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Whither Witch Bewitches the Witcher?

Recognizing I’m late to the party and how dangerous it can be for a writer to review the writing in another writer’s work, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts on the new Netflix Witcher series.

In short, I liked it.

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Team Renfri for life.

Is it a little sexist? The world it creates certainly is. It remains to be seen if the sexism is an inherent part of the world or a Thing that the protagonist must strive against. We seem to be nearing a tipping point, if we haven’t already taken the plunge, when writers must realize that “it’s historically accurate” isn’t really a good enough reason to have racist/sexist themes in their work. If a character is racist, that racism must be confronted in-story. It’s the demand of the audience, of the culture at large. Or else it ought to be, eh?

Was I confused by the timeline? Not until I realized there were three distinct timelines, and we weren’t being given information chronologically. It is no major spoiler that the writers for season 1 of The Witcher chose to split the season’s episodes among different time periods, often switching back and forth in mid-episode. I’ve no problem with this. It’s a neat little gimmick, and there are plenty of clues in the dialogue to clue the reader in as to what is going on.

But therein lies the problem. These clues are ONLY in the dialogue. You’d think they could’ve given Jodhi May a different wig to wear for when her character is supposed to be (much) older versus when her character is younger. I get that Mousesack doesn’t age, but surely sorcerers are at least allowed to cut their hair or grow a different type of beard in this setting?

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Pop quiz: Is Queen Calanthe a grandmother or still just a mom in this image?

This lack of attention to detail must have been done on purpose, to show off the studio’s creativity. The only other explanation is laziness. I understand laziness. I’m a bit of a lazy writer myself. But intentionally holding information back from the viewer isn’t “building a mystery,” it’s just plain old deceit. You haven’t proven your clever; you’ve just been puffing yourself up.

On the upside, the fight scenes are amazing, and Henry Cavill does an excellent job portraying a brooding, tormented MC without being too similar to the other 100,000 brooding, tormented MCs plaguing fantasy fiction these days. Heck, even the protagonist in my WIP can be a little broody. It’s another thing the audience demands: Grittiness. Which means brooding, broody characters who brood broodily.

Brood.

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Brood? Brood.

Anyway, yes. Geralt of Rivia loves to brood. But at least he’s self-aware, somewhat. What with all his clever quips and “Hnh”-ing like Batman in a Morrison comic. And if he weren’t like that, Haskier is still there to provide plenty of quality jibes at the genre as a whole. Haskier saves the show in certain spots, calling attention to the bad decisions the characters make and providing needed moments of light in what would otherwise be a grim exploration of grim, gritty darkness. Despite myself, I like Geralt’s story’s monster-of-the-week formula. Lots of fun without getting boring.

Yennefer’s story is likewise captivating. She goes through hell learning how to gain power and wield it effectively as a powerful sorceress. Her desire for power is understandable, and her sacrifices make the viewer ache for her. Now, here’s the thing. Apparently in this setting, magicians and magical beings can’t have kids. (Or at least female wizards and witchers can’t. No word on male wizards.) No sooner does Yennefer become a full-fledged wizard than she starts yearning for a little brat of her own. Understandable. Cliche and a little anti-feminist, but understandable. Some women really want kids. Believe it or not.

But her desire is undercut by the fact that her womb gets removed on-camera. Like, her actual womb. We see the Fallopian tubes and everything. It’s gross.

Now, maybe Yennefer doesn’t realize this. But she still seeks a cure that doesn’t involve “growing a new womb” or otherwise “getting myself some ovaries.” It’s a little ridiculous for the modern audience. It makes Yennefer look stupid. And if not her, the people in the setting look like they have zero understanding of female anatomy. (Which would be about par for a lot of us, but I digress.) My point isn’t THAT Yennefer wants to be fertile again, it’s that she doesn’t seem to understand what the problem actually is (missing uterus).

Also, if removing the female reproductive organs is intrinsic to becoming a sorceress, does that make all the female wizards post-menopausal?

Anyway, it’s a good show. The sub-plot of colonization suffered by elves at the hands of humanity is a nice touch. Just the right amount of real-world poignancy without getting anvilicious or just plain disrespectful of the plight of indigenous peoples.

