Chapter 3

On the Path, Part 2

Everywhere Aveline looked, tall trees the color of ash stretched to the gloomy sky. Their massive trunks formed a nigh-impenetrable wall through which she caught occasional glimpses of shifting shadows. She wondered if she was being watched, being followed by some dark minion, but upon consideration realized she didn’t mind. It was not the sigil that quelled her worries. Though she would not seek a fight, the Knight knew her troubled heart longed for the chance to exercise its sorrow.

As Aveline walked, threads of dusty sunlight caught in her eye for a fleeting moment and then vanished. Bare, skeletal branches tangled above like a lattice of bony arms, creaking and groaning with each frigid gale. The decomposing leaves of autumn gathered on the edges of the overgrown path where the once-trampled grass had regrown and flourished. If anyone had been this way since her imprisonment, it had not been for some time.

Again, the piercing howl of a fell beast reverberated through the lonely mountain forest. The Knight stopped to listen and judge the distance, but in the ominous quiet thought better of lingering. She brushed a strand of wind-blown hair from her eyes and continued walking.

Hours passed. Her stomach growled. Aveline had never been one for herbalism, but even to her untrained eye, the vegetation seemed inedible. She spotted the silhouette of a plump owl and smiled at her luck, but by the time she prepared her bow, the creature had flown. She resolved to walk with bow in hand, arrow nocked and at the ready. To silence her armor was Aveline’s most ardent wish, but she knew that in the wilds of Valerius, abandoning it even to hunt was unwise.

At each junction, the Knight plumbed the depths of her murky memory and struggled to remember the path that would take her west toward more familiar lands, toward “home.”

Between her true parents and the surrogate fatherhood of Roland, the battlefields of Valerius were the only home she had ever known. Young as she was despite her age, Aveline could not help but think of muddied fields and loyal horses. The common bond of brothers- and sisters-in-arms, echoed in battle cries and laughter alike. Fires as tall as greatbears lit up the nights and reflected in blades sharpened before the morning’s skirmish. Days were filled with hunting and training and learning and fighting. And though Aveline was raised in the shadow of hardship and horror, she could think of no better home. She missed her comrades, her parents, and the regimented, simple life she came to master. The Knight shook her head and pressed on.

An errant elk startled her from her reverie. Upon spotting it, Aveline froze. A solemn kinship momentarily warmed her chest. It grazed alone, rack of majestic antlers atop its head, with a serene calm that seemed curiously out of place in the dismal forest.

Aveline feared the loud, monstrous voice of her exasperated stomach would frighten the creature away. Her mouth began to salivate as she raised her bow and shifted her feet. Having always preferred the blood-warming dance of close combat, the cold calculation of archery was never the Knight’s calling. She hoped now that her mediocre skills had not degraded yet further since last she practiced. She thought of Roland and his effortless draw and casual release. Aveline breathed in, pulled the string back, and attempted to mimic the smooth motions her father had demonstrated time and again.

Tensed arms trembled with hunger. The Knight focused her eyes and loosed the arrow. It sailed aimlessly past the stag and sank its sharp point into a nearby tree. Alarmed, but too proud to know better, the beast raised its head in confusion and glanced from side to side, trying desperately to deduce what was happening.

Aveline cursed herself quietly and crouched low. She nocked another arrow, breathed deep, and with as little thought as possible, stood to shoot again. The second arrow blinked through the air to lodge itself in the elk’s chest. The beautiful, horned animal squealed in surprise, a jet of steam erupting from its mouth. Blood poured down its legs.

As it bounded into the forest screaming in terror, Aveline tossed the bow over her shoulder and ran after her prey. The elk leaped through thorny bramble and over decayed branches, leaving a bloody path in its wake. Aveline sprinted as fast as she could, but could hardly overcome the impairment of armor and malnourishment. Twigs snapped beneath her boots. Leaves scattered behind her stride. Within minutes, she lost sight of the creature among the column-like trees and was forced to track it by a vibrant trail of red droplets.

