Last updated on August 7th, 2015
Welcome to the second 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 the Knight Aveline as she 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 2 – A Knight’s Resolve
Born from the shadows of humans, demons watched their oblivious counterparts from the gloom with envy. Empty, alone, and bound by the veil that parts void and earth, the shades whiled away their immeasurable time coveting the spark of human souls. And as the people of Valerius tamed the wilderness and built their 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 soul, believing it their means of escaping imprisonment. But such a task proved nearly impossible, for even the weakest human’s will selfishly repelled entrance to the soul. Frustrated by one attempt after another, the demons resorted to the vulgar possession of beasts and wild things to wreak havoc on their enemy. Their bodies and souls twisted in shadow by demonic corruption, natural 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 as they had, the first waited and observed humanity for millennia.
Moments of joy, moments of sorrow, moments of contempt and grace. The demon drank in the spectrum of human experience and with its knowledge grew its power. It tested the limits of the void and veil and was convinced there was another way; a way to bend the humans’ will to its own. After thousands of years, the demon needed only a suitable target for its experiment…
* * *
Lost within the uncharted mountain forest of eastern Valerius, a righteous monk lived a life wholly devoid of human contact. Having judged its church lazy and profane for its love of the new gods, he abandoned to worship the ancient spirits of flame in the method he saw most fit.
For years the bitter monk hid from savage beasts and 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 food he needn’t eat to the fire, hoping to receive a sign of recognition from the spirits he so revered.
To tend the flame, to sustain its warmth: those were his most sacred prayers.
One dark and suffocating night, a voice came within the fire’s shadows. The first demon whispered to the lonely monk, masquerading as his beloved spirits.
“Bird and beast will no longer suffice,” it said. To prove himself truly devoted and worthy of the spirits’ favor, the demon demanded more satisfying sacrifices; more volatile kindling for the flames.
It was the voice for which the monk had waited. And in his mistaken enthusiasm, he abandoned his mountain hovel to range 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 a gruesome quest.
But as broken and sad as the old monk was, he was not without a sliver of 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 bloody 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 empty promises and hope. But each day, that hope evaporated as he awoke from ominous nightmares screaming and twitching in terror.
Years passed and the exhausted ascetic became embittered toward the spirits. Unwittingly bent to the demon’s will, his mind was clouded with turmoil. Murder after murder had taken its toll. His own reflection mocked him, cast into murky waters on sunlit days.
Each night the fire beckoned him to blasphemy. There seemed to be no end to the spirits’ appetite. And with so much innocent blood spilt by his hand, the monk longed to be stopped. How had he not? Was his liberty the sick favor of which the voice had so often assured him?
Far from the mountain home and simple life he once cherished, the monk sat alone in some dark alley of Lucidus, the capital city of Valerius. He realized in a fleeting moment of sweat-soaked 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 echoing off the city’s walls and sending rats scurrying into dank sewers, eager to flee the evil presence. The first demon stood and assessed his new 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…
* * *
Aveline emerged from her tent into a gray, early winter morning.
The sun had barely risen above the horizon, but already the familiar smells of burning wood and cooking meat permeated the air. Around Aveline, fewer than one thousand veteran men and women from across the domains of Valerius prepared together for whatever the day may bring: sharpening weapons, stowing rations, and always making light of death’s specter.
Snowflakes fell on the wind, melting on Aveline’s face, clinging to her cloak, and resting on the battle-scarred plates of her armor. Strapped to her waist, the longsword Durendal hung close by her side, a thick-gloved hand gripping its pommel.
Lark seemed indifferent to the weather. Big and burly despite his age, he waited in the cold for Aveline wearing little more than the light robes typical of his office. Planted between his frosty, beard-covered lips was a small, wooden pipe, its bowl emanating a sweet-smelling smoke.
Shivering, Aveline pulled her blue cloak tight around her and nodded at Lark. He took one last puff, then stowed the pipe and grinned at the woman, obviously pleased to see her up and about. Aveline tried to smile, but the memory of violent nightmare lingered like an unpleasant taste.
Together they walked through the Valerian army’s encampment, nestled as it was among the overgrown ruins of an ancient city. What was once a great stone cathedral was now little more than a crumbling windbreaker, destroyed during the War of Tyrannus several hundred years ago.
In some places, one could still make out the decrepit, fading symbol of Dusk’s worshippers: a small circle embraced by a crescent moon. Enormous statues – once carved in exquisite detail to depict the city’s founding warriors – lay smashed and covered in blankets of moss, the exalted heroes long forgotten.
