we start wearing clothes, we admit that our customs are inferior, and that are people really are savages.”

He eyed her intently. She was particularly beautiful when finding her passion. “Just what are you suggesting?”

“No more clothing,” she declared, pulling her tunic over her head and letting it slip into the water. “If you go without, so will I.”

“And when we reach port? What then?” he asked. “Do we go naked in the bazaars, where thousands gather? In their halls? Before kings and queens?”

“And proudly! If they scoff, let them! If they should deem me a whore, what should it matter to me, who is not one of them? After what we have suffered, in the Dead Zones, upon the Pewter Mountains, words mean nothing. We represent our people, Xandr, and everything the Ilmar stood for! Don’t you see, this is what we have long awaited, because of who you have become and what you have done. Could they truly shun the Batal—call you a savage—after saving their lives and their children’s lives? No, you will address the kings and queens of Aenya in your native habit, and they will rethink their ways, not just how they see us, but all primitive peoples. There may yet be Ilmar in hiding. But should they come to know that the Batal is one of them, they may come out of hiding, and someday return with us to Ilmarinen.”

Xandr measured her words carefully. Nothing had prevented him from discarding his loincloth but shame—the shame impressed upon him by others. For the first fourteen years of his life, he had not known the word naked, or that the people who lived beyond the Mountains of Ukko hid parts of their bodies. How had he honored his people by abandoning their way of life? Thelana’s wisdom was worthy of the keepers. Now was the time to honor their race. He would no longer abide by the customs of civilization, knowing that they mocked him behind their walls. All too painfully, he recalled their jeers and their laughter, from the day he first chanced upon a village, and no doubt he would again endure ridicule and scorn, but the world knew him as Batal now, and if they were to have his sword, they would have his body also. Wherever summoned, from the holiest of shrines to the highest of courts, Xandr and Thelana would answer in the fashion of their people, as Ilmar, clothed in wind and sun and nothing more, so that in time the world would come to know them as the Skyclad Warriors.


“Do you ever feel cold?”

Thelana turned to the captain, who she noticed was standing beside her. “I feel it,” she answered at length. “But it does not affect me.”

“If I were you, I’d be shivering. There is a cool front coming in from the East, I believe.”

Captain Sif was fitted in her usual gold cuirass, pouldrons and boots, with a white linen undercoat and a chain skirt, leaving only her face, neck and hands exposed. Thelana, by contrast, could not have been more naked, but for the knot in her braid. Her quiver was in her quarters, along with the dagger sheath she sometimes fastened to her thigh. “Are you not weighed down in all that metal? We are not at battle this moment.”

“No, but it reminds the crew of my place. They must not see me as a companion, but as a superior. Clothing serves many purposes. As a show of authority, for one.”

Part of her envied the captain. The regal accouterments of her station fitted her well, and the patterns etched into her armor and along the trim of her undergarments were elaborately arrayed. But she and Xandr were committed to abstaining from clothing. “It is always a matter of appearances with your kind. My people do not dwell on such things.”

“But have you not noticed how the men stare at you? Do you not consider what they must be imagining?”

“You think me naive, and yet you believe yourself immune to their fantasies. Do not think for a moment that because you are their captain, that they see you as any less of a woman. At least I do not give them power over me, by hiding myself, by cowering in shame.”

“I am not . . .” Sif stammered, “. . . I am not ashamed!”

“Prove it,” Thelana said. “Throw your clothes into the water, here and now.”

“I prefer to keep my dignity.”

“What is dignity, if it can be taken away? Do you not strip your captives bare? Your slaves? If you fall in battle, they will do the same to you, and what then will that armor signify? My dignity cannot be stolen, even in death . . . I surrender it only by submitting to your customs.”

“So, you intend to remain like this when we reach port? Stand naked before the masses? The queen’s court?”

“Why should I not? Besides, I am not naked—that is your word. If we were in Ilmarinen, I would ask whether you intend to keep hiding yourself.”

“But we are not in Ilmarinen. Your homeland is no more, Thelana, and humanity has moved on, has become, well . . . civilized.”

“Is it civilized to shun what is natural? Under all that armor, we are no different, only you choose to hide it. What shame is there in flesh? In being as you were born? What need is there of clothing, truly? It serves no purpose that I can see.”

“I respect your devotion to your people. In a way, it is not so different than the wars we fight, to preserve our identities, our way of life. You fight your own battles, I suppose . . . one that exists in the hearts and minds of men. But, to survive, we must also change. Adapt.”

