Ages of Aenya: Thelana at the Door

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Thelana defends Emma’s home from King Frizzbeard’s men. 

Careful not to bend the floorboards lest she wake him, Thelana paced the short passages of Emma’s home, feeling a prisoner.

Long ago, when Baba stopped eating and Nicola was growing pale and sickly, she might walk the whole of Ilmarinen, its lush beauty never failing to ease her worries. As long as she continued moving, troubling thoughts failed to follow. But in the tower, she could go nowhere, nor did she dare wander the avenues of a place that was, for her, strange and foreboding. Thelana used to think that people in cities, wealthy enough for proper homes, lived without cares. With bazaars full of meats and vegetables, running water from aqueducts, and walls to keep out predators and cutthroats, what could trouble them? Now she was finding Emma’s life less enviable. In Ilmarinen, she’d known freedoms no Delian could dream of. On her twelfth year, she and Britannia went scouting, a cycle’s journey from home. They found footpaths over the hills of Ukko, crossed valleys into unnamed lands, swam the tributaries of the Potamis to wherever the water flowed. That was freedom, that was—

BOCK! BOCK! BOCK!

Thelana froze on one foot, forgetting that she was in a house and that no creature could see her. The noise came again, echoing more loudly, rattling the decrepit beams of the ceiling. She waited for it to go away, but the knocking persisted, sounding angrier by the moment. Against her better judgment, she hurried down the stairs, keeping some space between herself and the door.

“Um  . . . Who goes there?” she mustered, unaccustomed to answering doors, or to greeting strangers in a city.

“Open up!” a man demanded.

Thelana could not imagine who it could be, but the voice did not sound friendly. She felt her breathing quicken and her muscles grow tense, and her palms perspiring for want of a weapon. Pressing an ear to the door, she heard the muffled sounds of boots in snow from at least a dozen men.

“State your business,” she called out.

“Open the door in the name of the king, or we’ll force our way in!”

“Alright,” she said, “give me a moment.”

Thelana considered her choices. She could remove the beam barricading the door and let the angry men in, or go downstairs to warn Emma and Mathias. Or she could go upstairs, retrieve her bow, and wake Xandr. A warm glow emanated from the lower level, so she was certain her Delian hosts were continuing their study, and if they were coming upon some bit of wisdom to increase Xandr’s chances of survival, she was not about to interrupt them. As the door continued to shudder, she bolted up to the bower, remembering she did not need to wake Xandr. All she needed was Grimosse.

“Don’t let them through,” she told the guardian as she seated herself midway up the stairwell, stringing her bow.

“Grimm not,” he said oafishly, hoisting his massive hammer over his shoulder.

The knocking was followed by numerous demands, all of which related to the opening of the door. Thelana gave no refusal, only half-hearted assertions that she would, given time, yield to their wishes.

“You’ve been warned,” she heard a voice say, and then another remarking, “Bring the ax.”

The door quaked from a more powerful blow, the tip of the ax having yet to break through, but the wood swelling from where it was struck on the other side. Thelana remained calm, fixing her aim where the door would splinter.

After a successive series of blows, a piece of planking fell to the floor, and a man’s helmeted face poked through the opening. It was all Thelana needed to send him reeling. On the other side of the tower, panic was setting in, as the victim of her aim started to scream, “Take it out! Take it out!”

“No, Thelana!” It was Xandr, sounding fatherly and disappointed. “You may have killed him!”

“I thought that was the idea  . . .”

“Not here,” he admonished. “We can’t fight the whole city—!”

But there was no time for discussion. The panic beyond the door turned into a frenzy. More axes were coming through. Just then, Emma emerged from below, giving a short yelp and starting back at the sight of the splintered door.

“Go back down!” Xandr commanded her.

She stared at him, her eyes wild and bright. “What have you—?”

“No arguing!” he cried. “Let us handle this!”

Large gaps were beginning to appear now. The axmen retreated to make way for a multitude of hands. They were searching for the beam blocking the doorway. Emma stood petrified, fascinated by the intrusion into her home, but Xandr was quick to escort her away. Thelana, all the while, reached the entryway in two quick strides, snapping a soldier’s mailed wrist with her bare foot, removing another’s finger with her teeth.

“Some kind of . . . monster!” she heard someone say.

But the barricade would not hold. Openings were being made large enough for a man to crawl through. If they were so intent to enter, she figured, she would oblige them. As one man-at-arms came crashing in, chips of wood flying every which way, she pulled him to his knees, where Grimosse’s hammer rang against the back of his armor. A second intruder came at her belly with a short sword, but she joined her knee with his groin, forcing him back into the wall, twisting the helmet from his head to pummel him with it. A host of men-at-arms gathered up behind her, spying her with their blades, but Grimosse sent them flying, smashing the armor from their bodies, hurling one against the stair, another three back through the doorway.

Having beaten her assailant into unconsciousness, Thelana turned her attention to the jagged pieces of what had been the tower’s entrance. Outside, a dozen or more men-at-arms were gathering in the bailey. Snatching up a felled sword, she buried her ankles in snow to meet the invaders head-on, but before she could strike, Xandr’s palm fell hard on her shoulder, forcing her away.

“Get Emma!”

Thelana’s heart was a monster in her ribcage. Her veins were like molten steel, her breath like fire in the frozen air. She was more alive now than when bonding to his flesh, and she wanted to disobey him, to meet the Dark God with all her fervor. But his scowl overpowered even her resolve, and she shrank behind the doorway, choking down her bloodlust.

Reaching the base of the lower stairwell, she could hear Mathias’ frantic voice, “They’ve found me! Found me at last!”

“Emma!” Thelana called out. “Xandr says it’s time to go!”

But the Delian was unable to turn from her adoptive-father. He looked more ghoulish than ever, his face loose against his skull like a mask of skin, his bloodshot eyes jolting frightfully.

“Come with us,” she pleaded. “It’ll be alright.”

He put a hand through her robes, touched her belly as if she were with child. “Is it safe?” His voice wavered with uncertainty. “Do you think they’ll find it?”

“They won’t,” she assured him. “They know me. I always wear my robes this way.”

Something in the way Mathias fussed over the book was unnerving, as if he were giving his daughter a parting gift. It turned Thelana’s thoughts to her own secret, hidden in the hilt of her bow-sword—the ilm her father had given her before leaving Ilmarinen.

“Remember not to stand too straight,” he said, “or they’ll question the bulge, and you know what they do with books and to people with too much knowledge . . .”

Thelana did not know what Xandr was doing. Now that her blood was cooling, she was able to focus, to consider possible actions. Was he planning an escape? Or was he going to surrender? Either way, time was their enemy. “Hurry!” she cried.

Mathias sent her a frustrated glance, and returned Emma’s gaze. “If you value my words, despite all I’ve said and done, I beg you this small kindness that you listen to me.”

She nodded, looking doubtful, afraid.

“I’ve been a fool, Emma—an utter fool! I sought an escape from death, but before the Taker came for me, I buried myself in this  . . . this damnable tomb! I brought myself to the grave by not living.”

“This is not the time for sentiments,” Emma said to him. “The men-at-arms, outside—!”

“Permit me to finish, I beg you,” he said. “The day your father was killed, he tried to share a gift with me, what we had both sought for so long, immortality—you, perpetuate his being.” His voice collapsed to muttering. “Dak’s life continues through you. And I was too much the fool to realize it.

“I’ve never been a father to you, Emma . . . and I know that I am undeserving of it, but—”

“It doesn’t matter,” she murmured, blinking the tears from her lashes. “You’re not so old. We still have days ahead of us.”

For an instant, beneath his tired façade, Thelana saw in him a look of yearning. But like a smothered candle flame, the expression went out, and Mathias gestured for Emma to depart. She started for the doorway, but hesitated, turning to the spot behind his desk from which he made no motion. Her dark, raven-shaped eyes glittered in the chamber’s many lights, questioning him.

“Give me a moment,” he said uneasily, lifting the kerosene lamp from the wall, “to collect my belongings.”

She offered a puzzled expression, but he rushed her out by the arm, where she joined Thelana at the bottom of the stair. And then the door slammed shut with an echo of finality.

“Mathias!” Emma checked the doorknob, yet it was as she feared, locked from within. “What are you doing?”

“They cannot find these books,” he sounded from the room. “And they can’t find me  . . .” With that, Thelana could hear the ting of splintered glass and a rush of air, followed by a flash of gold about the seams of the door.

“By the gods!” she screamed. “Father, open this door at once!”

