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: Xandr Battles the Snake Man

XandrVsPDA

Naked but unafraid, Xandr must prove mankind’s worthiness against the Septheran champion.

Sunlight reflected off the Septheran’s body, tinting him violet, but where the sun did not touch directly, his scales were as black and shiny as volcanic glass. Like his brother, the Pharaoh, the creature named Purple Death Adder possessed the cobra-like membrane connecting the top of his head to his shoulders. With his approach, his awfulness became more intimidating. He was much taller than any human, with sinewy arms that reached to his knees and talons that snatched at the air, and in each hand was a long dagger in the shape of a crescent moon. Tellhus charged with a lame leg and a desperate cry, his khopesh thrust at its gut, but the prince of serpents did not stir. Whether staring down his attacker or sleeping, the creature’s eyes showed no sign. But as the sun moved across his pointed face, his pinpoint eyes flickered from black to white and his head pivoted like a predator before a kill. In the instant of impact, the Adder became a torrent of motion, slashing at Tellhus’ sword arm. Blood gushed from the limb, cleanly cut from the elbow, but Tellhus simply stared where that part of him had been, the pain having yet to reach his senses. Retracting the scarlet blade, the Septheran crawled, lizard like, along the man’s body, biting deep into the shoulder. As the venom took hold, he became rigid, and even from a distance Xandr could see the discoloration—the subtle purple tint in the veins beneath the skin. Tellhus fell, shriveled to the bone, like a preserved corpse dead a dozen or more years.

A wretched sound circled the arena, filling the ears with dread, hisses and snare drums and human cheer. It wasn’t a battle they had been anticipating, but a slaughter. And they approved, Xandr realized with disgust. Even the human slaves accompanying their masters were too cowed, too complacent in their misery, to think otherwise.

As the spectators grew silent again, Purple Death Adder turned his attention to the three remaining humans. At this, Soog keeled over, his vomit pooling between his knees.

“Up!” Xandr commanded him. “Do not show them any weakness!”

“But we are weak!” Soog admitted. “Haven’t you figured that out yet? Tellhus is dead! Dead! And we’ll soon be with him!”

“We’ll all be dead someday,” Xandr replied softly, “but few men die with purpose.”

Few men die with purpose!” Eldin repeated excitedly. “It’s a popular saying of yours, you know.” Xandr gave him an annoyed look, but he went on. “Come to think of it, I must live through this day, either me or Soog, or who else will have recorded it? You don’t happen to be a bard or historian, Soog?”

“No . . .” Soog replied timidly, “but I could start.”

“You’re mistaken,” Xandr said to him. “I learned the saying from my mentor.”

“Precisely,” Eldin agreed, “but it was passed down from you, from the Batal, which means—by the gods!—you were meant to embody your ancestor!”

Ever so gradually, the Septheran prince was making his way toward them, to prolong the kill for the crowds, and to torment his victims with impending death. In his periphery, Xandr could see Eldin retreat behind him. “If you’re so certain about all this, why do you tremble?”

“I —um—am only human,” he admitted, “and my calculations may be off!”

“The two of you stay here,” Xandr said finally, taking the least beaten sword from the ground and the small ax from Soog’s bumbling fingers.

Compared to the weight of his two-hander, carrying the khopesh was like going into battle empty-handed. The sickle-like blade twirled in Xandr’s palm as he rummaged through his memory for the techniques his mentor taught him for small swords. It was too dull to chop, that much he knew, but the Septheran’s armor-like hide made that a moot point. Any sword could do the deed if one were to simply push. The ax was a distraction, so he tossed it, marking the divide between him and the prince.

Purple Death Adder’s crescent blades silvered in the noonday sun. His neck stretched, accordion like, making him a head taller. His eyes rolled over Xandr’s body, studying his build, his demeanor. Caution showed in the snake man’s coiled posture.

You do not fear me.

The voice was thick and venomous, rattling his brain, but Xandr resisted the instinct to step away from it. “No.”

Even while standing, the prince was all motion, every limb writhing, its head bobbing, its tail curling and snapping and recoiling. Why not? he asked simply.

“Because my loved ones have already gone to the Taker,” Xandr answered, “and you cannot harm them.”

Do you not value your own life?

“I do,” he said, digging his fingers into the khopesh’ rusty hilt. “But I value the lives of others more.”

