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Victory was nigh. The army amassed outside the walls of Glorian had suffered countless casualties and were no closer to breaching the stronghold than they were a fortnight ago. The loss of morale among the troops outside the walls was causing them to break out into skirmishes among their own ranks. The chaos out there delighted First Commander Ryko. Surely this lopsided victory would bring about a promotion.

He slapped the shoulder of an archer as he passed along the ramparts, the taste of success stamping a smirk on his face that erased years from his face. He made small talk with his men, noting many of them looking bleary-eyed from the long night. He was certain that his own hazel eyes mirrored that exhaustion. He had been running almost nonstop for two weeks, as the growth of his new peppered beard showed. They would soon be rewarded with an afternoon off-duty. The surrender would be coming soon.

Or a retreat. Either way, this battle was done.

A commotion across the wall caught his attention. Some of his own men looked unsettled, quarreling with a shadowed figure. Ryko let out a sigh and started toward the scene, determined to break the argument before his foes caught wind of the conflict. The lack of cohesion might inspire them to renew their own fractured assault.

As he drew near, Ryko was able to distinguish the shadowy figure cloaked in gray. He cursed under his breath. Why was that damned wizard always showing up and stirring up trouble at the most inopportune times? And why didn’t he wave his wand over the wall and turn their opponents into charred ash, or something wizardly like that? All he ever did was run his mouth and cause problems for Ryko and his master.

“Commander Ryko,” the wizard said, taking a step back while bowing his head slightly. The men arguing with him spun around, their faces reddening at being caught unaware by their commander.

“Wizard Hollinder,” Ryko uttered, “what form of mischief brings you to Glorian?” His men smirked at the icy accusation.

“No mischief at all,” the wizard replied with another deferential bow of his head, his white beard reaching down below his knees, “I was merely instructing your men that the battle is far from over.”

Ryko’s jaw dropped for a moment at those words, but he quickly recovered his composure. “It would appear, Wizard Hollinder, that you are as unskilled in the strategies of war as you appear to be in the business of being a wizard. Their armies fight amongst themselves, a large portion of their force has fallen, and they are no closer to breaching our walls than they were in the beginning. Only a great fool would continue to wage a pointless campaign, and that fool would quickly lose his entire army to casualties and desertion.”

“If that were the only information I was basing my decision on, commander, then I would heartily agree with you. You fail to consider alternative ways in which these walls may be breached, and my unskilled wizardly arts have divined the method of their next attempt.”

“And what exactly have you learned?”

“He claims they are going to attack the west wall at sunset,” one of the soldiers blurted out.

“That is the thickest wall along the perimeter!” Ryko exclaimed, shaking his head. “There is no way that your boasts of clairvoyance are accurate. No bomb can penetrate that stone.”

“You underestimate your enemy,” the wizard said. “A mistake that even a novice would avoid.”

Ryko spun on his heels and marched away from the wizard, hatred bubbling through his veins. In a few hours they would all see who was right when the army surrendered. This war was over, even if a crazy old wizard thought otherwise.

The thundering of drums echoed in the air when the sun began to set a few hours later. A puzzled frown creased Ryko’s face as he peered out at the rallying army below. The men rushed toward the front gate, armed with siege equipment and an array of weaponry. Ryko signaled for his archers to take aim, his skilled eye watching for the proper moment to unleash a torrent of arrows upon the masses below. The gap closes quickly and he gives the signal, smiling at the familiar twang of a thousand bows loosing their arrow in unison. The cries of a hundred wounded men fills the air and the smell of fresh blood reaches his nostrils. To Ryko, it was the smell of success.

During the third volley a cry of alarm was raised along the western wall. Ryko’s face creased with a frown as he dashed along the wall, crouching low to avoid the stray arrow fired over the wall. The wizard was waiting for him at the post, a smug smile on his face. He waved his gnarled stick toward something distant along the horizon. Ryko turned toward it, squinting as he tried to make out the moving object as it moved up a hill.

The sunset struck so brilliantly into the traveling carriage when it gained the hilltop, that its occupant was steeped in crimson. Ryko cursed when he recognized the contents of the carriage, all color draining from his face. He shouted commands to his men, directing everyone to take aim for the carriage.

The sunlight reflected off the carriage again, displaying a dozen barrels of explosive black powder for everyone to see. Ryko grabbed a bow himself, taking aim with his men as they launched a volley of arrows.

To be continued…

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I used to love the choose your own adventure stories when I was growing up. It made me feel like I was part of the outcome, even though it was all scripted beforehand. So today I thought I would let my readers have that same power. The story will have one of two things happen at this point:

Option#1 – The archers manage to hit the barrels of powder with flaming arrows, causing it to explode far from the walls.

Option#2 – The archers are unsuccessful in their attempt to prevent the explosion, causing severe damage to the west wall of the stronghold.

It is up to you, readers, to determine which outcome will play out when the story continues. Leave a comment below stating which option you would like to see. Either way, expect to see some more action playing out in the second half of this story!

This comes from the weekly Master Class writing prompt. For this week I chose a line out of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and we were free to use it anywhere in the post. I hope you enjoyed it, and be sure to check out some of the other excellent writing that is turned in this week!