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?