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“Looks like it’s just you and me again.” I duck under a low hanging branch from a tree that grows on the side of the mountain.

We’re traveling toward the mountain troll caves, and I have no idea what to expect. After our last encounter, there’s no telling if they are friend or foe.

Stompy refuses to duck and powers through the branch with his horn until it snaps. Debris falls on Taryn as they pass.

He picks pieces of broken bark from his beard and flicks them away. “I know. We were just starting to be a formidable group, and now I only have you to watch my back.”

“I’m sure we’ll see them again. I can’t wait for Limery to see his father. I bet he’ll be so happy.” I still can’t believe he was trapped in a cave for years on end. I get bored sitting alone with my own thoughts for more than five minutes. I can’t imagine spending years with no one to talk to.

“You know, I have missed his antics.” Taryn grins. “And what about Jon? His luck turned around pretty fast.”

One of my horrors slips and falls off the mountain. I feel its presence as it tumbles down the mountainside, losing bits of HP with every hit until it disappears altogether.

Now, that it’s just me and Taryn, I keep as many horrors as I can on hand. I want to be prepared in the event we come upon anything dangerous.

“Yeah, good for him, though. It’s an amazing opportunity.” Jon’s a good guy, and it’s about time he caught a break.

By early afternoon, we near the mountain troll lands. Around the next corner is where I first found them tucked away in a massive crag. I keep an eye out for goblin scouts, but so far, all is quiet. I equip Destroyer, both for the added protection and its ability to muffle my movements. Unfortunately for Taryn, his boots’ abilities don’t transfer to his pets. Berry and Ruby walk quietly, but there is no mistaking Stompy’s footsteps.

The crag is filled with many full grown trees in its opening. A well-trodden path winds between them until we find ourselves in a clearing surrounded by mountain on three sides. There are remnants of the fire pit and chairs carved out of stone, but there’s no sign of the trolls or the goblins. Where could they have possibly gone?

Taryn and I search the premises. There’s nothing to give the impression of a struggle or fight, so they must have willingly moved.

“Maybe he did take your advice.” Taryn stands in front of the entrance to the largest cave. “Want to check it out?”

I shake my head. I’ve had enough cave adventures for the time being. “It’s a little too soon for me.”

He laughs. “I feel you on that. I guess it’s back to the trail then. Were you wanting to take the route to Smalltown or go a different way this time.

Ah, Smalltown, the best place to have your items smuggled from one kingdom to the other. I wonder how their business will be affected once the portals between Seascape and Vanaria are both open?

I don’t imagine many people will be venturing through the mountain unless they have something to hide. And if there is one thing I know, it’s that if you deal with unsavory characters, you’ll get unsavory results.

Pulling up my map, I see that there is a more direct route to the forest. Our last time through, we strayed into the marshes to level Taryn up, and it took us a bit out of the way.

“Let’s take a new route. There’s no use exploring the same old places when there are plenty of opportunities for new adventure. Lead the way.”

As soon as Stompy turns away from the cave, a loud rumble echoes from within. I’ve had enough experience in this world to know that’s not a good sign.

Taryn and I exchange glances, and I can tell he’s thinking the same thing as me. Fight or flight?

The rumble fades, replaced by a light patter reminiscent of a heavy rain on a roof.

“What the hell?” Taryn stares at the cave. “Is that rain?”

While I wouldn’t say it’s an impossibility for there to be rain inside the mountain, I highly doubt it.

I’ve seen enough movies to know what’s coming. “No, that’s a bunch of small creatures running down the cave toward us.”

Just as I say it, a speckling of tiny orange dots appears in the depths of the cave. They grow bigger as the sound increases. I grip Destroyer tight, ready for whatever comes next.

Fifty or sixty goblins emerge from the tunnel. Green-skinned, with lanky arms and pointy ears, some carry torches, others wield spears and beat them against their crude wooden shields. They’re clad in rags and scraps of leather. Their orange eyes stare at us with intrigue. There’s no sign of any mountain trolls among their ranks, and the metal collars they wore around their necks are gone.

I take a step forward. “Where is Kronan?”