Thelana watched Emma’s porcelain hands grow pink about the brass knob. Her raven colored hair tumbled about her face and neck as she struggled with the barrier, forcing her weight upon it. The handle twisted and groaned in her delicate fingers, but the door refused to yield. Her screaming mixed with sobs. For Thelana, the scene of a daughter and a father separated by a door was all too familiar, and when she looked at Emma again, weeping miserably, childishly, the Ilmarin was unable to harden her heart to it. A deep sorrow, whether for Emma or for herself, drained away her rage, her strength.

“There’s still time,” Emma repeated, in a kind of frantic mantra, pounding the door with her fists, pounding until collapsing against it. “Father, there’s still time.” She continued until her voice gave out and smoke, black as the ink from Mathias’ inkwell, swirled about the doorframe. The scholar had immolated himself without uttering a sound.

Emma stood mechanically, her face a mess of hair and grief. She brushed at a tear and tried the handle again, burning her fingers. “Bring Grimosse,” she said.

Thelana knew there was nothing to be done. “He’s gone.”

“No,” said Emma. “Bring Grimosse.”

“We’ll go together,” she answered, tugging at her robes.

As the two women made for the upper level, they could see the dull copper of men-at-arms. The intruders scurried across every available surface, bustling up and down stairs, a number of them, for reasons unapparent, clutching Emma’s story books, tracking dirt and snow over loose pages of The Epic of Thangar and Sint.  

Thelana’s fist tightened against the jade hilt of her sword. They were to blame for Mathias’ death, for the loss of Emma’s only family. She felt a surge of hot blood once more, a need to kill everyone in the room, but, as if sensing her desire, Emma reached out. Her eyes turned dreamily between her dark lashes as she took Thelana by the hand into the cold night.

Xandr and Grimosse stood beyond the threshold with their wrists in knots. A pair of men-at-arms were heaving and swearing over the guardian’s hammer. Emmaxis lay half-buried, fading against the pale snow, no one daring to touch it. Across the street, lights started to burn, heads poking from neighboring windows curious as to the goings-on. Knights were arriving from every avenue. Thelana’s heart skipped. Unconsciously, her sword slid from her fingertips, ringing against the ice rimmed cobblestone.

She did not bother to see what strange hands were groping her backside. The ropes were coarse, cutting into her skin as they tightened, pinning her arms against her buttocks. Emboldened by her submissive state, a second soldier—a knight, she figured, by the finely embroidered look of his armor—approached from the front. His eyeballs rolled over her body. The other men-at-arms were no less observant, staring and snickering, sharing in the unexpected pleasure. In the heat of battle, Thelana had completely forgotten the taboos of civilization, and now she found herself wishing against all her nature for something—anything—to hide her shame. Noticing her sword, half-split into a bow, the knight’s expression turned suddenly to outrage, remembering the men that were wounded, possibly killed, by her hand.

“You bitch!”

She clenched to receive his mailed fist, stomaching the blow without complaint, staggering while keeping to her feet. As he looked on in disbelief, she pounced, crushing his nose between her teeth. After some thrashing and howling, he tore away, clutching his face to staunch the flow of blood. Now the eyes were on him. He was humiliated, her shame overshadowed by his. Enraged, he threw a hand over the pommel at his hip.

“Do that and I’ll reconsider!” Xandr warned. The Ilmarin looked vulnerable with his hands roped behind his back, his bare breast taking on a bluish hue in the cold night air, the cobblestones glazed with ice and snow looking hard beneath his bare feet. But his voice and the certainty in his eyes gave the knight pause.

“Consider what?”

“My stance on killing you,” he replied. “See, I did not surrender to spare our lives, but to spare yours. Lay a hand on her again, and you die—the whole lot of you.”

“You against all of us?” the knight replied. “I’d like to see you try.”

“Grimosse,” Xandr intoned, “show him.”

The guardian growled, snapping the ropes with a twitch of his muscled arms. A number of soldiers cowered back. Others pressed forward, training their lances against the monster’s throbbing torso.

“Hold off, Grimm.” A delicate white hand eased the golem into submission. It was Emma. Thelana and Xandr had made such a show that the young girl was able to pass among them unnoticed. She proceeded to search the faces of the Delians for any she might recognize. Two of the younger men shuffled away fearfully.

“Who did this!” she cried. “Who’s responsible here?”

A white destrier cut through the gathering, clopping softly before her. The rider’s greaves and the pattern on his breastplate were familiar. But she did not seem to recognize the closed helm with the single spike—long as her forearm—extending from the forehead.

“I’m in charge,” he said, his voice echoing weirdly from his faceplate. “And it would appear, considering my wounded men, that we should have listened to the king and had you executed.”

“This is my home,” she cried. “We’ve done nothing to warrant this intrusion. You know me, Duncan! We’re not witches!”

He brandished the long sword fused to his copper glove, to the plates of his arm and shoulder. “My wife cannot bear to look upon me. My children flee from my face. The man they once knew as Duncan Greyoak is no more. Henceforth, you may call me, Swordarm.”

As the men-at-arms led them away, Thelana turned back to the tower, watching the smoke rising through Emma’s bower window as blackened bits of philosophy rained on the city.

 

Want more Aenya? Please visit www.nickalimonos.com! 

 

YouTube: Naturism and Ages of Aenya

I have been writing about nudism/naturism since 2012, and created my nudist heroes, Xandr and Thelana, back in 1999. You might think that after two decades, I’d be as forthcoming as anyone about my free-body philosophy, but you’d be wrong. The fear of social ostracism remains paramount in my mind. There was even a time, for about nine years, when I pretty much abandoned the lifestyle altogether. But my biggest fear was that nudism would adversely affect my writing career.

That being said, I am continually amazed by the many ways in which society is changing. I grew up at a time when boys were expected to become MEN!. According to my dad, MEN do not collect action figures, or watch cartoons, or play video games or read comics. I am not sure what exactly MEN of my father’s era were supposed to do for fun; I think just smoke a cigar and play pool. Flash forward to 2019, and we’ve got toys made specifically for adult collectors, X-Rated anime shows, and video games and Marvel films raking in a lot more than all the pool halls and bowling alleys in America. If you had told me, just five years ago, that Dungeons and Dragons would become popular again, I would not have believed you.

I’ve recently started seeing a therapist, and I guess there is no shame in that. As part of my recovery, she suggested I start telling people I am a writer. See, when you earn most of your money selling pizza, it feels disingenuous to tell anyone differently. Maybe I suffer from some form of imposter syndrome. But my therapist urged me to express myself. Another big part of my identity is nudism. Being a nudist is sometimes like being in love—you want to tell the whole world how great it is—but I don’t. I often wonder how many of my friends, family or coworkers would shun me if I told them. Or ridicule me. Or take offense. Or maybe, just maybe, some of them are nudists too, and just as afraid as I am to let people know.

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Reading naked? What could be better!

From the day we’re born, society teaches us that being naked is wrong, but nudists believe the human body is beautiful, and innocent, and nothing to be embarrassed about. And the more we express this philosophy, the more it’ll come true. Because societal taboos only really exist in our minds.

The world is full of strange and wonderful weirdos, and the Internet is giving us the means to connect with and express our own weirdness. As Madonna put it, “If you want it right now, I can show you how, express yourself.” We all need to let the world know that it’s OK to be different, whether that means you’re LGBTQ, or some other letter. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, why should it matter? Hell, we’ve got Flat Earthers and Anti-Vaxxers now, which is far worse than letting the sun shine on your butt, methinks.

Nobody ever became famous by playing it safe. If anything, I should be embracing all the ways in which I am unique. Because we really don’t need more Tolkiens or Rowlings or Stan Lees. We need the next new thing, and maybe that’s me. Or you. Who knows? Express yourself and find out.

As part of putting myself out there, and the actual reason I started writing this post, I would like to introduce the FIRST of many-to-come YouTube videos, in which I discuss naturism, and how it has inspired Ages of Aenya. Please check it out by clicking the image below:

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Ages of Aenya: Emma confronts her father

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Emma and Grimosse, courtesy of Heather Zanitsch

 

After rattling the hinges and shaking the snow from the lintel, a small man emerged from a dark antechamber, looking as if he’d just arisen from bed. He had ash-white whiskers and a pouf of hair all out of place and he was wrapped snuggly in a gray blanket. At first, he looked annoyed and aloof, but as his deep-set eyes touched upon the golem’s snout, the man made as if to faint.

“He is the man who has hurt me!” Emma cried, and Grimosse grabbed the man by the shoulders, violently shaking him from his semi-conscious state. The golem then tossed him through the open doorway.

