Welcome to the first entry in A Knight Adrift: the story of a brave knight cursed by fate and bound by honor to defend her kingdom from an ancient evil. Inspired by Dark Souls, this serial fantasy narrative focuses on exploring the light and dark within each human’s soul as the Knight Aveline traverses a dangerous realm to forge a new legend. A Knight Adrift is also available as a podcast, featuring narration and music!
Devin McKernan is a marketing professional by day and a writer, artist and podcaster by night, working hard to bring his beloved fantasy narrative to life. His many interests include cooking for his wife, head-butting his cat, and obsessing over Dark Souls. In addition, he is a confirmed Magic addict and whiskey enthusiast.
Episode 1 – The Beginning
Welcome to A Knight Adrift. My name is “Vigil,” and I’ll be your guide to the unforgiving realm of Valerius as the Knight Aveline fights to forge a new legend. Remember friends, that to survive this perilous journey, you must move with purpose, guard your soul, and always beware the darkness…
* * *
Isolated among a vast, infinite ocean, the island continent of Valerius is home to all of mankind. It’s said that the ancient gods of Dawn and Dusk created the first humans and gave them this land to test their worth. The land lives up to the legend.
From one domain to the next, the weather changes violently; sometimes beautiful, oftentimes cruel. The brightest sky can in a moment transform into a harbinger of nightmare squalls and the warmest day into a snow-smothered wasteland.
Enormous beasts hunt their prey in forests filled to bursting with thousand-year-old trees that block out the sun with their canopies. Cunning creatures prowl the barren wastes in the sea of fire. And beneath placid blue waves, leviathans wait with mouths agape, ready to swallow those sailors foolish enough to think themselves lucky.
Yes, in Valerius, a myriad of dangers lurk at every turn. And no matter who you are or where you come from, simple resilience is the most respected quality among its fledgling people. To survive is to live is to thrive, but many of the people waste their lives in constant fear of death, harried by endless hardship and loss. Like rats from a sinking ship, some of the most cowardly forsook familiar shores, never to be heard from again. But a brave few refused such fates and took up arms to stand defiantly against the darkness and death that threatened them daily.
Brave warriors from every tribe established the Kingdom of Valerius: a protected sanctuary in which all citizens cooperated according to the laws of strength and honor. Weapons were sharpened and walls were built high and anyone willing to fight for the greater good was welcomed to the warriors’ ranks.
The most accomplished warriors in all the land competed for authority, one emerging from the trial by combat to become king. Noble houses were established by those venerable heroes who daily risked everything to pit steel and courage against claw and shadow, all to defend the kingdom and its people. Even the most unseasoned skirmishers were praised for their sacrifice.
Whether out of necessity or nobility, it’s difficult to say, but all held fast to the singular guiding maxim: Survive together or die alone. Those who lived through the Great Building learned well that a sword is only as strong as the person who wields it, and in turn that person only as strong as the bonds of fellowship allow. Thus the young humans were bound in common cause and the wheel of fate turned by their strength of unity.
Having carved out its place with blood and tears, the little Kingdom of Valerius thrived and prospered. As youthful humanity grew more confident, the most bold among its number ventured into uncharted country to establish new outposts. To the east and west, simple campfires grew into magnificent fortress cities surrounded by thick walls and guarded by weary protectors.
Commerce expanded. Culture flourished. Names became banners and footpaths became roads. After several centuries of endless struggle, humanity stood atop mountains to challenge the threatening skies, walked the forests to hunt the beasts, and turned its attention from the dark places it once feared. Convinced of their dominion, the humans reveled in their hard-won victory.
But alas, the peace could not last. For a new enemy stirred in the gloom beyond the veil that separates precious earth from boundless abyss…
* * *
Aveline stared at the map on the table, a light of frustration igniting in her narrowed green eyes. Small wooden figures, carved in the shapes of archers and spearmen, sat atop a detailed illustration of a mountain river and met her scowl with indifference. Aveline brushed a rogue strand of hazel hair back behind her ear as she considered the tiny enemies’ positions; one of the few habits that betrayed her nervousness.
The cheap, rough-hewn plates of her soldier’s armor clattered and creaked beneath her blue cloak when the knight-apprentice crossed her arms and shifted from one aching foot to the other. Aveline was exhausted from the day’s trials.
Over the young woman’s shoulder, a large man of almost sixty years looked on. Lark stroked his long, white beard absentmindedly, grinning through the whiskers. For more than three decades, Lark had served as Master Strategist, and now, on her nineteenth birthday, he tested Aveline for knighthood.
Seated at the large, oak desk behind them, the legendary Great Knight Roland watched his daughter in silence. A cold expression rendered his face an inscrutable mask; his impression of Aveline’s performance a mystery.
The golden light of sunset poured into Roland’s castle study, casting deep shadows behind everything in the room, but reflecting brightly on his splendid armor. In the corner nearest the desk and always within arm’s reach, the longsword Durendal waited, its unremarkable appearance hiding the weapon’s true nature. Beyond the study’s single window, the capital city stretched to the land’s edge, its ancient buildings and vine-covered walls bathed in stark contrast of light and dark. Still further, the horizon belonged to the endless blue ocean.
Before Lark’s final test, Aveline had raced leagues on horseback, battled a dozen men, and recited every oath. She hadn’t even a moment to wipe the line of blood from a cut on her cheek. Yes, Aveline was tired, but after years of training, living, and learning as Roland’s loyal shadow, it was her duty to make her father proud. Aveline refused to come so far, only to be bested by a map.
