Part 1

King Michael of Itreya looked over the five men standing before him.  His Hunters, the pride of the land.  They were not only his elite warriors, chosen by the land herself, but they were also his friends.  They'd battled cruel tyrants, petty landowners, and other human enemies in his service.  More often than not, however, they ended up fighting magical creatures from the northern Outlands.  Not all of these beings were unwelcome.  Some only wanted to make settlements and live quietly--like the brownies, dryads, and elves.  Others, like the dwarves and gnomes, came to trade or work.  But there were those who came to steal, kill, enslave, destroy.  Trolls, goblins, orcs, dark fae, and more.  Once again he would have to call upon them to fight a magical enemy, but this time it would be one they had no prior experience with.

Christopher, the Black.  Their leader.  He and Buck had been with Michael since the beginning, when he was just a green young prince.  He'd been overjoyed when his two friends and mentors were Called to be Hunters.  It was common for the first few chosen to be from among the Itreyan warriors.

To many, Chris appeared to be a cold man that nothing could touch.  When he accepted the Calling, Itreya had gifted him with protection from harm.  While he wasn't invulnerable, he was certainly harder to injure than the normal man.  But against magic he was completely protected.  It simply had no effect on him.  Not spells or potions or even magical talismans or weapons.  A man who seemed impervious to laughter and light was also now impervious to magical harm. 

Michael sighed.  So few people realized how much pain the man carried with him, how many emotions he kept at bay.  The burning of his family by a marauding band of goblins had burned something away in him, as well.  But there was no man Michael would rather have at his back.  

Buckminster "Buck" Wilmington.  For some reason the man had a natural charm that was almost irresistible.  He couldn't force someone to do something totally against his own will, but he could influence that person to his way of thinking if they weren't too resistant.  He could make an uncertain opponent surrender or maybe nudge a nervous witness to tell the truth.  Buck had this ability before he was chosen--unlike the others who'd been gifted by the land.  No one knew for sure how he came by this power.  There was a rumor that he had satyr blood in his veins.  Being from one of the border towns near the Outlands, Buck having mixed blood wouldn't be all that uncommon.  Michael didn't care if his father was a hideous sea kraken.  He was a good friend and a devil of a fighter. 

Then there was Nathan, the healer.  He was a former slave from the desert kingdom of Kandigar beyond the mountains of the east.  He'd escaped to Itreya and was Called the moment he set foot on her soil.  The man could heal almost any wound or illness with one of those disgusting concoctions of his.  His knowledge of the herbs and plants of Itreya and some of its neighboring countries was phenomenal.  His magical ability was to know what healing potions were needed and what plants to use in them and, sometimes, to heal with a touch if the injury wasn't too severe.  The very first thing Nathan had done with his new abilities after he'd been Called was to save Michael from the Red Fever when the royal physicians had given up.  His talent for healing had been put to good use among the Hunters because of the many strange creatures they encountered and the fearsome injuries they could cause.  His talent with a blade was equally useful. 

Josiah, the wanderer from Marfan in the south.  The oldest member of the group and the strangest contradiction.  He had the strength of several men and when he was enraged he seemed to get stronger.  But he was also a spiritual, philosophical man who constantly pondered the mysteries of life.  Michael had had many odd and stimulating conversations with him since he'd been Called to the group.

Vincent, the scout, the most recent to join.  He was a quiet man of many secrets, but something about him screamed trust.  All they knew about him was that he'd lived among the elves for a time and was now no longer welcome there for reasons he wouldn't give.  They'd taught him how to read the land, move silently through it, and how to hunt.  The magic of Itreya had enhanced his skills with a bow.  Vin always hit whatever he aimed at--in the rain, at night, in a fog, in a gale.  It didn't matter.  He'd proven himself worthy to be one of the King's Hunters when he saved all their lives two missions ago.  Now it was as if he'd always been one of them.

These men were a tight-knit group.  Now he would have to ask them to accept an addition to their ranks--one he didn't think they'd be too happy with.  But Itreya had Called the young man and he had accepted the mantle.  Itreya always knew what was needed.  This young man had knowledge that would help the Hunters on this next mission.

Part 2