The opening prologue to my novel. It follows my personal preference for novel prologues in that most of what occurs won't make too much sense until later in the novel. It is, however, still very entertaining, else who's going to keep reading?
The Sage's Lot - Prologue Pt2
Xylin’s escape thereafter involved no more bloodshed, shifting to his insubstantial form to become almost invisible in the shadows and once again pass through those iron-barred gates like tobacco smoke escaping a gap-toothed smile. Now though, some tolls of the bell later, Xylin didn’t find himself riding a fast horse for an even faster ship, didn’t find himself charging eastwards to unburden the knowledge now crushing his sanity. No, no, no. The great Xylin Jhaytaren, spy, Soulspeaker, scoundrel extraordinaire, was in fact sat half-sprawled across some back-alley inn’s most splinter-infested table while sickly candles strangling out what little light they hoarded. Off were his footpad’s blacks and on came the exotic finery of an eastern merchant, bejewelled rings and bold tones standing stark against his dreary backdrop, yet the flamboyant mask that so defined this persona was absent, drown beneath the tide of wine that Xylin was busy plunging into. He simply knew not what to do. To unchain the paper-bound beast slumbering in his pocket or to leave it shackled? Then again, he could always give up the spy’s life? Go back to seeking and forget all that those letters contained. There was honour in seeking, a simplicity to shepherding divinates on their first steps into sagecraft that might paint over the vile knowledge that now haunted his thoughts. He had overheard a rumour the day before, some trouble with a girl in a village not far away. So easily he could leave all this behind and just…
“Tea?” came a melodic voice, but Xylin wasn’t of a mind for imbibing anything that wouldn’t numb his thoughts further. Besides, the piss these Westerners had for tea was just as likely to clear the bowels as it was the head.
“No, thank you,” Xylin managed, gaze transfixed on his bottle’s warped reflection, searching the chestnut eyes of the fool staring back. His bloodline couldn’t see the future like those of The Sentinel’s, but he didn’t need such gifts now. The future contained within those letters burned before him like a farmer helplessly watching his homestead consumed by flames. What could one man do against such destruction?
“Are you quite sure?” the server pressed, snapping Xylin from his dark reveries. “It is a rather fine blend.”
“I said no, thank…” The words died on Xylin’s lips. Yes, he must be drunk, as the server’s face was nought but a blur. Xylin blinked furiously, his mind at odds with his sight. The rest of the room wasn’t so unfocused. The plump barkeep striding about her domain, the other half dozen patrons pretending not to stare at the foreigner invading their evening’s descent into oblivion, the shape of his own mahogany-hued hands; all stood true and firm save perhaps the slight sheen brought about by that third bottle. But not the server. Xylin stared, truly stared, yet couldn’t make out a damned feature on the man’s face. There was a mouth, a nose, two piercing eyes, a slight smile. It was all there, and yet the image didn’t stick, sliding from the canvas of his mind like water on wax. And as drunk as Xylin may be, he knew that even in this backwards nation serving staff didn’t go around hooded.
Sagecraft! It had to be! Xylin reached for the steadfast certainty of one of his blades, but the hooded stranger merely raised an eyebrow, cocking his head just so. Though how Xylin could even tell what the man’s brows were doing only stoked the fires of his paranoia further.
“Peace, Xylin. May I sit?”
Xylin’s hand froze having only scraped his weapon half-free of its sheath. Nobody here knew his true name. Not in the inn, not in the markets, not once since stepping from the saddle had he used it. In his line of work, being known oft went hand-in-hand with a pair of manacles, or worse, and yet the stranger’s tone wasn’t triumphant, wasn’t demanding, wasn’t hinting at any advantage he might now hold. The man, if man he was, simply stood there, face unknowable, robes seeming to almost dance from one colour to the next in the low candlelight. Xylin prided himself on his level-headedness, even when that head was crammed with ill tidings and cheap wine. Why not? He gestured to the seat opposite, one hand still firmly on his blade, and with a ruffle of robes, the stranger sat.