Still, a doubt lingered in Aveline’s heart.
No other had achieved knighthood so young, and so few ever achieved it at all. What if she were not as capable as her teachers and peers believed? Why should she be exceptional? Swords and horses came natural to Aveline, but leadership was a different animal. As a knight, the lives of many men and women would depend on her judgment and fortitude. Life was simple as a soldier.
Despite her deep commitment, young warrior Aveline felt unprepared for such responsibility and wondered how she could ever serve as honorably as Roland had. But in this moment, she knew it was too late for self-pity. She was walking the only path she knew and now a simple test barred her progress.
Aveline took a deep breath and quieted the tumult in her heart. She slammed her hands on the table, rattling the figures, and spoke with the confidence expected of her.
“I would deploy contingents of archers along either side of the river,” she said. “Deep into the forest, so as to encircle the enemy. Cavalry flanked by shields would advance along the riverbank, here and here, drawing the enemy’s attention and springing their trap. Once in place, my archers would let fly from behind while the cavalry and shields would press into the bush, trapping the enemy between arrow and lance.”
Aveline looked over the map, trying to think if there was anything she neglected. She stood up straight, folded her arms again, and pronounced, “That’s my answer.”
Lark stroked his beard and listened to her response with rapt attention. He looked intently at the map, as if considering his own approach. After a long moment, he put his hands in the wide pockets of his robes and spoke in a gruff voice, “I see the intent of your strategy. It’s safe, simple. Not what I’d have done, but effective and with minimum casualties. After everything I’ve seen today, brave Aveline, I believe you’d make a—“
“’—horrible knight.’ That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it, old friend?” Roland interrupted as he rose from his desk, eyes dark, and face obscured by shadow. The great knight took a slow, menacing step toward Aveline and Lark. The two looked on in confusion at a man they no longer seemed to recognize as he continued, “You would make a horrible knight, Aveline, and you know it. Sure, you can handle a blade, but those people… Your soldiers, your friends. A blade is only an instrument of death and make no mistake: you will kill them. Following you, they will all come to ruin.”
“Roland, I—“ Aveline tried to protest, but was cut off by Roland’s raised hand. Tendrils of black shadow wrapped around his fingers and wrist. Outside the window, the sun set on the walled city and darkness settled over Valerius like a shroud.
“Don’t even bother. You needn’t argue. I can hear the mewling worry in your heart; the feeble desire to fight and die as one of the worthless many, as your real parents did. You think me your father, but I’m little more than a babysitter. Chained to you for years out of some useless sense of honor.” The black tendrils continued to envelope Roland as he stalked ever closer and an inhuman grin spread across his lips. “You know better than most of those pathetic animals that only the strong survive in Valerius, Aveline. Only the strong, only the worthy.”
Roland’s eyes, so often complimented for their warmth and clarity, became two lightless pits.
The young warrior was rendered speechless and horrified. At even his most furious, Roland had never spoken to his daughter in so harsh a manner. Over the course of the day, she had been battered and bruised, but every snarling word sliced deepest into Aveline’s heart.
Lark stepped between Aveline and Roland, arms spread in the soldier’s defense. The weathered strategist shouted, “Roland, please, what’s come over you? This is your daughter!”
The room grew darker, consumed each second by shadow. Suddenly, Roland’s black gauntlet shot into Lark’s chest and emerged with a sickening crunch of flesh and bone from his back. Bright blood splattered the map table and Aveline’s armor. On countless battlefields she’d born witness to terrible violence, but none such as this between long-devoted friends.
Her blue cloak soaked with red, the young apprentice backed away and knocked into the table, scattering the figurines that seemed so important a moment ago. Lark fell to the ground in a mutilated, twitching mess at Roland’s feet. Dark blood left his body to merge with the gloom around him.
“NO!” Aveline screamed.
Her demonic father laughed heartily, the shadows around him growing ever darker, as if the room had been plunged into an abyss. The great knight raised his hand to his face, smearing the void-like visage with bloody viscera.
* * *
Aveline snapped awake from her vicious nightmare, skin soaked in a cold sweat.
Around her, the familiar draft of her canvas command tent brought her back to reality. A constant wind buffeted the eastern face of her temporary home and beyond its walls, she could hear the routine sounds of her soldiers preparing for whatever the day’s march may bring: the scrape of swords sharpening, the crackle of campfires cooking, and the unexpected laughter shared between brothers and sisters in arms.
Lark’s bearded head appeared between the door flaps, the lines of his wrinkled face contorted in surprise at the young knight’s outcry.
“Knight Aveline, the guards heard a scream. Are you alright, sir?” Lark asked.
“Lark, you’re–!” Aveline hesitated, then put a hand to her forehead, wiping away the beads of perspiration there. Lark looked on expectantly and watched his commander with the weary eyes of a tired grandfather. Aveline swung her legs over the edge of the cot and threw back the woolen blanket. She gave the strategist a weak smile and nodded. “Yes, Lark, I’m fine. Thank you. What’s for breakfast?”
Satisfied, Lark disappeared from the tent to fetch his commander a plate. Aveline dropped her head and looked at the longsword Durendal, where it now laid in wait beside her cot. More than a year had passed since her knighting; more than a year since Roland vanished. Why think of him now? And in so twisted a manner?
She raised her eyes toward her own desk, piled high with notes and maps, and considered the dangerous mission she’d been given: to destroy the Archwizard Ixiel and stop the spread of darkness across Valerius.
Aveline couldn’t help but wonder, after the warning of so terrible a dream, what bitter ordeal may await her…
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