“You know . . .” Thelana took a long, deep breath, “I remember the first time I saw outsiders, soldiers from Kratos. Many were wounded or dying. We gave them shelter, fed them. At first, I did not understand what I was seeing. Were they ilma, or some other kind of animal? Their captain was a woman—strong like you—but I was not certain she was female. But oh, the colors, the reds and whites and golds! I’d never seen such beauty, but in the flowers that bloom in low moon, and I wanted only to join them. And yet cotton does not grow in Ilmarinen. There are petals, and leaves in abundance, only they are too fragile for clothing. The day I left home, my mother forced me into a frock, a plain, ugly looking thing. I hated the feel of it, but now I realize how it made me see myself. I needed to change to suit the outside world. On that day, I learned that I came from a lesser people, and that I should be ashamed. I joined Kratos, and for two years dressed and acted and lived as they did, telling no one of my heritage. I changed, adapted, and hated myself every single day. My family would never have recognized me, and if they were to have sought me out, I would have denied them. And what did I learn among the civilized races? Colors. Colors beyond my wildest imaginings, and yet, so much red. Blood red. The civilization you take such pride in is built upon murder and slavery. Your castles and high walls were made for it. You wear armor and weapons for war, and carry bright banners for war, but in war there is only suffering and death. In Ilmarinen, we fell a tree and mourn for it. We kill when we are starving, and never without respect. When I returned home to find my family, they were gone, as were my people. I never saw my mother and father in anything but their skin. My sisters and brothers likewise. They perished, and I among them survived, and for what? Colors? To dream that I was not human, but a butterfly?”

“I did not expect this turn of events,” Sif said after a time. “We are headed for Thetis, and I do not know how the people there will react to your . . . custom. Queen Frazetta may not accept you at court. For all we know, we may be lynched.”

“No,” Thelana said, “we must meet with this queen, stand before the high born, prove that we are not savages, that we have a rightful place among the peoples of Aenya.”

“You will need a voice to come before you, someone to represent you to the world. For what you have done for us, I will be this voice. But the people of Thetis are bound by tradition. They will not know you as I do and will not take your story to heart. But I have an idea that may work in your favor . . .”


“The coastal city states are a stubborn lot, I admit, but prone to rumor and superstition. Already, there is outlandish talk of the Batal. They say he fought and killed Lunestes, the giant that holds up the greater moon. They say he moved the world . . .”

Thelana remembered Emma telling her of the machine, the Hammer of Strom at the mountain’s peak, and the great lever that shook the world. “He did, in a way.”

“Truth does not matter here, only belief. What if we were to feed into this myth? We will proclaim Xandr a god among men, and you will be his goddess. After all, only gods could have done the things they’ve heard about. It’s risky, to be certain. We may be branded blasphemers, but from what I have been told, the queen usurped most power reserved for the temple. She is no fool, and will likely see our ruse for what it is, but the masses may not.”

“I still don’t understand. How does pretending to be gods help us?”

“Gods are not bound by mortal custom. In Thetis, as in Hedonia, the gods make the law. In essence, you and Xandr will stand above their priests and monarchs. Men need clothing and armor, because they are vulnerable. Gods do not.”


Thelana watched the coast of Thetis drift into view, the deep green hills of olive trees rolling across her line of sight, as waves dashed whitely against the rocks spraying her nose and cheeks and eyebrows. Beyond the shoreline, blue and white homes marked the cliff face like barnacles along the prow of a great galleon. In other places, the Sea poured inland, forming sandy alcoves, where people might gather, but the beaches were lonely. What were the people of Thetis like? In her travels, Thelana had seen much of Aenya, but while traditions varied from place to place, nowhere among the civilized races could wild humans, like herself, call home.

Aboard the Horizon Chaser, the crew prepared to disembark, gathering cargo, securing ropes and lacing the laces of their most presentable attire, all but she. For she did not own a single garment, or shoe, or anything that might touch her body, beyond her bow, quiver, and a dagger sheath. These were her only possessions. Despite the occasionally leering eyes of her crew mates, she had remained steadfast in her rejection of clothing, until her bare body became as common a sight as the gulls circling the topmast. Now, as the ship made its way to port, she could feel the blood rushing to her head. A few dozen ship-hands she could handle, but a teeming city populace? Women and children and husbands? Merchants and priests and soldiers? She knew nothing of their habits, beliefs, what made them laugh and for what they took offense. Did they make love under the sun? Swim naked in the Sea? Were their children, the young clinging to their mothers’ teats, permitted the freedom of the Ilmar? No doubt men would ogle her. How often had she been told that she was beautiful, only to feel their groping lustful hands? In the outer world, it seemed, men were slaves to their desires, and women were but things to be enjoyed. And yet, even the women, who did not despise her brazenness, seemed to admire her physique. How else could the captain have conceived of such an outlandish plan? Gods were young and muscled, she was told, but for the Ilmar the Goddess was round and voluptuous, with a large bosom for feeding hungry mouths, and broad hips for bearing children.