Subdued by distance, but closer than before, another thunderous roar issued forth. Aveline picked up her pace, hoping to make camp and restore her strength before she need face the cry’s source.

Almost an hour into the pursuit, the elk’s desperate escape led the tired Knight into a clearing. Leafless trees stood like sentinels around the edges of the well-defined forest circle. At the center of the unnatural space, a grey stone monolith had been erected. Weathered, cracked, and covered on one side in grey-green moss, it seemed the statue had long occupied the space, but at some point been forgotten.

Beyond the monument, at the far edge of the clearing, the elk lay on its side, still and dead. Wisps of steam rose into the cold air from its overheated body. Fearful of jealous predators, Aveline assessed the clearing before moving into the open. The Knight approached the monolith. Etchings that may have once been names were illegible, scoured by age and neglect.

Without warning, a loud commotion stirred in the forest behind. A herd of near-hysterical elk trampled between the trees and into the glade, galloping heedless past the Knight and the statue. Aveline pressed as close to the grey stone as she could, hoping to find temporary sanctuary among the torrent of crazed animals. She wondered with grave concern what would cause them to behave in so reckless a manner. 

She need not wonder long.

Branches snapped and cracked like lightning amid an oncoming cacophony.  An enormous, obsidian demon several times taller than a man burst out of the wilderness, sprinting on four thin, spider-like legs. Sharp, crystalline claws dug deep into the soil and tossed clumps of mud and grass with each dreadful step. Atop its head, two large horns extended far out over a jet-black body, a grotesque mockery or dark mutation of the proud elk Aveline had hunted.

The Knight stepped out of the shadow of the monolith and drew her sword. An eyeless face turned toward her. Shocked to see the human, the demon immediately abandoned its primal chase. The last of the elk disappeared into the forest. With a loud, familiar roar, the monster reared up on its hind legs and launched at the Knight. The demon was fast and Aveline too slow. She had barely enough time to raise her weapon and blunt the vicious attack. The blade absorbed much of the blow, but like razors, the creature’s talons raked her sword arm, slicing the flesh. The Knight cried out and tumbled back across the space, thrown like a stone by the force of the impact.

Though her hand still clutched Durendal, the arm would no longer respond to her panicked commands. Bright blood poured from the deep gash onto the grass. It was the most grievous wound she had ever suffered and could not decide what hurt more: the raw injury or her shameful ineptitude. As the exhausted Knight struggled to stand, the shadow-born behemoth howled and charged again. In a moment, it was nearly upon her.

Suddenly, a short spear launched out of the shadows at the edge of the clearing. The javelin embedded itself in a tree with a wood-splintering thud and a thin line attached to the weapon snapped up, taut and ready. Before it could stop its assault, the demon stumbled over the ambush and toppled to the ground. Its mess of dark, crystal limbs crashed together as the creature muttered a furious howl. 

“Who?” The Knight looked around through bleary eyes. A small hooded figure, clad in armor and carrying a small shield, appeared beside her. “So…short?”

“The name’s Faolan. Tall, short, whatever, I’m swifter and smarter than you.” Faolan threw back the green hood to reveal the face of a young girl, no more than 14 or 15 years old. A condescending smirk spread across her lips. The long braid of her brown hair swayed on the breeze. With a start, the girl looked close at Aveline’s wounded arm, where the skin and tissue were already reknitting themselves. A vibrant red glow emanated from beneath the Knight’s gauntlet where the sigil did its work.

“Watch and learn, witch.” Faolan secured her shield on her forearm and whipped a blade out from a slightly oversized scabbard strapped to her hip. Dumbstruck and perplexed, Aveline watched as the brave girl sprinted with abandon toward her tangled foe.


Origins of Evil, Part 3

Editor's Note: This entry was submitted by contributing writer Mauricio Wan. It is the third in a series exploring the origins of A Knight Adrift's antagonist, Archwizard Ixiel. To read previous entries, visit The Archive. Enjoy!

Ixiel the Wanderer. Ixiel the Lost. What songs do they sing of thee? What ballads are recalled in the eerie shriek of every owl, what rumbles in the lightning-split heavens? What reveries echo in the hushed gloom?


