A prologue Dear all, I'm new to this forum, but I've written the first part of a prologue for a fantasy book I'm attempting to write, which will heavily feature magic, and many traditional elements of fantasy writing. I'm concerned that my prologue may be too long (it's not even finished!) and too confusing to start a book with. If anyone could give me some feedback, I'd really appreciate it: the good and the bad! Prologue The streets were thronging with people, and the sky was a bright blue. There was a sense of excited anticipation in the air, for today was the day of challenge. All the brightest and best mages from Andra would be here for this tournament—one that only happened once a year. Triniel, a young apprentice mage, eagerly pressed his way through the throng of people gathered in the plaza. He was already a little tipsy from a few mugs of ale drunk with his friends from Dred Lodge earlier in the day, but the alcohol only heightened his anticipation of the upcoming event. There was a large, round, covered platform in the centre of the town plaza, made of carved wood and roofed with clay tiles. A short distance away lay the house of repose in which the several challengers were preparing themselves for the grand contest that was soon to ensue. It would be a long, glorious day of battle, but this was no ordinary battle, for the weapons would be magic; not metal. The people in the town centre had well prepared themselves for the event; sipping home-prepared cocktails of crimsa and grape juice, and munching on bread rolls stuffed with cooked ham, goats’ cheese and vine tomatoes. As Triniel attempted to shove himself through the crowd further towards the platform, he was enveloped in the scents of meat, perfume, bread and sweat of the gathered people. He caught many snippets of idle chatter about the outcome of the recent harvest and the news from Toraklen, the capitol of Halesco, but he could tell this was little more than a prologue to the real drama that was about to unfold. At once there was a short trumpet fanfare and from the house of repose two men emerged, one acquitted in the red robes of fire magic; the other (a handsome blond-haired mage) dressed in the yellow and black of the House of Klarenton. The two mages proceeded to the platform of challenge and, upon ascending the platform via a wooden staircase, they faced one another from across the platform and bowed respectfully. By this time the crowd’s chatter had died to a murmur and all eyes were fixed upon the competitors. Triniel finally managed to squeeze himself into a good vantage point, and squinted up at the waiting mages. The two of them faced each other patiently, without saying a word. A minute or so passed and Triniel wondered what was happening as the crowd began to agitate, when there was a sudden bright flash, causing members of the audience to shout in alarm and throw up hands to shield their eyes from the glare. Caught unawares, Triniel was temporarily blinded. When he recovered his sight he noticed a third figure now present on the platform. This figure was dressed in un-dyed leather robes (which must have been hot in the strong summer sun) and boasted a full head of wavy brown hair. The man faced the audience with a broad smile and gave a swaggering bow. Seeing this gesture, a ripple of laughter swept through the assembled audience, and there followed a round of applause. For here was the adjudicator of the tournament, entering in style. Triniel grinned in admiration. It must have been an invisibility spell that had let the adjudicator sneak onto the platform unseen, followed by a flash charm in conjunction with cancelling the invisibility—a tricky piece of spell casting by anyone’s reckoning, and requiring a tight technique. The competitors, obviously unfazed by their adjudicator’s anticipated entrance, bowed to him and once more to each other, and then shrugged off their formal over-robes to reveal the light sparring robes used in such a competition. The adjudicator stepped into a separate compartment that bordered the platform and seated himself on an old polished oak-wood chair. He inscribed an arcane symbol in the air with his hand that caused the air to visibly shimmer around the compartment and around the platform. Triniel knew from his studies that this was a pre-constructed mystic shield triggered by the adjudicator to protect himself and the onlookers from any stray magics deflected towards them. Carefully created by three experts in defence magic, it would deflect the most powerful of spells. The adjudicator again raised a hand, but this time snapped his fingers. Magically amplified, the snap was heard by all the onlookers, and all knew it was the signal to start. Perhaps rather a mundane way to start a tournament, but the people of Santro were not known for overt extravagance. Upon the signal, the fire mage made his first move. Quickly raising his hands, he created and cast a small fireball at his opponent. This was no serious attack as Triniel was aware of, but rather a test of the other’s ability. The Klarenton mage easily brushed aside the fireball, which dissipated upon contact with the mystic shield around the platform and retaliated with what appeared to be a spider’s web, which expanded outwards towards the fire mage. The fire mage in turn raked his hands upwards in an X, shearing the web with trails of fire. This manoeuvre brought him a brief applause from the audience and a few whistles of approval. However, whilst the fire mage was slightly distracted by the audience, his opponent took the advantage to press the attack in the form of a semi-translucent globe that shot towards the fire mage. On reflex, the fire mage hurriedly raised his hands, and a wall of fire billowed out from his body. The globe, upon hitting this wall of fire, merely popped. The Klarenton mage gave a sly grin. At