After outwitting the Arbiter D’Arden Tal and barely escaping with his life, Edar Moncrief left his entire life behind and vanished into the mists. He had hoped to get lost and stay lost, but winter is coming on, and his power can only keep the cold at bay for so long.

Desperate for warmth, Moncrief avails himself of the hospitality of a small village — by claiming to be the very Arbiter he’s just escaped from. Oh, and the villagers have been desperately waiting for someone to come and save them, because they happen to be suffering under the curse of something they call the ‘Reaper’.

Entangled in the village’s problems due to nothing more sinister than his own big mouth, Moncrief must decide whether he has the courage to fight for them… or whether he will simply slink away into the night like the coward he knows himself to be.

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(The following is a rough-draft excerpt and may not reflect the final work.)

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I

I rode into that village on the back of the most miserable, broken-down nag of a horse that I’d ever had the displeasure to ride.

The icy chill in the air was a sure sign that winter was coming on, and the ankle-deep snow drifts only served to drive that point squarely into my eyes. Traveling alone through the wilderness, with nothing but a cantankerous equine for company, was fine while the weather was still relatively pleasant and shelter was easy to find; but in the winter, it was all too easy for death to creep up while I slept away the daytime hours.

One thing I’d learned quickly in my life on the road: never try to camp for the night in the wilderness unless you have someone to watch your back. It doesn’t matter how many magical wards you put up or how well you disguise your makeshift shelter.

The monsters will find you.

My protective enchantments kept the horse and I from freezing to death, but it was a pale offering. Ever since the weather had turned, my magic was the only thing that kept the creeping frost at bay, and I was exhausted. My dark grey cloak was wrapped around my face like a muffler and my hands were tucked in tight against the saddle beneath me, and yet it still felt like they had decided to take a permanent vacation and leave me behind with the damn horse.

The near-full Deadmoon hung in the sky above me, shining its bleak bone-white luminance down on the snow, leeching every speck of color out of my surroundings. The trees were black and the snow was starkly white, and everything else fell somewhere in between. It was always an unnerving sight, but one I had grown used to during my travel. The hairs on the back of my neck were fixed in a permanently-prickled state, though whether that was due to constant vigilance or simply the frozen air I was never quite sure.

It was somewhere around this state of affairs when I decided that I no longer cared about getting to Selvaria. The city – and my new life, since I had abandoned the one in Elenia for very good reasons – could wait, as far as I was concerned. All I needed was a warm fire and a cot. I’d even settle for a dirt floor as long as there was a blazing hearth.

The one remnant of my pride hung around my neck, kept in a tiny leather pouch close to my heart. It was the Arbiter’s heartblade, the one I’d stolen from D’Arden Tal before he realized what I’d done. Everything else had been left behind in Elenia, burned to cinders when I lit my own lab aflame before disappearing in the middle of the night. I’d regretted the necessity, but disappearing with my life had been far more important than anything else that day.

All of this was why I ended up riding into a two-horse town in the black of night. With my arrival, it was immediately upgraded to a three-horse town, and there was much rejoicing. Of course, given that the gap-toothed citizenry were certainly all safely tucked into their shacks, the actual celebration would have to wait until morning.

A sorcerer had come to… I squinted at the rough wooden sign at the edge of town, which had a name printed on it in black letters. It was mostly covered in sticky snow, but I could just barely make out the glyphs. Varsil.

Edar Moncrief, the only sorcerer ever to outwit an Arbiter, had come to Varsil. Watch out, peasantry.

There were no walls here, which was immediately concerning. The horrors that stalked the night were fewer in the wide-open farmland like that through which I rode, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. It was a testament to just how comfortable the people in the Old Kingdoms had become with the terrifying night that they didn’t even build a fence to keep the tiniest of fel beasts from knocking on their doors.

The flickering light from a torch rounded one of the shacks, and I immediately looked up in alarm. Night watchmen, it had to be, though I had no idea how a place this pathetic had scrounged up enough volunteers to keep an eye on the midnight hour.

“Ho there!” a thin voice called out, and it took me a moment to realize that it was female. “State your name and business in Warsil!”

Oh, Warsil, I thought. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry. I allowed my broken-down old horse to close in a bit with the citizens before identifying myself. There was always the possibility that they would shoot me down with a crossbow or something, but that’s what magic is for, after all.

It was during this time that I heard another voice mutter, much more quietly, “Better hope he’s no sorcerer, or we’ll hang him like the last one.”

The words died in my throat even as I opened my mouth to speak. Superstitious folk in a tiny town on the edge of nowhere… the total earnest lack of irony left a foul taste in my mouth. Surely everyone knew that a sorcerer was no one to be trifled with, and certainly not one to be hanged like some common criminal.

“Identify yourself, stranger, or this will be the end of you,” the feminine voice warned.

My brain whirled, searching for an answer. Was a flat-out lie the best option? Did I instead try to misdirect, throwing them off my scent until I could reveal the true extent of my power?

I licked my lips, which immediately chapped in the wind. Was it my imagination, or could I actually hear that woman’s hand trembling on the trigger of a crossbow? Desperately, I spat out words, hoping that they would make some kind of sense.

“My name is… D’Arden Tal!” I shouted. “I’m an Arbiter! Don’t shoot… for Arangoth’s sake, don’t shoot!

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