Kerlan was waiting for him. At the end of a morning fog at a wend in the road, a hooded figure sat thoughtfully on a rock. Ixiel recognized his fellow traveller, browless and bald as he was, and called out to him.

"I am Ixiel, learned of Xiomendes," he said proudly.

"And what does that mean?" the Walker replied, "We're all someone trained of some dusty old man or woman. You won't impress any Walker addressing yourself like that. Not unless you're an archwizard. No, none of us is impressed unless you're sleeping in velvet sheets and cavorting with royalty."

The stranger looked at the crimson-cheeked, proud young man who drew himself up before him. "The name's Kerlan. I also once had my head shaved by some old fart." The man drew back his hood and smoothed a palm over his bald skull, grinning inscrutably. And so the traditional formalism of his magical education ended for Ixiel.

Kerlan was a man of middle age and bearing. Medium height, earthy complexion, and slightly childish features. It was not entirely clear he needed a razor to tend his hairlessness. Beneath his gaunt frame, however, was a man of wit and learning and a daring countenance that encouraged Ixiel to explore.

Where Xiomendes had been strict, Kerlan was relaxed. Where his former master was solemn, his new companion was flippant. Yet side-by-side the two were equal in their knowledge of the old ways. Kerlan may have explored a different path from Xiomendes, but he arrived at the same places.

Whether he and Kerlan had met by chance or design was unclear to Ixiel. Though he had meandered since his late master's death, Ixiel was not entirely unguided. Here and there a helpful whisper came, a feeling of great intuition, a sense of direction in an otherwise senseless world. Fated or coincidental, he and Kerlan strode the wilderness for some years. No other Walkers crossed their path.

Despite his relative youth, his companion had traveled wide across Valerius. He regaled Ixiel with tales of long lost cities and deep caverns in which the Sages of old hid their knowledge away for safe keeping. Like Ixiel, Kerlan was a prolific collector of old artifacts.

"See these?" he said, holding up a set of rune-inscribed beads. "Focus stones. Old magic. Casters used to wear them to augment their bonds to veil and void. Lost a lot of their charge, been well used. Take 'em. They'll come in handy." Over the campfire, Kerlan tossed the beads to his companion.

Ixiel marveled at the first gift he had ever received. Fatherless Isidore had been taken from everything he had known. The memories of that boy, his mother's face, the shape of her smile, the penetrating sadness of her weary eyes, were more residue than memory, details from disparate instances rearranged by his mind to give it substance. His surrogate Xiomendes had returned from the dust he had come from. Delia... had left, quiet as a ghost, barely even haunting his dreams. The necklace he held in his hands felt to him like an anchor, its old runes tying him to a long lineage and great purpose that was bigger than the loneliness of self.

He tried to thank Kerlan profusely, but the man turned in to sleep without so much as a goodnight.

"These here are words of binding," he showed Ixiel months later, running his hands reverently along the stiff parchment. "Powerful magics. Used to echant items--weapons, armor, beads like your own--and also to make marks to bind people. They say that lovers used to mark themselves so they always knew where the other was, so they could die at just the same instant. Far away, but together. Or some such nonsense." Kerlan chuckled.

Ixiel dreamed of Delia that night, thoughts turning to her despite any distraction he might forcefully imagine. The dark was cold and wet. Wrapped in his dirty robes, he found himself wishing from the foundation of his being to return to those chaste moments of adolescence when he and she would huddle together for warmth in the night. How cruel he thought it then, to be so close yet far. But still Ixiel knew he preferred that binding torture to the rain-soaked freedom of the night.

You can have her. I can give her to you. The whisper came.

Ixiel’s eyes jolted awake. He put the thought out of his head. Delia was Isidore's dream. That boy was gone. Ixiel was a seeker – a keeper of lost things. Surely, he was that and that alone. Never could he be more… Could he?


Supplementary - Historia Glossarium, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This entry is part of a series exploring the history and lore of A Knight Adrift in greater detail.

