Reth laid wrapped in his cloaks, the rocking of the small boat and the freezing temperatures making it impossible to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. The small fleet had been at sea for months, their rations running so low only the fishing ability of Kiputo and the warmth from Asani and Jahannamu kept them alive. Even then, it had been a few days since Reth’s last meal.
“Reth,” Asani said beside him, the soft sound of paddle hitting the water suddenly increasing in frequency and intensity, interrupting Reth’s dreamless sleep. Reth lifted his head from the floor of the boat to see the sunrise blocked.
“Pick it up!” Reth shouted, grabbing the spare set of oars and joining Asani, stirring the rest of their fleet from their sleep into action. He heard a load groan from the boat to his right.
“What’s the big idea here?” Jahannamu yelled back, but Reth had no time to deal with him now.
“Look,” he responded simply, his low supply of energy needed to be reserved to getting to land, before a current or storm came and swept them away. Jahannamu seemed to get the idea.
“Shut up and row Jahan,” Mti said from behind him, “or I can shove you in the ocean and see how our ‘chief pyromancer’ deals with water.”
Jahannamu paled in response and began rowing.
“What do we do if someone’s there?” Asani asked, quietly enough so as to not be heard by anyone but Reth.
“Then they’ll have food, won’t they?” he replied with a grunt.
“And if they don’t give it to us?”
“Then you’ll start your collection.”
Asani smiled at that answer, no doubt thinking of the possible loot he could get from an early raid. Normally Reth would like to be more discreet, but he knew they would not have the energy for a drawn out battle in the case they got caught. It’d be easier to get in and out, fast. In a foreign land, he didn’t want to take his chances with the unknown wildlife.
They hit land without any problems, and Reth held his iron necklace to give thanks for their luck. He took in their surroundings, the small beach gave way to what looked to be a massive forest. He scanned the horizon, searching. All around him, his group waited, restless.
To the east, he saw light pillars of smoke coming from the forest, no doubt a small village keeping warm during the winter. He brushed the axes strapped at his sides, welcoming the aches in his muscles from standing for the first time in too long. He looked over at Asani, who had tracked Reth’s line of sight to the smoke. His excited grin was borderline insane. Asani read Reth’s look and winked, inciting a laugh. Reth looked behind him at the other three.
“C’mon, let’s eat.”
The village’s guards seemed to recognize their approach, amusing Reth. He always preferred to keep the element of surprise, but upon seeing their weapons he knew there wouldn’t be an issue. He strode before them with confidence, causing the guards to step back slightly in fear. Obviously they weren’t used to visitors. He stopped at the clearing before the walls, the gate roughly twenty feet away.
“Who leads you?” Reth boomed, holding in a laugh at the sight of the guards’ pale and confused faces. In truth, Reth was just glad that even in his malnourished state he could inspire fear without raising a finger. The gates behind the guard opened, revealing a less pathetic sight. A younger man, twenty-five years of age at most, stood with glowing gold armor and a sword sheathed at his side, no doubt meant to intimidate Reth.
“State your business, we have no desire to accommodate thieves,” the man said.
“You misunderstand,” Reth started, letting a hint of sarcasm into his voice, “We merely seek food, for we have just come to the end of our long journey from Mbali.”
“I don’t know who you are, but you must leave at once, I have no desire to deal with foreigners,” the man said gruffly, confidently. He didn’t even respond to his request. It annoyed Reth.
“Suit yourself,” Reth replied, unstrapping his axes. The man fell into a defensive posture, drawing his sword, but they were too fast. Before the sound of metal scrapping against the man’s scabbard finished, Reth was already behind him, shoving an ax into the back of his head. As the dead man’s body fell, Reth was pleased to see the guards dead, arrows in their necks. Asani walked over to the man, lifting the gold armor and putting it in the travel chest that appeared beside him. Reth rolled his eyes.
“What?” Asani asked, smirking.
They moved inside recklessly, knowing the men stationed at the front would have been the biggest challenges. Jahannamu set off a barrage of flaming arrows, the rest of the group picking off those in cover. The fight, if you could call it that, lasted a mere 30 seconds.
“What now?” Kiputo and Mti asked almost simultaneously. Reth chuckled, thinking back.
They thought they could toss him into the shadows, break him by destroying everything he had built, everything he loved. They thought mere darkness could defeat him. He would embrace the darkness, and in it, he would be reborn.