One of the taller goblins shoves his way through the crowd on the back of a mangy looking wolf. His bright orange eyes stare at us with menace. “Kronan go. Now you go.” His voice is high pitched and shrill.

“Where did he go?” I ask. Would the mountain trolls really leave the goblins behind?

The goblin points past us, repeating himself. “Kronan go, now you go.”

Whispers snake through the group, growing louder until the entire group is chanting “go,” “go,” “go,” and pointing their fingers or weapons at us.

“I think we might should go.” Taryn slowly backs Stompy away.

I think he has a point. Maybe we could take the entire group at once, but I don’t like the odds. Even if they aren’t as strong as us, there is strength in numbers.

I raise my hands. “Okay, we’re going.”

Another thunderous rumble echoes from the cave, and the hair on my neck stands on end. There’s still something inside.

The goblins move aside and fall silent, creating a path down the center.

“Chod, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Taryn backs Stompy away a few more steps.

I know we should run, but there’s also that part of me that wonders what might be coming. What new challenge awaits?

I stand my ground. A loud groan escapes the cave and the goblins all gasp. Two massive gray legs appear from the darkness. Each step thunders as more of the creature becomes visible. Each leg is as big as I am. When it fully emerges, the monster is twice as tall as me, and carries a stone club that could potentially end me with one hit.

Giant. Level 22. As tough as the mountains from which they spring, giants’ bodies regenerate at such a rapid rate that the only way to kill them is to remove the head.

Oh, fuck.

I thought all of the giants had left the island with the dark wizard. This one must have taken up residence after Kronan left.

I take in the grotesque creature. Skin as gray as the mountain itself. Two bulging eyes the color of puss and teeth that look like wood. Stringy gray hair mixed among the bald patches stick to its sickly face. Boils cover its hawk-like nose. By far, this is the ugliest creature I have ever come upon. It’s so ugly that I can’t help but stare. But underneath the flaky skin and disgusting appearance is the body of a warrior. Muscles bulge and contract with every movement until it stops between the two groups of goblins.

The only reason I can imagine as to why the giant and goblins are living in the cave together is because the goblins flock to creatures with power. They take a bit of abuse for the solace of protection.

To each their own, but I can already smell the garbage bin that resides in its mouth and can only imagine the smell inside that cave.

I slowly back away. “Sorry to disturb you. We mean you no harm, so we’re just gonna turn around and be on our way.”

The giant shakes his head. “No,” his voice rumbles.

“Look, I can see your time is precious. And you’re a man of few words, which I can appreciate, so just let us be on our way and no one has to get hurt.” I turn to leave when something warm and squishy hits me in the back.

I look over my shoulder to find a goblin laying dazed and confused on the ground.

“No way. You did not just—”

Before I even finish my sentence, the giant picks up another goblin and throws it at me. I step out of the way and it goes sailing by into the trees, screaming the whole way.

“So, that’s how it’s going to be? Two can play at that game.” I grab a Horror of Vitality by the horn.

“Chod, don’t—” Taryn tries to stop me, but I’ve already committed.

I hurl the horror at the giant with all my might. The fluffy horror looks at me with betrayal as it soars through the air, and bounces off the giant’s chest without doing so much as a trickle of damage. The giant grunts, and smashes the horror with its rock-like foot. Then, the giant lifts his club overhead and unleashes a mighty roar. Spittle and drool fly past his rotting teeth.

I roll my shoulders and answer his call, roaring with all the defiance I can muster.

“Bro, this is not going to end well.” Taryn’s face is full of worry.

“Dude, he threw a goblin at me.” I toss my hands in the air. “I can’t let that stand.”

The giant charges, and for the briefest moment, I think about running. Then I remember I’m a goddamn troll and I take off to meet him head on. Taryn jumps off of Stompy, but I don’t wait around to see what he does.

“Keep the goblins off me, and I’ll handle the giant.”

Me and Mr. Giant are the same level. Time to find out what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.

Time seems to slow down as we approach one another. He swings his club and I duck, sliding through the giant’s legs, and feeling the displaced air as it barely misses rearranging my face. As I’m sliding, I summon a horror and explode it right on his nut sack.