As the long stone piers, and the many oared ships and fishing dinghies came into view, Thelana grew faint. She tried to remember the stance they had rehearsed, but her stomach was protesting, urging her to wretch over the side. She had not been so afraid since confronting the golem in the mountains. Shame could be a powerful weapon, she realized. The arrows of humiliation can pierce the heart as readily as bronze. Countless pairs of eyes would soon be upon her, to probe and examine her. If this was to work, she needed to show absolute indifference. Indifference was her only defense against their jeers, but she was not a goddess. Surely, their prying eyes would break the facade, for the Ilmar were not a people known for deceit. Perhaps, she thought, a loincloth was not too much to bear. After all, it was the space between the legs that offended, little else. Surely, she could remain true to her people and cover her loins? But no—to the Ilmar—nothing of the body was taboo. Besides, whatever clothing she had owned swam in the depths, where she had sent it days ago fearing a change of heart. There was no way to back out now.

When the heads of the people came into view, the crowds on the pier and along the adjacent ships and from every tower and parapet, her heart fell like a stone. Tall hatted magistrates and mothers suckling babes and bare-chested sailors in long white scarfs, they all came to glimpse heroes, and she retreated, hiding her nakedness behind the rail. But she was not alone. Xandr was beside her, bare as could be, having entrusted even his sword’s new scabbard to the crew. His hand slipped firmly into hers, and in seeing him there, proud and resolute, she realized how false her feelings had been, how ridiculous her shame, for it truly did not matter what the people thought. Accepted or rejected, they would stand together.

Ropes were pulled and anchors dropped, and the ship’s lateen sails cut short. With great skill, the Horizon Chaser turned, sidling against the pier. People rushed to greet the docking vessel, having learned of its precious human cargo. As the gangplank lowered, the sailors moved hastily one by one, on to firm ground. Xandr and Thelana were to be the last, following the captain. Remember who you are, she told herself, closing her eyes to the wind, to the wood planking under her soles. This will only work if you do as Sif suggested. Be more than a woman. A goddess. 

Clenching her every muscle, to become taut and strong as marble, she crossed the gunwale so that the people could drink her in with their eyes. Mortals looked down at people, but she lifted her face heavenward, regarding the masses with only fleeting interest, deflecting their still and horrified stares like a shower of arrows. They did not matter, she convinced herself, because she was not of them, but far beyond, a savior of the world, a divine being, and divine beings did not concern themselves with trifling, mortal things. But would they be convinced of it? She doubted, and when the people saw the Skyclad Warriors and realized who they must be, there was utter silence, and her doubt turned to dread.

Perhaps it was the way in which the Ilmar carried themselves that day, or how they seemed to wear their bare bodies like suits of armor, or the fickle nature that is human custom. Whatever the reason, that silence was followed by a deafening chorus of hooting and clapping. The gods of the Ilmar had arrived and the people of Thetis rejoiced. Thelana could not believe what she was seeing, and overjoyed, became afraid to reveal her mortality by weeping. From that day forth, she could not be made to feel lesser for how she lived. Never again would she walk under the sun in shame. Saviors of the world, she realized, could never be shamed.


Xandr followed the guards, hand-in-hand with Thelana. He could feel the moisture budding in her palm, her skin quivering. She would not release him, for his presence, he knew, strengthened her resolve. Shame could possess such power, but such power was an illusion, for it could do nothing to harm them. They had only to suffer their scorn and ridicule, and become pariahs. And yet, despite having lived much of his life in solitude, Xandr could not quell the racing of his heart. Ilmarin or no, he was like a beast removed from its habitat. Hundreds of Thecians gathered about them, soldiers and magistrates and holy men, and families of royal birth, and his body quailed and shrank at the sight of them, his member like an ambling minnow between his thighs. And still he could not be called entirely naked, for he was burdened by his sword, Emmaxis, weighed to his back in its scabbard.

Despite the searing sun, pouring through openings in the walls, the palace interior was cold and lacked of air, and the granite floor, patterned in semi-precious stones, was unforgiving against his soles. Every eye was upon them now, from the queen’s courtesans in their flowing silk and lace, to the magistrates in their ceremonial garb and conical hats, to the guards in their bronze and leather. Many had not gone out to the pier to receive them, and would not have known to expect a naked man and woman entering their chamber.