Plus, there are dragons. Like, several. Iron Fist couldn’t even manage one, which is more than a little embarrassing when you think about it.

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Next time on Iron Fist: No powers, no costume, and STILL NO FLIPPIN’ DRAGON. No, I will not get over this!

Source for images:

Shamelessly copied from the Internet. Used for humorous purposes, so should fall under fair use. If not, send me a cease and desist. I’ll gladly take them down.

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Writing Down the Bones

So, I got my edits back over a month ago, and I still haven’t gone through them all. I have a lot of fear. Fear of rejection, fear my writing won’t be good enough. But it’s more than that. I realize now the reason so much of my writing has fallen flat is that I haven’t really been editing, just spewing story. Even when I make corrections, it’s all spew.

I need to sit down and do the work of polishing the spew. Intentionally using all the tools of the trade, crafting the story in other words.

And I’m afraid I won’t be able to.

So if you see me not writing, will you remind me that I need to just suck it up? Thanks.

Today’s post title is taken from a famous writers’ book called “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. Check it out if you have a moment. I got my copy somewhere around here. She offers some practical advice on the writer’s process and craft. Good stuff.

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Beating the January Slump II

I know what you’re thinking. “Now that I’m out of jail, what do I do to continue beating back the freezing gloom of January?” Well, don’t worry. I have you covered. Here are four more activities that will hopefully keep you cozy during the unforgiving winter stretch..

Exercise Your Mind

Exercise is a great way to stay in shape, beat stress, and increase overall wellbeing. But what do you do if you don’t like the gym or can’t get to one near you? Fortunately, there’s an entire movie built around the concept of training in the natural environment. That movie is the 1985 classic Rocky IV. While your opponent may be running the track or using heavy-duty exercise equipment, you can run the wild trails of the forest, evade the KGB driving behind you, climb a rocky hillside, and shout your defiance to the open sky. Don’t be afraid to sling some rocks together in a net. Rigging the net up in a pulley system for some pull-downs provides a great way to exercise your core. Find or borrow a horse cart, and this can serve as a makeshift barbell. Ask some friends to sit in the cart while you workout in case you need more weight.

Get Lost in a Good Book

Reading is a great way to relax while also keeping the mind sharp and active. Books, poems, plays, and other forms of literature can be gateways to other worlds. There’s another movie built around this idea called The Never-Ending Story. Reading the book this movie was based on will prepare you in case you’re ever sucked into a bizarre universe with furry dragons, green-skinned hunters, and giant spiders. Just be careful not to draw the magic sword in anger, lest you accidentally strike down your green hunter friend. Then the only way home will be on the back of a big furry dragon.

Explore New Places

Going exploring has gone somewhat out of style, as the prevalence of smartphones and the Internet have removed much of the risk and mystery around physical travel. While you certainly shouldn’t trespass or enter unsafe environments, it can be rewarding to find a patch of uninterrupted forest or an unfamiliar neighborhood and just go wandering for a while. The best way to wander, I’ve found, is on foot, though some of the more cautious may prefer to travel by car. After all, you need a way to get yourself out of danger should you stray too far from the established paths. It’s always better to explore new places with a fellowship or with a guide. Lord of the Rings is a 2000s trilogy of films that provide some excellent suggestions for the would-be explorer. Personally, I’ve had as much fun exploring bike trails as the local library.

Have a Movie Night

Movie nights are a time-honored tradition among college kids. There’s nothing quite like cramming five or six of your closest friends on a six-foot square of carpet, crowding around a small television and watching some classic like Rocky IV or The Never-Ending Story. Lord of the Rings is another great choice for movie night, though it’s advised to use a copy of the expanded editions with the appendices. This bonus content, including documentaries and behind-the-scenes footage offer a wealth of information for both the movie buff and casual Tolkien fan alike. Heat up some popcorn, huddle close, and enjoy. 

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Beating the January Slump

I am not a fan of January. It’s cold and wet and windy, and it just makes me want to stay inside, curled up in a ball, until April gets here. But alas. I have bills to pay. And so your humble blogger sits behind his desk, anxiously awaiting the return of the sun king from beyond the cosmos. Sorry, got a little wistful there. Anyway, whatever are we to do while we wait for spring? Aside form work and classes and lunch and whatnot? Here are some fun activities you can do alone or with friends to liven up this gloomy season.