“There, much better, no?” the stranger said, steepling his fingers and eying Xylin like a bird spying a particularly juicy worm. “Now, how about that tea?”
“Tea?!” Xylin scoffed, choosing blind candour now that he’d lost even the shadow of initiative. “A man with no face, calling me by a name none in this flee-riddled city should know, simply sidles over and expects me to take tea with him?”
The stranger just shrugged. “But of course. It is very good tea.”
Xylin’s already shaken nerves danced dangerously close to fraying, his eyes darting about as senses he had spent over a century sharpening screaming their alarm. “Sir, who in the seven blazes are you? And how by The Twelve is it that not so much as a soul in this dank little cesspool is even glancing at me anymore?” Xylin cuffed one of his empty triplets from the table, producing a satisfying smash as the bottle yielded to the battered edge of a stool leg. Exactly as predicted, not one glazed eye from about the common room shifted. No, Xylin’s long-necked assailants hadn’t entirely swallowed his wits.
The stranger just tsked at the mess and returned his gaze to the disconcerted spy before him. “Well, friend Xylin, these people simply see what they choose to around myself. And right now, they choose to find their own personal struggles more gripping than the dark-skinned outsider talking to a man with no face. A handy trick, and it serves me just as well in this dingy little cesspool as it does at… oh, I don’t know… a great house’s well-guarded villa?”
The desert’s heat that ever warmed Xylin’s blood froze like a southern winter. The stranger knew. How? Xylin had been so careful, slipping back from his night’s activities via the very same window of his paltry rented room, ensuring that the tattoos defining his divinity remained painted-over with those of a mere merchant, and even overtly grumbling to a few patrons of a calamitous trade deal to give cause to his current drunken spiral. Had the owner of those letters known only that his intruder had been dark of skin, he would have had every Alsaltan in the city racked and flayed for information, yet this stranger had somehow witnessed Xylin’s act of miscalculated espionage, followed him here, and left him long enough to stew in the broth of his malevolent discovery. And what had Xylin done with his time? He had gotten drunk. Well, he was only human. Divine blood or no, sages were not infallible. Xylin didn’t know who or even what the stranger before him was, but the evidence pointed to him not wishing Xylin dead, or at least not at present. Time to remember himself, to don the mantle of the suave spy once more. After all, what was one strange encounter compared to the knowledge now haemorrhaging his wits?
Xylin scratched the small tuft of hair upon his chin, weighing his choices. “I think… I might take that tea now.”
“Excellent,” the stranger tittered. Actually tittered, like some nosy housewife hearing fresh gossip.
The stranger wafted one deep-sleeved hand over the table, and after a brief mirage’s blur, a fully furnished tea set appeared: steaming kettle, two neatly set places with cups and saucers, a pair of delicate napkins precisely folded into three-sided pyramids. Everything.
Xylin’s crudely restrung composure shattered then and there, eyelids near peeling free of his face. You could do much with sagecraft, depending on your bloodline: talk to animals like a Beastbraker, toss boulders as if they were gravel like an Ironhide, summon fire and ice like an Ignartis, but you could not, under any circumstances, simply summon forth a fully furnished tea set from thin air. It was impossible. There were rules. Physical properties of matter and energy that governed the divine arts. A Lightbender could fashion an image so real as to dupe a starry-eyed youth into believing his ladylove stood before him, and Xylin had assumed that was how the stranger masked his features, but this…
Xylin flicked one of the cups, the fine porcelain producing a delicate ‘ting’, and never had such a dainty sound garnered such bone-chilling disquiet. It was no Lightbender illusion. It was real. Not just real… Freshly brewed.
I first tried to publish my book 3 years ago, and frankly, it just wasn't up to scratch. Since then, I've rewritten the entire novel twice, reduced it in size by 50%, and have now constructed it in a way that will appeal to the highest number of readers while still being the thoroughly entertaining first installment in my fantasy series that I always intended. Enjoy.