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 . . .”

“Oh?”

“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.


 

Ages of Aenya Kickstarter Video


OK, so it’s probably no secret that I am camera shy. Being a writer and all, I definitely feel most comfortable behind the page. But we live in an age of video. My 5 year old kid is addicted to YouTube. She can watch hours of kids unboxing toys. And it bums me out, knowing these kids get millions of views. I was either born too early, or too late for this post-YouTube world. But it’s not all bad. Once, I remarked to a fellow writer how much friendlier people seem at book signings, as opposed to online forums. She said it’s because we’re face-to-face, that they can see me as a real person, and I am starting to come around to her way of thinking. Video helps to humanize us in ways even the best of poetry cannot. So without further ado, here’s super-handsome me, in the flesh, promoting my Ages of Aenya Kickstarter:

 
UPDATE 9/18/2015:

So, the Ages of Aenya Kickstarter did not succeed. We managed to raise just $1300 of the $10,000 needed. But as heartbreaking as this is, considering I have been working to promote the book for 15 years, it’s even worse when the comignorants (TM) drop by, just to kick me when I am down. It is both amazing and depressing to me, that people always find the time and energy to criticize, but never to give their support. And the worst part is, they don’t even put in the effort to properly criticize. When I give poor book reviews, I make sure to read the whole thing, cover to cover. It would be disingenuous of me to report to give honest feedback, even if I had read everything but the last page. Sometimes, as in the case of Life of Pi, the final chapter can turn everything around. The same can be said for writers, their blogs, and their Kickstarters. If you want to criticize what I did wrong, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Do a little research first. Take the extra time and effort to click on a few links. Don’t be a comignorant (TM)! Maybe I am already doing what you’re suggesting!

Case in point, an anonymous commentator suggested that the reason for my failed Kickstarter was this video. Of course, what he didn’t know was that my Kickstarter launched on July 18th, and my video was made on September 5th. That’s more than a month later! OK, so maybe after showing my ugly mug on YouTube, my supporters pulled their pledges in disgust? Nope. Actually, the video accounted for the single biggest boost in supporters, including high profile names, like WNBR organizer Lady God1va, who pledged $100 and notified her 15,000 Twitter followers.

What is perhaps most infuriating, is that Mr. Anonymous Commentator also made this suggestion, and I quote, 

The good news is that there are video artists online that would cut a video with a script for you for a fairly decent price… maybe give that a try next time if you try again? A semi-professional video with perhaps a montage of Aenya illustrations just might do the job.

Oh, really? You mean like this video here, which I posted to my Kickstarter four days from launch, on July 22nd? 

My advice to you, Mr. Anonymous? Don’t be comignorant (TM), slide your cursor away from the comment box and do your homework! 

   

SNEAK PEAK #4: THE ONE SEA

Every now and again, I like to take a mental detour from whatever book I am writing, to explore the goings on of my favorite naked heroes, Xandr and Thelana. This is a very early rough draft from the upcoming sequel to Ages of Aenya and The Princess of Aenya, tentatively titled, The One Sea (originally Skyclad Warriors)Previously, as seen in parts #1#2 and #3, Xandr and Thelana decide to give up clothing entirely, even in societies where nakedness is taboo. Given their new statuses as heroes, and as gods in the eyes of many, they seek acceptance for their people and their customs, and for primitive races throughout Aenya. 

—-


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, as though some predator were upon him. Ilmarin or no, he was like a beast removed from its habitat. Hundreds gathered around him, 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 remained burdened by his sword, Emmaxis, weighed to his back in its scabbard.

The interior was cold and stony and lacked of wind, despite the searing sun beyond its walls, 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 their custom. 

What little air circulated the room seemed to rush out of it just then, as Xandr and Thelana exposed themselves before their prodding eyes, and waited for the jeers and the laughter with which the Ilmar were so accustomed. He was armed for battle, but could not defend against the onslaught of judgement. His only recourse was to stand there, in as proud and godly a manner as one might manage, but truly, what did he know of them and their gods? 

Arriving from port, Sif had led them to 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, his scabbard could be altered, with a belt to gird the loins, but Thelana was 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 their stand. While she did not care to preserve their traditions, the idea of a god or gods speaking on behalf of the Delian people could only appeal to her. Even Xandr could recall how the supreme god of the Hedonians—Sargonus—wore no clothing, at least the idol he had seen, did 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 else 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. There was enough doubt and superstition in him for the captain to twist his mind.

“You think us mad, 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 so clever 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 they are but mere mortals?”

“I will give him proof,” Xandr said, his voice resonating from wall to wall, “so 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 was unaware of it. But the sword had a will of its own, 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 with fear.

Standing from her throne, her arms wide, Queen Frazetta addressed them, 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 so choose.” Her words were diplomatic, but whether she spoke out of some religious fear, or to appease those with whom she would seek a favorable treaty, he could not be certain. But his nakedness did not faze her, and he did not doubt that, as queen, she was accustomed to many stranger habits. Rather, it was Emmaxis that moved 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. 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.

—-
 
Who are Xandr and Thelana? If you really don’t know, please visit: Ages of Aenya

Dungeons & Dragons: A Memoir: 2nd Edition: Hell Breaks Loose!

mansion800600
Climb up to the roof! What’s the worst that could happen?

By this point, Dr. Van Richten was begging. “Please, please I don’t want to; I’m scared of heights!” But Dr. Van Helsing was insisting, and he was holding the shotgun. Somehow, they needed to learn what was going on in the mansion, and Helsing was not about to barge in through the front door, guns blazing. 

They were supernatural investigators, enemies of the undead, and on many occasion the two of them had slain zombies and werewolves, and even thwarted the plans of princely vampires. But this was a threat like never before, a maniacal doctor hell bent on bringing the dead to life, through science! And yet, how could they be certain what was going on, without evidence? So Helsing continued to insist, rather forcefully, “Just climb up to the third floor window and tell me what you see!” Despite his dread fear of heights and lack of dexterity, Richten acquiesced, slowly beginning the climb. He reached the second floor without much difficulty, but the windows were too dark, and he could see nothing. From the safety of the ground, Helsing urged him on, and Richten, trembling and with vertigo, clamored up to the third story window, and that’s when it happened . . . He slipped. Clawing desperately at empty space with a blood curdling scream, Richten tumbled from the balcony, falling headfirst into the ground. Helsing rushed to his side, to his friend and comrade, but it was too late. Dr. Van Richten was dead, below zero hit points, at which point my friend and I looked at each other, and burst out laughing. What cruel, hilarious irony! Twenty years have passed since we played that game, and one of us will be like, “Hey, remember when Van Richten fell off the roof and died? After he kept saying, ‘Please, please I don’t want to go?'” Hilarity.


Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

Mike Wilson

After my long ordeal, losing my best friend, George, to Satan and skateboarding, I was certain my RPG days were over. Sure, I tried some less satanic games, like the Batman RPG, but it was stupid. “Hey, who do you want to be? Batman or Robin? Ooh, we get to fight more thugs!” Then, as a senior in High School, I met Mike Wilson and Tommy VanDyke, who were into comic books and D&D. It was a shock finding other human beings interested in the game, and that even a second edition existed! The rules were slightly different, but for me, D&D had always been about playing pretend with math. Tommy had been the DM, but as his campaign was boring everyone, I quickly took over. Thing is, after my 1st edition days, I lived in fear of losing players, so I decided to go nuts and throw tradition out the window, doing the most outrageous things imaginable. After four years without D&D, I let my players be superheroes. Mike was Wolverine and Tommy was Sabertooth. Soon, five or six kids crowded into my parents’ kitchen, and I was Dr. Strange, a 9th level wizard, while a very annoying sophomore kept muttering, “I’m the Haaaalk!” because he was the Hulk. My mom grumbled something about satanism, but I just blew her off, because I was seventeen. She eventually chalked the whole 1st edition ordeal to, “Well, I guess your Greek teacher was crazy!” It quickly dawned on us, however, that being superheroes wasn’t as fun as we’d thought. We were gods cutting through the toughest monsters with ease.


The Hunt for Demogorgon

There was a baddie in the 1st edition Monster Manual that I always dreamed of killing. This was Demogorgon, Prince of Demons, the ultimate boss monster, with 200 hit points and a -10 armor class (which is, like, a lot, trust me). This guy could rot your arm off just by touching you and make you insane just by looking at you! Also, he had two heads. As a DM, this was to be my magnum opus; I called it the The Hunt for Demogorgon. There was Mike, Tommy, Craig (Hulk kid) and their friends, and with the help of the Greek demi-god, Dynotus; Namor the Submariner (don’t ask); a monk named Akira; and a newly resurrected Sir Marek the Brave, we battled a lich king, a red dragon, and crashed a Demon Convention. It was the most satanic game I had ever run, but we weren’t worshiping Satan; we were kicking his ass and taking names. The final dungeon drove the players insane (literally). I had them going back to the beginning of the campaign (in an illusion) and fighting their future selves. Eventually, Demogorgon fell, and a new demon prince took over, Chernobog (the Slavic god of evil) from Disney’s Fantasia (we watched the film). 

Disney = Satan




Masters of the Universe

We played a few more crazy adventures, including one where we were demons named after heavy metal bands, so I was Metallica and someone else was Megadeth, and another kid insisted on being White Zombie (a demon named zombie?). And we stormed the gates of Heaven, at which point, you could argue, the game was satanic, but again who cares. Then after high school, we went our separate ways, except for Tommy and me. Aside from killing Demogorgon, I’d always wanted to play as my childhood inspiration. I remember asking Mike Von Kreninsky, back when I was 12, whether I could be He-Man, but he scoffed. He-Man was just too powerful. But now? Rules went out the window. I spent a good year recreating the Masters of the Universe universe into D&D, making stats for every character, maps for Eternia, and dungeons for Snake Mountain and the Fright Zone and Castle Grayskull. Tommy played six super powered heroes at the same time! Gary Gygax, creator of D&D, would likely have been spinning in his grave, had he been dead. When Tommy stupidly opened an airlock, and all his characters got sucked into space, I had six more ready to go! He eventually met He-Man to fight Skullgrin, a villain of my own creation, a guy who could give Satan nightmares, who wiped out half the party with the cone of disintegration coming out of his eyes! Of course, Skullgrin was destroyed in the end, because, you know, HE-MAN!

I win!


The Game Grows Up

A serious debate among kids is whether Superman can beat up Batman, or Goku, or any other hero. For whatever reason, boys are obsessed with power, and not the kind involving electric bills. In Marvel’s The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos wants to become the most powerful being in the universe, not the most respected or well loved, only the most powerful, like Sauron in Lord of the Rings. It makes perfect sense when you’re 12. It never really occurred to us to think what, exactly, would someone do with all of that power. This is why, after defeating Skullgrin, there seemed to be nothing left to do, but take on more gods of evil. We didn’t exactly give up D&D, but I remember going through room after room of monsters, bored beyond belief. Here I was, doing what I loved most, and hating every minute of it. Imagine being in the middle of sex and thinking, “Gee, I can’t wait for this to be over.” Eventually, we stopped being friends over something stupid. Maybe it was that Tommy was a horrible DM, and I just couldn’t find a nice way to break it to him. I honestly thought, “This is it, Nick, you did everything you wanted.”

My brother-in-law works for a small college with many students from abroad. Being Greek, he decided to take a poor aspiring graphic designer from Athens under his wing. His name was Evan Kyrou and we were both in our early twenties. At first, we talked video games, because that’s what people do, but the subject turned to RPGs, and he casually mentioned a preference for “the real thing.” I couldn’t believe it, another D&D nut! And like no other friend I had before, he was a creative genius. His style of play focused on story, and only very little on combat, and it quickly dawned on me that power did not matter. What makes The Lord of the Rings interesting isn’t how much of a bad ass Frodo is, but how a simple, unassuming hobbit can find the courage to face overwhelming obstacles at great personal sacrifice. D&D was exciting again, not because we were killing gods, but because we were role playing and not roll playing. My first campaign was based on my novel, The Nomad, in which Evan’s character, Dynotus, searched for his kidnapped wife in a Greek/Arabic setting. Dynotus later traveled to Asia (I used my dad’s National Geographic Book on China for its amazing photos), where he met a gold dragon monk named Akira; defeated the emperor, a red dragon in disguise; and went on to defend Greece against Mongol invaders. 

For my birthday, Evan introduced me to my favorite author, H.P. Lovecraft, and we started playing the Call of Cthulhu RPG, with some minor tweaks to the D&D system. I had him living with the Albertsons (loosely based on my own family), as one by one, each family member died in horrific ways. Evan’s character had to find the murderer, though it turned out to be (spoiler alert!) himself (or was it?). Sanity is a big theme in Lovecraft’s writings, so in a followup adventure, he had to escape from an insane asylum after killing dozens of doctors and nurses (or were they demons?), and as fans of metal, we blasted Metallica and White Zombie during the game. 

