Hey there. How’s it going today?
It’s March, and the weather outside is great. It is warm but not smoldering hot, but most importantly, it’s not humid. For tourists, this is the best time of the year to visit Florida. For me, it’s the best time to sit on my patio and write.
Since between my last newsletter and today, I received quite a few messages and emails asking about my progress with the sixth book of the Shadow Enforcer series, I want to give you a quick update. Currently, I am over 100K words, right in the middle of writing the final battle. It means the first draft of the story is almost done, and I am looking forward to my usual four rounds of editing.
In the meantime, let’s talk about gods and monsters of the Salamanderverse. Please allow me to introduce one of the representatives of Ukrainian lore, the Skarbnik.
Who is the Skarbnik?
The Skarbnik is one of the most interesting creatures of Ukrainian and Slavic lore. He is an evil spirit whose job is to guard the treasures of his master, making him wealthier and more powerful. Even his name--Skarbnik--in Ukrainian means "possessions" or treasure. It sounds great, right? Hire yourself a Skarbnik and grow richer by the day. Who wouldn’t want that?
But wait… not so fast.
Just like everything else in life, Skarbnik’s services come at a price. You want a Skarbnik to guard your treasures? Fine. Pay with your immortal soul and you got it! Legends have it that once the person dies, the Skarbnik returns with a flock of ravens to collect the debt. He shows the contract that was signed in blood and then reaps the soul. Because of that, in Ukraine legends, the Skarbnik is quite often portrayed as heartless and predatory.
Not all treasures are created equal.
According to Slavic lore, all treasures are divided into two categories: pure and impure.
Pure treasure is the treasure that was hidden by people when they were in a dire situation, like war, famine, pestilence, robbery, etc.
Impure treasure is a completely different situation. We are talking about money, jewels, and other possessions gathered as a result of theft, robbery or by inheriting it from some evil spirits via a blood-signed contract.
There is an interesting and a little peculiar belief in Slavic folklore associated with hidden treasures. Once every seven years, the hidden treasure dries out and goes up in flames. (Don’t ask… After reading this, I would think twice before burying my money. Good old-fashioned banks sound a lot more reliable, anyway. 😉). And if that isn’t enough, it’s impossible to take the burning treasure because, according to beliefs, it is cursed and guarded by evil.
Guess which type of treasure a Skarbnik was guarding? No one can take treasures protected by a Skarbnik. If a person who is not supposed to touch it finds Skarbnik’s treasure, the evil spirit won’t think twice before turning it into a pile of garbage or even poisonous snakes!
How to find a Skarbnik and how to recognize him?
Unlike other evil spirits in Slavic lore, a Skarbnik is not looking for you. You have to summon him, and there are special rituals to do so. And I must tell you—it’s not easy to summon one of them.
According to Slavic mythology, a Skarbnik can change his appearance at will. He can turn into any living creature and even turn invisible, which makes it pretty hard to recognize him on sight. However, his natural form is blood-curdling, and seeing him in his natural form is a bad omen.
If you’d like to meet a Skarbnik (at your own peril, of course), read The Burns Destiny, the sixth book of the Fire Salamander Chronicles and see how Gunz and his friends fared against this sneaky and evil Slavic spirt.
Just to give you a taste, here is a small excerpt from The Burns Destiny.
“Evil triad? What a cute and fancy name you found for them.” The glowing eyes turned into squinty arches as Skarbnik snickered. “Is that what you think of me, boy? Just because I am a demon, doesn’t mean only demons can hire me. I’m an equal opportunity freelancer, you know.” One of the eyes winked. “Good, evil—as long as they pay, I don’t care.”
“Who is this?” asked Tessa. “I’ve never heard of a demon with this name. I don’t think he’s in any demonology books I’ve read.”
“Sweetheart, I’m wounded,” whined Skarbnik.
The air around the eyes shimmered, and they vanished. A short man, no more than five feet tall, stood in their place. He was dressed in a modern suit which didn’t fit him, and it looked like something he picked up in a second-hand store. In his hand, Skarbnik held a small notepad, scribbling something on it quickly with a ballpoint pen.
“Anticlimactic,” murmured Aidan, shaking his head.
The demon ripped a page from his notepad and handed it to Gunz. “If you want me to give you the treasure you’re seeking, here is what I want in return.” He stepped closer to Gunz and pointed at the paper, rising on his tiptoes. “I think it’s a great deal!”
Gunz looked down at the paper and laughed. Crushing the notepad page into a ball, he threw it to the ground and turned to Tessa. “Skarbnik here is the demonic spirit that guards a treasure. Someone hired him to keep it safe, and they paid for his services with their immortal soul.” He glanced back at the demon and shrugged. “No deal. Three souls for one sword? That’s ridiculous.” He lifted his own sword, rotating it fluidly, and the Ardenium steel sung, cutting through the air. “Besides, I already have a sword. I can wait.”
“What are you talking about? It’s a great deal! Limited time offer, available today only,” yelled Skarbnik, throwing his hands up. “Besides, I can add two daggers on top to sweeten the deal. After all, there are three of you losers here.”
“Let me give you a counteroffer,” said Gunz, leaning down slightly as he placed his sword between himself and the demon. “You show us where Sword Kladenets is, and we let you leave with your life and with all limbs attached.”
“Hmmm, enticing,” murmured the demon. “I need to talk to my manager.” He snapped his fingers and vanished. The crow on the top of the rock screamed, and again it sounded as though it was laughing.
“Why do I have a feeling we’re dealing with a used car salesman?” asked Aidan.
“I doubt you’ve ever dealt with a used car salesman,” murmured Gunz, chuckling.
“Why not? Am I not driving?” asked Aidan, trying to sound offended, but it didn’t come out right, and he laughed, tapping Gunz on his shoulder.
“Exactly. You’re driving the kind of car that you don’t buy used, and when you buy it, you don’t ask how much it costs or look for a better deal.” Gunz chuckled, rolling his eyes.
“I wonder who his manager is,” said Tessa, looking around with narrowed eyes.
Before Gunz could answer, the air next to him shimmered, and Skarbnik materialized, holding another page from a notepad in his hand. He handed it to Gunz with a smile that seemed to be too wide for his face.
“Since you’re such valued customers, my manager authorized me to give you a very special deal,” he said, raising his finger. “If you accept the deal, he’ll also throw the extended warranty on top, absolutely free of charge.”
“How about tax, license and dealer’s fee?” muttered Gunz, peering down at the paper. “One soul and a lifetime of servitude after the war is over. Sounds like an awesome deal, but my counteroffer still stands. Your life for the sword.” He made a circular motion with his hand, and a circle of fire rose around the monster.