“Emma!” the old man cried feebly, his body crumpled against the opposite wall, “What are you doing—!”

She felt no pity. The power she now wielded roused something deep within her, something monstrous, tempting her to command the golem to kill.

“No!” Xandr protested. “The gods know you have your reasons, but we need him alive.”

Watching Mathias be pummeled by the golem’s fists began to feel less appealing to her, and before Grimm could do further harm, she calmed herself and regained her reasoning. “Leave him,” she commanded, and turning to Xandr, added, “You’re right. If I were to do it, I’d be no better than him.”

The old man was slow to rise from the floor, and when he found the strength to do so, he cried out in agony. “You-You broke my back! Why have you done this to me, Emma?”

Xandr, Thelana and Emma followed the golem into the tower. The door swallowed the light with a resounding thump. In the dim glow of Mathias’ lantern, their faces flashed savagely. “How dare you ask me such a question?” she snapped. “As if you do not know! You deserve worse.”

“I  . . . !” he exclaimed, his mouth agape. “After all I’ve done for you? Fed you when you were hungry, clothed you when you were cold  . . . protected you from the evils of this world? This is how you honor your father, seeking vengeance upon me, bringing these people to murder me!”

“You locked me in a room for a year!” she spat. “You kept me a—a prisoner!”

“It was for your own safety. I never wished ill upon you! You simply have no idea the forces I contend with! Please believe me.”

“Oh, so now you show me courtesy,” she replied coolly. “Now you give explanations. You are a liar. You locked me up to punish me, no other reason  . . . to punish me for going into that accursed den of yours!” She glowered over him, but there was no trace of the cruel father she remembered. Where was the man who terrified her with his presence? A feeble old man, trembling at her wrath, had taken his place.

“The knowledge I have collected, if you could have comprehended it  . . .” he began. “Trust me when I say it would have destroyed you, brought destruction upon me and all I have worked so long to achieve.”

“Well,” she said, “the day has come for you to open your door. And you will tell me everything.”

Mathias turned from her, to each face in turn. “C-can they be trusted?”

“They are my companions,” Emma replied, “and have my confidence.”

Mathias hurried down to his study. Emma followed closely, having ten years and an adventure with the Ilmar to build her courage to brave those few steps, which she was surprised to find, were little more than half her height, short enough to jump down from. Rummaging in his pocket, Mathias’ ring of keys chimed in his hand. He poked nervously at the keyhole with the silver key, now dulled with age, until the sound of falling tumblers echoed through the tower.

The mass of books had grown considerably since Emma’s ninth year. So much so, it did not seem as if the six of them could find room to stand.

“Please,” Mathias murmured, “be careful. These books have been meticulously arranged.”

The Ilmar nodded politely, marveling at the pages towering over them, lining every wall, piling in every corner. The taxidermy halfman that had once frightened her was entirely lost in the mess. It was as if the room was entirely composed of paper.

Thelana squeezed through more easily than the others, remarking, “I never knew there could be so much to write about.”

His desk was as Emma remembered it—a clutter of candles, astrolabes, compasses, maps, quills, skulls, and other oddities. Holding fast to the edge of the tabletop, he hung up his lantern and descended gradually into his chair.

“So,” he said, breathing heavily, “what do you intend to do now?” The flickering candles cast an eerie pall upon him, revealing a man of ghastly complexion. The balls of his eyes hung so loosely, they looked to fall from his skull, the rims so bloodshot, it was as if he never knew a night of sleep. “Without proper study,” he began, “none of you shall comprehend a thing. I doubt your friends possess even the capacity to read. You are peons, utterly insignificant, going about the motions of your pitiful lives without any idea the enormity that is existence.”

Emma went to speak, but Xandr stepped forward, silencing her. “I am Xandr, Ilmarin, and Batal of Legend.”

“Ilmarin,” he intoned, sitting up in his chair. “I did not think your people still existed.”

“We are few,” Thelana remarked.

“And you say you are the Batal,” he asked. “The same Batal who fought on Sternbrow Hill?”

“I do not know of Sternbrow Hill,” Xandr replied, “but I know men of destiny. My great ancestor helped free Aenya from the rule of the Septhera. I was raised in the Mountains of Ukko, by the Order of Alashiya, to confront the awful fate that now, even as we speak, climbs the mountain that surrounds us.”

He leaned forward, his face split between skepticism and enthusiasm. “What you say is intriguing, but how do I know any of it is true?”

“I have this,” Xandr replied. As the cloth fell away from the sword, the room took on a silvery brilliance, its milky surface mirroring the cluster of candles.

Mathias sprang at the sight of it with a power he did not look to possess, his mouth agape, his fascinated visage contorting about the nodes of the silver skull. “This is neither bronze nor iron,” he remarked, his fingers moving anxiously across the metal. “It’s simply flawless, like a diamond. The element is too heavy for our sun to produce—it is dead matter, stardust, an artifact that could only have been forged by the Zo!”

“There is more,” Xandr said, reaching into his sack. “There is—”

“Not yet!” Emma searched the faces of the Ilmar. “I promised to help you, but I’ve waited too long for this.”

Mathias leaned over his desk. “No, Emma, can’t you see that this is more important—”

“The guardian obeys me!” she cried. “You will sit yourself down, and if you wish to know about the sword, you will first answer my questions.”

“Oh, by all the gods above,” he grumbled, the century-worn wood of his chair creaking as he settled into it. “I have dreaded this day.”

“You’ve dreaded my knowing the truth? Learning who I am?”

“No, Emma—”

“Enough! First, tell me why  . . . why do you persist in sitting here? Day and night? Night and day? What is it about this infernal room and these damnable books that so needs occupy your life, making you less than a stranger to me, a mere shadow?”

“All right.” He pushed his fists tiredly into his eye sockets, studying each face anew. “If you believe the answers will ease your burden to know, I will give them to you. But be forewarned, you may not find comfort in what you hear. The truth of things, you will discover, is often disturbing.”

“I don’t care,” she said adamantly. “I want the truth. I am prepared.”

“Very well, then,” he said. “But where to begin? I suppose, the very beginning is best.”


 

 

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Aenya Newsletter: Welcome to the Aenya-verse!

I sometimes feel like Eldin, the time-traveling historian, hopping between ages. The world of Aenya has been brewing in my skull for almost twenty years now. I remember advertising that the The Dark Age of Enya would soon be released in 2000! Sadly, these vast time periods tend to alienate fans, because after nearly two decades, I’ve managed to release just TWO books, the second being a rewrite of the first. My mind, however, exists in a constant state of creativity, from my blog articles to my art to an ever expanding encyclopedia of all things Aenya. But it’s all been frustrating, because work and family have constantly gotten in the way of my true passion: telling stories. But maybe the delays have been a blessing. Quite honestly, I do not think it possible for any writer to build a fully realized universe in one, two, or even five years. It may be that I needed twenty years to build Aenya, a world-building feat like we’ve seen only a few times in the past.

Twenty-twenty will be the year of the Aenya Big Bang, as I will be quitting my day job to work full time on my novels. Don’t worry, my business is self-sufficient, so I will still have a roof over my head even if I don’t become the next JK Rowling. That being said, I have no interest in treading where other writers have gone before. Even Game of Thrones hems too closely to The Lord of the Rings, with its medieval, Anglo-European setting. What fantasy needs now is storytelling as grand in scope as what Tolkien and Martin have put out, but in a different sub-genre. As much as I love elves, dwarves and dragons, they won’t be appearing anywhere on Aenya. You also won’t be seeing vampires, zombies (ice or otherwise), emo-rogues, or villainous, world-shattering wizards. Been there, done that, thanks. The books in the Aenya series belong to the sword and planet genre, with a mix of Homeric myth-making added in. Sword and planet, specifically, dates back to 1912, with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of MarsA revival gathered steam in the 60’s and 70’s, but most of those books were amateurish pulp, with little to offer but hack n’ slash violence and titillation for adolescent boys. Looking for meaning in something with a half-naked barbarian on the cover is often a lost cause, but this isn’t to say that the genre cannot be held to a higher literary standard.

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Shakespeare this is not.

But the Aenya-verse will be different in another way. Taking a page from Marvel, the books of Aenya will be interconnected without being direct sequels to one another. This will give me the freedom to focus on traditional storytelling, without having to force old characters into unwarranted situations, which can sometimes have poor results. Think of the negativity surrounding the Star Wars sequel trilogy, or the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts spinoff. Sometimes, it’s better to leave well enough alone. Tolkien seems to have understood this, having been unwilling to bow to pressure from his publisher to write “more on hobbits”—giving us, instead, The Lord of the Rings, which was only tenuously connected to The Hobbit. Of course, if fans are clamoring for more Xandr and Thelana, I may be inclined to create something new, if a good idea presents itself. But there are just so many more aspects to Aenya’s history and geography that would make for great fiction. In the upcoming The Princess of Aenya, for example, a minor character from Ages of Aenya becomes a main character. In The Children of Aenya, characters from PoA will also make an appearance. This is somewhat like A Song of Ice and Fire, except here the story threads remain separate, rather than running concurrently.