The giant howls in pain. Even though it didn’t do more than a sliver of damage, there’s no way that didn’t hurt.

He yells at the goblins to attack, and Taryn finally makes his move. I send all of my horrors with Taryn and his pets to handle the goblin horde. Lightning crashes into the group of goblins and all hell breaks loose.

While I’m still on the ground, the giant swings his club at me like a sledgehammer. I roll to the side, and the club caves in the stone ground, exploding rubble into the side of my face. I quickly scamper to my feet and back away.

He’s actually pretty fast to be so big. I may not be as strong, but I know I’m faster, so I’ll need to use that to my advantage.

The next time he swings, I meet the blow with Destroyer. A chunk of stone breaks off from the giant’s club, but I take the brunt of the attack as its recoil reverberates through my forearms. The giant laughs at me and kicks out, planting his foot into the center of my chest and knocking me back several feet before I land on my back.

I gasp for air like an asthmatic. Damn, that hurt. Luckily, I don’t think he broke anything. The giant stalks over me with the slow pride of someone who thinks they have won the fight. Bad news for you, buddy, because I don’t fold that easily.

I summon another horror and toss it at the giant. A half second later, I do it again. He swings his club like a baseball bat at the first horror and it dissipates in a puff of smoke. The second horror strikes home on the giant’s family jewels before he has time to react.

The giant falls to his knees, grabbing his groin. Two for two.

“Hey, man. You started it. Play dirty, you get the dirt.”

His booger-colored eyes look at me with disgust, but I don’t care. I jump to my feet and smash Destroyer into his side. The giant grimaces in pain before stumbling to his feet.

“Troll not nice!” he roars.

I check on Taryn, and he’s managed to back all of the goblins into the mouth of the cave. The horrors and his pets have formed a barrier, blocking the goblins from getting out.

Alright, so it’s just me and the big guy. No problem.

The giant rushes me again, club raised over his head. I’ll give him this, he really goes all out. The club crashes into the earth as I sidestep out of the way. While he’s still lifting his weapon, I hit him in the side of the kneecap with my warhammer. Something crunches, and he falls to one knee.

The giant grunts as he attempts to stand, eventually using his club as a crutch.

“Bad troll,” he grunts.

I feel the presence of most of my horrors behind me and call them to my aid. The giant reaches down, attempting to grab me, and I barely escape his reach.

I send my horrors after the giant, and they rush him, biting and clawing at his legs. He steps on several horrors, and I summon more. Their attacks do almost no damage to his hardened skin. Every time I hurt him, his regeneration kicks into gear. Currently, he still has ninety-five percent of his health.

There’s no way I’m going to be able to whittle him down at this rate. I’ll need a killing blow, something he can’t recover from.

I keep a healthy distance from the giant while I try to formulate a plan. He crushes my horrors with ease, but at least they are keeping him distracted.

“Taryn, I need your help.”

A moment later, he’s beside me. “What’s up?”

“If I create a distraction, do you think you can tie his feet together with your staff?”

He frowns. “I don’t want to get anywhere near that thing.”

“Come on, dude.” I plead. “It’s the only way I see us beating him.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Maybe you should have thought of that before you got us into this situation.” He sighs. “Fine. I’ll do it.”

“Alright, get ready.” I really hope this works. The giant is strong, but he’s not the brightest. If I overwhelm him with too many things at once, I think we’ve got a real chance.

I summon another round of horrors. The Horror of Power and Horror of Finesse rush in to join the others. I take the Horror of Vitality by the horn and chuck him at the giants face.

As the horror flies through the air, I wind up Destroyer and let it fly. The giant grabs the horror out of the air and I explode it against his hands. At the same time, I cast Kamikaze on the rest of the horrors attacking his feet and legs.

It distracts him enough that he doesn’t see my warhammer coming straight for his face. It hits him in the chin and he stumbles backwards. His eyes cross for a minute as he regains his senses.

“Special delivery, air mail.” I chuckle at my own joke.

Taryn is already on the move, vines extend from his staff and wrap around the giant’s legs. They keep pouring out until they cover him completely from ankle to calf.