For a time after the first demon’s miraculous defeat, the city was like many others throughout Valerius: a desolated hellscape, a blighted effigy of its former glory. In the great calamity, most of its citizens had died, and those few that survived were scattered across the vast mountain region. Devastated by loss, they refused to return to the accursed place.
But the years passed and hope was rekindled from the ashes. Vivid memories of the demon’s rampage turned slowly from horrific nightmares to fantastic legends, told by parent to child throughout generations. One by one, adventurers, wanderers, and merchants – many descended from those lucky survivors – returned to the mountain and saw the city rebuilt atop the remnants of the past.
Aveline paused beside a statue’s disembodied, boulder-like head. On its worn brow, it seemed a crown had been carved, but since its destruction reduced to little more than a vague impression. The knight pressed her fingertips to the stone, feeling the cracks and pockmarks, wondering who this hero had been.
A long moment of silent reverie came and went before Aveline realized Lark had stopped and was waiting. Embarrassed, she strode to catch up.
Beyond the forest, the crag, and the shadows of the old, the walls of the new city of Monticulus loomed large, guarding the easternmost port of Valerius.
Aveline strode onward toward Lark’s tent and the morning’s war council. Around her, she could hear the restless murmurings of the last one thousand that managed to survive until now. And though each man and woman bowed with respect as she passed, the knight knew the tenuous bonds of camaraderie binding them were frayed and on the verge of severing.
* * *
Having abandoned tradition in the centuries since the first demon’s defeat, the new kings of Valerius established an unjust line of succession by lineage, asserting familial supremacy despite the custom of equality in resilience. Where once the king need fight for the throne, staking one’s very life on a claim in honorable trial by combat, it was henceforth bestowed from father to son, with all challenges ignored.
Their honor trampled, the people were outraged. Violent rebellion fomented and the kingdom fractured amidst a storm of blood. Outside the kingdom, five domains were established across the continent. While some were loyal to the king, others rebelled and declared their independence, promising to preserve the forgotten ways of old.
Determined to redress the sins of the past and usher in a new era of peace, young King Aurleon renounced his arrogant, reviled forefathers. As darkness spread across the continent, shadows grew deeper and the wild places more treacherous than ever before. Allied with Ixiel, the void-bound cared nothing for borders and pacts, wreaking havoc with impunity on their distracted enemy. To eliminate the threat of the sorcerer, Aurleon called upon the five warring domains of Valerius to join the kingdom in an unprecedented alliance. All would heed his call.
Every representative had witnessed firsthand the horror of Ixiel’s machinations. At turns solemn and furious, people from across the continent recounted their terrible tales: entire villages slaughtered by vicious beasts, able-bodied men, women, and children abducted in the night by foul servants. The sorcerer’s dark magics called for blood and in a short time, there had been no shortage of it.
Many feared a fate worse than death should they be taken and some, with voices trembling in terror, spoke of Tyrannus’s second coming. No matter the past, all agreed to a temporary truce. Ixiel must be stopped.
With the disappearance of Great Knight Roland, however, there remained few leaders capable of commanding as much respect and authority as he had. But when word spread that his apprentice, Knight Aveline, had been bequeathed the Great Knight’s legendary weapon, the choice became clear. Having fought by Roland’s side for almost a decade and learned all the man could teach, Aveline was well-known for her martial abilities. She was a passionate warrior of excellent character, but at so young an age, could she lead such a vital mission to success?
With a warm smile on his lips and no doubt in his heart, King Aurleon declared brave Knight Aveline the champion of the realm. Inspired to hope by Aveline’s stolid resolve, not one delegate in attendance objected.
* * *
For five months, the noble quest fared as well as it could. They were four thousand strong when they departed the kingdom for the east, counting among their ranks the most seasoned warriors from across Valerius. And though the soldiers of Aveline’s army were at first apprehensive, they suffered and triumphed together as they once had long ago; compelled despite politics by the common cause of their mission.
Through leagues of dense wilderness and relentless monstrosities, the Knight Aveline led the United Army of Valerius. Each village and small city they liberated from the oppression of Ixiel rejoiced to find that heroes still existed. Many sang the praises of the fearsome “Blue Knight,” ever clad in her famous cloak and wielding her invincible sword.
But as Aveline’s legend grew, the battles took their toll.
