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An impenetrable blizzard gnawed at the frantic, lone wizard and his advancing pursuers. Their robes undulated with the tyrannical winds, noble banners of armies rushing courageously into a hopeless battle. Björn had elicited the ire of several adroit and deadly mages during a petty tavern spat. Against the advice of his professor, he had imbibed an excess of ale and dipped too deeply into revelry.

“The thing about Aldrheim wizards,” he raved, his speech slurred and distorted, “is that they’re stinking filthy traitors! Their headmaster is also a vampire!” He spoke the last word with hissing vitriol. Immediately, the jubilant mood dissipated. It had been assassinated by Björn’s thoughtless slander.

“Our leader is no filthy blood drinker! We should rip out that loose tongue of yours!” A group of four stern wizards clad in ornate, silken garb rose like the dead from their corner of the room. Reconciliation was rendered an impossibility after they began launching cackling claws of lightning at their terrified and deeply regretful target. The shock rendered him incapacitated and breathless. As Björn toppled, the smell of roasted meat invaded his nostrils. His flesh had been thoroughly roasted by the spell. If he didn’t react quickly, he’d lapse into unconsciousness within seconds. He attempted to reach for his wand but realized that his nervous system had been irrevocably damaged by the lightning. The world was drifting away, and in that moment, he felt insignificant and infinitesimal. It felt like he was freezing, as if someone had catapulted him into a lake of frigid water.

Is this the embrace of death? The thought filled him with a voluminous terror. Evidently it was a transitory sensation. He was suddenly overcome by an all-encompassing warmth.

“Wake up, scum. We haven’t properly punished your impudence yet!” They’d used their esoteric magic to resurrect him. With a groan, Björn rose to his feet. If he didn’t abscond before the torture truly commenced…

A ghastly shriek flooded the room. One of his attackers, a sorcerer clad in ostentatious, militaristic garments, was viciously dragged beneath the ground into a penumbral void. His body began to liquify as it was fed into the maw of the abyss. The remaining three whirled around, high-strung and vigilant, but failed to perceive any possible threats. An authoritative voice wormed its way into their psyche.

“If you value your lives, leave the fledgling alone. You’ve no reasonable quarrel with him.”

Obediently, they muttered frantic apologies to Björn and retreated into the opalescent snows. A perceivable distortion filled the room and the dissolution of an invisibility spell followed. Fredrik Wester, arms open and a devilish grin across his face, jauntily skipped towards Björn, who returned his embrace.

“Fred! I never thought I’d see you in a wretched place like this!”

The former CEO of Paradox smirked and glibly replied.

“You needed me, Björn, and I’d never abandon one of my friends. There’s just one problem though.” He briefly twiddled his thumbs and slicked back his hair before continuing. “In the process of rescuing you, I created a time paradox. It’s no big deal, nothing I can’t handle, but it may have some detrimental effects on the fabric of reality.”

“That’s fine, I don’t think this reality was suited for me anyway.”

“It wasn’t. If I hadn’t intruded, you’d be stranded in a blizzard right now, experiencing torment beyond imagination.” Fredrik extended a hand. “We could return to Stockholm. It’s a splendid city this time of year. You could get your old job at Paradox back and put all this nonsense behind you. What do you think?”

“Yes, that sounds wonderful. Thank you, Fred.”

Björn outstretched his arm and established a covenant. “The usual price, I assume?”

“Yes, of course,” the figure replied.

So cold.