Satan is my bitch.

My goal to do everything in D&D didn’t end with modern day hospitals. But where hadn’t we gone? SPACE, that’s where, the final frontier! I made a random solar system generator, using a real astronomy map, so that Evan could explore the universe. He played a female warrior with telekinetic and psychic powers named Marina Lucien, and years later, by some amazing coincidence, Evan (in the real world) met and married a girl named Marina. A planet of snake men went on to inspire The Serpent’s Eye in Ages of Aenya

The best part about playing with Evan was that I enjoyed being the player as much as DMing. His favorite setting was Ravenloft, based on classic horror novels like Dracula and Frankenstein, and that’s when poor Dr. Van Richten fell to his death, perhaps my most memorable D&D event.    

Sadly, Evan graduated from college, and returned to Greece. I was left alone again, making rules out of boredom for martial arts and for decapitating people (roll a d12 on an ‘effect chart’.) But this time, it really did seem my gaming days were over. Of course, 3rd edition was right around the corner. 



   

Dungeons & Dragons: A Memoir: 1st Edition

DMsGuide
My first D&D book!

Once upon a time . . . there lived an elf named Hektor and a half-orc named Lattice. Hektor and Lattice were strolling through the woods when they came upon a group of lizard men. Lightning streaked the sky, and shortly after it began to rain, but the elf and the half-orc continued to spy on the reptilian gathering. The lizard men were standing over a stone circle set into the ground. One of them came forth holding a staff. He appeared to be a priest of some kind, enacting a ceremony. The circular stone was etched with runes, at the center of which was a hole. Now the wind was gusting and the lightning falling furiously. Hektor, being young and lusting for battle, rushed headlong into the scaly host, as Lattice, rolling his eyes at the predicament he was being drawn into, followed with mace in hand. A few bloody rounds later, all of the lizard men lay dead or dying, and the elf fighter and half-orc cleric victorious. But what was the ceremony all about? Was the staff meant to go into the stone circle, perhaps to open a stairway into some secret dungeon? It was at that point that the Dungeon Master, Michael Von Kreninsky III, got out of the booth, saying that he had to go. “But we only just started!” I complained. “Sorry, I’ve got a date,” he said, leaving my friend and I to wonder what would have happened to Hektor and Lattice had they completed the ritual. It’s been almost thirty years now and I am still wondering. 

This was the summer of ’87, a primitive time before YouTube, iPhones or DVDs. All we had were Fridays at the movies and the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the only thing worth playing was Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. My friends and I were getting too old for toys and desperately needed something to keep us busy for three months. That’s when we met Michael, an eighteen year old college student working for my dad as a pizza cook. He introduced us to Dungeons & Dragons, giving me a binder of adventures he had made in the seventies, along with his beat up copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I held that book in my hand as if it were magic, because for me at least, it was. Such a book could open pathways to any place and time, allowing us to be anything, do anything. We were bound only by the limits of our imagination. Unfortunately, Michael did not stick around to teach us how to play, so I spent weeks struggling with rules, never realizing how poorly written those seventies books were, or that I was missing some key components like The Player’s Handbook.


Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition

Eventually, my friends and I learned the game. It was me, my friend George Lakiotis, and Mark Carlisimo. We would hang out all day in the back room of my dad’s restaurant, drawing maps and rolling dice. I’d always been an imaginative kid, but this was like a powerful hallucinogenic bringing everything in my mind to life, the DMT of games. And I was Sir Marek the Brave, a human fighter, who eventually became the “Nova Knight.” 

Sir Marek, drawn in 1988, photoshopped 2010

George was a wizard named Heraldo, who looked a lot like the news pundit, and Mark was the half-orc cleric, Lattice. My first world, I’m ashamed to say, was Nick’s Realm. It included wonderfully inventive places like Elf City, Dwarf City and Human City. But we eventually set sail from Nick’s Realm to explore other worlds, hacking and slashing our way through countless dungeons and monsters. In Egypt, we suffered the curse of Anubis, after looting his temple. In Greece, we met with Heracles and Bellerophon, from whom Sir Marek earned his magical Spartan-like helmet. In Norway, we helped Thor find a magic jewel that had fallen from his hammer, Mjolnir. There wasn’t a mythological setting beyond our reach! Then, as we were preparing to storm the gates of Orcus, Prince of Demons, Sir Marek and Heraldo got into a fight. You see, for the longest time, I had been a jerk to my friend, putting him down for his lack of effort, even though he did manage to DM a lot, including the time Sir Marek killed a red dragon to gain a +4 Sword of Defending. I also tended to insult him when he couldn’t find a solution to a puzzle. But the larger problem was that we were growing apart. George only cared for skateboarding and hanging out with his skateboarding buddies. I owned a skateboard, mostly for his sake, and could do a 180 without much difficulty, but George excelled way beyond me, rail sliding down stairwells and ollying small dogs and doing other crazy shit I simply did not have the dexterity for. So, while I wanted to throw dice, he just wanted to gleam the cube.

George had the skills. Me, not so much.

But what really put the nail in Sir Marek’s sarcophagus was what would seem today utterly ludicrous, that thing being SATAN. No, I’m not talking about the impossible boss from Ghosts n’ Goblins, but the very real Satan, the same guy religious people believe in. 

That’s right . . . SATAN!

At the time, my mother was forcing me to take Greek lessons, but when it came to God, my tutor was bat shit crazy. Now it wasn’t as if I had no experience with fundamentalism. For eight straight years, I attended a Baptist School, where I was forced to wear ties on Wednesdays and thank God for every damn pencil and eraser I brought to class, and where I was told not to watch He-Man or Transformers because they were satanic. But my Greek teacher took things to Scarlet Letter-levels of insanity. This was a woman who, after the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster, told me, in all seriousness, that the astronaut crew had been killed for “trying to reach God.” 

God’s divine punishment. Hey, who’s the good god here?


She also refused to attend her own son’s wedding when he married outside of the Orthodox Church. So, naturally, when she learned of my gaming habits, she made it her mission to put a stop to it. As far as she was concerned, my friend and I were spending our weekends worshiping Satan. Of course, I could not have cared less what the batty old lady had to say, but my mother took the whole thing seriously. She forbade me from D&D, and what’s worse, George’s mother caught wind of it and did the same. Despite my attempts to explain RPGs, I could not convince my mother that the game was just a game and nothing to fear. 