 

The Reviews are In!

In the April edition of H&E Magazine, Tim Forcer gave Ages of Aenya a four out of five stars! While I would have preferred a solid five, I think I can live with four. You can check out the review below:

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It’s ironic how Tim points out the number of nude Thelana pics I have had commissioned, when his own magazine sports a beautiful nude “centerfold” very reminiscent of Playboy. Nudist or textile, we just need to accept that pretty young girls attract readers.

 

Announcing Tales from Aenya

I am officially announcing my jumping into the YouTube arena with Tales from Aenya. Now I do not expect a ton of traffic, knowing how YouTube’s search engine works. People look for popular subjects like Star Wars, Marvel, SJW or atheism, mostly to criticize those things, which is why the site has lately become a cesspool of negativity. In every other video someone is frothing at the mouth about how much such and such movie/game/TV show sucks, and why it sucks, and how they, in their wisdom, would “fix” the failures of said thing. Nobody has an opinion regarding Aenya, good or ill, so I am bound to get very few clicks. When YouTubers start spitting at their monitors over how awful my latest book is, I know I will have succeeded. Still, for my devoted fans and soon-to-be fans, I will be showcasing some original artwork, while reading excerpts from published works, and short pieces that expand the world of Aenya, like The Ballad of Titian and Midiana and The Nude Equestrian

ThelanaVHalfmanSketches

Thelana’s and the Halfman, from the AoA of Prologue

 

Coming Soon (Honest!): The Princess of Aenya

Waiting for me to release a new book is worse than waiting for Winds of Winter, but Princess is definitely on its way! I have been working closely with my editor, Ava, to hammer the story into shape, and we’re currently on the last two chapters. Also, the finalized cover (below), courtesy of my go-to artist, Alexey Lipatov, is done and ready to be sent to the publisher. Look for The Princess of Aenya on Amazon and www.nickalimonos.com by fourth quarter 2019!

AoACover2019

Ages of Aenya: Thelana Meets Horde

In this exclusive excerpt, Thelana and Emma (not pictured) encounter a nightmarish entity in the shadows of Gloomwood.

DarkForest 

Emma, so bold a moment before, so prepared to die at the hand of the wild woman’s dagger, was again seized by fear. They were consumed by darkness, by cold, and by the unknown. Blindly and clumsily she ran, over roots she could not see, stems catching in her hair, thorns grazing her cheeks and wrists and ankles. But the Ilmarin was there, leading her by the wrist, her presence reassuring. Could it be a ruse? Was she being led to the slaughter? No, she refused to believe that. Something was in their midst, something terrible—even Emma, with her dull senses, could feel it.

They stopped. Emma searched the darkness for the female silhouette. “What?” she implored. “What is it?”

The Ilmarin’s eyes caught the moonlight and glittered like emeralds. And it was there that Emma first saw it, reflected in her irises, a dark mass. “I said run!” She screamed it now, letting go of Emma’s hand completely.

Like a hare rustling through the bush, Thelana was gone. Emma tried running but forgot how, her knees catching in her skirts, her heels sinking at every turn. She could not see where she was going or what she was escaping from, but if it was bad enough to frighten Thelana, she knew it wise to keep moving. What could it be, unless . . .

. . . the giant?

She hesitated. If she could only go back to their encampment, rouse Xandr and Grimosse, but every direction was the same subtle outline of forest, a maze of shadows and silhouettes leading into pitch blackness.

“Oh Strom. Oh Strom . . .” She repeated the mantra aloud for the gods to hear, but she was alone in a vast dark nothingness. The only other sounds were her irregular gasps for air, and the flailing of a weak heart, which she was certain would fail her.

Calm yourself, Emma. You can think through this.

She looked to the moon and stars to find her bearings, as she knew sailors to do, but the heavens were gone, utterly and inexplicably gone. The darkness was a solid mass she could reach out and touch, and then the sky was moving, and Emma was seized with such terror that reason abandoned her completely.

A hand pulled her into the bushes. Thelana was there again, invisible. She pointed through the prickly leaves with her blade. “Do you see it?”

“I don’t see anything,” Emma replied, as quietly as she could. She had spoken in haste, without willing herself to look. But it was there, waiting, pondering, and perhaps searching. Following Thelana’s dagger, she could make out the broken line of trees in the vast gloom and the orbs like glowing embers. The air was crackling around it and Emma’s hair was prickling, the long strands twisting and writhing in the current, and somehow she knew the orbs to be eyes, knew that those sentient embers were focused upon them. She could feel them seeing into her. This was neither giant nor horg, but a being of an entirely different order.

“It knows we’re here,” Emma murmured.

“No—” Thelana began, but she did not have time to argue. The bush whispered and Emma felt herself alone again, a fleeting voice calling back, imploring her, “Move!” When she looked again, the dark mass was expanding in her direction.

Wet leaves slipped under her soles, making it difficult to gain traction. She groped blindly for a limb or a trunk. The stomping of some immense, bipedal thing shook the small bones of her ankles and rattled her eardrums. Wood shattered—an explosive cracking sound—followed by the hiss and thump of felled trees. Whole elms toppled next to her, shuddering as they struck the ground, groaning as they collided with others. Branches smacked her face, bloodying her lips, but there was no pain, only the primal urge to continue moving.

Descending into a depression, deep in the twisting paths of Gloomwood, she reached the limit of exertion, where even terror could push no further. Emma caught fleeting snatches of moonlight and silver streaks of stars. She paused, her lungs full of fire, each breath coming short. All was quiet.

A severe sense of aloneness hit her. She felt like a small child having lost its mother, and realized she would have liked to look upon her father once more, that she longed for even Thelana’s company. I was alone in this world and shall die this way. “It can’t be far behind,” she murmured, finding comfort in her own voice.

The thing had not given up pursuit. It was at arm’s length, as it had always been, silent as a shadow, and with awful clarity Emma came to accept it. She turned, seeking its description, but was left with only vague impressions. Like something beyond the boundaries of natural law, the moonlight seemed unwilling to reveal it.

She considered running again, but was wracked with fatigue. Resigned to Fate’s loom, she awaited whatever was to happen.

Many voices filled the silence. They spoke as one. It was so strange and unexpected a sound, she could not be certain whether it came from her own mind. A glove blotted out the moon and her feet lifted. She was weightless. He was holding her like a marionette, on invisible strings, its ember eyes glowing all around.

She could feel his presence like needles in her brain. Her every memory flashed across her mind’s eye—every shameful thought, every guilty association, every desire—even those she was too ashamed to admit to herself. Her essence lay open, like a book, helpless as he poked and prodded within her.

Reality was torn away like a veil. Stars and moons and the surrounding woods became immaterial. She saw Titian and Midiana, Anu and Eru, and all the places in Eldin’s book come into vivid focus, sights that defied possibility, that could only be dream. She felt herself lifting, far above the realms of her own thought into that of the other, into worlds beyond and behind the one she was born into. Her mind was open to his, a window to the frightful images that were flitting by it, things her psyche was ill-prepared to decipher—she was like a fish falling from the sky, an infant born a thousand times over, the scenery ever-changing. There were landscapes with glassy mountain towers and acid oceans and impossible canyons, and clusters of suns and cities in drifting bubbles and crustacean-like beings arguing the politics of their civilization. There were cephalopod-like monsters of unthinkable vastness, and life forms of such perplexing arrangement as to challenge the most basic assumptions of biology. The images continued to flow, violently, beyond her capacity to maintain her sense of self. Knowledge was drowning her, would kill her, she knew, and for the first time in her life she was desperate for ignorance. It was not long before she could not remember whether Northendell had been her home, or just another of the falling vistas. The colossal intellect behind those glowing eyes was the only constant, radiating such gravity that she felt her sanity disintegrating, yet among these many images, one caught hold of her, and like a raft she clung to it. It was Thelana, staring in horror at what Emma could only guess was her own floating body. Try as she might, Emma could not hold the image long. A vortex was opening somewhere, swallowing all realities into a dark void and she was being swept into it.

WE ARE HORDE, the voices said. STATE THE PURPOSE.