That is folly, the snake man communicated telepathically, his head agitated from side to side. Compassion is for the weak! All the while, the chatter from the wall intensified, the masses having never witnessed such an exchange between a man and a Septheran.

“You cannot understand because you are coldblooded,” Xandr said, his heart quickening, watching for any sign of attack, though the snake man’s posture and constant motion was utterly alien, mesmerizing. “Your cruelty is your weakness. No species can thrive on the suffering of another. The day will come when humankind shall triumph over you.”

That day is not today!

Xandr’s head screamed, the voice in it shaking him to his knees, as the prince’s scales quivered, his mouth gaping wide enough to swallow a man whole, his fangs milky white, dripping with ichor. Anticipating the attack, Xandr bent at the ankle, but he was already too late, the moon blades crossing his throat, grazing the stubble of his chin. He had never seen anything, beast or man, move so swiftly. In retreating, Xandr made a slashing shield with the dull edge of his sword, but the tail came out of nowhere, cutting his brow like a whip. The snake man was less limited by tendons, moving more fluidly than any man could, attacking from the side as readily as from the front. Xandr was outmatched and he knew it. Without thinking, his hand went to his breast, clutching his heart as if it might jump out, but the familiar scar crossing his torso was not there, and he remembered that he was not himself. He was Batal, and somehow . . . somehow the Batal had managed to make history. If he were to die at the hands of this monster, before so many witnesses, what difference could he make?

I must not lose. I must move faster.

But the Septheran was everywhere at once. Silver clashed with dull iron, pelting him with rust. Attacks came so suddenly and in such succession that Xandr could not hope to use his khopesh but to defend, and he realized with some horror that he was fighting only to survive. The tail, though it could not kill him, flayed his skin to ribbons, cut slices from his body piece-by-piece. The mouth lunged, flashing fangs, but they came too quickly for Xandr to contemplate—only some primal terror distanced him from their venom.

The crescent moons crossed again, the black-purple maw snapping between flashes of silver. As the first blade whizzed past his nose, the rusted sickle caught against the second. But Xandr’s weapon was wearing thin, each deflected blow adding a notch to the blade.

As hopeless as things seemed to him, he knew that from the walls above, the spectators could see the defiance, courage, and strength of a human slave, a sight never before witnessed in that arena. To Xandr, their faces were stony abstracts, too distant to distinguish, yet he could see the turmoil on their brows, in the sunken ridges of their eyes. Despite their masters’ angry lashing tongues, one-by-one, from the lowest to the highest tier, slaves began to rise from their seats.

The onslaught was unrelenting. And the day was sweltering hot, sapping the fight from him. Blinking the sweat from his eyes, he did not see the blade until it was too late, until he felt it tear across his liver. He watched his blood speckle the orange rock, the curved edge turn red as if dipped in paint. The arena was spinning, Eldin and Soog and Tellhus, and shadowy faces far and wide dashed with hopelessness, all spinning. Without any sense of falling, he was on the ground—there was no pain, only cold and numbness.

Where is my sword?

It was gone. Knocked somewhere out of his hand. He tried to regain control of his feet but they would not obey. He’d done all he could do.

The roar of thousands hushed to a whisper, and Xandr wondered why Purple Death Adder had not yet killed him. His only desire, his only regret in that instant, was that he would not see Thelana again. It was a selfish impulse and he knew it.

Out of the orange haze, a female shape was walking toward him, her hair like the tributaries in the valleys of Ilmarinen, and at first it was Thelana, but somehow she was more, was Alashiya also, for he remembered that the Goddess was in him, and all things of Aenya, and her skin glowed gold like the sun, became the sun.

You are not alone. Xandr. Her voice was a song, a mother’s coo.

When Alashiya reached down to him, and her hand was clasped in his, he was no longer in a place of darkness. Xandr stood to face Purple Death Adder again, sword at his side. The Septheran took a step back. The human spectators began shouting with fervor. Looking around him, at every hopeful face, he understood what he had to do. The fight was not his to win—it was theirs, and the Batal would not fail them.

“You wish to cow them?” Xandr cried, waving his sword over the masses, “then show them what they most fear . . . Bite me! I welcome the purple death!”

The prince was quick to the bait, leaving his moon blades in the dust. You do not know for what you ask . . . it is not a good death. It will avail your species nothing!

