Thank you for entering the Great Hall of Contest by "The Coffee Shop for the Fantasy Society" . Congratulations on placing 2nd. I enjoyed reading your entry; below are my comments on your piece. The review is based off my thoughts when I read it to judge the contest. I see that you have edited the piece since, so I will try to make sure my comments are still relevant.
There are a lot of characters in this piece (as expected, given the prompt). However, many of these characters are background characters, so don't need much development.
The protagonist of the story is Dax Sealbrahn-Provdy (I'll call him that as he seems to have two surnames!), a Gray Wizard. Dax's character is well established and built. Being Gray he is looked down upon by members of the Blue order, but in general he doesn't let that bother him. He is a good man, who has everyone's best interests at heart. This is shown repeatedly throughout the story with him talking to pretty much everyone, listening to what they have to say and always seeming to say the right thing.
Dax has history with another major character, Sir Winston. They both fought in a war protecting the Towerlands (part of the Blue order) from Khazard alongside the Gnome King. The relationship between Dax and Winston is pleasant and enjoyable to read.
Dax's character is strong throughout the majority of the story, but it breaks down at the end. We are led to believe that Dax is a truthful and honest man, but without any warning we are shown that he is actually ever-so-slightly dishonest. When he is making his promise to Robert, we are first told that 'If either of us lies about it, our hands will get warm' and then shown Dax feeling a 'slight burning sensation in the back of his hand'. Does this mean Dax doesn't intend to uphold his promise? Has he got a secret motivation behind what he is doing? I have a feeling this isn't what you intended, but I can't work out what to think about the burning sensation. Actually I've just thought of something. Is it to do with his name? He calls himself Provdy, but is actually Sealbrahn? If so, you might want to explain why he does that.
At the end you show off Dax's physical skills (though sadly not his magical abilities) in a fight that is over pretty quickly. His skill set is implied throughout, and it was no surprise that Dax won.
High Priest Brayden is a very unpleasant character. You have done an excellent job making him despicable with everything he says. He's racist (Blue supremacy), obnoxious, ungrateful, and all together not nice. However I do kind of sympathize with him. If Sir Winston had invited him on the premise that he would become Robert's tutor, only for that not to be the case, you can see why he's annoyed. I know he had it coming, but I get where his anger is coming from at the end.
Sir Winston is an unusual character. On the face of it, he's a good man, who cares for people and animals alike. But then he does some things which can only be describe as 'dick moves'. First of all Winston invites members of the Blue order and the Gray order, knowing they don't get on well. Not only that but he invites the Blue order and promises to let them tutor his son, but stab them in the back and gives it to the Grays (kind of understandable). But what makes Winston's change of hear worse, is that he literally shouts out to the entire party that Dax will tutor Robert. It would probably have worked out better for all involved if they had done the ceremony in private, and Winston had taken Brayden to the side to explain. Brayden would still be angry, but probably wouldn't have had the chance to start a fight. When Brayden does start a fight with Winston, Winston acts like a coward (much like Brayden does) and makes Dax fight for him. Winston makes the man who will tutor his son fight simply because his suit is too expensive. This all adds up to give me mixed messages about Winston. On the one hand he is kind, but on the other he leads people on, goads the people he betrayed, and makes others fight his fights.
Robert is a good character. We don't get to see much of him, considering this is his birthday party, but I think that adds to his character. He seems a little shy, and doesn't much like all the guests there to 'lick his father's shoes.' He gets on well with Dax and enjoys drawing. This is a great detail to his character and acts as a way to get the conversation going. He is intelligent and shows this by dismissing each of the orders Dax suggests in a concise, non-judgemental manner. I like his comment about the Green order. He is careful to add 'That's the only thing I have against the Greens.'. This shows he has considered these before. Robert is my favourite character of all of them as I can relate to him the most.
Plot and Structure
There is a very clear structure in this piece. It opens with the party scene, moves to the scene with Dax and Robert, and closes with the fight. You have paced the piece well, and I think the structure is one of the best things about this piece.
However, despite the strong structure, the plot is lacking, in my opinion. I don't mean to sound harsh with that comment, and it only my opinion. There isn't a true conflict. You set up Dax and Winston and friends, and Brayden as an enemy, but the conflict between them is superficial.
There is no point in the story where I thought Dax might not achieve his goal. There are 2 reasons for that. First of all Dax doesn't have a goal. He is not aiming to achieve anything. The story could have ended anywhere and Dax wouldn't have lost or gained anything. He arrives at the party not expecting to become a tutor. Then he becomes a tutor. Then he fights. I, as a reader, had no reason to invest in Dax's character because there was nothing to invest in. Again, I'm aware this may sound harsh, but I know you're a good writer and will be able to take these comments on board (or ignore them if you disagree, which is equally fine).
