6. Esfandar

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Esfandar moved through the thick of the battle, his sword striking against the city's defenders and pushing forward towards the walls. The men of his unit were scattered about around him, each absorbed in their own fights, their own struggle to stay alive through the chaos. He couldn't spare the effort to focus on them now. All of his energy was dedicated to keeping enemy blades from stabbing him in the gut or slashing across his throat.

The battle had been going on for hours now, though there was still no end in sight. Esfandar's forces pushed forward relentlessly, but the Shirazi forces were holding their own. Their soldiers were outnumbered, but they had something that Esfandar's men did not: desperation. It was an unpredictable element in battle, that feeling of having nothing left to lose. And the men of the Shirazi troops were proving just how much it was worth.

Esfandar grit his teeth and ducked to the side. He narrowly missing the slash of a knife but couldn't avoid a sharp kick to his stomach from a bloodied man dressed in the dark gray and blue uniform of Shiraz. Esfandar groaned in pain, straightening up and engaging the man in battle. The man roared and charged him again. Esfandar easily slipped out of the sword's path, spun around and embedded his blade in the enemy soldier's back. The man let out a wordless gasp and collapsed to the dirt as Esfandar withdrew his blade from the body and kept moving.

Esfandar was not the strongest of warriors. Nor was he the fastest, or the bravest, or even the wisest. But when he had a sword in his hand, Esfandar became not a general or a usurped prince, but a dancer.

He wove through the battlefield as if it were a stage, moving with precision and grace through the chaos. And perhaps it was a stage. Perhaps, up above in the heavens, the gods were watching this very battle, this very moment, and marveling at the performers below.

The sounds and smells of war began to overwhelm Esfnadar's senses. Every few seconds a deafening crash would ring out in the air as Esfandar's catapults slammed into Shiraz's walls. The projectiles were even more deadly, as they were covered with red-sand powder, the most explosive substance known to man, and set ablaze. As a result, the scent of smoke and melted metal permeated the field, and the cloud of dust covering the battlefield was tinged a dark red color.

Esfandar coughed as he breathed, nearly choking on his own spit. Red-sand powder had an unpleasant, musty smell to it, like wood that had become old and started to rot. Esfandar spit on the ground and tried to breathe through his mouth more.

The walls of Shiraz were taking a beating, but they still held. They were ancient structures, created by some of the most talented alchemists in all of history. It would take days of consistant barrages to even begin to make an opening, and Esfandar couldn't afford to expend those resources so early in the game.

Instead, he'd instructed his troops to focus the catapult fire on their one chance in this battle: the Eastern gate to the city. This was the one chink in the city's armor. The gate was completely made out of hard wood rather than metal, and wood could be destroyed. The gate was relatively small, and it would be difficult to get a significant force through even when they came down. Still, it was the best chance they had.

Esfandar spared a hopeful glance towards the gate- it was beginning to crack, but it wasn't down yet. He cursed to himself. Every second longer this battle raged, he lost valuable soldiers that he wouldn't be able to replace so easily.

The frenzied scream of an attacker brought Esfandar's mind back into focus. A large man with blood running down his face charged, his sword raised above his head to attack. Esfandar twirled outside of his slash and stabbed the man in the gut. He went down without a sound. Either that or Esfandar couldn't hear his dying breaths over the roar of the ongoing battle.

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