this a few people in the audience clapped enthusiastically, Triniel amongst them. These spectators (themselves mages) realised that the Klarenton mage had cunningly forced the fire mage to give up one of his pre-prepared trigger defences with a simple ploy that now left him vulnerable. The fight continued in a similar vein; the fire mage opting for short, aggressive attacks like fire balls and fire darts; at one point launching an small, but impressive lava cyclone, whereas the other favoured more subtle approaches, such as dissolving the ground around the fire mage into a slimy mud pool, and then harassing him with bolts of electricity. However, both the contestants were starting to tire, and both the mages were getting sloppier in their attacks. Eventually the fire mage really lost control (one rather unfortunate tendency common to fire mages) after being attacked by a swarm of strange purple insects. Inscribing angrily, he started to prepare a powerful spell. The Klarenton mage had obviously been waiting for exactly this opportunity, for he rapidly incanted a string of complex sounds and then punched outwards with his fist. His spell was evident to see when the fire mage fell to the floor, winded. After that, it was an easy win. The Klarenton mage activated a pre-set spell, locking the fire mage in an ice-cube, and then with a flourish threw out a handful of sparkling powder that both dissolved the ice-cube, and sent the fire mage to sleep, in a pool of water. At this, the audience unanimously leapt to their feet and gave the Klarenton mage a standing ovation for what had truly been a marvellous display of agility and style. The next competitors were a mage in orange robes from outside of Andra, and a mage of the House of Grensgold, in red robes trimmed with silver. The fight was not quite as diverting as the first, for from the beginning the orange robe was clearly superior. The Grensgold mage attacked with a fire bolt, which the orange robe masterfully subverted and turned back against him. He followed this with a blindness spell (which his opponent didn’t see coming) and while the Grensgold mage frantically performed a counter-charm, he summoned an earth troll—a large brown lumpy creature with grass-like hair and small black eyes; unintelligent, but strong—which lumbered up to him and triggered one of his pre-set defences. The Grensgold mage did recover his eyesight but at the expense of losing a main defence, and then having to de-summon the earth-troll. The orange-robe then summoned two air spirits which he set upon the Grensgold mage, and as the other was dealing with them, he incanted a complex spell which caused a bristling ring of fire and electricity to appear round his opponent and start shrinking round him. A man standing next to Triniel was heard to murmur to his wife, ‘well he’s buggered now!’ and Triniel agreed with him. The Grensgold didn’t have a chance. He had barely disposed of one air spirit (by freezing and then disintegrating it) by the time the electricity/fire circle had shrunk in on him. As soon as it was obvious the Grensgold mage was unable to defend himself any longer, the referee intervened, awarding the orange robe the win. Although he was obviously the better player, the applause was meagre, because he was a foreigner to these parts, and the spectators’ sympathies went to one of their own. After those two came a mage from the house of Gordon versus another mage from the House of Klarenton. When the Klarenton mage won, they were followed by a water mage against a mage from Ikthakl, in robes of faint blue trimmed with white. That contest gave way to another between a mage of the house of Cheremsky and another fire mage, and so on. After the first round was over, the quarterfinals were announced, which composed of six mages, and then after an hour’s rest, the semi-finals. By this point the crowd had got well into its liqueur, and comments from the crowd were getting bawdier, with more cat-calls and laughter all around. The semi-final comprised the first Klarenton mage, a Water mage, another outlander and a mage from Toraklen. The popular favourite was the Klarenton mage, and with each successful attack he received a cheer, whereas his opponent the outlander increasingly met with hoots and jeers—at one point causing the referee to suspend the match to scold the crowd for their unsporting attitude. In any case, though, the two competitors were very evenly matched, and it was a close outcome. In the end, the Klarenton mage pulled through by executing a neat incantation which froze the other’s arms for a few seconds, and then conjuring a mystic net of shimmering beads around the outlander, totally locking up his body and simultaneously cutting off all sound (so preventing any counter-spells). The referee pronounced the Klarenton mage’s victory, which the outlander graciously accepted, smiling in acknowledgement of his opponent’s skilful manoeuvring. After the second semi-final between the water mage and the Toraklen mage which the water mage narrowly won by first conjuring a spray of water into the Toraklen mage’s face, much to the hilarity of the crowd, and whilst he spluttered, condensing water vapour into a bubble of liquid around the Toraklen mage. He set the bubble to spin ferociously this way and that, such that the other was totally incapacitated as to spell casting. The referee quickly called a victory, and the water mage released his hold over the bubble, which immediately collapsed to the ground with a splash. For this victory, the water mage received a standing ovation from many in the crowd, delighted at his simple but devious attack on the other. At this juncture the referee stood up and announced there would be twenty minutes of recess while the opponents recuperated and prepared themselves for the final match. In the meantime sellers of