Now is the time for the finishing touch. I run for my warhammer, and the giant focuses on me. He tries to step in front of me, but his legs are tied. He wobbles back and forth, trying to regain his balance, but it’s too late. He tumbles to the ground just as I grab Destroyer.

He reaches for me, but I smash his hand into the ground. When he recoils, I land a blow to his rock hard head. His eyes droop from the blow. The tip of Destroyer flashes red with each hit. The giant’s head bobbles like a fighter about to fall. It takes several hits before the skin breaks, several more before bones crack, but eventually, the giant lies lifeless on the floor.

I sit down on the remnants of Kronan’s throne, thoroughly exhausted. The goblins stare at us from the cave, but take no action.

“Nice going. Couldn’t have done it without you.” I reach out and fist bump Taryn.

I check my stats. After the fight, I’m not too far off from level twenty-three.

“Sweet, new level!” Taryn pumps his fist.

When I focus on him, I see he is now level nineteen. We’ve bridged the gap pretty nicely and now he is only three levels below me.

“Nice! Any new abilities?” I ask.

His eyes glaze over. “Let me take a look.”

He goes quiet for a moment.

“Dude, I’ve got three new options! One is Barkskin. It allows me to buff anyone in my party with tougher skin, as if they were wearing wooden armor. The second is Summon Fungus. It summons mushrooms that release poisonous gases, but they are poisonous to us as well. The third is Stonewall, it summons a stone barrier wherever I want.”

All of those seem pretty handy. “Which one are you going to choose?”

He strokes his beard. “I’m not sure. I could also further buff my current abilities. A level three Lightning Bolt would be nice, too.”

“Your call.” I sit Destroyer down on the ground and stretch my arms over my head.

Taryn paces back and forth, tapping his staff on the ground. “I think a new ability would serve us better, especially since it’s just the two of us for now. You’ve already got pretty tough skin, and I’m not much of a brawler, so I think Barkskin is out for now. Summon Fungus and Stonewall both seem pretty good options. It’d be nice to summon a wall if we’re retreating or need to keep someone out, but I think Summon Fungus could accomplish the same thing, but it could also be used offensively as well. What do you think?” He looks at me for approval.

“Sounds good to me, it’d be nice to have some more crowd control abilities aside from Horror of Vitality’s passive slow.” I go back over to the giant’s body to look for loot, but aside from the giant club, there’s not really anything there.

It makes me wonder even more how he and the goblins found themselves together.

“Ready to get out of here?” I ask.

Taryn glances at me out of the corner of his eye. “Sure you don’t want to start another fight beforehand?”

I laugh off his comment. “I know, I know. I let my temper get the best of me again. What can I say? I just don’t like being disrespected.”

Taryn calls his pets back from the cave entrance. The goblins just stand there, watching us. They truly are strange creatures.

“Enjoy having the place to yourself.” I give them a two-finger salute and turn toward our next destination.

We’ve still got a few more hours before sunset, so we should be able to make some good progress. I imagine we have at least a couple of days before we’re out of the mountains, even with Taryn using Strong Wind to increase our speed.

As we make our way down the mountain, I hear something behind us. I turn around with Destroyer at the ready.

An army of green descends the mountain, stirring up dust and gravel as they come. Taryn steps up beside me, his staff raised.

“These guys don’t learn, do they?” His staff glows brown for a moment, and cluster of mushrooms spring up across the path. Light brown mushrooms with purple spots and bulbous caps. There’s no way anyone is passing through them without taking some damage.

The goblins come to a halt, sending a dust cloud wafting in our direction.

“Are you looking to die?” I raise my hammer. “Go back home.”

The larger goblin comes forward, still riding his mangy wolf. “You strong. We follow.”

Taryn and I look at each other, confused.

“You have got to be shitting me.”

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About the author

SLRowland

  • Mordor
  • S.L. Rowland

Bio: S.L. Rowland is a nomad. Born in the South, he loves traveling and has road-tripped coast to coast three times over. He currently lives in the mountains of East Tennessee with his Shiba Inu, Lawson. When not writing, he enjoys hiking, reading, weightlifting, playing video games and having his heart broken by various Atlanta sports teams.

SLRowland.com

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