Unfortunately, I was still at an impressionable age being brainwashed both at school and at home, so that after a while, paranoia started to creep in, and I got to thinking that maybe there was something to this satanic stuff. After all, I’d been taught since kindergarten that demons were real. In retrospect, Dungeons & Dragons posed a threat not to my soul, but to my indoctrination. I mean, the Monster Manual treated demons and devils like any other made up creature. Logic follows that if the unicorn on p. 200 is imaginary, why not Asmodeus, Lord of the Ninth Plane of Hell, found on p. 10? This was especially challenging to my faith, because I was raised to believe in the Bible, not just the realistic parts, but even the Book of Revelation with its seven headed dragon. If some of it turned out to be fiction, so could all of it . . . and maybe even God was just another deity from Hebrew mythology. But I was far too young, and unprepared, to handle such an existential crisis, and it led me to having nightmares, and to tearing out the pages of demons and devils from my Monster Manual. Sure, it might sound extreme, but this was a different time, when even the media occasionally lost its mind over supernatural nonsense. I remember being in the library with my D&D books, when a strange lady stopped to warn me of the dangers of fantasy. Even journalists, who should have known better, got taken in by the hysteria. According to the article, “The Most Dangerous Game,” D&D can lead to suicide! Of course, this cause and effect argument is the oldest in the proverbial book of fallacies. Using the same logic, if you like to eat peanut butter and kill yourself, we can all blame peanuts for suicide. But remember, this was the eighties, long before Doom and Diablo and World of Warcraft, back when parents fretted over everything and anything their kids were doing that they did not understand, so even TSR, the makers of D&D, bowed to the pressure, releasing a 2nd edition without any mention of devils or demons (they went by other names).

Ultimately, I was forced to quit reading and writing and drawing and being creative in so many ways, but religion wasn’t entirely to blame; it was also my best friend, who had suddenly grown a conscience. And that was what really infuriated me. This was a guy who never went by the rules, a true rebel without a cause, getting an earring (a big deal at the time), smoking and even stealing his mom’s car. But when it came to D&D, he just had to obey. Despite so many happy memories, the game tore our friendship apart. Only later did I realize my role in our falling out, for putting him down all the time. We simply had different ability scores. His was for skateboarding, and mine for writing.

I continued Sir Marek’s adventures in my Novel of the Nova Knight series, but my gaming days were over. That was, until, my senior year of high school, and Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition.

Dear Editor: Ages of Aenya Query 2014

Dear Editor,

Age of Aenya is a trio of interconnected fantasy novellas at c. 170,000 words.

City by the Sea: To save her family from starvation, Thelana leaves her homeland in search of civilization. But in Hedonia, she is forced to live as a vagabond, until she is caught stealing the pearl eyes from the idol of the Sea God. But when a star falls to the Sea, the city is swallowed by waves. Amid the turmoil, Xandr, the last of her people, fights to save her.

The Serpent’s Eye: When Xandr is poisoned by a merchant trader, Thelana crosses into the West, where the days grow longer and hotter. Her only salvation is a ruin lost in time. But as the man she loves clings to life, he relives the last days (in a dream that is not a dream) of his great ancestor—the martyr who helped to free mankind from slavery.

Flesh and Steel: Hidden away since birth, Emma grows into an awkward young woman, accused of witchcraft and sold as a slave. But a chance encounter with Xandr and Thelana takes her on an adventure to reach the peak of Mount Spire before a golem of imaginable power reshapes their world.

From six years of age, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and that was to make fiction, the kind that is remembered for generations. In 2000, I earned my BA in English from the University of South Florida, where I helped as a tutor and editor. I continue to write essays, reviews and short fiction on my blog, The Writer’s Disease, while perfecting my craft as a novelist.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Nick Alimonos
E-Mail: alimonosnick@gmail.com
Home Phone: 727-XXX-XXXX
Cell Phone: 727-XXX-XXXX

Why We Love the Hobbit

I actually had this post dated since last year to coincide with Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. My intent was to explore people’s love for Tolkien and his work, which includes The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. One of my jobs as a writer is to figure out why people enjoy certain stories. But more than anyone I can think of, Tolkien stands out, because he has inspired writers and spawned imitators like no other. While people adore Harry Potter, outside of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, there are not nearly as many boy wizards gracing book covers as elves and dragons. I do not wish to besmirch anyone of my profession, but a particularly successful and prolific author, who I will simply call not-Tolkien, penned a novel about a human, dwarf, elf and a halfling (a small beardless dwarf) embarking on a quest to find the lost home of the dwarves, a mine abandoned after a dragon moved in. If that’s not plagiarism, I don’t know what is! And yet agents and editors continue to give the Tolkien wannabes freedom to Xerox. Tolkien’s greatness so overshadows the fantasy genre, publishers seem to be falling over themselves in a rush to make more of it. My question, ultimately, is why? In 2012, I looked to find an answer, and gave up.

On strictly literary terms, The Hobbit is unremarkable. While charmingly written, it’s no Shakespeare; the plot is intentionally simplistic, as it was intended for children; there is no symbolism nor grand literary themes like you might find in the classics; and even the characters are fairly one-dimensional, with the exception of Bilbo Baggins, who has only a slight a character arc. In the nine-hour documentary accompanying The Hobbit Blu-Ray, Peter Jackson admits that the greatest challenge to making the film was giving the twelve dwarves interesting and distinct personalities, for which I have to ask, wasn’t that Tolkien’s job? How can there be so much love for a book and its author when its twelve main characters are clones of one another? Snow White’s seven dwarfs had distinct personalities for Middle Earth’s sake!

Some people say that Tolkien, as the father of modern fantasy, can be excused of his literary failings, but the genre dates back to Homer, and continued through the middle ages with the Arabian Nights, the Viking and Finnish sagas, and moved on to the Grimm’s Brothers. Shakespeare had a hand in it, as did Edgar Rice Burroughs, who wrote John Carter in 1912. Other fantasists who predate Tolkien include H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) and Conan creator Robert Howard (1906-1936).