“Enough!” Xandr screamed, dashing forward. “Show me!”

Purple Death Adder leapt, his pink glossy gums agape. But Xandr drew him in with a delayed counter, the tactic taught to him by his mentor, giving the attacker what he thought he wanted. Rather than bite throat and shoulder, as the Adder intended, Xandr offered up his forearm. The fang cut deep, through to the other side, and as Xandr tore himself free the venom started to fill, coursing through his veins like searing needles. His hand was a bloody pulp. His forearm dangled from the elbow in meaty tatters. But the prince of serpents staggered back, the elongated neck stretched to its breaking point. With frantic strokes, it clawed at its mouth, desperate to remove the sliver of iron from its throat. Xandr moved slowly, weakly, despite his urgency and the short time he had in which to live. With his one remaining hand, he retrieved the ax, bringing it down upon the serpent prince, in a wedge though its slender face and head. Purple Death Adder flailed backward without so much as a hiss, now groping blindly at the ax handle jutting from its face, and hit the ground writhing.

Cheers sounded above panicked hisses. He had defeated the Septheran champion at the cost of his own life, but would it be enough to inspire men’s hearts to revolution? The poison was setting in. Each heartbeat was a dagger twisting in his chest. But they would not be wasted. Raising the ax overhead, wet with blood of the fallen champion, Xandr turned toward the stepped walls, to man and snake man alike. “I am a man . . . and I have beaten you!” Even as he spoke, the venom continued to cripple him, his fingers growing icy, his legs giving way.

“Men of Aenya!” he gasped. “You lose no freedom . . . when you are free to fight!” Those were his last words before he dropped to his knees, toppling forward to join Tellhus.

It would have to do, he decided, confident that the name would live on to inspire hope, to become part of folksongs, to pass through history and be recalled by generations, in cities by the sea, and by the simple people of the Goddess, those untouched by civilization. One name.

Batal.

 

What happens next? Find out 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!

 

Ages of Aenya: Thelana Makes a Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages of Aenya: Xandr Defends the Temple

Xandr vs. the Merquid

The temple collapses as Xandr battles schools of oncoming merquid! 

 

“Blasphemers!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens next? Find out in Ages of Aenya

Ages of Aenya: Thelana on the Plains of Narth

thelana_at_the_battle_of_narth__5__by_ageofaenya-d90v2ly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s over, isn’t it?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“But—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s close,” he said.

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

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

“Can you take it down?”

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

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

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

“We’ll be killed.”

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

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

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

He was gone. The man she had loved.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

D&D in the Faerie Tale Kingdom

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

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

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

 

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

 

THE AENYA BESTIARY: NEREID

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Nereid courtesy of Alexey Lipatov

 

The hippocampus, nereid, or “water horse,” as it is colloquially known, is an aquatic mammal resembling a dolphin and a horse. It makes its home in and around The One Sea, along rocky shorelines, where it dines on crustaceans hiding in the reefs. The species is few in number, bordering on extinction, and is very shy, keeping primarily to its own kind. Devoted fishermen can go their entire lives without seeing a nereid in the wild, but those that do regard it a good omen. Not surprisingly, most people living far from the Sea believe the nereid is a myth.

PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES: The nereid possesses a hardened outer layer of fat, much like a whale or dolphin, and dorsal-like fins that can contract and expand. It can be blue, turquoise or aquamarine in hue. It does not have gills, and so cannot breathe underwater, but can hold its breath for up to thirty minutes. Most of its time is spent with its head above the surface, however, and its body submerged. Its fluke, or tail fin, can pivot like an arm. Because of its mammalian spine, the tail maintains a horizontal axis in the water to better facilitate locomotion. On land, its fluke turns vertically for balance and to eliminate drag. Males weigh in at 1500 to 2000 lbs., standing 8′ with frill extended, whereas females are considerably smaller, at about 1000 lbs. and 6’5.

LIFECYCLE: After an initial gestational period, wherein the placenta hardens into an egg, a pregnant nereid will lay its eggs, rarely more than two, in a nest of sand. The shells are bright blue-green in color, and glitter like luminescent coral. Bits of eggshell bring a high price in the bazaars of the coastal cities, and are sometimes worn as jewelry. When an egg hatches, the infant instinctively makes for the water, to seek others of its kind. Its average lifespan is forty years.

