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Skeaver the Demonsbane

Old friend, old dwarf. I send you my affection, my respect and a riddle – which you so abhor but I so adore. It’s a riddle of the soul, however. Of gods and fates and those silly, nebulous mysteries that I so abhor and you so adore. It is also, I believe, a riddle of some urgency; an extraordinary man, a Lady clothed in Shadow and demons once more among us despite our careful centuries of precautions.

Delivering this missive is the riddle himself, Skeaver Demonsbane. He is easily identified by his scarred face; the furrows drawn by acid talons from hair-line to jaw to neck to chest. They draw his eye down to a furious squint and lift his lip in sneering contempt that I assure you he doesn’t feel. That gruesome mask is only that, for his mind behind it is cool and calm; assessing the world constantly in terms of threat and opportunity; calculating attack and defense even sipping ale beside my fire.

Please take the time to examine his motley armor. The leather beneath is very high quality, with excellent stitching and superb, if unadorned, workmanship. Skeaver made that himself, though he does not remember learning the craft. The odd bits of mail, however, are quite a different matter and disturb me greatly. Ancient, battered bronze with a rich green patina riveted with golden rivets to that odd reddish, shifting hide – demon hide. If I am right, that armor was destroyed millennia past. I witnessed it being destroyed during the Twin Empire. It can be no other armor than Tivur’e Demonsbane’s. Well, half of it. That Skeaver claims – with reason! – to be Demonsbane is all the more alarming in that he has never heard of Tivur’e nor the vanquishing of the last demon prince.

And that sword! Bide. We’ll get to that sword.

Skeaver introduced himself to me a few months ago by the simple expedience of walking through the front doors of Dreamguard. More than a little impressive, as you know how well guarded I am. I sent servants and healers to tend the guards and invited the man to my lower common study. He accepted with a small bow, whether mocking or sincere I could not tell from the scars.

As he walked ahead of me I sensed the interest of his weapon. By the Mother! That sword! Arcane and divine energies woven together like the greatest artifacts of the Twin Empire but no older than a decade or two at the most. The work of a troika of the most powerful and skilled – a mage, a cleric and a runesmith. Work beyond all but a handful of people – you and I among them. And that great sword is no work of mine nor thine, dear dwarf! I have tried in vain to discover the provenance of weapon and armor. Perhaps your Lady may answer from beyond Her veil.

I offered the man refreshments. You’ll be pleased he shares your taste in ale and a platter of bread and cheeses. He likes simple, wholesome foods, though I am pleased he drinks far less of my liquid gold, old hollow-legs!

I asked him why he did not run the gauntlet, proving himself in the Labyrinth of Dreamguard. He explained with a little shrug that he was in something of a hurry and, as the guards were themselves graduates of the Labyrinth, they should provide enough of an introduction. I decided to accept his unconventional approach, as I do try to encourage thinking over brute force. And his sword was watching me.

I asked if he knew my standard terms and he shrugged again and nodded. One year’s service in exchange for what knowledge I could give that no other mage could. I sipped my brandy and drew upon my pipe. Bother, perched on a skull, was uncharacteristically silent and stared at the man with rare intensity. Portents and patterns hovered in my study, leaning toward the man as if to hear better what he would ask. Something of the divine was present and I wished fervently that you were with me.

He gave that sneering smile which I was beginning to see was simply sincere and said “I want to know if I am a puppet of demons.”

Demons! To my knowledge you have never faced one in this world. But I have, old priest. I vanquished V’rax’l the Flenser during the Twin Empire – I and a hundred others! - and I knew Tivur’e when he was old and he vanquished the last demon prince, drove him into the Void-Between-The-Walls-Of-The-World then, at great cost. Every few centuries a lesser demon wriggles its pustulent way back into the world and must be hunted and hounded and driven back out. I have hunted my share and still shudder with fear and revulsion when the deed needs doing again. For centuries we have watched and warded and protected, smug in the belief that we understood enough to control and defeat the few who could break through into the world.

In the last decade and a half Skeaver has survived the ravening of a greater demon and killed – killed! – three lesser demons! And none – not one! – of our wards and warnings let us know they were among us again! The horror and fear I felt – feel! – cannot be understated. Nothing less than a demon prince could conceal these creatures from us. The thought turns my bowels to water, old friend.

Let me tell you what I have pieced together of his story. My sources are primarily elemental, with some mindwork divination and what limited necromancy I allow myself. As you know, my relationship with the divine is grudging at best since my Lady claimed me for Her own.

Skeaver’s earliest memory is of a raver demon devouring his family with terror. He is small, perhaps four or five years of age. Skeaver is not his given name, merely the pet name of his older sister whispering with fear-stretched eyes “Skeaver, you must be a little mouse! You must be tiny and quiet! Don’t let the cat see you, Skeaver!” It is the only name he remembers, though he remembers clearly how each of them dies, each in whispering, screaming terror. Yet, somehow, the demon never sees Skeaver, never notices the little boy wrapped in a ball in the corner by the skin of his mother.