1. Go Bowling

One of the best ways to blow of steam during the year’s worst month is to go out on the town. Find your neighborhood bowling alley and set yourself up for a good old game of nine-pins. Technically that’s an entirely different game, but I think you get my point. Bowling is a time-honored American tradition combining two things we as Americans love the most: Drinking and not moving very much. While you’re out and about, you may want to check out what those shadowy folks are talking about in the parking lot.

2. Make New Friends

Approach the strangers slowly, making sure to make no sudden movements. After all, it’s dark out. Say something normal in greeting like “Hi” or “How’s it going?” Slowly, they’ll turn to face you then turn back and continue their conversation, ignoring you. Don’t let that deter you. Just listen in and see what you can overhear. I’ve made some of my best friends just by inserting myself into a stranger’s conversation. It’s not creepy. One of them offers you something to eat. It’s in large plastic container and smells a bit like boiled chicken. Looking inside, you’ll probably see several small, pale bodies. Squirrels.

3. Experiment With Food

One of the best ways to grow and appreciate different cultures is to try some of that culture’s signature food. Trying new foods is always a fun activity, and this squirrel meat looks tasty. Chew on the legs a bit, that’s where the best meat is. The rest of the animal is just skin and bones, but you can try chewing on the tail a bit if you like. Don’t wrinkle your nose. Be polite. Doesn’t it taste a little like chicken? Or pork? Or some other animal we as a society have deemed it acceptable to consume?

4. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to help your neighbors and improve society, all while giving you the dopamine rush one only gets from altruism. Mmmm…Altruism. Thankfully, you won’t have to look for a nearby charity, as one of your new friends is need of assistance. It looks like he’s having trouble getting into his car. He has a coat hanger you can use to jimmy the lock. Go ahead help him out. Once you can feel as if something is clicking, that means you’ve sprung the lock. Open the door and climb over to the passenger seat, while your new friend rips something out from under the steering wheel. Smell the sparks as you realize he’s hotwiring the car. Uh oh. Looks like you’re in for one bumpy ride!

5. Explore New Places

Look out the window at all the cars whizzing by! You’re going pretty fast, and you don’t really recognize the buildings or road signs. That’s ok. Relax and smile. Take it easy. You’re on an adventure! A good, old-fashioned road-trip is just the ticket to beat those January blues. Your friend is a very good driver, especially considering he’s on the wrong side of the road. It’s starting to get bright out, but that isn’t sunshine. Those are police lights.

6. Engage Your Body

While your friend pulls over to talk with some friends in uniform, take this opportunity to go for a brisk run. Running on the sidewalk downtown or in a park can be an excellent way to get in shape and also releases endorphins. While you’re on your run, take a moment to admire the trees and the foliage around you. Sure, it’s a little dark, but under the moonlight, you can just make out the edges of plants and animals. Did you hear that? Something rustling in the undergrowth. Probably just a raccoon or maybe a stray cat. Cats are fun.

Remember to keep running no matter what. No one escapes January, but you can escape those gloomy feelings by following these simple steps and exploring new experiences. Don’t feel bad if things don’t quite turn out the way you expect. That’s just life. Sometimes our plans don’t turn out the way we’d like. That’s why it’s always important to be adaptable. On an unrelated note, does anyone know of a place I could lie low for a while? Maybe a friend’s house or apartment. Just for a couple days. Thank you for your help.

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Holiday Update

Been feeling very unmotivated lately, which is bad because there is so much to do. Even with my book off at the editor, there’s more books to write, works to critique on Scribophile, podcasts to listen to, and so much more.

Playing with WordPress’s “new” block editor. I put “new” in quotation marks because as you and I know, I am slow to adopt fresh technology. I’ve never been a first adopter. Maybe it’s from being raised in a house full of antiques, but I just prefer old things. Old furniture. Old books. Old socks.

Even my fantasy novel is old-fashioned. I hope people don’t mind that. I’ve always been partial to old-fashioned things. That’s why Bubblegum-Man is written the way it is, filled to the brim with tropes and action. Just like old-fashioned comics. And don’t get me started on music.