 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!? FIND OUT IN AGES OF AENYA!!!!

 

Horde by Bazarewski

A closer look at Horde, courtesy of Filip Bazarewski

Ages of Aenya: Thelana and the Serpent’s Eye

SerpentsEye

Thelana explores an ancient Septheran ruin

Darkness stretched above them, impenetrable, and there was no way to tell how far they had fallen, but given the relative cool of the room, she knew they were deep beneath the surface. Only a faint red glow gave any sense of shape or dimension to their surroundings. She focused on the light, moving carefully forward. An iron torch was fitted to the wall. Whatever fuel there had been was long turned to ash, so she made a knot from her sleeve and stuffed it inside and, with a flint stone from her pack, the torch blazed anew.

“By the gods!”

Gold glittered across her field of vision. Despite the dust and decay and webs thick as ropes, the firelight reflected on the various hard surfaces with a dazzling brilliance. So many wonders enamored her senses that she did not know where to turn, and whenever she reached for one thing, some greater wonder pulled her gaze away. Obol and drachmae coins littered the shelves amid bejeweled amphoras and silver goblets. Coffers brimmed with rubies and sapphires, jade and lapis lazuli. Urns of ivory and obsidian abounded, their lids fashioned into trike and dragon heads and other beasts unfamiliar to her. Even the tables and chairs were gilded. A whole chariot stood in a dark corner, preserved in gold leaf.

She scooped up handfuls of jewels, let them spill like pebbles between her fingers, only to scoop them up and drop them again. She loved how they captured the light, the sound they made, like tinkling raindrops, even the cold, hard feel of them. For the first time in her life, she knew what it meant to possess beyond what was necessary, to be truly, decadently wealthy. She was ankle-deep in gold, in ornaments most people could never hope to own. A dazzling dragonfly necklace adorned her neck, its gold wings spread across her collarbone. A gold serpent with ruby eyes coiled about her forearm, from her wrist all the way up to her elbow, and her mind flooded with possibilitiesIt was enough to never go hungry, to have servants, if she so wished! No one would dare imprison her, or look down upon her, or mistake her for a harlot. Princess Thelana, they might call her. No, Empress Thelana! She was giddy as she pictured herself in her own palace, surrounded by family and a cornucopia of food . . . but the reality of her current situation was not far behind. How would she transport such wealth? And could she even find her way back from the Dead Zones? She quickly chased from her mind the memory of trekking back across that sun-scorched wasteland. There had to be another way.   

Next she moved to examine the chariot. An assortment of shields, swords and bows leaned up against the wheel, and it reminded her that she was not a princess, but a hunter and a wanderer, that she was free of the trappings and hypocrisies of civilization. The longbow was of dull gold, shaped like two serpents joined at the tail. The craftsmanship was exquisite, perhaps superior to her jade bow, though the pull string was missing. Slinging the serpent bow over her shoulder, she was overcome by a new sense of prosperity, and she could not recall when last she was happy. It was so long and forgotten a feeling that it gave her pause. The gods were cruel, she knew, and no fortune came without sacrifice.

Taking greater precaution, she continued to explore the room, finding things that spoke of ancient evil. With meticulous detail, the legs of the furniture were carved to resemble men, but in a kind of deformed mockery of the human body. Bent at the task of supporting seats and tabletops, the slave’s limbs were spidery, and their ribs jutted out over stomachs that held the appearance of hollowed out pits. Anguish was cut into every ivory face. Bringing the torch to the wall, the fire revealed a mural, a golden city of obelisks, statues, and sphinxes. Massive saurians were driven along paved streets, but never by humans. Men and women were depicted laboring under the whip, burdened under slabs of rock, leashed to wagons. Every human figure was emaciated, deformed, wincing. Shuddering with disgust and horror, she reconsidered adorning herself in the accouterments of that evil race. She let the coiled snake bracelet slip to the ground and cast away the dragonfly necklace, not even bothering to unhook it from its chain.

But just a handful could buy back her family’s freedom, if she should find them, or Borz’s, at the very least.

The torchlight indicated a passageway, but she could not leave the room without securing some of the treasure, enough to never want from hunger, for herself and for her brothers and sisters. Coins and jewels filled her sack and she stuffed the gourd with gems until the water began to leak out. A few rubies, the size of grapes, would not fit through the opening and she considered swallowing them. It pained her to let them go, imagining what they could buy, perhaps a plot of land with good soil, but her sack was heavy with jewels already and that, she decided, would have to be enough.

Translucent webs impeded the passageway like silk curtains, thick and white and sticky about the edges. Air flowed from beyond, causing the loose threads to flutter and the veil to swell and retract as if the passage was alive and breathing. Touched by the flame, the webbing disintegrated in a flash of orange and red, illuminating her way. She moved forward, the glow of her torch chasing shadows on the wall, revealing splashes of color from the continuing mural. She had no knowledge of archaeology, but knew enough to understand that the images told a story.

In simple lines etched into the limestone, there were a number of figures, the first of which were neither human nor snake man, or any other race she knew, and yet their distinct shapes were familiar. They were wide-bodied creatures, with rounded, dome-like heads and enormous hands. Ultimately, she recognized them, and shivered.

Golems.

Like the boulders littering Ilmarinen, like the faceless statues in the ruins in the woods, the resemblance was unmistakable. But who or what were they? By the pictographs on the wall, she could see that snake men and humans, even the people with fish-heads that could only be merquid, knelt beneath the golem-like race, perhaps as subjects. Her curiosity piqued, she followed the story with her fingertips, commanding Grimosse to bring the torch closer to the wall. In the following panel, the golem and snake race stood alone under a strange moon, surrounded by exotic, leafy plants. But their moon, or perhaps it was their sun—it was difficult to tell as it was nothing more than a simple circle—expanded, filling the sky, and the plants of their world were no more, and the golem race vanished also, or so she figured, since they were never shown again. There was a cobra-headed king then, who directed his subjects to build galleys without sails or oars, and in his hand was a scepter, its red jewel radiating lines like the sun. The galleys were set to sail without water, amid the stars, and many things happened after involving ellipses she could only guess at, but there was no doubting the basics of the history. The king reemerged from his galley and the three simple shapes representing mankind were shown to be kneeling, just as the other races had knelt before the golems.

They came from another world to enslave us. But this is ancient history. The snake men are no more.

Where the mural ended, there was a wall, engraved with stars of rubies and sapphires. A reddish glow radiated from behind it in vertical, parallel ridges. She could feel the sizzle of power against her probing fingers. Scrubbing the surface, the reddish light formed into the shape of a door. She called to Grimosse, who had to crouch to advance, and with a gesture from her he brought his door-making hammer to the wall.

Thoom!

Her ears quaked at the sound, but the wall did not surrender access. As rubble rained down on them, she squatted under his kneecap, fearing that the centuries-old architecture might fail atop them.

On the third attempt, a cloud of glittering vapors swallowed the hallway. She rushed blindly through the opening, under falling rubble, coughing, rubbing the haze from her eyes. A cavernous chamber spread before her. It reminded her of a mausoleum, dank with the musky odor of things long dead. The walls and ceiling, if any existed, vanished in the gloom. Moss and lichen covered every surface. Weeds split the floor, bulging under paving stones, and thorny vines came down from the shadows to weave across the floor.

Further on, a crimson sphere beckoned from a dais. For how long it shed its light, like a beacon summoning a ship to shore, she could scarcely imagine, though she knew no eyes had lain upon the chamber for untold ages. She moved toward the glow as long-tailed creatures with flipper-like appendages slithered across her path, mutations of a forgotten history, things like serpents but not.

As she approached the pedestal, Thelana could see that wherever the light of the sphere touched, the room was fractured, like a shattered mirror. Each fragment seemed to exist separately from the others adjacent to it, in its own light, in differing states of decay. One piece of the room was dimly lit, gray and lifeless, while another was green and vivid and bright. How was such architecture possible? She moved into the lighted area, fascinated by how sharply it divided from the rest of the room, and as she stood over it she was startled by the sudden warmth washing over her, and by the surprising echo of birdsong. Stepping backward into silence, she passed her arm through the space again, feeling the soft sudden rays of sunshine. When pulling away, the dank atmosphere gripped her arm and the skin prickled with gooseflesh. With great difficulty, she accepted what she was seeing was no clever trick of masonry, that somehow, beyond compression, where the sun appeared to touch her was an actual place, existing within the room but only occupying a part of it.