The greatest praise for Tolkien, of course, regards the obsessive detail with which he created his world. Being a linguist and professor at Oxford, Tolkien was in a unique position to create an alphabet for the races of Middle Earth, not to mention all the wonderfully phonetic names and places. This ushered in an age of “world-building”. To this day, fantasy writers feel it necessary to invent new languages for their characters, whether they know anything about linguistics or not, and the genre has suffered as a result. When Tolkien developed elf speech, it was a sincere effort, but when others do it, it feels contrived and derivative. The same pretty much goes for any elf or dwarf novel I have read (14 and counting). In my view, if you’re going to write about elves, you better have a pretty clever idea for it, otherwise, why not re-read The Lord of the Rings? Fantasy is supposed to free our imaginations, not limit us to Anglo-European mythology. After reading a good book, readers should feel transported, not scratching their heads going, “Oh, this author sure liked Lord of the Rings.” This is not to say that Tolkien’s contribution to the genre is all bad. On the plus side, there is a greater pressure among us writers to create worlds that are convincing. While it is far from necessary to turn every novel into a pseudo-history, it’s a powerful thing when a world is written as though some history predated it. So, has this attention to detail made Tolkien beloved the world over? I don’t think so. If that were the case, the many authors emulating him, some of whom are better story tellers, would be better known.

What sets The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings apart is that they do not feel invented. They fall under a special category I like to call found stories; like Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, Tolkien does not seem to have invented Middle Earth so much as dug it up from his backyard. For this reason, it is impossible to imitate him and get the same results, because any imitation, by its very nature, loses that sense of discovery. But people love the worlds of Tolkien, I think, for the same reasons they love Dungeons & DragonsWorld of Warcraft, Dragon Age or Skyrim. Watching Jackson’s The Hobbit, I could not help but feel inspired by the stirring music and sweeping landscapes. The story touches an integral part of our identity as human beings, bringing about what we have long forgotten but yearn to remember, a shared collective memory of swords and wizards and monsters, from a mythical past that never was. Robert Holdstock, author of Mythago Wood, calls these hidden cultural memories mythagos. But this isn’t magic I’m talking about. Doubtless there is quite a bit of paleo-psychology at work. People shown paintings of open landscapes feel a sense of comfort, because our ancestors felt more secure in such places. Goblins, orcs and trolls are remarkably human, terrifying us because they conjure latent fears of our human-like enemies, like the Neanderthal. Wargs are nothing more than nightmarish versions of wolves. More importantly, as a species, we have always been nomadic. How else could we have colonized every niche and corner of the globe? It is not in our natures to sit at home, reaping the rewards of money and progress, but to wander new frontiers, go searching for new challenges to overcome. In this twenty-first century, we have lost a great deal due to the fact that there are no more Middle Earths to discover. We feign contentment, like Bilbo Baggins sitting at home, but what we really yearn for is a Gandalf to come knocking inviting us to adventure.