There’s something about Christmastime (and I do mean Christmastime, as that’s the winter holiday I’ve most experience with) that brings out the nostalgia for old times. And I don’t mean the good old days, whatever those were. Things weren’t any “better” or “worse” when I was growing up than they are now. If anything, lots of people’s lives have improved since the 90s.

Christmas is almost here. More specifically, Christmas Eve. That’s when my mom cooks the feast of seven fishes, an Italian-American tradition. We eat pasta and fried fish, cold broccoli salad, and all kinds of other treats and goodies. It’s an evening filled with warmth, love, and joy, and it’s probably my favorite part of Christmas, aside from the presents. There’s nothing quite like getting or giving presents.

One of my other favorite things about Christmas is putting ornaments on the tree. There are certain ornaments we’ve collected over the years that just resonate with me. You know how you can look at an old house and imagine all the years of family joy, drama, and strife those walls contain? Well, when I look at certain ornaments, I feel a similar spark. Like there are thousands of years’ worth of stories wrapped up in them, buried, just waiting to be teased out.

I’ve never been able to. Maybe next year.

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Your First Book Will Stink

And that’s ok. So does mine. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s no masterpiece. Totally normal. Everyone stinks their first time. That’s what gives us room to grow.

But that’s the hard part: Growing. See, you have to want to get better to be better. You have to do the work, put in the effort. Study and research. Don’t just throw around words like “shaman” in your fantasy novel if you’ve no idea what a shaman actually does. I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else.

Then there are sacrifices to be made. Writing every day is a sacrifice of time. You either get up early or stay up late. Those are your choices. Do you have to write every day? Of course not. But your craft will improve slower. How much time do you think you have?

I’m 35. Probably 5-10 years from really making it big. Then I’ll be 40. Maybe I’ll have 40 more years, maybe 60. But will I be lucid and healthy the whole time? Who knows? So maybe only 30 years of success. Is that ok? No. I’d much rather have more. But that’s not up to me.

My growth has been slow. Painfully slow. Some of that has to do with autism, some with bad habits, some with procrastination. That’s ok. I’m still growing.

It’s the growing that’s important. It’s the journey that really matters. I know that’s small consolation, especially if your journey is as painful or more than mine. But in the end, the journey is really all we have in this life.

Gah! That’s depressing.

What more can we do? Well, thankfully, we can still do what we can do. Our lives are our own. We can exercise our will and make what ripples we can in a sea of mediocrity. Find something solid to hang onto, some bit of clay we can mold and call our own.

Remember friends, it is not too late to seek a better world!

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More Book News

Sent my book to the editor the other day. I’m using Jordan Rosenfeld’s editing services. She’s great, and I highly recommend her. She looked over my manuscript once before and gave me great direction and guidance. Hope she’s ready because this draft is almost totally different from the one I showed her before.

Yes, I’ve been working on this novel for too, too long. Time to set it free to sink or swim. I’ve got another two books in the wings that I’m working on, so that’s interesting. Tang of Fate, my first novel, is a fantasy work about a woman who’s trying to stop an evil sorcerer and his skeleton army by finding a hidden power somewhere in the lost north. Fun times! There’s elves and buffalo and wizards and magic and stuff blows up.

Going to be starting a mailing list soon with all sorts of goodies. Not sure yet what form it will take, but stay tuned. It’s all happening this year. Next year. Whatever.

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Not Dead Yet

Hey, folks. Dusting this old blog off to say hello and let you know that I have not died. I’ve just been much busier on Twitter @MrWBrust and working on World Anvil and the novel as a whole. Plus that whole full-time job thing. I also write a blog for my full-time job over here.

World Anvil is this amazing tool that lets you create entire worlds filled with cultures, characters, maps, cuisines, mythologies, basically anything you need to populate the fictional world of your design. The community is huge and the choices are immense. The site is friggin’ huge, is what I’m getting at.

Yes, I saw Endgame. That was amazing of course. We can talk about that in the comments if you want.

Also been collecting and building worlds of LEGO, but that’s another story.

Anyway, will try to be more active here as well. Blogging’s hard work. Be gentle with me.