Many of the fragments were similar in size, while most varied greatly in proportion, either large enough for her to stand in or no bigger than the width of her finger. The break lines converged to a single point, a shatter point upon the pedestal, the red glow. It was the fire from within a gem fixed to the mouth of a scepter. It was the Serpent’s Eye.

The decrepit steps chipped under her weight as she climbed the dais. She did not know the reason, but her heart quaked as she neared the source. Something about the gem unnerved her, and yet its strangeness possessed her with a yearning to know its secrets.

As she reached the top, the jewel’s radiance enveloped her. A fine white ash, like powdered bone, covered the floor of the dais. The pedestal was a simple granite slab tinted red by the Eye’s glow, but as she moved closer, its timeworn features became defined, revealing a great sarcophagus in the semblance of a hooded snake man, the scepter protruding from its stone claws. There she froze, marveling at it, losing any hesitation she might have had for stealing it. The gem was the size of her fist, its thousand glassy facets multiplying her reflection in a kaleidoscope of reddish hues.

She could buy the entire world with this stone. No wonder Nesper was after it. No wonder he would have killed them for it.

As she reached for the scepter, her arm bent like a broken stick and her fingers became elongated. She moved her hand through many odd, distorted angles, the air around the gem bending the light like still water—at least, still water was the only way her mind could process it. Shrugging off her sense of unease, she closed her hand about the scepter and it came loose without resistance. The Serpent’s Eye was lighter than she expected, and turning it in her hand, she noticed that the Eye itself was not set between the serpent’s fangs, as she had thought, but held by some invisible thread. She’d never seen any such thing, but it reminded her, for reasons she did not fully comprehend, of Emmaxis, of something otherworldly.

She returned from the dais briskly, skipping down the steps like a child late to supper, in her heart a mix of guilt and relief. Thelana could not remember being so fortunate. Such a treasure would be easy to carry and was no doubt equal to all the valuables in the other room combined. And then, as she lifted her eyes to look for Grimosse, her heart lost its rhythm, forgetting for a moment to beat.

Another person was in the room with her and it was clearly not Grimosse. It could not be a native, she told herself—there was not a trace of life in Shess. Was it a wanderer like herself? No—that was impossible, for who else could survive the journey here and arrive at the same exact moment? Yet there it was, standing between the dais and the door she’d come through, an apparition in sun-tortured and eroded garments, with deep folds suggesting a woman or a young boy, a body emaciated by hunger like her own.

“Wh-Who are you?” Thelana asked, despite the sinking suspicion that she knew the answer already.

The other girl stared, just as wide-eyed, just as frightened. “Who am I? I am Thelana.”

“No, you can’t be Thelana,” Thelana said, feeling her lips quivering as she spoke the words. “I am.”

 

Uh-oh. Who is the real Thelana? Or could they both be real? Uncover the mystery of the Serpent’s Eye in Ages of Aenya

Ages of Aenya: Thelana’s Perilous Leap

ThelanaVCaw2

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold me. Xandr.

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

 

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

 

Aenya Newsletter 12/7/18

“But why is she naked?”

This is the most annoying question I get about Ages of Aenya, whenever I post a picture of the Ilmar on social media. While the vast majority of comments are positive, I will inevitably get roasted for lack of realism on Facebook fantasy groups that allow for artistic nudity. On these same forums, loin-clothed monks punch dragons without anyone raising an eyebrow, but remove that loincloth and suddenly we’re in a world too far removed from reality. “She can’t go naked!” gets thrown at me time and again. It’s like they’ve never heard of the Ancient Greeks, or the Celts (who even fought naked), or Amazon tribes, or your everyday, modern American nudist. Oddly enough, nobody will admit to being offended by the human body, as nobody wants to sound like a prude, yet they’ll justify their discomfort by saying things like, “What does she do about mosquitos?” and “What about branches?” Again, these same people have no problem with barbarians covering their crotches in thin strips of goatskin, because, I suppose, bugs can only bite you in the ass. This is amusing to me, because while I have never personally fought a dragon, I can say that I have hiked naked in the hills of Greece, and in swampy Florida, mosquito capital of the world, and never once did I get killed by bugs, or had my penis shorn by a tree. We can blame the Puritans for this aversion to nudity, and the absurd belief that humans can’t go anywhere without clothes. But among readers of Sci-Fi and fantasy, you might expect a greater level of open mindedness. Think of it this way—not only can we mere Earthlings never survive in the buff, but neither can any human-like creature on any planet in the multiverse! Faster than light travel? No problem. No pants no shoes? Impossible!

ThelanaNereid

BOOBZ!

There’s one thing my detractors and I can agree on: Americans find casual nudity weird. Sure, the human body is acceptable when surrounded by a dozen or so erect penises, but put a girl in a tree with a bow and arrow and we’re in crazy town. Even my supporters can be disparaging, when they ignore everything in the picture to focus exclusively on the ten or so pixels making up a boob. Are we really just a bunch of dumb, sex-starved monkeys? The guy who left me this actual comment, and I quote, “kewl boobz!” will probably be disappointed by the absence of sex in Ages of Aenya, or lack of any juicy passages describing genitalia. In the good ol’ US of A, it’s gotta be PornHub or Disney, and there can be no middle ground, which is why I am finding it necessary to shift my attention to other parts of Aenya. Much as I adore my innocently naked heroes, bringing them into the mainstream may not be plausible in our hyper-demographics focused society, which is why I have spent the past several years working on other stories.

 

Writing Woes

As I have said to my troll friends time and again, if I am a failed writer, it is only because I have set the bar so high for myself. I know many authors who would be content with where I am, but my goal is nothing short of a million copies sold.

While it may sound egotistical, I really don’t know how else to put it: I have read hundreds of books, and nothing I’ve come across has convinced me that I cannot do what these other famous authors have done. Maybe I can’t write characters as engaging as J.K. Rowling, or build as convincing a world as Tolkien, or be as prolific as George R.R. Martin, but I persist in the belief that Aenya belongs on the shelf with their books. It’s like watching an Olympic athlete win gold, and knowing with confidence you could have at least taken the bronze. From the time I was in college, professors, classmates and readers of fantasy have said to me, “Why aren’t you published yet?” I’ve even been told, by fans (who I don’t know personally) that they preferred reading about Aenya to other well-known fantasy novels they enjoy.

Right now, the book market is saturated. There are just too many talented people vying for attention in this “attention economy,” and with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix and a plethora of video game systems, people’s entertainment options are near infinite. Even the most talented among us get lost in the shuffle. I have met amazingly gifted people who have thrown in the towel because, despite a strong following, they simply cannot make money doing what they love.

I have despaired over this many a night, but the solution is pretty straightforward: you have to be exceptional, truly stand-out exceptional, to get noticed. It’s no longer sufficient to write as good as those on the shelves, you’ve got to be better, A LOT BETTER, and to this I say: challenge accepted. 

The Princess of Aenya is my best work, and I believe it has what it takes to make a splash in the literary world. Unlike my first novel, it has greater market appeal, without those implausibly naked people in it, but, most importantly, I think the story will be harder to ignore. My plan is to reach out to individuals with far greater status. Should Stephen King give his stamp of approval, doors will open.

Compass-Towerlow

The Compass Tower, from The Princess of Aenya

 

The Silmarillion and Strange Inspiration

Strangely enough, I find encouragement in the most unlikely of places. Few people can imagine the father of fantasy world-building, J.R.R. Tolkien, as anything but a master of his craft, well-beloved by all, but like most who have suffered from the writer’s disease, he also struggled immensely. Tolkien spent a lifetime feeling misunderstood, often being rejected by his publisher, who did not understand what it is he was trying to accomplish.

This unexpected revelation came to me upon delving deep into Tolkien lore, having picked up the more recent titles released by his son, Christopher, which include Beren and Luthien, The Children of Hurin, and The Fall of Gondolin, all of which appeared previously in The Silmarillion, a prequel, of sorts, to the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But while The Silmarillion was published toward the end of Tolkien’s life, Christopher writes that his father had conceived of the epic long before the tiny people with furry feet. Scraps of notes regarding Beren, Turin and Tuor, Christopher tells us, originated early in his father’s life, a few of which were composed in the trenches of the first World War. After The Hobbit gained worldwide attention, Tolkien was eager to share his lifelong labor of love, The Silmarillion, but neither his agent or publisher could make heads or tails of it. They told him, instead, to write more about hobbits, and The Lord of the Rings came as a result.