The Princess of Aenya: Chapter 3: Eros

“The world is full of black hearts, but mine is the blackest heart of all. I like the sound of that, don’t you? The alliteration, the poetry. But I will not bore you with names of poets.”
Eros sat across the table from a man long rumored to be a monster, not merely a savage, but a literal demon. He could now see what he long suspected to be true. Rumors could be used for deception and intimidation, and as Eros made his living by such methods, he had to admire the implementation. Even without the blood-red helm of spikes, Zaibos was a monstrous figure, taller by a head than himself, with shoulders like a horg. The king of Tyrnael sat, even now, in full plate, as if the armor was a part of him. An elaborately wrought iron chair, riddled by gaps, accommodated the spikes protruding from it.
“I speak only the poetry of stealth,” he replied, “like a dagger in the night, silent as a gliding owl.”     
Zaibos’ lips curled into a wicked grin, his sinewy beard swaying like snapping vines. “I like you, assassin; you do not fear to look into my eyes and speak your mind. That is just the kind of man I need.” He tore into his meat like a sabertooth, his fingers greased with fat, and downed the morsel with mead.
Eros leaned into his chair, trying to look at ease. He did not feel hungry and only sipped at his chalice, which was heavy enough, he considered, to use as a weapon should the need arise. It was not as though he had never met with evil men before, but he made deals under cover of the moon, in lonely alleyways and forgotten alcoves. Here, the sun was full on his face, and colorful tents surrounded them. Soldiers bustled to and fro, grinding swords on whetstones, picking straw men with arrows, testing weapons against armor and muscle with muscle. Murder was open for discourse and Zaibos showed not an inkling of concern. 
“You’ve not yet told me the job.”
Zaibos picked his bone clean and spat greasy slivers with his answer. “I want the princess’ heart in a box, a jewelry box I will provide you.”
“Princess Radia?” Even with his assassin’s heart, Eros could not rein in the shock in his voice. “Isn’t she your . . . sister?”
The king’s eyes were like dull steel. “Should that matter?”
Eros took a swig from his cup. The mead tasted bitter. There were times when he had refused to take money, usually from a husband who still loved his wife, when he could still see the hurt in their eyes, the desperation, and in those instances the assassin would talk his would-be clients into less bloody resolutions. But in the man who sat across from him, he was nothing, only a hunger. 
“For the heir to the throne, it will cost you a mighty sum.” In truth, Eros had never killed anyone of royal birth, but he assumed, as anyone might, that the fee must be higher.
“Cost is irrelevant.” He slammed the chalice down and wiped his chin. “I could make your likeness out of solid gold, if you want.”
In a clearing not three steps from their table, two men were making a raucous noise with morningstar on shield, sword on helm. Eros could almost hear their sweat. Were they preparing for war? Did this have some connection to the princess? He could only guess, but sigils and banners meant nothing to him, to a man of his profession. There would always be the need, in any society, for dirty deeds, for men in the shadows to maintain the illusion of purity. Whoever ruled in Tyrnael, whether Radia or Zaibos or Skullgrin himself, he would blend in like a chameleon, because he had come into the world like few others did, a man born without identity. A thought occurred to him in that moment, a possibility he could only dream of since the time he was old enough to understand injustice. He quivered with the thought, wondering if it was even possible. And why not? Zaibos was the master of Tyrnael and the secrets of the Zo were at his disposal. 
“Gold does not interest me. Nor jewels either.” 
Zaibos smiled, as if let in on a perverse joke. “Lands, then? Titles? A lordship, perhaps?”
“Nothing so crude,” the assassin answered. “What need does a man with my talents have of lands? No, what I desire is . . .” and he pulled his hood away to reveal the brand on his forehead, like a serpent with an extra head for a tail, the shame mark, his aleph. He offered nothing more, waiting for his employer to catch on, fearing the derision known to him since birth. 
Zaibos slicked his beard with the grease from his fingers. “And all this time, you’ve kept it hidden from me, that I should not be speaking to you?”
“Does it matter what I am?” Eros said angrily, “the manner of my birth . . . or what I can do?”
Laughter echoed from the monster’s metallic frame. “Relax! What do I care of the taboos of Dis? I could raze that city to the ground and kill everyone whoever shunned you. Or I could fix that here and now, with my knife . . .”
“The mark is a part of me. A man who is not seen or spoken to cannot be questioned or sought after. It is the greatest tool in my profession. What I request is not for me, but my mother, who carries the same mark. No one has spoken to her since the day I was conceived. In Dis, shit-covered pigs are treated with greater respect. If there is any way to undo the mark, to make her visible again . . . Well, that is my fee, a life for a life.” 
In the arena beside them, a giant of a man with a gleaming morningstar struck a powerful blow, and his opponent fell to pieces. Armor scattered like a porcelain doll on a stone floor. Zaibos watched with delight, seeming to forget their conversation, but as the fallen warrior’s broken body was carried off, he turned to Eros. “Our scientists can give your mother a new face. She will be young again, unblemished and beautiful. But first, you must prove yourself capable.”
“The child should pose no trouble. If you call away the guards, I will be able to—”
“It is not so simple! Radia is not as foolish as she seems. She has fled the castle, possibly the kingdom, and is not alone. Her lapdog protector is a Hedonian by the name of Demacharon, a dangerous man, killed eight of my best in single combat. Do you think that will be a problem for you?”
“No man is a problem for me, Zaibos.” 
“Oh? You’re that good a fighter?”
“I do not fight men. I kill them. There is a difference.” 
“And if you come face to face with this Hedonian? What then would you do?” As if to illustrate the point, another man fell beneath the morningstar. The way the helm was smashed into the skull, Eros doubted the man would live through the night. “A golden age is dawning upon Aenya, and as in the days of yore, Tyrnael will be its capital. There can be no weaklings in this new utopia, which is why the princess had to go. Her weakness, like that of her ancestors, has been a blight on our people for generations. She represents all that I aim to cure. Now, if you would join my cause, show me your strength!”
Eros was never so offended. Any other time, he would have balked, no matter the offer. But Zaibos frightened him like no man ever had. And the possibility of saving his mother from the mark of invisibility, of removing her aleph, was too tempting to walk away from. Still, lines of respect had to be drawn. “Understand this, I am not one of your soldiers to command. But if you need me to demonstrate my services, I can oblige you.”
The sparring champion was called Horgin and for good reason. He was much like the king himself, heads taller than the assassin, and covered in bronze from head to toe. Horgin opened his helm to wipe the sweat. The sun was cooking men in their armor, and by now the brute was sure to be stewing. Good, Eros thought, heat makes a man slow to action.
“This is what you bring me to fight?” he barked, shaking blood and entrails from his morningstar, “a peasant-insect?” 
It was all a song and dance to the assassin, the roaring and chest pounding of a halfman, an attempt at intimidation that did not faze him. “Is that a new term you’ve invented? Peasant-insect? How unexpectedly clever.”
Horgin lobbed a ball of phlegm at him, but Eros dodged quickly enough to avoid the sticky mess. “Was that your first attack?” 
Feinting outrage, the giant slammed his faceplate down and moved into an offensive posture. Squires rushed to the assassin with a variety of swords, axes and maces, but Eros brushed them off. The only things he needed were in the pockets of his cloak and around his waist. There was a dagger, a particularly nasty species of spider in jars around his belt, spools of special silk thread from a worm found only in one part of the Dead Zones, and a sling. 
Eros stood, motionless, until the gathering onlookers thought him paralyzed with fear. Horgin hesitated to kill him, out of pity, or shame to strike down an unarmed opponent. It was Zaibos that gave the order, with a raised finger, to proceed. The distance between the two men was not more than two strides. Horgin had to but bring up his morningstar, make one step, and Eros, sans helmet, would have his brains turned to oatmeal all over the grass. But as Horgin took that first step, the spiky head of his weapon catching the light, he was lying on his back, inexplicably screaming, tears of blood trickling from his left eye. All but Zaibos gaped at the stranger, with a mix of horror and admiration, and from more than a few mouths came the word sorcery! But keen eyed observers saw things as they happened, those who had been focused not on Horgin, but the assassin. They saw the cloth sling, now crumpled in his palm, and the flash of something quick and round and heavy.  
As if were picking flowers for a loved one, Eros strolled over to the giant’s fallen body, plucking the metal object from the bronze crater in Horgin’s helm, where his left eye had been. 
Zaibos looked on like a proud father. “It seems my faith was well placed in you. How did you do that?”
Tools of the trade were a closely guarded secret, as to show anyone would compromise his ability to work, but for the self-appointed king of Tyrnael, Eros figured he would make an exception. From a hidden pocket, he produced a silvery-grey sphere etched with runes. It was smaller than his fist, but so heavy, it was tiring to hold. Every time he used the sling, he risked popping a joint in his shoulder. His arm would be aching for weeks. 
“Iridium,” he explained, “heaviest metal known to man and more highly prized than gold. Cuts through bronze as if it were papyrus. Horgin never thought to shield his face, not while wearing his helm, which is why he is lying on the ground and I am not, although I made certain, in case you needed him, that he live; he’ll only need to be more careful watching his left side. 
“You see, brains trumps strength every time, and if this Hedonian is anything like the soldiers I’ve known, he should fall just easily. And if he fights to protect the princess, then he is a man with ideals, with honor, which is all the better for me, because I am not hindered by such delusions. I do my job, and I win, no matter the cost.”
“You’re a man of my own heart, so you shall have all you desire!”
As he slipped the iridium back into his pocket, Eros could not shake his discomfort. Zaibos looked as if he could not be more pleased, and to the assassin, that was the most unnerving thing of all. 
“So you want her heart in a box. Why not her head?”
“I see your meaning. You suspect I cannot trust you, that you might offer me a pig’s heart instead, but my people have ways of knowing. There is a signature to every life, in the blood, teeth and in the hair. What I desire is her essence, her soul if you will, that which makes her what she is, and so you must bring me the container in which the soul resides. You must bring me her heart.”  
“One last thing then . . . how old is she now?”
Zaibos eyed him accusingly.
“If she has gone into hiding, she is likely in disguise. If I am to go looking, should I ask for a twelve year old girl? Thirteen? Fourteen?”
“How should I know? I am not her nanny. Although I believe she has just flowered, so she must be fifteen, sixteen; to a barkeep’s eyes, it will make no difference.”  
Fifteen. Almost a child. 
“Besides,” Zaibos continued, “the greatest fool in the land could not mistake her for a peasant. No one who sees those eyes can fail to notice. One is turquoise, like the greater moon, and the other violet, like the lesser.”
“The Moon-Eyed Princess,” Eros murmured. “So what they sing of her is true? I thought it just a fanciful rumor.”
“Fanciful, yes, and accurate, much to her detriment.”
From the time he was old enough to hold a blade, Eros had been running “errands,” or so he would tell his mother. It started with a dog who liked to steal the butcher’s scraps, and evolved from there, to debtors and creditors, and to witnesses of crimes. Men were wretched things, undeserving of life, and women fared little better. It made his job all the more easy, which is why, for an innocent life, he charged a higher fee. But this princess was like no other quarry. If what he had heard was true, she was a paragon of virtue, her clemency legendary. And there was also the story of her illness. Not a heart in Tyrnael was unmoved by the young princess, a child of six, standing at Death’s door as the king turned mad with grief—and if the bard’s are to be believed—his hair turning white overnight. Whatever the truth, no man or woman was greater loved than the daughter of Solon. But if Eros could bury his pity to bash a hungry mongrel’s brain in with a rock, he could run this errand. The dog’s death put five silver in his pockets, enough to feed himself and his mother for a cycle. It was his way, and his mother was the only thing that mattered to him, all that he loved in the world, and for her, Eros would strangle an infant in the cradle.  
       
