Good Morning, Arcadia!
While he put down the receiver of the old-fashioned phone and waited patiently for the platform to transport him down, he ran his hand over his sleeve as if he was trying to wipe a piece of lint off his jacket. To any casual observer, it would have looked as if this was just a purely random movement. But Walter couldn't help repeating it over and over again. He found it annoying in the first place, but somehow still couldn't stop it. Not since he had taken off the borrowed pants at home and put one of his own back on. As soon as the fabric touched his skin while walking, he felt her fingertips, as if her touches had burned into his skin. Her touches had been warm. Gentle.
He knew, of course, that he had had no choice but to play the girls' injured teacher. It would have been suspicious if he had refused the wound care. No human being in their right mind would do that. So her touches had been completely professional and inescapable.
But then, why couldn't he stop his own hands from retracing the spots she had left on his skin?
Staring at the painting that visually depicted the platform journey into Gunmar's realm, without actually seeing the individual images, he remembered his time with the woman. How she had carefully taken care of one wound after the next and how she had radiated a warmth he hadn't often seen in his long life so far. Everything about her had seemed... benevolent, sincere, kind-hearted, and at the same time strong and knowing of what she wanted.
Yes, there was no doubt that she was Jim's mother, he thought to himself, and swallowed as his hand once more brushed over the pants-covered bandage she had placed on his left thigh.
But then he had to pull himself together and clasped his hands behind his back.
Welcome to the Janus Order.
His human face wore a stony mask as he walked purposefully down the main corridor on this floor. None of his brothers and sisters came to meet him. But he didn't have to wonder where they all were. Muffled groans guided him unerringly to a large room near the back exit.
When the larger than normal door slid open, he saw them all either standing in a loose circle around the originator of the groans or frantically running back and forth to bring various things to him and rub him with them. But the ointments and tinctures didn't really seem to help Bular, for he lay motionless on his back and snarled at everyone who tried to help him.
Walter stepped closer to look at the troll's injuries. With a huffed tone of surprise, he realized that they were partly extreme burns that had damaged Bular's top layer of stone. He knew that Bular could be hot-headed, but that he stayed out too long and took the risk of being petrified by the sun he wouldn't have thought him capable of. When the Gumm-Gumm then turned his head toward him with an almost pitiful groan and fixated him with an angry glare as if he had heard his thoughts, Walter lost the last bit of respect he had for him.
"What happened?" Walter interrupted him calmly, looking at Sidonia, who happened to be standing next to him.
"Um…" After a quick glance at Bular, who was baring his teeth and acting, Walter thought, like a whelp whose ego had been wounded, she quickly turned back to him. "The Trollhunter somehow made his sword glow supernova-like."
Walter's eyebrows slid upwards when he heard this. Then he frowned.
"After that he retreated and left Bular lying there. We managed to cover him at the last second or the sun would have finished the job."
"This piece of human flesh dared to threaten me," Bular spat. "He will pay for this, even if I have to crush every last stone in this city to find him!"
Sighing, Walter shook his head and considered how he would proceed. This, however, seemed to infuriate Bular even more.
"Where were you during the fight, Stricklander? You ran off like a traitor, Impure!" Walter was shouted at and felt something wet land on his cheek. Inwardly snubbed, yet outwardly collected, he pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiped the saliva off without comment. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that Gunmar's son lost his temper. And such an uncontrollable creature should rule this world at his father's side...
"I was busy studying the Trollhunter up close. I rescued two human teenagers in his presence so that I could impress myself upon him as being good. As quickly as he was on the spot, he must live here in Arcadia. Also, he is smaller than me, was the same size as the teenagers, so there is a possibility that our new Trollhunter is not an adult either. His voice was distorted by the helmet, but it sounded vaguely familiar. Which may well mean that he goes to Arcadia High, where, as you know, I work as a teacher. After the fight with the goblins, he was limping. And however he managed to pull that trick with his sword, surely he will have at least bruises from your fight?"
A pure growl answered him, which elicited a renewed frustrated, but precautionary inward, sigh from Walter.
"So I will go to the school and look for an injured student. In order to build the case in our favor, I also suggest that we bring in external help. Esmeralda from one of our southern bases has located someone we can use as an asset here. That would be-"
"More impures? I don't need more impure ones! I'll crush the Trollhunter myself!"