The Silmarillion is a HARD read, and I really would not recommend it to anyone but the most devoted of Middle Earth fans, or, perhaps, to readers of history, because that is what the book essentially is, not so much a novel but a pseudo-history, remarkably rich in detail, with more places and people than I could keep track of. Imagine the entire seven book Game of Thrones series (properly Song of Ice and Fire) condensed into 300 pages. That being said, interspersed between dense passages of Middle Earth lore, you come across genuinely wonderful storytelling, and I find it a shame that Tolkien did not publish these separately, as I think that just about anyone can enjoy them, but that few probably have, finding the historical sections connected to their original release impenetrable. All the more reason I applaud Christopher’s decision to turn these tales into standalone novels, particularly Beren and Luthien, a fairytale romance on par with Tolkien’s best, if not his most moving tale. If Hollywood is starving to milk the Middle Earth cash cow, they need look no further than Beren and Luthien. Hopefully, the upcoming Amazon series—which is slated to become the most expensive show ever—will explore content from The Silmarillion, and not just rehash Peter Jackson’s epic.

Tolkien’s struggle encourages me, and drives me to build my own massive storytelling cathedral, because the Aenya that exists in my mind is far grander than any reader has yet imagined, perhaps not on the level of The Silmarillion, but a true epic in its own right. It may simply be that, like Tolkien, I must persevere, and march to the sound of my own drummer, perhaps until my death, or start the reading masses off with a more palatable story. The Silmarillion would have, no doubt, been lost to obscurity without The Hobbit. Perhaps The Princess of Aenya will be the key to bringing Ages of Aenya into the light. Maybe once I am established, nobody will pester me with questions regarding the implausibility of naked heroes. When you have a name for yourself, and earned the public trust, the people follow.

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If you’re curious about The Silmarillion, I highly suggest a visit to the bookstore to take a look. It is truly unlike any fantasy story you’ll ever read, equal parts history, myth, romance, tragedy and adventure, and I found it all the more compelling in that it was so different, but then again, I am a history major with a love for myth. And while it may seem a challenge to get through, you may be glad that you did.

As for the Aenya-verse, The Princess of Aenya is in the editing process, the cover is almost complete, and it should be ready to order from http://www.nickalimonos.com early 2019!

 

Exposing the Scammers 2: URLinkPublishing.com

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I was in the midst of editing a chapter when I hear my wife on the phone saying, “He’s working on his book.” She handed me the receiver, and I was immediately intrigued. People never call me at my house about writing. The guy on the other end started telling me how interested he was in Ages of Aenya, and how “book scouts” had given the book an 8.5 out of 10. Anything over 5, he said, and his company, URLinkPublishing.com, takes interest. We talked about the business for a good thirty minutes. He extolled the virtues of marketing, to help get the book into the hands of readers, and the best way to do that, he said, is book reviewers. He name dropped Kirkus, which I’d seen on the jackets of top-selling novels, and overall he sounded knowledgeable and sincere. To assuage my skepticism, he urged me to “do the research” before making any decisions. Surely, if this was all a scam, he wouldn’t be telling me to do research, would he? But here’s the thing: my heart rate did not change a beat. Five years ago, I might have been jumping with excitement, but like a jaded lover, I’d been burned too many times before.

When I got off the phone with URLinkpublishing.com, I went simply back to my chapter. Only later in the day, when I got bored at work, did I whip out my phone to check the site. After no more than five minutes I determined that the man on the phone was a liar. Here was a company promising to help me increase book sales, but their book/client list had about ten books, most with amateurish covers, and their “featured author” had, and I kid you not, ONE review on Amazon! Couldn’t they get a few of their office workers to help out? Christ, I have TEN reviews already and I find that pathetic. What’s more, their “featured author” is in the 3 millionths in sales. And to join the ranks of their esteemed laureates, I had only to get a professional review, for the recommended low low price of $3000.00!

It disgusts me to know that companies like this exist. But we are living in world of school shooters and rapist politicians, so there are worse things, I suppose. Still, when someone tries to deceive you personally, to take advantage of all your hard work and heartache, it just burns me up inside, and this is why I’m writing this post, because scammers like these need to be exposed for what they are.

My most popular article to date remains Olympia Publishers and the Art of the Soft Scam. Dozens of hopeful writers have thanked me for steering them clear of that pitfall, and now I am hoping to do the same for anyone about to get duped by URLinkPublishing.com. No doubt, they will go by a different name, or someone else will come up with a new way to fuck over people, so here’s some basic tips for not getting scammed:


1)  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

2)  Be sure to ask, up front, if there’s money involved. Don’t be too shy to be blunt. You can say, “What do you get out of this?”

3)  It’s OK to get your hopes up, but DO YOUR RESEARCH! Look up the company’s website, find blogs (like this one) discussing the company, and e-mail old clients.

4)  Be clear as to what the company is offering, and if what they are offering is something they have successfully provided to others in the past. If they have an author/client list, look up the author on Amazon, and check out that author’s sales rank! The author need not be a bestseller, but they should be ranked in the thousandths or tens-of-thousandths in their prospective genre, at the very least.


 

I should probably note here that, after turning hundreds (maybe thousands?) away from Olympia Publishers, I managed to get the attention of Olympia Publishers. They sent me a few e-mails to curry my favor (in hilarious ways) to get me to remove my piece, but I refused, despite their excuses, and assertion that they’ve changed. You can read our e-mail exchange below, and decide for yourself whether Olympia is worth a second shot:


 

Dear Nick,

Firstly, my name is Chantelle, I am the PR manager for Olympia Publishers. I recently came across your article written on your website. And I have to say I was rather disappointed. Opinions are of course welcomed, but falsities are a little disheartening. We are in no way a scam. ‘Scam’ is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as “an illegal plan for making money, especially one that involves tricking people”- That we are not.

We’re transparent about our different types of contracts, to quote our website: “Should we be unable to offer a traditional contract, but I feel the work has potential an alternative offer may be made. This offer is known as a ‘partnership contract’ and is based on a contribution, to be paid by the author, to cover initial production and printing of the work”.

Taking on un-known authors is a risk, we’re the first to admit that. But we felt that was a huge gap in the market where first time authors without an agent had no chance. The bigger publishing houses who only publish traditional contracts very rarely publish first time or unknown authors, especially those that do not have a literary agent. To get ones work to the meet the approval of the large publishing houses, they have to spend thousands on literary agents who often take cuts of the royalties of your work when published, paying professional illustrators to take on  their covers and inside artwork and paying proof readers to look at their work before they can even submit. We wanted to give those authors a chance. We are more than happy to take on first time authors or un-known authors, do not have a charge to look at work, and if we do not take on the work we offer free advice in where to go and what could help.

Publishers cannot guarantee success, no matter which publishing house you are. From the smallest to the biggest. If a book doesn’t sell it doesn’t make that publishing company a scam. It’s not a trick, as we said, we’re open about being a hybrid publishing house, many of our authors have not paid and some have had contribution contracts.

I see writers as one of the most respected careers one can choose. I have a huge amount of respect for authors, knowing that a book can change someone’s life, bring someone out of a very dark time in their lives, offer help and guidance, or for some, having a place to escape and feel at home.

I’m are genuinely glad you have not quit and of course wish you the best of luck in publishing, I’m sure you’re well aware of how difficult it is to break into the market as a published author, so please see both sides, we try and give our authors the best platform and all the help we can.

On a more personal note, as a fellow enthusiast of D&D, it’s good to see another avid player, and we also sympathise and totally agree on your stance with trump. We found ourselves in a bar in Soho when we heard the dreaded news and a dark cloud just loomed over us and has since not budged.

Also, it’s very refreshing to see someone smart enough on the internet that understands the earth is indeed round, not flat. Great choice with the Zelda shirt as well, we certainly approve of that. Like Zelda, it’s dangerous to go alone – in publishing.

Many authors are happy with the way that we operate, hence why we have a large number of returning authors, some of whom have published 5 or more books with us. This would not be the case if we were any kind of scam.

I’m are more than happy to accept criticism for our practises, and I understand that many authors are firmly against paying to publish, but this is not the problem here. The problem is that you are accusing us of being a scam, with no actual evidence to back up this claim. If you could please remove this falsity that would be very much appreciated.

I look forward to your reply.
Kind regards,
Chantelle Wadsworth


 

Chantelle,

I never said Olympia was a scam, or that it was doing anything illegal, hence the title of my article, “The Art of the Soft Scam,” emphasis on the word “soft.” Here are my exact words, from the piece I wrote,

They imply fame and fortune, but what they don’t tell you is that none of their authors have ever managed it. Could it happen? I don’t doubt it, but the chances are so unlikely, it might as well be a scam.

