My eyes caught Bob's rapidly widening orbs -- they were dark in the center like humans, if you ignored the fact that they weren't circular pupils; but a troll's eyes had vertical lines that appeared cat-like when not cloaked by glamour. I quickly concluded that he must have seen a Hunter before me, but since he still was breathing, that meant something about his talents that I hadn't seen yet. He bore watching, but for the moment I simply winked at him and turned to see that Eddie was squaring off with Sam and trying to establish some hierarchy in which he was the one in charge, not my boss. I bit back a huge grin at the idea, but kept my thoughts guarded. Sam didn't need a distraction, and Eddie was working hard to find enough power to tip the focus back to him so he could pull fear or worship off of any of us. I had no fears of Eddie, and I don't know that I ever did. I felt out of place once he had switched his supposed agenda, but I often found most humans and supernatural creatures lied to get what they wanted regardless of what they swore was the heavenly truth. His truths were softer than a kitten's fur but less pleasant.
"Sam Fortuna, you are very much mistaken." His voice was soft and sticky with traces of magic. He was pushing with his words a sly spell that rang false and his words were meant to disarm the listener. It probably worked really well on the typical human, but Sam wasn't typical and pretty much non-human. Truth be told neither was I anymore. I think once I was pulled into the Hunter world and taught to increase my skills, and developed my own arsenal of spells, bits of my humanity were replaced over time. I didn't delude myself, but rarely offered any explanation on my personal views when asked what I was. I watched the four creatures in the room -- the orphaned trolls and the witchy-bitchy gals, who were still out cold. The princes were fixed in their spots, watching Sam and Eddie like they were playing a vicious tennis match.
"No, I am not. And you are forbidden to pull from humans on Earth. That concession was made centuries ago, when we first acknowledged that now and then you would have reasons to visit our world. Your -- symposium, I think you call it? Yes, Symposium of Gods and Goddesses, that was the last title you went by here, and elsewhere I think, made peace with those ruling and agreed to abide by the contract." Sam's voice was pitched low but powerful. Something flared in Eddie's eyes, and I could see he was still glowing oddly as he weighed his reply.
"Yes, I am part of the Symposium. But those contracts were made centuries ago and nobody alive can verify the terms as agreed upon in this age." His face was twisted with a smug smile that really was something.
Resisting my desire to applaud the pompous attempt that Eddie tried to use to sway Sam, I waited to see what Sam would do next.
The staff that materialized out of thin air a foot from Sam between him and the unconscious gals made my stomach drop. I knew that staff and the body that was pulled into shape attached to it. Damned if it wasn't Archie with a smirk on his face he said, "Ah, there you both are."
He looked at me like I was ripe for the picking, barely acknowledging that Sam had actually summoned him to us. Archie didn't like to admit that he wasn't in charge, and would never admit that he'd been forced to come to Sam's call. I was fairly uncomfortable that Sam hadn't even warned me. It took me a minute to realize why Sam had dragged Archie to us. Sam had been responding to Eddie's challenge about the contract from the past.
"Lord Edwin, what brings you to Southern California? Aren't you restricted to Europe?" Well that was news to me and from the uncomfortable look on Eddie's face it was accurate.
To my shock Eddie said, "I came to take my charges home. They are needed in their word to return the balance."
Sounded smooth, except for the fact he had threatened to kill us all more than once within the last hour or so. Archie's lip curled as he looked at the unconscious ladies and he said, "I see this is your doing, Samuel." My boss never went by Samuel, and I resisted replying as the boys were all trying to be alpha. The room was scented with scared trolls and boys being testosterone-filled boys.
Sam simply said, "Mostly. So you need to tell the demi-deity here that the contract is still enforceable. He is under the delusion that he can do whatever he wants both here on Earth, and in the world-between-the-worlds. He's been overstepping and violating the rules, thinking you all are dead."
Pretty accurate, but I found it funny that Archie was older than Sam but beneath him in our committee. I always had figured him at least four hundred years old, but if Archie was around for the signing of the contract between the committee and the symposium he was probably much older. Plus I was waiting for him to explain why he hadn't looked for Sam, but knew that wouldn't happen in front of 'company' -- especially these folks. I found their scent was making me grow edgier as they kept jockeying for position.
