Chapter 6
The Coming of the Five

Castle Byrn, Byrn

"Just as people choose the path of truth and right, they also choose the path of lies and depravity. The way of darkness seduces men with promises of quick and easy power and prosperity. The way of light is slow and painful, but in the end, true power and prosperity belong to those who turn their back on evil."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

In the ruined throne room of Castle Byrn, Randwulf had summoned the Five Stalkers, the most elite of his prized special operatives, who were now kneeling before him. He appraised each one in his mind as he paced in front of them.
Vincentian the Dark Knight, his dark armor and cold gaze matched the icy blackness of his heart. The warlock had pushed his body beyond mortal limits and made him a relentless killing machine.
Tariq the Assassin, a fellow Elemental Knight, he despised Randwulf and his men as 'infidels', but the warlock had given Randwulf the key to tapping his power. The Assassin was a man bent on revenge. He could suffer the displeasure of working alongside the infidels if it led to his true enemy.
Algernon the Shadow, a master of disguise and the King's best spy, few things escaped Randwulf as long as he was around. He had already provided plenty of vital intelligence on the son of Luther and his band and was sure to provide much more in the days to come.
Marcella the Nightstalker, a brutal murderess who crept through the shadows quick and silent as a ghost, she served him for no other reason but to sate her bloodlust with impunity. Once she picked a victim, death was certain.
Lastly, Brenok of Darkwall, the warlock's Byrnan apprentice who sold out his own homeland, his insufferable personality detracted from his sheer virtuosity in the magical arts. Randwulf knew he carried the blood of the Elemental Knights, but as he was not the successor to his family's ancestral power, he was cast aside. It happened every generation. The deranged apprentice did not let that discourage him, though, much to the misfortune of everyone else.
The King stopped pacing to address them. "These weaklings here are no match for us and they are a waste of your unique abilities. I am giving you a more fitting assignment. It seems the Drunkard Prince is causing quite a stir back home. This goes far beyond the last revolt. Scores of Guardsmen are dead by the hands of these few. The son of Luther the Guardian is among them. I want you to bring him before me, alive and undamaged. There are two others must be brought back alive as well: the Prince and the Darkling."
Vincentian's head went up with a start. Randwulf grinned.
"She escaped about a week ago," the King said. "The warlock wants his toy back."
Vincentian bowed his head. Taking a step toward Tariq, Randwulf stooped down in front of him.
"Algernon tells me the Crusader is traveling with them. It is the man you seek, yes? I have fulfilled my pledge to you. Do what you will with him."
The Conqueror rose and started pacing again.
"If you can, bring them all back alive. I want to deal with them personally. If not, only bring back those three." He looked at Brenok. "I know you are fond of petty trickery, but do not waste time playing with them. I want this assignment completed as soon as possible. Do not fail me, my Five Stalkers. Now go!"
They rose in unison and stood close together. Brenok twirled his rod and the five of them disappeared in a flash of light.
Randwulf frowned. Concerns started seeping into his mind. Brenok's personal hatred for the son of Luther could prove problematic. Vincentian was generally obedient, but signs of rebelliousness were beginning to come to the surface. And now that Tariq could fulfill his vendetta, he did not have much reason to serve and he might simply disappear once he spilled the Crusader's blood. That left Algernon and Marcella. The two were at least reliable and efficient, but they had no supernatural abilities, a drawback against magically enhanced foes. The Five Stalkers were the King's best people for the job, but he knew they would fall before the new Guardian if he had mastered his abilities. Time was against him. It had always been against him.