Determined to halt the crusaders’ advance, it seemed Ixiel had raised an army of his own. The soldiers’ numbers diminished as the months marched by. Thousands perished: many in combat, some from exposure, and a cowardly few simply fled. With each loss, Aveline blamed herself and in the lonely dark of night wondered who could have lived had such responsibility fallen to another.
Finally, in the first days of winter, the weary fighters came upon Monticulus: the fortress city rumored to be the Archwizard’s last bastion. The city walls in her sight, the knight and her advisors made preparations to march on their objective. But a shadow of fear crept into the knight’s heart as the army made its way up the cold mountain.
Instead of a shower of sorcery and torment, the mountain road was silent, abandoned. So close to the ocean, one could hear the crash of distant waves, but not a single gull cried in the sky above.
The fortress city’s enormous gates stood open, raised by some unseen power, as if to welcome guests. No riders emerged to treat, no servants appeared to taunt. No creatures, twisted by the void, barred the knight’s path, and none entered nor exited.
Suspicious of Ixiel’s behavior and expecting a trap, Aveline selected several of her best scouts, paired them with a five-person guard, and deployed them to report on the state of the fortress.
Hours passed, but nothing was heard. Night descended without a sign of scout or soldier. For the first time since the launch of the campaign, Knight Aveline was uncertain how to proceed. Without a clear idea of the sorcerer’s resources or forces, Aveline knew the best course of action was to lay siege to the fortress. Marching into mysterious circumstances put the precious remaining few men and women of her army in peril. But the winter would only strengthen its cold embrace, and there was no telling how long the season might last.
Time – with the quest’s potential for success – was quickly dwindling.
Outside Lark’s tent, Aveline stopped to listen to the debate raging within. Eager to see their mission done, the loudest captains argued the army should seize the initiative while its soldiers were able and willing. A quiet few implored caution and begged for reinforcements. Knowing what must be done, Aveline took a deep breath and entered the tent. A hush came over the gathered advisors and subordinates.
After a long moment, Aveline spoke.
“There are no reinforcements,” she said. “If we do not succeed, there will be no obstacle left to halt Ixiel and the sorcerer’s vial madness will spread, unchallenged. Many more will face ruin and death.”
Aveline looked across the room to Lark, where he’d taken quiet refuge in a dark corner and resumed his smoking. With sad eyes, he nodded to the knight and she continued. “The souls of the fallen demand swift retribution and I’ll not allow their sacrifices to be for naught. Ready yourselves, and your soldiers, for we march on the mountain city within the hour.”
Some cheered, others hung their heads. And with that, their course was set. Though she feared such a reckless strategy, it seemed to Aveline there was no other way. Who knew what torments awaited humanity should they turn tail now? As word spread of her orders, the survivors prayed to the gods for strength in the face of death.
* * *
The snow fell hard in enormous flakes as Aveline mounted her loyal horse, Stella. Beneath the steed’s hooves, the frozen ground crunched, hot jets of breath bursting onto the wind.
Starting at the rear of the column, the knight trotted through the ranks to join the vanguard. In the five short months they’d fought together, Aveline proved herself a glimmering paragon of endurance and fortitude. Her calm and stoic demeanor inspired awe in the gathered warriors as she passed. The knight could feel their eyes on her armor, on her enchanted sword, and the blue cloak for which she’d become so well-known billowed behind her.
In the shadow of destroyed history and on the threshold of the future, Aveline spoke to the army.
“By now you’ve heard what lies ahead of us. The rumors are true. And though we’ve faced countless monsters, ever more horrors lurk within the walls of Ixiel’s lair.” Aveline looked out among the crowd. Every face watched her with rapt attention and she continued, “My exhausted friends… I won’t lie to you. It could all end here; nothing more than a ruinous error of judgment. But so long as I draw breath, I will fight for you, for your families. I ask you, brave champions of Valerius: who will fight with me?”
She found her answer in the collective booming war cry of her army.
Shouts echoed off the bastion’s walls and echoed back down the mountainside. Men and women, all hardened fighters, gave into exuberance and thrust their weapons overhead in salute. Never had Aveline heard nor seen them so resolute and jubilant. If the Archwizard didn’t know of their plans already, he surely did now.
With that frenzied acclimation, the knight vowed that whatever fate may await her, she would see each of them live on as legends. She would survive, if only to sing songs of their steadfast courage.
Here, at the edge of her world, Aveline gave in to a moment of quiet hope: that the quest to destroy Archwizard Ixiel may finally be at an end…
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