42. Esfandar

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The tide of the battle was turning against them at a frightening pace.

Esfandar's men ran in shock and terror before the fire powered soldiers of Soraya's army. They might as well have been gods descended from the heavens for all the shock and awe they evoked in his men.

Perhaps they were gods, Esfandar wondered half in incredulity. Who else could have such powers?

But no, these people were all too clearly human. They released torrents of flames the size of horses from their palms, and Esfandar's men fell down screaming and writhing and burning. The scent and haze of smoke quickly filled the battlegrounds, creating a mist to obscure one's vision.

He and Gita had hastily fled away from the new troops before they too could be burned, but the smoke made it impossible to try to go anywhere. They held tightly to each other's hands, knowing that if they were separated in this smoke, it would be impossible to find one another again.

As they moved, enemy soldiers would cross them, running blindly through the fog. They cut them down, each time, quickly and efficiently stabbing, slashing and running forward to seek out a regiment of their own army to join and command.

Any organization of the army that had remained before was almost certainly destroyed now. It was those soldiers of fire. How were they possible? It didn't matter though. They were real, and they were fighting him right this minute- that was all that mattered. His mind could wait to puzzle out the rest of it once the battle was one.

"Come on," Gita encouraged him, tugging him along faster. He winced, gritting his teeth at the pain coming from his cut thigh, but kept moving.

He stumbled on the arm of a dead man, and fell to his knees, letting go of Gita's hand. She turned back to him in concern.

"I'm fine," He said. He caught his breath and raised his gaze up to hers as he pushed himself back to his feet. "I'm-"

His eyes widened as he looked up to see Gita with her arm thrown back, a dagger in her hand, and aiming right for him. He stood perfectly still, not daring even to breathe, as she released the weapon forward with a grunt of exertion.

He felt a sharp pain at his ear, and then heard the sound of a strangled grunt behind him. He turned around to see one of Soraya's fire soldiers tumbling to the ground, a knife lodged in his neck. The body hit the ground with a thump, sending up a cloud of dust and ash.

"Hurry," Gita said, grabbing his arm and pulling him forward.

At last, by some stroke of luck, the smoke began to clear. They were heading away from the troop of fire wielders. They came across a more organized regiment of Esfandar's soldiers, who were doing their best to retain their position as they fought Soraya's men.

"Your highness!" The general directing the men called as he caught sight of Esfandar. It was a man named Babak, one of Esfandar's highest ranking generals. He had a cut on his forehead that dripped blood into his left eye, and the fatigue of battle was heavy on him, but he still stood tall and unharmed.

Esfandar clasped him on the shoulder as he approached.

"What's the situation?" he asked even as his eyes roamed the battlefield around them, trying to assess the current state of the battle.

Babak's grimace made Esfandar's heart sink in fear.

"Organization has broken down on both sides, your highness," he said. "Without an organized formation to keep up our defenses... with their superior weapons, they'll soon overpower us and enter the city."

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