Born from the shadows of humans, demons watched their oblivious counterparts from the gloom with envy. Empty, alone, and bound by the veil that separates void from earth, the shades whiled away their immeasurable time coveting the spark of humanity’s souls. And as humanity tamed the wilderness and built its cities, the demons’ resentment grew. Why should humans alone be allowed to enjoy land and sea and air? What cruel gods had doomed their kind to nothingness while humans basked in unearned freedom?

The shades longed to inhabit the darkness within each human’s soul, believing it their means of escaping imprisonment. But such a task was nearly impossible, for even the weakest human’s will selfishly repelled entrance to the soul. Frustrated by one failed attempt after another, demons resorted to the vulgar possession of beasts and wild things to wreak havoc on their enemy. Their souls twisted in shadow by demonic corruption, simple creatures became monstrous abominations, mindlessly fixated on the torment of errant humans.

At the dawn of the age of men, the first shadow cast into the void was consumed like any other by insatiable jealousy. But its ambition, greatest among the veil-bound, fueled a terrible purpose. Appalled by the pathetic desperation of its companions and unwilling to debase itself in such a manner, the First waited, observing humanity for centuries.

Moments of joy. Moments of sorrow. Moments of contempt and disgrace. The demon drank in the spectrum of human experience. With its knowledge grew its power. It tested the limits of the void and veil, and was convinced there was a way – a way to bend the humans’ will to its own. After thousands of years, the demon need only a suitable target for its experiment.

In the uncharted mountain forest of southern Valerius, a pious monk lived a life wholly devoid of human contact. Having judged his church lazy and profane, he abandoned it to worship the ancient deities in the method he saw most fit. For years, the bitter monk stubbornly eked out a meager existence. He forsook all bonds of fellowship in service of his faith. Huddled alone in his patchwork hut, his mind addled and body deprived, the monk sacrificed what game he need not eat to the fire, hoping to receive a sign of recognition from the gods he so revered.

One dark and suffocating night, a voice came from within the fire’s shadows. The demon whispered to the monk. Bird and beast would no longer suffice. To prove himself truly devoted and worthy of their favor, the gods demanded more satisfying sacrifices. It was the voice for which he had waited. The monk abandoned his mountain hovel and ranged far and wide, all the while foul murmurings in his ear. His knobby feet, weary with travel and toil, carried him from hamlet to hamlet on his gruesome quest.

As broken and sad as the old monk was, he was not without humanity. With each murder, his will was slowly devoured piece by piece, like a sun-spoiled corpse beset by vultures. Tears streaked down his dirty face, reflected in the sharp blade of his bloodied knife. And as the monk’s soul eroded, the demon filled the void within him. In nights as black as tar, the quiet whispers ever eased him softly to sleep with promises and hope. But each day hope evaporated as he awoke from ominous nightmares, twitching and screaming in terror.

Years passed and the exhausted ascetic turned away from the gods. Unwittingly bent to the demon’s will, his mind was clouded with turmoil. Murder after murder took its toll. His own reflection mocked him. Shadows beckoned him to blasphemy. There seemed to be no end to the gods’ appetite. With so much innocent blood spilt by his hand, the monk longed to be stopped. How had he not? Was his immunity the sick favor of which the voice had so often assured him?

Far from the mountain home and simple life he once loved, the monk sat alone in some dark alley. He realized in a fleeting moment of clarity that no amount of blood would ever be enough. Long suppressed by the demon’s will, guilt bubbled up and froze his heart. He looked at the knife in his hand, still red and slick from his latest victim. A dry sob shook his body. The monk said no prayer as he turned the knife and with both hands thrust it toward his own throat.

Suddenly rigid, his hands stopped the knife’s point a hair’s breadth from his skin. With eyes that smoldered like embers, the monk laughed with lips and tongue that were no longer his own. The demon assumed control of its victim. For in their lowest moments of broken will, humans are most susceptible to the dark influence of shadows.

