Chapter 2:

Dealing With the Vormarnok

Enchanted by a Witch From a Realm Called Earth

“Hold on tight. Oh, and it’s going to be loud.”

That turned out to be a massive understatement. Fire erupted from the top of the staff with a thunderous boom. I didn’t just hear it: I felt it to my core, and so did all around us.

The vormarnok scattered, their fear overcoming their hunger. The large one reared up on its hind legs, and I caught a glimpse of arrowheads embedded in its scaly face before it turned away and fled after its fellows.

Raising their fists into the air, the soldiers let out a collective shout of triumph. I was only distantly aware of the celebration, for the world around me had been silenced by the blast. As the sounds of the world slowly seeped back into my head, the witch reclaimed her staff from me. She was saying something, but her words did not register, so she leaned close to my ear and shouted.

“They’ll be back. We need to prepare.”

Of course. Despite the overwhelming spectacle of her magic, she had only succeeded in driving the beasts away. They were still starving, and there was no other food in the area. When they returned, they might be more cautious, but there was no doubt that they would return.

Instilled with a new sense of urgency, I rushed back towards the caravan, Chika close behind me, but we were stopped by the commander. Now that I was on foot, I had to crane my neck upward to meet his gaze.

“Begone, witch. Trouble us no more.”

His demand surprised even some of the soldiers. “Trouble us? She just saved us.”

The commander, however, was unmoved. “How do we know she didn’t summon the beasts in the first place? Who among you have ever heard of vormarnok inhabiting the desert? Have you? You? I haven’t.”

Glancing at Chika, I saw her take a few steps back. Were I in her position, I would have bolted immediately. If the commander, in his suspicion, ordered her death, her only hope of survival was to get far away before the arrows came flying.

Our only hope of survival, on the other hand, depended on her assistance. Knowing I had nothing to lose, I once again challenged the commander’s instincts.

“Even if she did, we could not have pushed them back without her help, and we will need her again when they return. Trust me, I won’t let anything bad happen.”

“You were right about the fire, but what if she turns that weapon upon us?”

Now it was time to play to his pride. “Then she will die. After all, what can one woman do against so many men?”

“Very well. But I’ll be watching her closely. I suggest you do the same.”

With the matter settled, I turned back to Chika, doing my best to appear friendly and reassuring. She returned an uncomfortable smile, and it pained my heart to see my savior so troubled. We had already wasted too much time, however, so I buried my feelings for the time being.

“Yasutake Chika, though I am already in your debt, may I ask for your assistance?”

Her expression hardened. “If we leave some of your supplies behind, we can escape from the vormarnok.”

The commander interjected, “Those supplies belong to the army. Soldiers will go hungry if we abandon them.”

My patience was wearing thin, but I kept my words calm. Provoking the commander would only make things worse. “If we send a messenger back to the capital, we can arrange for another caravan. In the meantime, it’s better for the soldiers to get some supplies than none at all.”

“Perhaps, but won’t that just encourage further aggression? What if they attack the next caravan as well?”

Chika offered a solution. “The vormarnok won’t be a problem if we poison them. It’s more humane than letting them starve in the desert, at any rate.”

Unfortunately, this only roused the commander’s suspicions. “She’s a poisoner! I told you she was a danger to us all.”

“I am not. You may search my belongings for poison, but you won’t find any. As it happens, some vegetables are toxic to vormarnok. They’re so hungry that, if we mix them in with some of their favorite foods, they will gorge themselves, never expecting a thing.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because they attacked a village to the northwest a month ago. I was hired to investigate, and I found corpses amongst those who had broken into the food stores.”

“You expect us to believe they sent a woman?”

“What difference does it make if I’m a man or a woman? They sent me because they trust my judgment.”

Once again, I was forced to step in. “Enough! Unless any of us has a better idea, let’s get to work. I will take full responsibility for the loss of the food.”

The captain stepped aside, but not before issuing one more warning. “You may be able to withstand the emperor’s anger, but what of the soldiers’?”

Ignoring him, I led Chika to the wagons that held our vegetables. After inspecting them, she identified three wagons to be emptied. It was a painful sacrifice, to be sure, but considering how much food we could have lost to the vormarnok, I considered ourselves lucky.

That changed when she pointed at one of the wagons filled with vitafelars.

“Just one wagon,” she explained over protests. “They’re drawn to the smell, and it will help mask the scent of the foods they would not otherwise eat.”

But none could bring themselves to help her unload the vitafelars. Even I, convinced that she was correct, wavered. Just thinking about how many lives that one wagonful could save, the act of throwing them upon the ground felt sacrilegious.

A sacrilege which I ultimately could not let her bear on her own. Stepping up to the wagon, I filled my arms with the fruit. My determination must have been infectious, for others soon followed my example.

This time, a genuine smile appeared upon Chika’s face. “Thank you.”

My feelings of discomfort vanished. “It is I who should be thanking you. I would be dead had you not come to my aid.”

Her lips parted as her smile widened, and for the first time, I got a good, close look at her teeth. They were as pure and as unblemished as a child’s, not yet stained by a lifetime of eating vitafelars.

Yasutake Chika did not eat the life-saving fruit, and yet, here she was, very much alive.

And very much a witch. There could be no other explanation.

By the way the captain shifted uncomfortably, I could tell that he, too, had noticed, and though he allowed us to continue working undisturbed, he kept a firm grip on the hilt of his sheathed sword.

Pope Evaristus
Syed Al Wasee
Lucky Lane
Kya Hon