It was then that I caught Matt and Bob exchanging a look while the other three were distracted with their posturing. I let my gaze catch Bob's, and didn't drop my eyes while I thought of all the trolls I'd confronted, and how few were still alive. I wasn't required to kill them all, but it always made me feel better knowing that they wouldn't go rogue and kill more humans. I only slew the trolls I knew had killed humans and eaten them. One or two hadn't, but they had been far and few between, because I wasn't sent out unless blood had been spilled. Funny, but I never asked what happened to them after I'd given them over to the committee. I kept focused on Bob and watched his pupils expand and contract as my anger flowed. Matt asked, "What the hell is she?"
Bob said, "Don't you know? Hell, she's a Master Hunter of trolls. One of the best."
I was surprised that he even knew of me. But the huge eyes that Matt turned to me were shocked. "But she's a girl. She's not even fifty years old." His tone was stunned and he looked at me as if I had three heads.
"Gee, thanks. I try to eat right and get my exercise." Fifty? Gosh, should I be flattered or pissed off? Sam had been paying attention, I found out as he started laughing.
"Guys, she's nowhere near fifty. Now let the adults figure out what to do with you four." Sam looked at me and nodded towards the women still sprawled on the broken flooring. I reluctantly mumbled a few words while spinning my pendant at them. They both woke up and began moaning. Yeah, it sucked to be them.
The princes looked at us, then flew to the girls and helped them up. They were murmuring in lowered voices, but I left my pendant out and found they were actually following the rules and not trying to plot anything at the moment. I knew from my own training that spell was nasty. Much like boot camp and other such military operations, what I learned from Sam was often done to me so I knew what I was casting. I called the spell Marionette Strings because it felt like all the props fell out beneath you when you collapsed into unconsciousness and a feeling of emptiness. It took a good hour afterward to feel anything close to normal.
Sam finally had enough of the preening peacocks and said, "Enough."
Both Eddie and Archie had been mumbling shit back and forth to each other while Sam had simply been monitoring them. Now that the four banished creatures were clustered together and somewhat awake, we all knew that time was ticking. I'd overheard Bob tell the women who I was, and both Rena and Adrienne were glaring at me like I'd already killed the two princes. I kept flip flopping between compassion for their being abandoned ruthlessly by the symposium, and hatred for their slaying of so many humans in the store over the decades they'd been in California.
Archie snarled, "Fortuna, I am in charge. You didn't inform the committee that you are back, and as of the last order I am now the head of this branch."
Looking directly at Archie, Sam said, "Are you challenging me? After you abandoned me?" Even I could feel the currents flowing between the two. I was pretty sure that Archie had abandoned Sam and left him for dead. I hadn't been there. but I could tell. Sam was beyond angry. And naturally Eddie tried to twist it to his advantage.
"Archibald Roberts, what did you do now?" Eddie was smug, and that he'd used his current name meant that he wasn't as far out of the loop as he'd pretended. He had known that Archie was out there, but hadn't thought that Sam would summon him. All eyes were on them both and Sam simply looked relaxed. That caused me to tense up, since when he was relaxed, life tended to go sideways at best and screwed up as a rule.
Looking at Archie, I saw his face was flushed with rage and embarrassment. As a witness to this little challenge, I knew without a word that I was screwed if Sam vanished again or was harmed. My body was flooded with energy and my entire focus was on Sam. Naturally it was noticed and both Rena and Adrienne spun towards me and cast a death spell.
Instead of countering with a spell of my own, I leaped to them and punched them both in the throat. They fell back on the ground. Matt and Bob backed up with their hands crossed in front of their faces expecting the same. I resisted and simply said, "Move."
I kicked both the girls hard in the stomach, furious at their stupidity, and my back was to Eddie and Archie. I twisted around to find both of them trying to zap me with two different spells. Instead of trying to fight either, I just put up a reflect barrier, and what Eddie cast hit Archie and what Archie cast hit Eddie. Sam watched with a smirk on his face.
Both of them fell victim to the other one's spell. Eddie had cast a sleep spell, while Archie had been stupid enough to try a death spell. Given Eddie wasn't like me, it only slammed him to the ground and crackled around him with a black cloud. It may or may not have killed me, but it definitely would have incapacitated me while Eddie deflected it mostly but still stumbled.
He was a god so it wasn't as deadly to him as it could have been to me. But it pissed Eddie off and he returned the gesture with one of his own and Archie was turned into a large sheep. I resisted laughing just barely, but Sam was now furious. I stepped back and watched my mentor try to calm down. The air in the room was sucked out as Sam pulled in his fury and I felt the energy bounce off the tainted walls and grow stronger. This was not good. Power surged around us all and abruptly fizzled out as Matt and Bob stepped forward and said as one, "Stop. We will take your punishment."
Time froze and I waited to see what Sam would do.