          
      
     

The Princess of Aenya: Chapter 2: Demacharon

When there is only the darkness, silence, I am comforted. There is peace in not remembering. But sometimes I go deep into the maelstrom, down into the abyss between realms. That is my dread, whenever exhaustion forces my eyes. 
It is not a dream. There is an awful clarity to every little thing. I could describe, if you were to ask me, the shape of each rock on that damnable plain. But at first I am only aware of dread, not merely the feeling of it, but a pervasive, palpable reality, like a knife in my being causing me to sweat and tremble. 
There is no sun in this land. No stars. No moons. What dim glow permits my sight to function, I cannot say. The sky is the wrong color, perhaps you could call it violet, the deepest shade one could fathom, but is in truth like nothing the eye can perceive. For a thousand-thousand leagues around me, there is only rock and gravel, bottomless trenches and distant mountains. Even in the most arid of deserts, there are cacti and lichen, worms and lizards, serpents crawling the earth. In this place, there is not a soul. I look for direction, some sign to lift my spirits, but am utterly lost. The terrain is without feature but for the hilly silhouettes on the horizon. Might those peaks promise better pastures, a city perhaps, a place where vagabonds gather? I wonder, holding fast to hope, and yet the way the mountains are arrayed, how they loop and twist at impossible angles, disturbs and disheartens me. 
Who am I? What is my purpose? How did I come to this unfinished creation, this place abandoned by gods? And how can I still breath where there is no vestige of life? At the fringes of my mind, my name teases me, but it is a long lost memory. I cannot even be certain as to the nature of my existence, whether man, woman, or other, or if, before this very moment, I ever lived at all. The only clue to my identity is a tiny wooden carving in my palm, a trireme the length of my forefinger, meticulously engraved with a battering ram and a double tier of oars flat against the hull. The standard etched into the lateen sails, the trident, is familiar to me also. Was I a sailor once? A captain? I only know that the ship is dear to me.
The carving is the one constant, for I sometimes find myself in rags or in the full regalia of a centurion, or else entirely naked. It matters little, for clothing is unsubstantial here, as is the flesh. My body is numb to cold, and though I have long to eat or drink, thirst and hunger are but wistful thoughts. Rocks tear across my soles, but there is no blood, no pain. I am a hollow vessel adrift in the waters of beyond. 
Solitude consumes me, and I long for escape, to expire entirely, to cease my tired and tormented being. I have fallen through all the layers of existence and can fall no greater depth, and still, in this remotest of hells, there is light. I cannot describe the nature of it, whether a sun or star or some lighthouse fire calling lost souls to hopeful shores, but dread and despair recede from it like the night shrinks from the day. The light is life. Hope. I cannot but follow it. 
For how long do I trek across that plain, a day, a year, a hundred-thousand years? There is no answer, for in this otherwhere, time does not exist. And yet, however great my travail, the light remains beyond reach. 
At last I come to a pen for goats and hens and other livestock. The fence is unremarkable as fences go, with rivets showing between the seams, but to me it is a work of exceeding beauty. Anything aside from rock and gravel is a sight for weary eyes. Even the earthly feel of it—the course cedar grain against my fingertips—gives waves of pleasure. Oddly, I wonder where the farmer must be and his animals. I stand awhile, delighting in my discovery, as the ethereal light continues to beckon. But I fear to leave that place, because it is a place, a memory, a tether to my childhood. 
Beyond the pen, shapes flit to and fro, inking the ground with elongated shadows. Only living things move about so, and whatever its manner, I think it of no consequence. To escape my loneliness, I would befriend a bogren, but the fence prevents my crossing. It stands to my thigh and yet I cannot climb or leap over it. Some force keeps me and does not let go. With every part of my being, I struggle against that barrier, until I surrender upon the railing, resting my palm against it, and the fence is suddenly behind me. It was the little wooden ship, my key, permitting me passage. 
The space beyond is choked with people. They press me should to shoulder, knocking me about as they bustle past. Some are dressed in rags, others in fine embroidered silks or gleaming mail, and more than a few are utterly naked. Paupers and merchants and soldiers, high-born aristocrats and priests and kings, they are all mixed like fish in a fishmongers net. I recognize the garb of the Hedonian, a man from my own city, and a great many from Thetis, Thalassar, Northendell and Shemselinihar. But an even greater number are foreign to me, whether races from beyond the map, or extinct peoples from the pages of history. 
They do not seem to notice me, nor do they speak to or acknowledge their own in any way. Here is a continent-sized population—a host too vast to measure—and yet they are blind to themselves, each man and woman and child a stranger. Their eyes are soulless, lost and bewildered, but some power drives them, causing them to swarm about like gnats, searching, eternally searching. It is a placid mob, a procession of the mad, and a thought seizes me with terror, that I must count myself among them, that I am surely no different.  
Again, with the talisman in my hand, I find my way. The ship is my identity, my purpose, my very existence. Holding fast to it, I push through the mob, shouting and beating them with my fists, but my blows do not sway their desperate course. No matter, I am determined to persist, to not become one of them. The light is my salvation and the ship my passage.
Guided through that sea of faces, I find them at last, and know myself at once. Ages ago, I leapt from a high place, and the ground raced up to meet me, and I found myself in this dreadful place. Now they are within my reach, the two I came in search of, the people for whom I surrendered everything. She is in the same black tunic and shawl. Our son has her hand, and she is leading him through that awful gathering, despondent and lost and broken. Her hair is ashen and her face is like a drowned woman. The boy at her side, despite his age, shares her deathly aspect. 
I push bodies from my path, reaching, screaming their names lest she move away and is lost to me again, but she cannot hear. Fighting for every step, I grip her by the shoulder, forcing her around to see my face.     
“Niobe!”
She stares and stares, as if through a window, offering no reply.
“Don’t you recognize your husband, Niobe? It’s me . . .!” 
I tilt her chin, so that she might gaze fully into my eyes, but she is dead to the world. The boy holds to his mother out of some habit, I realize, like the fingers of a corpse stiffened about some precious remnant from life. There is no tenderness in their clasping hands, for he does not know his mother, nor she him. And the thought occurs to me how the two came to be joined for all eternity, yet strangers to one another. Before my fall, Niobe came seeking our son, and after finding him forgot herself and was lost—lost like the others. Surely, I am to follow . . . but do not accept the truth of it. 
I shake her, lovingly, angrily. “Say something, Niobe! Speak to me, I beg you.”
And I do plead with her, and embrace her as if she might become immaterial and slip away, and still she does not know me. On my knees, sobbing and quaking, a terrible certainty takes root in my mind. It is imperative that they know me. If they do not speak my name, I will soon forget it, and by not knowing it will cease to exist. 
Surrendering hope for my wife, I turn to my son. How often has he run into my arms? For how many countless nights have I cradled his head and heard him whisper that he loves me? Surely, he will remember, gods be good, let him remember!
“Astor . . . look upon me . . . look kindly upon your dear father, so that I know that you know me.” But he only stares, his face contorted, as though searching for a memory, and at last speaks not a word. 
I can feel his wrist, slender as a sapling, and yet there are no veins, no pulse—he is just as I found him all those many years ago, the day my Niobe came down to this place in spirit. I touch his side and recoil. The gash is still there, from when the creature spilled his entrails on the sand, and I reach for my face, finding my own scarred face, the reminder the monster left me, of the life I failed to save. He had been playing by the shore that morning, playing with his . . .
“Wait!” I cry, “the token!” Pressing the wooden ship into his palm, I watch as he ponders it and looks at me and then his ship. It was my gift, given to him on the day I shipped out for war. He loves his toy, is never without it, a reminder of his absent father. He will remember the ship and remember me. I do not doubt it. 
My son does not speak, but I can see the change in his eyes, a spark of recognition. Niobe is also beginning to see me, and I come to her aid, recounting memories, from when our lips first touched on the shores of Sarnath, to our wedding day when we danced on gold painted litters, to the evening when our newborn son first wailed and trembled in my hands. Slowly but surely, they are coming to know me. We will exist together, even in this horrid place, never in solitude.
But in piecing together my identity, I become recognizable to others I knew in life. Like vultures to carrion, they swarm about me, whispering awful things in my ears. Shame falls on my heart like an anchor, and everywhere I look, there are faces—faces without bodies—growling and hissing and murmuring. This one I slew in battle when he was very young. Another was unable to pay his taxes and so I had his home burned to ash. Still another lost his sons at my commands. They are pulling me now, tearing my clothing and hair. I try to fight them, but am overwhelmed, outnumbered. Hands pin my arms and legs. Niobe is calling to me, weeping for mercy, as is my son, Astor. They know my name, but not my misdeeds, and those I have wronged will not let me go to them. I am dragged away from my family, watching my wife and son shrink from my eyes, framed by those horrid faces. Fingers fill my nostrils like worms, bury my mouth, dig out my eyes. Having given my token to my son, I am dragged back across the fence, to the blasted plain of the damned. My eyes are gone now, yet still I can see it, somehow I can see the light. The faces press upon mine, enveloping me like the mouth of some demon, swallowing me whole, and in that last moment I recognize the source. A city. By the gods, the light is a city! 
I do not fear to die as other men do. It is not the great mystery that causes me to dread my eternal sleep, but the certainty of that undiscovered country, in knowing what awaits me. 