rosaki (a lightly alcoholic beverage) and filled tortas went through the crowd with their wares, and two jugglers and a musician took to the stage to entertain the crowd with their tricks and ballads. The jugglers put on a fine display, tossing around brightly coloured balls under their arms and over their heads, while the musician hopped about with a fiddle, playing a lively tune. For it not being magic, it was quite a spectacle, and the increasingly un-sober town-folk shouted their approval of both the juggling and singing. Triniel noticed a large burly farmer, heavily into his cups, staggering towards the stage in a very drunken manner and expected the worst. The farmer got to the platform, leaned on it for a while, then dopily heaved himself up onto it, whereupon the quick thinking jugglers grabbed him by the arms and proceeded to dance a merry jig with him, kicking out their legs in time to the music. The woozy farmer, only half-comprending his situation, gave a beery chuckle and stood there stupidly, in between them. As the fiddler began a mocking lament to the drunken farmer, Triniel caught sight of his friend Grelda, another trainee at Dred lodge. He waved at her and she came over, smiling. ‘Hey, long time no see!’ he said. She sighed. ‘Ya, well I’ve been studying for the exams next week. I just can’t get invisibility right!’ ‘Oh come on, Grels’ replied Triniel, ‘this is probably one of the biggest events in Andra, and you stay at home studying!’ He shook his head disparagingly. ‘Ash! It’s easy for you to say’ she countered, ‘YOU have no trouble with any of the shit they make us do!’ The conversation would no doubt have continued in this vein except that they were distracted by the sound of the drunken farmer lending his slurred but resonant voice to a duet between him and the musician. They were singing a local song about a young maiden who got lost in the forest and who was spurned by all who met her, except that they were singing the dirty version in which the maiden was ‘spanked’—a rendition which elicited roars of laughter from the crowd. Eventually, the song drew to a close and performers and farmer took a bow. After that, the jugglers escorted the farmer off the stage, and the adjudicator returned. Grelda and Triniel managed to find a space at the back of the plaza, where tiered seating had been set up, and squeezed themselves into a space, next to a rather large lady in a purple satin dress. Although further from the action, the seating afforded a good view, besides which both of them were tired of standing. The two finalists took their places on the platform, and gave a deep bow to one another. Despite its insobriety, the crowd shushed down to witness the last match, and to see who would be this year’s winner. Dusk was now approaching, and there was a keen sense of anticipation in the air. The referee took his place on the platform and smiled expansively. ‘We have here two of Halesco’s finest mages: Denzel, of the house of Klarenton, and Elkato of the Water Guild. Both have fought admirably today, and both deserve merit for their splendid style and tenacity. However, there can only be one winner of the golden sceptre, and that will be decided by this match.’ He turned to the mages: ‘Mages, at your ready: begin’. The two mages took their positions, and Grelda and Triniel leaned in in anticipation. Suddenly the water mage attacked, with a thick jet of water. But with lightning fast reflexes, the Klarenton mage magically heaved up a barrier of earth from the floor, diverting the water up over his head. In turn, the Klarenton mage responded by another of his flying web-attacks. The crafty water mage, though, had set up a very thin wall of translucent floating water, which absorbed and impeded the web, and then, to the oohs of the crowd, he ‘rolled up’ the wall into a water ball, filled with the Klarenton mage’s web, and flung it at his opponent. What followed was hard to see because it was so quick, but it seemed as though the Klarenton mage had diverted the ball of water, and summoned a rain of fire over the water mage. This caused the water mage a deal of consternation, which the Klarenton mage took great advantage of by conjuring an air bubble around the water mage and magically slamming it (and him) against the magical protective barrier several times. Bruised and battered, the water mage was not finished, and he managed to snap one short syllable, which broke apart the air bubble. The water mage staggered to his feet and rapidly incanted three further mystic words, which caused five darts literally formed of water to appear above his shoulders. Gesturing angrily, he fired them at the Klarenton mage, and then in the previous match, started to summon a water bubble around his opponent. But, as the onlookers were well aware of, the Klarenton mage was better prepared than the Toraklen mage had been, and fending off the water darts with clouts of energy, he lashed out his hands, shooting a stream of bright green acid at the water-mage. This hit the other in the chest, and though didn’t make contact with his skin, it nevertheless caused his robes to steam and dissolve, causing him to yelp in surprise, effectively interrupting his spell-casting. The Klarenton mage ruthlessly closed in, as before, and further distracting the water mage with a swarm of mini-fire bolts, quickly incanted the spell that Triniel now recognized as a sophisticated bringer of paralysis. With a flourish, the Klarenton mage finished and, the other still being preoccupied with the fire bolts, caught him with the spell. The crowd (those of whom were sitting) leapt to its feet and bellowed approval; a thundering applause delivered for a brilliant win. The referee unhesitatingly declared a victory for the Klarenton mage and he let go of the paralysis of the water mage, who grudgingly accepted his defeat.