And just like that, a Steve Palchuk who scratched his fingernails across the blackboard while writing on it, making that wretched sound on purpose, was beaten by this brute with the ability to cause headaches faster just now. Taking a deep breath, Walter tried not to lose his composure.
"With all due respect, the Trollhunter is human. Humans fight differently than trolls. Think differently than trolls. Throughout human history there have been countless wars, battles and skirmishes. And who do you think has access to knowledge of war tactics as a history teacher?" Before anyone in the room could even think of giving an answer to his rhetorical question, he continued, "And this asset is by no means a changeling. Such one wouldn't have had to be found by our people, since we know exactly where everyone from the Order is, worldwide. Tend to your wounds, Bular. I will make sure that we do not underestimate the Trollhunter a second time."
With that he turned and left the hall amid Bular's angry roar. Why couldn't have his mouth been half petrified as well?
On his way to the command centre, he didn't stay alone for long. But it was her presence he felt first, instead of hearing her footsteps. With a satisfied smile because of her stealth, he walked on, but looked back over his shoulder at her. She looked straight ahead with a neutral expression, but he could see in her eyes that her thoughts were in turmoil.
"How can that new Trollhunter, just chosen, fight so well? I had a hard time not losing sight of him with my binoculars!"
"What's your assessment?"
"Hmph," Nomura snorted in chagrin. "He didn't hesitate. He knew how best to fight goblins. Knew not to let them get into his back without being immediately pulled to the ground. Granted, his movements were erratic, unbalanced, the longer the fight went on. As if he had mastered fighting in theory but simply lacked practical experience. But that wouldn't have been enough to defeat Bular. And why didn't he kill him? Perhaps he really is just an innocent young lamb who has never taken another life in his short existence? But how did he manage that with the sword?"
Walter nodded thoughtfully. "I believe that he wasn't alone. A doctor at the clinic told me that another patient saw things during the attack that can only be explained by magic. The Trollhunter's armor and sword are largely made of magic. I doubt that he is a mage himself, otherwise the fight would certainly have looked different. But he is definitely capable of using the armor's woven magic."
By now they had reached the command centre and Walter settled into a chair, interlocking his fingers on the console to stare across them at the screens.
"How he is able to do this, however, is most interesting."
"So you're of the opinion that a mage lives here in Arcadia and helped him?" Nomura asked, leaning against the wall next to the entrance to the room with her arms folded. "That could cause us problems. Big ones, even, if they inform their Council about it!"
"That's why it's important to act quickly now." Using the external communication channel, he sent a message to his sister, who he knew would complete the task quickly and discreetly. Esmeralda hadn't been his direct contact in the outpost for centuries for nothing.
"By the way," Nomura began casually, holding up her mobile phone.
Good morning, Arcadia, it sounded cheerfully from the speaker as she played something from the saved Arcadia News app. It promises to be a lovely warm day after this crazy night. City Hall has so far remained silent, but unofficial sources speak of a gas leak that has caused widespread hallucinations and, as a result, numerous injuries. It remains to be seen when we will get confirmation of this. But to all students in our city, you can stay home today. After an emergency meeting, the headmasters of all schools in our beautiful city have asked us to spread this news for you as there have been injuries on the part of both students and teachers. You can find out exactly which schools outside the nucleated town are affected in the circular that was sent out to all parents early this morning. And to all those affected, my colleagues and I wish a speedy recovery. With that, I pass on to Angela for a report on the band Papa Skull, who will soon be-
"Looks like you got an involuntary day off." Grinning, Nomura looked at Walter and dropped her phone into her pocket. "But that they really swallowed the gas leak explanation? Humans are really always good at not seeing obvious things."
"Can you blame them? I didn't see a single evidence of damage on the way here. No goblin slime, no damages to buildings or cars or any things that were affected... The mage did a great job at disguising the attack."
"Do we have any idea who he or she is?"
"Not yet. But if we keep an eye out for that mage, sooner or later we'll notice something. And then our new asset will get him or her off our backs."
Smirking, he read once more the reply Esmeralda had sent him a few moments ago. Their new ally was already on his way to Arcadia.
When Nomura then left the command centre to go back to her museum, Walter's dark chuckle echoed through the corridors.