BETA READERS for "The Princess of Aenya"

I am calling all beta readers to help make “The Princess of Aenya” the greatest book it can be. Similar to a video game play tester, a beta reader helps authors as they work, reading chapters and giving feedback. The author can then consider the feedback and make corrections.

Sounds nice, you say, but what’s in it for me? Well, just imagine you were a beta reader for Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games? Imagine, a decade from now, as you are sitting in a movie theater waiting for The Princess of Aenya to start, you can turn to your friends and say, “You know, I helped this thing get made. I was there from the beginning. Originally, Nick Alimonos was going to ____________, but I suggested that he _____________.” How cool would that be? Aside from impressing your friends, give me feedback until the end of the book, and you can see your name in print in the acknowledgments page! You’ll be immortal! What’s better than that? OK, if the promise of immortality seems dubious, at least you’ll get a sneak peak into the next Aenya story, and that in itself is reward enough, methinks.

So what do I have to do, you ask? Well, not anyone can be a beta reader. As a beta reader, you will have exclusive access to sensitive material, stuff that might end up for free on the Internet if I am not careful, so there is a vetting process. To apply for this honored position, simply fill out the form below (you can cut and paste it or just retype it):

My Name is: _______________________

E-mail address: _____________________

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The last book I read was: ________________________, which I read on, DD/MM/YY

My all time favorite book is: ______________________

I am interested in your book because: ____________________

You can e-mail me this information in private at: alimonosnick@gmail.com

Once you are entrusted as a beta reader, you will receive Chapter 1: Radia, in an e-mail, as a .doc file. After reading it, you will need to answer at least ONE of these questions:

1.) What I liked about this chapter is: _____________________

2.) What I did NOT like about this chapter: ___________________

3.) I found these spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, typos: _______________

4.) I was a little confused by: ___________________

5.) I am really interested in finding/reading more about: _____________________

You may limit your answer to one sentence. Vague or nondescript responses like, “it was nice” or “everything was great” or “I like the way you describe things” are not acceptable. Once you have answered at least ONE question, you will receive the next chapter, and then the next. My writing schedule is tight, but I typically finish two chapters a month. Anyone who stays with me until the end will be honored with their name in print on the Acknowledgments page.

Interested? Great! Looking forward to hearing from you soon!