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Logo by Evan Kyrou

HISTORY: The nereid is thought to have thrived in the Ocean of early Aenya, before the Greater Moon, when the planet was wetter. The Cataclysm greatly diminished their numbers, but as more than 90% of other species perished, the nereid managed to eek out an existence along the shores of the last remaining sea. It is thought that their adaptability, to thrive on both land and sea, helped steer the species from extinction. Nereid are swift and intelligent, and have few predators, aside from merquid, who consider them a delicacy.

To the island natives of Aea, the nereid was divine, an avatar of Irene, goddess of love and peace. The founders of Hedonia, who were settlers from Aea, continued the tradition, holding the nereid in the highest esteem. It is the sacred animal of the Sea God, Sargonus, and killing a nereid remains a capital offense, though no record of such an act exists.

IN CAPTIVITY: Because of their rarity, grace and beauty, only the highest ranked members of Hedonian society are allowed ownership of the nereid, and even then, the animal must be maintained with utmost care. As a sign of their station, commanders of the legion will use them as mounts, never straying far from the coast, so that the animal not suffer from dehydration. Nereid-themed symbols appear throughout Hedonian society, on banners, crests and armor.

Demacharon, First Commander of the Legion, discovered a wounded foal while captaining his trireme. Its hide had been torn by merquid hunters, but he managed to nurse the animal to health. He named it Evening Tide, after the time when it was found. Believing that the gods had blessed him, Demacharon commissioned a special helm with a nereid crest. A decade later, Evening Tide carried him into battle against the merquid on the shores of Sarnath, days before the tsunami that breached the city’s outer walls.

***

Learn more about the nereid in Ages of Aenya at www.nickalimonos.com!

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Thelana rides a nereid off the coast of Thetis.

People of Aenya: Horde

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Horde by Filip Bazarewski

Ten thousand years before the reign of Radia Noora of Tyrnael, or 5 BGM (Before the Greater Moon), the sun of Aenya began its expanse into a red giant, having swallowed the Xexaz world of Reptos within its corona ages before. Recognizing the danger to their planet, the Zo scrambled for a plan of salvation, but were mired by political divisions. Anti-science factions did not accept the looming threat, believing it a conspiracy to gain political sentiment, whereas the scholarly community were split as to what actions could be taken, if any. Many surmised that the end of the world was inevitable, and any attempt to change course was a waste of the precious little time they had to spend with their loved ones. Evacuation was the only option. But a vocal minority considered the ethical aspect of letting a world and all of its life forms perish.

Led by the charismatic thinker, Kjus, they stressed that the planet could be saved by moving it. Years were spent organizing engineers and workers, all of whom were driven by the threat of certain doom. They labored to save not only themselves, but the lives of their children and children’s children, and every descendent they were ever to have, their species and their home. Vast networks of underground tunnels were built, and a great machine, the mass piston. The machine allowed the Zo to manipulate the surrounding higgs boson field, oscillating the mass at the core to alter the planet’s orbital trajectory. The plan was as crazy as it was ambitious, and few believed it could work.

All the while, the exit majority, led by chief science advisor, Kzell, focused efforts on the building of wormhole generators, fancifully dubbed fantastigates. The proposed plan was not without its share of problems, however, for the formation of wormholes was, at the time, theoretical. Of the major obstacles was energy. Like the mass piston, the wormhole generator used mass to create gravity, but creating enough to punch a hole in the fabric of space-time greatly exceeded what was required to move the planet. Another more pressing problem: even if a gate to another world could be opened, there was no way of knowing where or when the gate might lead. Mathematician and historian, Eldin, disappeared through one of these gates, and was later discovered to have become lost in time. Eventually, after a number of trials and errors, including one in which an entire island continent was sucked into a micro-black hole, the fantastigate project was abandoned for a simpler, more desperate plan. Days before Solos’ expansion, the leading Zo voted to transfer their consciousnesses—their thought algorithms and memories—into an invincible golem body. It was intended as a vessel to extend and preserve their lives, a biological organism which could thrive in any environment, including the depths of space. Kjus, who continued his work to move the planet, was offered to join them. But he refused, choosing death over what he regarded the loss of his humanity. A separate body was designed for each member of the council, one hundred and twenty in all, but too much effort had been wasted on wormholes.