Second, Dax is never in a vulnerable position. He is always the strongest character. His motives are always pure (apart from when his hands burn). During the fight he is never in a position where he may lose. Throughout the entire fight he is in the winning position.
As the contest is over, you are in a position to edit and improve the piece. in my opinion, if you were to make a single change (aside from technical fixes), it would be in this area. Make Dax's opponent stronger, extend the fight sequence, and put Dax in the losing position for three quarters of it. Perhaps, to make the fight seem less 'why are they fighting', make it against Brayden, and have Brayden want to fight Dax (currently the fight is on Winston's behalf). That way you have the protagonist fighting the antagonist and not just a new character who comes at the end.
Also with regards to the fight scene, and this is not a criticism just a question, why are they fighting with fists? Dax is a wizard yes? Currently there is no reason to have wizards in this story as there is no magic! If you make the fight a mixture of physical and magical it would have an added wow-factor.
I will say this again, I do not wish to come across harsh. Everything I say is merely my opinion. I am not a better writer, or more skilled, or anything like that. I am simply a writer, just like you, who has an opinion. Disregard everything if you wish, or take it on board. This is your story, and you know what's best for it more than I do!
The setting in this story is fantastic! I can vividly see the entire scene. The colours of the various guests, the richness of the mansion, the bustling noise of a busy party, it is all fantastic. I especially love the menagerie. It adds to Winston's character, and provides an excellent back drop for the conversational scenes.
The world-building you've done for this short story is also impressive. There's backstory, age-old conflicts, religions, non-religions, schools of thought, Orders, conflict between orders, wars, etc... Everything you would expect in a novel's world, you've done on a smaller scale for this short story.
There is nothing amiss with your world building and setting as far as I can see and this is defintely the strongest aspect of this story. Out of interest, though, why would anybody not want to be part of the Gray Order? It sounds so fun!
My favourite section was:
She led him through several parlors and past many enthusiastic guests to the menagerie, filled with cages that replicated the animal's environment. In several cages full of gryphons, the cage was decorated with real grass and shaped to resemble the hills of their native habitat. They were segregated by color, the golden gryphons were all in cages to the right while the gray ones were in cages on the left side of the room. The smell was tolerable due to servants constantly hanging perfumed flowers from the ceiling and cleaning up after the animals. Viessa led him through a door at the end of the room he hadn't noticed before, and showed him several hallways filled with animals.
I felt like I was there!
Technically this piece is readable, and on the most part I can understand what you're trying to put across, but there are several areas with room for improvement. I'm not the best at technical stuff myself, so this may not cover everything.
In general for dialogue we follow the 'new speaker, new line' rule. This means whenever a different character starts speaking, you put their dialogue on a line separate to the previous speaker. For example:
The look on the High Priest's face was a mix between embarrassment and pure hatred. With a sigh he said "I have friends to attend to, I take my leave." and turned around and left along with the acolyte and apprentice. Dax turned to his old friend, saying "Who knew my career choice would cause me so much trouble?" he chuckled. "Brayden has his head up his ass, like most of the Blue Order. I only invited him because the Mrs. wants our children to study under him." Winston replied, "But after that I doubt that will be possible."
In this single paragraph both Brayden, Dax, and Winston all speak. Notice how after 'he chuckled', it seems as if Dax is still speaking, even though it is Winston? That's a problem with not following the rule. If you were to re-write it, it would look like this:
The look on the High Priest's face was a mix between embarrassment and pure hatred. With a sigh he said, "I have friends to attend to, I take my leave." He turned around and left along with the acolyte and apprentice.
Dax turned to his old friend., saying "Who knew my career choice would cause me so much trouble?" He chuckled.
"Brayden has his head up his ass," Winston replied, "like most of the Blue Order. I only invited him because the Mrs. wants our children to study under him. But after that, I doubt that will be possible."
I'm sure if you re-read your work, you can spot other occurrences of this.
I am aware this is likely an artefact of copy/pasting from Word or some other program into the WDC editor. There is inconsistent spacing throughout the whole piece. For example at the start of the piece each new paragraph is indented and there is no line-spacing. Then after '"But after that I doubt that will be possible."' it changes to no indentation, and line-spaces. A couple of times there is neither an indent nor a line space (for example 2 paragraphs before last).
Like I said, probably just a copying error. This didn't impact my understanding in anyway, just thought you should know.
Just before the fight scene Dax can't remember if the Silver Angels are supposed to be an elite force. Then, during the fight he goes over an extensive list of things he knows about the Angels. I struggle to believe that Dax can recall their training patterns, initiation methods, fight style, preferred sub-style of that fight style, but not recall a basic piece of information like whether they're any good.
Overall I enjoyed reading the story, but felt it was let down in several key areas. Increasing the clarity of Winston's character, and some scenes (all discussed above) would help dramatically improve the story for me. The piece excels in setting and world-building, and you are clearly very talented in those areas.
"The Coffee Shop for the Fantasy Society"