The little air circulating the room seemed to rush out of it just then, as Xandr and Thelana exposed themselves before their prodding eyes. He awaited their jeers and their laughter, like one armed for battle, but could not defend against judgement. His only recourse was to stand, in as proud and godly a manner as one might manage. But truly, what did he know of Thecians and their gods?

A day prior, having arrived from port, Sif had led them into a bathhouse, where he and Thelana were washed and oiled and meticulously groomed. Their bodies glistened, and their scars masked, and not a follicle was out of place. No sign of human frailty was allowed them. So much trouble for a charade. A lie for a truth.

Surely, it would have been easier simply to have dressed. His scabbard could be altered, with a belt to gird his loins, but Thelana had been adamant that they go naked before the world, so that other primitives in hiding might come forward without shame. Even the captain took increasing interest in the charade. While she did not care to preserve their customs, the idea of a god or gods speaking on behalf of the Delian people did not lack appeal. Even Xandr could recall how the supreme god of the Hedonians—Sargonus—wore no clothing. At least the idol he had seen had not.

Queen Frazetta acknowledged the Delian host, showing only curiosity, as though she were looking upon some extinct species of man. It was a long bearded priest who broke the silence. “Who are these rabble? How come they to this hallowed place with such disregard for custom? Do you mean us insult? Have you no respect for our queen?”

Sif addressed the man before anyone could answer, “Take care how you speak, priest, lest you damn yourself. Citizens of Thetis, we mean no disrespect. As you can see, I, Daughter of King Frizzbeard, Princess of Northendell, stand here in the regal accouterments of my station, as prudence dictates. But I stand here also, humbled before two great divinities.”

“Divinities? What do you mean by this?”

“Have you not heard of the goings-on in Northendell? Of the giant who threatened our world and the gods who cast him down?”

“Gods?” He was about to laugh, but stopped himself to study the two naked bodies again. It appeared there was enough doubt and superstition in him for the captain to twist his mind.

“You think us mad,” she went on, “to bring this man and woman before you, naked as newborns? No . . . do not let your mortal eyes deceive you. Men are frail things, prone to sickness and death and injury, to the cold of high moon, to the heat of the western sun. Men have need of clothing and armor. Gods do not.”

“Jafenji, could this be true?” the queen asked him. “Might they be immortal?”

“I would ask that they grace us with their divinity, so that we may be blessed.”

“Clever words,” Sif answered. “But not clever enough to hide your intentions. You wish to test them. Is that not blasphemy? To question a god? To doubt a god? You wager your very soul that these are but mere mortals?”

“I will give him proof,” Xandr said, his voice resonating from wall to wall, “so that no one will doubt us.” The naked warrior moved into the center of the room, slowly drawing the six feet of steel from over his head, and where the sun painted mosaics of light against the floor, he thrust the blade down, and the sound of metal on stone resounded, followed by an unearthly rumble and flashes of light.

All who watched were stunned to silence. Even Thelana looked on, forgetting herself entirely. Xandr released the weapon, and it remained, suspended on its tip. Before that moment, even he had been unaware of it, that his sword could hover like it did. But Emmaxis had a will of its own, he knew, whispering instructions into his mind, that he often mistook for his own thoughts. The priest opened his mouth, but no sound came out, and at last he cowered.

Standing from her throne, her arms wide, Queen Frazetta addressed the host, a slight tremor in her voice. “Truly, the gods of old are not bound by custom, and may come to us in whatever fashion they choose.” Her words were diplomatic, but whether she spoke them out of religious devotion, or to appease those with whom she would seek a favorable treaty, he could not be certain. Their nakedness, however, did not seem to faze her, and he did not doubt that, as queen, she was accustomed to many stranger habits. Rather, it was the sword that appeared to move her. “Welcome to my kingdom. We shall do what we can to honor you.” Without hesitation, the queen moved from her dais, unfastening the gold brooch at her shoulder, and her stola crumpled about her feet, so that she stood wearing only her crown and the gold bands about her arms and wrists and ankles. A string of gasps followed. A number of others looked away or covered their faces. It was a powerful act, evoking only confidence, and Xandr could not help but admire the woman. Even stripped of her clothing, she took on a regal air.

The seeds of change were planted. He could feel it in the way they watched him, and Thelana, and the naked queen. What was for ages a sign of poverty and slavery, and debauchery, would in time fade into obscurity.