The golem body had a number of advantages to a starship. It would be far smaller, at 12′ in height, and therefore quicker and easier to manufacture. Powered by a heart of nuclear decay, it would require no sustenance, no food or water to produce and store. The fusion of organic and metallic materials would prove impervious to cold, heat, and aging. A magnetic field was added to deflect solar radiation, and a neutronium alloy veneer (derived from neutron star matter) to shield from micro-meteorites. Once off-planet, the nigh indestructible entity could traverse the stars at nearly the speed of light, creating ionic thrust from its hands and feet. After unmeasured centuries searching the cosmos, the golem was to settle upon a hospitable world, where its collective mind could be dissociated into separate biological entities. This was the last desperate hope of the Zo. The greatest flaw in the design, however, was intentional, as the golem brain was made to maintain a sense of awareness. They wanted to feel “alive.”

As Solos exploded into its final phase, the golem launched into space, but Aenya was not destroyed. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Kjus and his devoted followers, the planet was moved into a safer orbit, becoming a moon of the gas giant, Infinity. Recognizing its error, the collective attempted a return home, but a violent solar flair from the newly formed star stripped the golem of its magnetic field, and damaged its propulsion system. Falling into an irregular orbit, the body gathered icy particles near the system’s outer rim, forming a comet like cocoon around it. After untold eons adrift, alone save for the one hundred and twenty voices in its head, the Zo lost their sense of individuality and went insane, calling itself Horde.

Ten thousand years pass before Horde returns home. Encased in ice, it crashes onto the surface like a fiery meteor, cratering the ground and obliterating the land about Kiathos. But it is a very different world from the one it abandoned, a primitive world with two moons and one sea, where science has become magic and the Zo are long forgotten.

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DMT and D&D

I’ve been sitting on this post for years. Part of me really didn’t want to write it. And as a non-drug user, I felt unqualified. But the story has been nagging at me, ever since a friend told me about his DMT experience.

Now, I don’t do drugs. Never have. I grew up in the 80’s, with the “Just Say No” campaign, and the message really hit home. Except I took it to the extreme. I avoid anything that might artificially affect my brain in any way. So I abstain from alcohol, and I mean, ZERO alcohol. Haven’t had a sip of Bud Lite in my life. Nothing. Zilch. (OK, maybe whatever’s in Nyquil). My brother spent most of my teenage life trying to convince me otherwise, that I’d never find friends who don’t drink, or end up with a wife who doesn’t drink. Well, jokes on him, because my closest friend doesn’t drink and neither do our wives! By extension, to think that I could ever be pressured into pot or crack cocaine was hilarious. I was beyond peer pressure. Then again, I never felt any real pressure to do drugs. Sure, a few people asked me, but I said “No thanks” and that was it. It got to the point where I often wondered how anyone could end up an addict. Weren’t they forced to watch the same anti-drug videos I did? Now I know better, that drug-use is more often a symptom of depression or trauma or anxiety. But it’s not like I didn’t have opportunities. Working in a restaurant, you’re pretty much surrounded by users. If you’re in your mid-thirties and scrubbing dishes for minimum wage, chances are you made some bad decisions in life, or you just really, really like washing dishes. But here’s the odd thing: a lot of people over the years, including some crack heads, assumed I was an addict. One time, after taking a break outside, an employee asked me, “How was it?” I hadn’t had a hit. But, I am slowly starting to realize, I may have been doing drugs all my life without knowing it.