The monk that was not himself laughed again and again. The hollow sound echoed off city walls. Rats scurried away into dank sewers, eager to flee the evil presence. The monk stood and assessed his own body. The damp air filled his lungs as he greedily sucked in ragged breath. The monk was no more.

Convinced of its supremacy, the demon reached out to the void and proclaimed victory. Eager to taste the freedom of Valerius, shadows throughout the void pledged themselves to the First and combined within the mortal host. Thus Tyrannus, the primordial demon, was willed from many into one and unleashed upon the world. 


Supplementary - Historia Glossarium, Part 1

Editor’s Note: This entry is part of a series exploring the history and lore of A Knight Adrift in greater detail. 

The land of legend. The crucible of man. The island continent of Valerius, isolated among a vast, seemingly infinite ocean, is home to all humanity. It is said that the ancient gods created the first humans and gave them this land to test their worthiness. In Valerius, a myriad of dangers lurk at every turn and as such, resilience is the most respected quality among the people, regardless of age, sex, or heritage.

The weather and environment vary drastically from one domain to the next, sometimes beautiful and oftentimes cruel. The brightest, clear sky can in a moment transform into a harbinger of nightmarish squalls. Enormous beasts stalk their prey in boundless forests, filled to bursting with giant, thousand-year-old trees that block out the sun with their tangled canopies. Cunning creatures prowl the unforgiving wastes and endless deserts in the sea of fire. Below the brilliant, blue waves, leviathans wait with mouths agape for unfortunate sailors foolish enough to think themselves lucky.

Many of the people, harried by relentless suffering and loss, whiled away their lives in constant fear of death. Some of the most cowardly forsook familiar shores in search of other lands, never to be heard from again. But a brave few refused such fates and took up arms to stand defiantly against the encroaching darkness.

Devoting their lives to the cause, strong warriors from every tribe united to establish the Kingdom of Valerius: a protected sanctuary in which all citizens cooperated according to the law of strength and honor. Weapons were sharpened and walls were built high. Anyone willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good was welcomed to the warriors’ ranks. The noble houses were established by those most venerable heroes of legend who daily risked everything to pit steel and courage against claw and shadow, all to defend the Kingdom’s walls and people. Even the most unseasoned pikemen were praised for their bravery.

Common folk and nobles alike held fast to the singular, guiding maxim: Survive together or die alone. In this age of innocence and discovery, threats against their haven arose daily. Those who lived through the great building learned well that a sword is only as effective as the person that wields it, and that person only as effective as fellowship enables him to be. Thus humanity was bound in common cause and the wheel of fate turned by their strength of unity.

Having carved out its place with blood and extricated itself for a time from ceaseless predation, the little Kingdom of Valerius thrived and prospered. For several centuries, peace reigned.

And as youthful humanity grew more confident, the most bold among its number ventured forth into uncharted country to establish new outposts to the east and west. These evolved over time into magnificent fortress cities, surrounded by thick walls and guarded by vigilant protectors. Commerce expanded, culture flourished. Names became banners and footpaths became roads. Humanity, convinced of its supremacy, turned its attention from the dark places, the dangerous places and reveled in its hard-won victory.

But alas, the peace could not last. For a new enemy stirred in the abyss beyond the veil... 

Chapter 3

On the Path, Part 1

Aveline awoke from her restless slumber with a start, the air around her still and cold. The hairs on her neck stood on end and her skin flushed with terror. Having emerged into gloom, the Knight was for a moment possessed of an unshakeable certainty that escape had been an illusion; that she had been dragged back into the void and her time with Roland was nothing but a dream, conjured by that evil place to compound her suffering.

A cloud of milky breath, given form by the cold, drifted upward. Aveline’s eyes adjusted. The long moment of panic subsided. Illuminated by hazy sunlight from behind her, hundreds of black statues stood silent, crowded and inert. They looked down on her like tall, crystalline coffins.

After an endless season of dark imprisonment, the Knight was free.

Aveline arose from the floor and collected herself. She sheathed Durendal in its scabbard and checked the contents of her pockets and pouches, hoping to find something that would satisfy a painfully empty stomach. To her surprise, a handful of hazelnuts had survived the ordeal, miraculously preserved. Without a second thought, Aveline devoured them with joyful abandon.