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Tang of Fate: Autumn Excerpt

Happy Halloween, folks! In honor of the fall harvest (or Tiri-Zul, as it’s known in Tiranon), here’s a chilling excerpt from my wip, The Tang of Fate, an epic fantasy novel filled with gods, monsters, and mortals. Feedback always welcome. Please enjoy!

Today’s excerpt takes place in Travellers Forest, eastern Zargon.


Terrwyn’s dream about flying on a broomstick was interrupted when she felt something soft drift over her face. Scratching and sniffling, she popped open her eyes and glanced around. She saw Croli turning the knob on the door, edging it open. His cloak must have brushed against her as he moved. He didn’t seem to notice her. Terrwyn held her breath as he slipped out of the room. She heard his footsteps disappear down the long, dark hallway. She pursed her lips for a moment then sighed, deciding to follow.

Terrwyn crept out into the hallway, walking toe-heel, as she’d learned as a child to avoid waking her parents when she wanted to wander the cornfields at night. The hallway was nearly pitch-black. The only light came from a window at the far end and the faint glow of the hearth casting red light up the stairway to her right. The stairway creaked with almost every step she took. She gritted her teeth at every sound, straining to catch some hint she’d roused another soul in the dark. But no. She was alone in the dark. Alone, save for Croli, embarked on some midnight errand. He’d had his staff with him, so she’d buckled her sword. She didn’t know what danger he went to face, only that it must be dire indeed to justify him not bringing her along. As she entered the common room, she saw men and women sleeping beside the hearth, a few collapsed at their tables near drained mugs. She heard the sound of another door creaking and turned just in time to see the curve of Croli’s cloak flapping out the doorway.

The sleeping patrons seemed completely out, not a single snore among them, their bodies still as exhausted newborns. Tiptoeing around them, she made it to the door and snuck outside into the night. The steady buzz of crickets and the croak of frogs filled the air. The night was thick with humidity and almost too dark to see anything, despite the plethora of stars. She looked all around, but she could see no sign of Croli. Terrwyn began to regret following him out into the night. She started to wonder if she were just being paranoid. Just her luck, he was probably relieving himself on the side of the building.

She turned to the post where the horses were tied. Gill and Marius were both there, along with two others. Marius’s eyes were open, watching over the others. Terrwyn smiled. Then, just beyond the edge of the forest, she heard the sound of crunching leaves. She nearly jumped from the shock. Struggling to keep her breathing slow, she crouched down beside the doorframe. Just there was the saucer of milk left for the moon goddess, turned over in the night. The cookies were gone as well, the cloth wrapping torn open as if by some thrashing animal. From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw the faint glimmer of moonlight in the forest. But there was no moon in the sky. Slowly, she stood up and walked down the stairs. The grass crunched underfoot as she left the road for the forest’s edge. There. A glimmer of light just a few yards ahead. She crouched again, holding her arms in front of her to move the branches of the brush as she entered the forest.

All the wood was black as pitch, starlight scarce below the treetops. But the source of moonlight was growing brighter. Finally, it shined over her. She panicked, threw herself to the ground, hoping she could hide from the light. “It’s no use.” Croli’s voice. “I heard you on the stairwell. Come on, Terrwyn. You’re not fooling anyone.” Terrwyn felt her face flush. The soil clung to her jeans and shirt as she stood up to face Croli. He was just ahead, moonlight emanating from the crescent atop his staff. The light had softened now, and she could make out Croli’s face in its pale glow. He was smiling at her, eyes darting side to side as she approached him.

“You have your sword,” he whispered. “Good. They’re very close. Stay behind me.” Terrwyn didn’t have to ask who he meant. She struggled to keep up as Croli glided through the forest. While she had to step carefully around roots and stones, Croli seemed able to move effortlessly here in the darkness of the forest, his feet making no sound as he skipped over rock and branch and fallen log. Terrwyn could hear grasshoppers and crickets chirping in the night. Up ahead, she could hear the steady rush of the White River.