Olympia Publishers isn’t doing anything illegal, but I put them into a category below Xlibris. At least self-publishing houses have the good graces to admit what they are offering. Small presses like Olympia pretend to allow for success, to do what publishers are supposed to do: promote your writing and profit from readers, but they work in reverse. They ask you to send in a query and synopsis, and after a few tense weeks, ask for the manuscript. If it passes the scrutiny of their editors, you become a published author! If not, there is a second option, a pay to play option. After a little Googling, I found dozens of heartbroken writers tricked by this scheme, who were told they would be published, only to be asked to cover costs of up to 3500 pounds (nearly $5000)!

You need to realize that you are crushing the hopes and dreams of many struggling authors, by creating a false sense of hope. I have sold more copies of Ages of Aenya through my own website than most of your “published” authors have, and for one tenth the price, so what exactly are you offering writers for their $5000?

If you don’t want people to be turned away from your services, I suggest you change the way you do business. Be upfront with your authors. Tell them in advance that they will have to pay you. Admit the kind of publishing services you provide, that you are more Xlibris or CreateSpace than Bantam, then I’ll drop the soft scam label.


 

Dear Nick,

Thank you very much for your reply.

I have worked here for three years now, and even in these three years, I have noticed a huge change in our company. We’re being completely honest about out publishing process, we’re just about to launch our Author Hub (which by the way I’d love to share with you to see your own comments and how we can maybe improve before it goes live) which is a website for author advice – this is not biased to us, we actually recommend other types of publishing if it suites the writer/author and we’ve invested time and resources in creating helpful videos and articles. It’s not to promote us and our company or to sell books – it is purely a helpful resource.  We’ve also taken to charities and so on with our new website, writing blog posts dedicated to them and donating what we can to various hospitals, libraries and animal and environmental charities.

Also, on our about us section right in the centre of our website, we make it very clear that we offer both free and paid contracts. We even say to authors that submit to us to please put a comment in the additional notes if they are only interested in a free contract,  then a free contract will be the only contract that is offered.

We have expanded our publicity and promotions team so each author has a publicity coordinator to work with on a daily basis, since this we have been able to expand to the US and India. Some of our recent books have sold over ten thousand copies, which is a huge step up for us. Our contract prices have also significantly lowered. So overall we are really trying our hardest to be as upfront as possible with our publishing!

If you have a look on our forums (not by us by other reviewers) you will notice a huge turn around in the comments. The last two or three years there have been little or no negative comments.

At the end of the day. We appreciate your article, its those like you that help publishing shape themselves and improve. But as I’ve said, we have really up’ed our game, we focus all of our attention on our authors and are including many charities and projects in a lot of our works. Which is why I email to kindly ask you to perhaps remove the review, or even give us an updated review if you would rather?

That is fantastic that you have had success! And there’s no doubt more will come for you too.

Have a great day!

 

“The Nudist Writer”

underwood_nude_1910sIt should come as no surprise by now that I choose to live my life sans clothing. Naked is my default state. I long for the day when I can be free from the branding of Polo and Ralph Lauren. I only feel myself when I am wearing nothing.

But far more important to me is writing. I eat, drink and breathe storytelling. On many occasions I have gotten out of bed with a plot in my head. From the time I was six, I have been coming up with adventures, and that was thirty-seven years ago. Story matters. As Ursula K LeGuin put it, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

While Mark Twain famously advised to “write what you know,” LeGuin said, in response, that she writes about dragons because what she knows is dragons. Fantasy storytellers draw from personal experience while adding from the fruits of their imagination. Herman Melville tapped into his experiences on a whaling ship to create Moby Dick. In the same way, I know what it’s like to leave my clothes behind to explore the woods, to search rocky shorelines without a stitch to my name, to socialize without body taboos. I have also experienced the sense of shame imposed upon me by those who would judge my lifestyle as perverse or just plain weird, as have my naked heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Nudism informs my writing, even when my characters don’t think the way I do. Shame is a universal trait, and I would be a poor writer to neglect it. But what we wear, or don’t, is a big part of who we are. It is entrenched in our history and religion, and reflects strongly upon our values. A society’s attitude toward the human body speaks volumes about that society. Do they consider themselves a part of the animal hierarchy or apart from it? Do they shun the physical world, and the senses associated with it, or seek a more spiritual reality? Answering these questions provides a fictional world of greater richness and realism.

Having a unique perspective, we are told, is a good thing. But unlike atheism, LGBTQ+ or even, if Fifty Shades is any indication, bondage porn, I increasingly get the sense that nudism is just too different. Time and again, agents have rejected Ages of Aenya on the grounds that the concept isn’t “trending.” When I attempted to advertise my novel via social media, both Facebook and Twitter called the book, with its innocent cover of Thelana, “sex services.” Even Barnes & Nobles shied away from my offer to host a signing event, despite the many racier covers adorning their shelves. It would seem nudity is OK, but only in a sexual context.

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Sex services. Obviously.

It isn’t as though our sense of touch is entirely alien. Who doesn’t enjoy sunshine on their bare skin? A hot shower? Cool bedsheets after a session of lovemaking? Advertisers, all the while, continually use words like “nude” and “naked” to suggest their products are honest and all-natural. Clearly, nakedness is a good thing, and on some deep level we all know this.

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The nude archetype persists in our subconscious. We all wish for the same confidence, strength and beauty embodied by the heroic nude. It is an expression that has been with us since the Ancient Greeks, and continues to this day in the form of the superhero, who is all but nude but for the coloring of the skin, and in ESPN’s celebration of athletes.

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The heroic nude in modern times

We are simultaneously repulsed and attracted by the human form. This dichotomy, I believe, stems from an overemphasis on demographics. Fiction must be placed either in the Children, Adult, or YA sections, and nudity can never fall into any category but porn, because in our modern world nudity = porn. And it should be noted here, that DC’s recent adult comic, Batman: Damned, showcasing Bruce’s penis for the first time, is far from a nudist portrayal, as his genitals are made the emphasis of the panel, existing for no other purpose but to shock.

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Enlightened heroines are expected to wear full plate armor, without so much as hinting at the female shape beneath. This is considered progress, an improvement over the hyper sexualized covers of the 60s and 70s, and likely the reason Thelana isn’t trending. But it is progress leading to a more sterilized world, where neither sex is recognized. Equality could just as well have been achieved by giving the female hero agency, and stripping the male of equal parts clothing. Gone are the gods and heroes of church ceilings and museum walls, the renderings of mankind so proudly and masterfully born of the hands of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and this to me is a tragedy, because in censoring how we portray others, we turn every person into a potential object, a thing to satisfy our most basic urges.

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The modern heroine

This isn’t to say women in chainmail bikinis are preferable. On the contrary, Brienne of Tarth, and Netflix’ She-Ra, is a welcome change. What I am saying, rather, is that a woman need not be objectified, regardless of what she is or isn’t wearing, and that we need not choose between our sexuality and our humanity. In our current MeToo generation, we pretend to have matured beyond smut, while creating secret identities to wallow in the worst of PornHub. Instead of learning to express our desires in meaningful, honest and healthy ways, or reaching out to better understand the opposite sex, we have chosen to don the facade of robots devoid of passion. This societal schism, this partitioning of people into categories, cannot lead to a better world. More than anything, we need the heroic nude, our David and Heracles, our Mowgli and Tarzan and John Carter and, dare I say, our Xandr. We must embrace role models that embody the full gamut of what it means to be human, sexuality and all.

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Fantasy covers of the 70s

I am a nudist and a writer, and my fear is that I will be pigeonholed, that my work will be confined to an esoteric niche group. After all, we don’t typically call people gay writers, or Catholic writers, or Japanese writers—or by any other aspects of their identity—unless that identity becomes a focal point of their work, “feminist writer,” for example. Still, nudism is far from a fetish. It addresses a much broader spectrum that includes feminism and environmentalism, and it speaks to our most revered cultural values. While you may not see Sam Harris or Jordan Peterson debating the merits of nudism any time soon, it should be noted that they both conform closely to societal norms, of not simply wearing clothes, but wearing very specific types of clothing. Whether it’s President Trump or Barack Obama, Ken Ham or Neil deGrasse Tyson, ties and jackets are mandatory if one is to take your arguments seriously. This only goes to show how entrenched body taboos have become in our world. But while my upcoming second and third novels will have no naked heroes in it, to shy away from calling myself a nudist would betray everything I am, and rob the literary landscape from a rarely heard voice. Like Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman and Robert Heinlein, all of whom shared nudist proclivities, I stand outside of convention, and challenge the status-quo. I am Xandr standing at the gates of Hedonia, calling out against hypocrisy, searching for the lost innocence of Ilmarinen.