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Truth be told, we can’t escape drugs no matter how hard we try. A “drug” is a general term for chemicals, and we’re pretty much made of chemicals. It’s in everything we eat and drink. If you enjoy chocolate, caffeine, or the high that comes from exercise and sex, you’re enjoying the drug-like endorphins produced in your brain. And this brings me to DMT. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest you read up on it. The stories are amazing. It’s a hallucinogenic, but far, far more powerful than LSD. One LSD user described his DMT experience as somewhat terrifying, and you would be too, if you’re action figures started talking to you and dancing on your desk. A close friend told me the same thing. To paraphrase, “You don’t realize you’re hallucinating. There’s zero difference between what you know is real and what you are experiencing. Sight, sound, smell … it’s all there, utterly convincing.” And it’s not just seeing some funny things bouncing into your living room. Far from it. When you take a DMT trip, you’re entering another universe. You meet sentient beings, commonly referred to as “machine elves,” and there’s a great sense of time dilation. So what takes only a few minutes in reality might feel like days or weeks by the DMT-clock. OK, Nick, you may be thinking, this guy was probably pulling your leg. So I did my homework, and everything I read confirmed my friend’s story. In his book, Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion, neuroscientist Sam Harris posits that many religious experiences, including visions of life-after death, can be attributed to hallucinogens. The “light at the end of the tunnel,” is just a symptom. Now, this might not make much sense, considering how little the drug is known. Where did Abraham or Moses or Buddha get a hit of this stuff? But here’s the thing: DMT is naturally produced in the brain. The chemical has been associated with dreaming and imagination. When we die, DMT is released from your brain in a torrent, offering powerful, convincing manifestations of the after-life. Eben Alexander, neurosurgeon and author of Proof of Heaven, converted to Christianity after being pronounced brain-dead for “a week.” His description of Heaven sounds a lot like an episode of My Little Pony, with lots of colors, flowers and enormous butterflies. But, as Sam Harris points out, Eben’s experience closely mirrors those of DMT users.

I will admit, for a few days after hearing this story, I entertained the idea that maybe—just maybe—DMT acted as a gateway into another world. I truly wanted to believe. Who wouldn’t? Then again, the notion of other dimensions lurking beside our own can get pretty freaky. So I asked my buddy, “Is it real?” No, he didn’t think so. As a philosophy major, logic prevailed. Sadly, all evidence points to the fact that we only have one life to live. Unless you’re a fundamentalist, you know this is it. And it’s precisely because of this realization, I believe, people are drawn to imaginative endeavors. It’s our only escape from this mundane, everyday existence. Even if you’re the Dos Equis man, you’re going to want to step into someone else’s shoes, live someone else’s life. Why else do we spend so much time and money on movies, TV shows, books and video games? While there may not be an after-life, we can choose multiple lives within this one, and DMT, or some chemical like it, makes it all possible. After talking to my drug-venturing friend, we both came to the conclusion that the brain is far more powerful than either of us could imagine.

I am not a scientist, and even if I were, I think a lot more research needs to go into creativity and imagination and into how the firing of neurons activates those functions in our brains, but I know from experience how real the mind can make things seem. As a child, I managed to convince myself of some pretty impossible things. I could, at times, see and hear things I knew I’d just made up. It got me to worrying, for some years, whether I was on the verge of schizophrenia. My dreams have always been particularly vivid. I sometimes wake, feeling like I just watched a movie’s worth of content, enough to write a novel. Users of DMT report similar experiences, living lifetimes in the span of minutes, but the information quickly vanishes from memory, just as my dreams fade before I can get to pen and paper.

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This brings me back to books and the imagination. For much of my life, I have understood the technological drive to make things look and feel real. CGI effects, in movies and in video games, work to push reality away, to give the player the sense of really “being there.” I love what Lucas did with Star Wars, and what Jackson did with Lord of the Rings, and Skyrim just looks amazing on PS3. And still, we keep pushing the boundaries, desperate to throw more pixels on the screen to hide the fact that they are just pixels. By the end of this year, we will have affordable VR headsets to further the illusion. And yet, given the opportunity, I’d go with a tabletop game, like D&D, every time. Some people only see the pen and the paper. It never becomes real for them, and in their case, who’d want to sit around a table for eight straight hours rolling dice? But for me, D&D feels more real because my brain makes it real. The brain is, after all, a vastly more powerful computer system. The trick is learning how to activate it, how to bring it to its full potential. Am I suggesting taking a hit of DMT before a game? Hell no. That would be terrifying. But I do think we can learn to exercise that part of our brains—the part that makes the magic—through meditation, as Sam Harris suggests, or by simply turning off our screens and the endless everyday distractions tugging at our senses.

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Demogorgon

 

In the Netflix original, Stranger Things, a girl with psychic powers is put into a sensory deprivation tank to focus her abilities. I believe this illustrates something we can all do, to hone the untapped resources of our own minds. Interestingly enough, the show references D&D and a monster called Demogorgon. When I was twelve, I was pretty sure Demogorgon was lurking in my bedroom. That never happened to me playing Diablo or Resident Evil. That’s the power of imagination. Nothing can match it.  It’s why I play, why I read, and why I write.