I have lived that memory with him and it was some of the most frustrating mind-work I’ve ever done. There is some living agency, perhaps his Lady of Shadows, which cloaks his memories. We are allowed to see this much, but no more. Where was he born? What was his name? What happened to the raver? Where did that little boy go after?

His next memory is perhaps eight years later, still a boy but beginning to stretch toward manhood. He is dressed in rags, standing over a gasping, curled-up boy much larger than himself. There is a feeling that he just hurt the boy horribly, but no memory of it. Three other older boys are frightened, dropping the sticks and stones in their hands, backing away from him. I am there. I feel him make a cold decision with absolutely no fear. He kicks the hurt boy in the head. The sobbing stops. The others flee. There is no remorse at all, only a kind of curiosity.

His attention is drawn to the end of the alley, stinking of fish and crowded with noisome shadow. There is someone there, watching. He shifts his stance. He’s been trained somewhere. He’s not afraid. He’s waiting. I never feel fear in his mind.

A pale curve, a navel, a breast, a cheek. There is a woman in the shadows. Her hair is ebony, curling shadow flowing to the litter about her dainty bare feet. Even in the memory I feel something of the divine about her. Or fiendish. She is grinning; not smiling but a full grin of manic glee. Her eyes are black holes onto a starry night sky.

Now she carries a blade, as tall as the boy. Taller. It is a blade patterned in light and dark metals that have nothing to do with iron. It is damascened with shapes half-seen, that almost make sense and that you wish would never become clearer. Wordlessly, grinning, she holds that monstrous blade out to the boy. He takes it and she unravels into smoke and fog, one last tendril of black caressing his cheek. The memory ends like it was cut with a knife.

That one was in Kingfisher, I think. The architecture and especially the smell of rotten fish suggest that.

It was nearly a week before I broke through to the next memory. He’s a man now, though only barely. The landscape suggests the Great North Road east of Bayberry, right about where the brigands start becoming annoying. The cliffs, the bushes there have that sere, painted look.

He is fighting a man who is more than a man – possessed. There is slaughter all about him, twenty or more dismembered bodies judging by the number of arms and legs and I know Skeaver killed them all. The man he faces is small and preternaturally quick. Though his opponent’s lost an arm, he’s cackling as he fights. Skeaver is wielding that blasted sword with deadly skill, but slowly, almost timidly. He is cut in a hundred places, bruised in even more and he can’t hit the damned thing. Until it trips over its own arm and Skeaver takes off its other arm.

The man screams and a demon bursts out of his head with the sickening sound of a melon ripping open. The demon is small and quick, green-scaled and red-slick with blood and brains, but Skeaver catches it mid-air and his sword… his sword devours the creature with a raptors scream; vibrating impossibly and shredding the unearthly flesh, drinking in the mist of demon flesh, demon blood, demon bone.

Skeaver calls the sword “Eater or “Eater of Shadows” and it is not, can not be, the creation of mortals. Nothing mortal has ever killed a demon. And so he wonders if he is a demon puppet given a demon sword to hunt demons.

She came to him there in the sunlight of that blood-soaked road in the wilderness. She melted out of the shadows beneath a spreading oak and walked gleefully into the bright sun as if mocking his thoughts. She gave him Tivur’e’s breastplate of bronze and demonhide. The same breastplate I saw ripped asunder with Tivur’e in the last vanquishing.

He has killed three lesser demons with that frightening sword – the greenling on the North Road, a glutton in Harborton and harrower north of Mistleaf. Then, being so close to Faralee, he decided to visit me.

So I have answered his question and sent him on to you. His will is his own, but has been shaped by things unremembered. And whoever the Lady of Shadows is, she isn’t a demon. I am so far from being satisfied with these answers that I cannot in honesty require my normal fee. Instead I have sent him to you.

One last word, Mithradun. I have begun to suspect who the Lady of Shadows is and it frightens me. It frightens me more that she had that sword. There is a legend of the Chaos Wars after Moonfall. It is said that when the Child moon was born, the gods knew not what to think of it. The elder gods condemned it for being new and some of their number flew against it and were lost. Eaten, some say.

The younger gods suspected it of some trick for coming from the Mother moon and therefore being of eld. It is said Odin One-eye cast His vision upon the Child, laughing that “There is nothing that can not be looked upon” and lost an eye. You know these legends as well as I, but there is another version that says Aphrodite in her pride said “There is nothing that can not be loved” and lost Her heart to the Child. Now Venus is Goddess of Love, and Aphrodite unfollowed, heartless.

Among the Twisted Ones to the north they call the Child “Eater” and say He is always hungry.

I ask you, please, speak with your Lady. What great dark things are swimming upward beneath the surface of our lives?

Your very worried old friend,
Rolan ‘de Kip ‘pen Han

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