As they passed through the wood, over moss-eaten logs and under the black branches of trees, she began to hear something else, a distinct hissing sound that stopped her in her tracks. Croli stood just a short distance ahead of her. He turned and motioned for her to come closer. She did so and, following his lead, crouched low beside a massive hickory stump and peered through the thorny brush. Not seven feet from where they perched, a small campfire glowed in the night. A man in a black cloak sat with his back to Terrwyn and Croli, tall skeletal warriors flanking him. More approached from the dark beyond the fire, armed with clubs and nets, though a few wore swords at their waist.

“Now’s our chance,” Terrwyn whispered. “Let’s go!” She paid no attention to Croli as he raised his hand to grab at her. She crashed through the bramble, thorns scratching her arms and legs as she lunged for Hadeon. Her sword flashed in the firelight, as she made her swipe, but Hadeon vanished in a plume of smoke. The two nearest skelerai, their swords raised to attack, brought their blades down, and Terrwyn crouched beneath them, her sword up, guarding. The clang of metal on metal sounded through the forest as more skelerai joined the campfire’s glow, hissing and brandishing weapons. There were many, too many for her to count at once. They seemed to be taking their time. She could do nothing where she was, pinned down by her opponents’ blades.

Just then there was a burst of light from the forest. The skelerai turned toward the blaze, screeching terribly. Thunder clapped in the clear night sky as jagged lightning struck the earth, reducing the skelerai to ash and dust. Croli came plunging through the forest, his staff sending Terrwyn’s two opponents to the ground with a single swipe of his staff. Terrwyn rose, gasping, grateful to be alive. “Look out!” Croli hissed. Terrwyn turned to see one of the skelerai lunging for her with its sword. Terrwyn yelped and tumbled out of the way, then slashed at the creature’s sword-arm, slicing it at the elbow joint. The creature hissed and scrambled to its feet, reclaiming its sword from its severed limb. Croli was busy with the other skelerai, as Terrwyn engaged her one-armed aggressor.

With an ear-splitting hiss, the creature lunged forward, and Terrwyn sliced its other arm off then brought her sword up and stabbed the skelerai through the eye-socket. The creature kept coming, but it seemed unable to tell where she was. She ducked low and withdrew her blade, taking her enemy off-balance. She bounded up and sliced down through the skelerai’s spinal column, and the creature was still. Croli was still busy with his foe, but a gust of wind from the treetops shattered the creature’s sword, and it fled back into the forest.

The gust of wind had also scattered the coals of the fire, so that now the flames were starting to spread among the trees. Croli swore and raised his staff again. Clouds formed high above, and a soft rain fell, extinguishing the fire. He scowled at Terrwyn, shaking his head, and tromped off back the way he’d came. Terrwyn followed best she could, but the forest was now pitch-black. The clouds blocked the starlight, and Croli seemed unwilling to ignite his staff. “Croli!” Terrwyn called, stumbling over roots and rocks. “Croli! Help! I – I can’t find my way without light!” Her words seemed to have the intended effect, as she heard Croli’s hard footsteps soften then turn toward her. Soft moonlight soon shone over her, and she followed it all the way back to the inn. Croli sat on the stairs. He held his staff out in one hand, his forehead in the other. He was bent over himself. Terrwyn couldn’t tell if he was angry with her or just tired.

“Croli?” she whispered. When he didn’t answer, she stepped closer, kneeling beside him in the cold grass. “Croli? Are you ok?”

“No.” The silence between them was thick enough to chew. Then he broke it. “What the hell do you think you were doing?” he asked. His voice was calm, quiet, as if he were asking where the outhouse was or what was for dinner. “Those monsters could’ve killed you. They absolutely would have if I hadn’t been there. You acted recklessly and without thought.”

“Croli, I–” she tried to interject, but he looked up at her, and the fury in his eyes stopped her cold.

“No. You don’t get to talk. Do you have any idea what tonight cost? Do you know why I don’t just sling spells around, willy-nilly? Magic has a price, dear Terrwyn. Life for power. That’s the bargain. Every spell takes time off my lifespan. Granted, wizards tend to live longer than normal humans, but still. And now, because of your arrogance, your stupidity, I may have lost crucial time. Time that could mean the difference between victory and defeat! I wouldn’t expect a normal woman like you to understand. Simple farmers on the Kaian Plains. Zargonese bumpkins. You know nothing of magic, of its cost, of the horrors this world conceals.”