The space was suffused with a frigid temperature that set the Knight’s bones to shivering. She gathered the once-celebrated blue cloak and wrapped herself tightly. Beneath the gauntlet on her left hand, the sigil glowed, pulsing in time with the rhythm of her heart. Aveline remembered the late King Aurleon and looked for his body, but no sign of it was to be found. No bodies remained, even those who had died before Ixiel sprang his trap.

As she walked between the stone coffins of her comrades toward the sun-lit entrance of the obsidian tomb, water welled in Aveline’s eyes. So many spirits quelled, voices silenced. She thought of the men and women’s families and wondered what had become of them. Did they know what fate had befallen those here? Did they know of the King’s betrayal? The Knight blinked back tears and kept moving, uneager to dwell.

At the edge of the obsidian cavern, she reveled in the light. The sun hung low in the sky, half-hidden behind shadowy wisps of fog and cloud. But what few rays escaped to touch Aveline were revelatory. Surrounded by the remains of boundless misery, the Knight drank in the light as if her humanity depended on it. Her armor warmed, her face brightened, she felt alive and was grateful.

The Knight breathed the crisp air and assessed the dead city of Monticolus before her. Everywhere she looked, countless flat-faced black monoliths cluttered the square and streets, reflected by small pools of gathered rain water. An oppressive shroud of quiet seemed draped over everything, disturbed only by the intermittent howling of chilly mountain winds. The decaying scent of autumn lingered on the air. Indecipherable flags, shredded and obscured by time, flapped on wind-worn poles. Arrogant vines, untamed by human hands, grew up between cracked cobblestones and covered many of the eroded walls. Homes, stores and houses of worship, once loved and oft-visited, stood empty and decrepit.

There were no signs of humanity. No evidence of beast or bird. As Roland had warned, it seemed decades had passed and this place abandoned to its cursed fate.

“West, he said.” Aveline had seen enough. She nodded to herself, then made her way down the steps and into the street. She walked slowly to avoid the obsidian blocks, back the way her army had come so many years before. Abandoned by frightened soldiers in the turmoil, a smattering of weapons littered the ground. Most were broken and useless, except for a polished blackwood shortbow that decades later seemed in perfect condition. The Knight gave thanks to the craftsman and collected it, as well as a quiver and a handful of arrows.

Accelerated by the stone walls that guided the streets, gale after gale screamed through Aveline. The blue cloak wrapped around her shoulders flapped violently as she grasped the hilt of her sword for stability. She grimaced and kept walking.

As she passed the city walls, the Knight silently renewed her pledge to the faithful warriors who had entered the city never to return. Should she walk free when so many had fallen, their sacrifice would not be in vain. The gift of life would not be wasted. As her father had counseled, despair and guilt and grief were of little use to her now. For the sake of Valerius and the humanity of its people, Aveline vowed that Tyrannus and its puppets would be driven back into the lightless void from whence they came.

Ahead of her, the mountain path was overgrown. Razor-sharp tall grasses and leafless gray branches twisted together, a mass of foreboding forest. Enormous trees loomed, ominous and covered with bark like weathered slate. No light seemed to penetrate the dense canopy. Swaying shadows awaited within. The Valerian wilderness had always been perilous and unforgiving. What unnatural, unspeakable horrors now lurked in the dark?

In the distance, from somewhere inside the dark forest, a wretched roar tore forth. Flocks of black birds took wing and quickly disappeared in a cloud of panicked squawks. As she watched the animals flee, Aveline gripped her sword more tightly. What foul creatures would be so unfortunate as to stand in her way? The Knight grinned and strode with purpose into the untamed forest. The journey had begun.


Unbeknownst to the Knight, a white fox watched her with preternatural interest. Sitting impassively at the edge of the city, its small, black eyes observed her every move. As Aveline mustered her resolve and stepped into the forest, it waited a moment, then darted off on some mysterious business.