Check out Matthew Reilly’s Troll Mountain: Episode Three, available April 15th from Momentum Books. This is the last of three serialized ebook releases this month; head here for excerpts from parts one and two!
Raf’s mission to Troll Mountain is in ruins.
Having penetrated the mountain, only to be caught in the act of stealing the fabled elixir, Raf must now face the trolls’ champion in a fight to the death.
As the trolls gather to watch the fight, Raf watches them closely. If he can somehow survive this fight, his mission may not be over. The final battle for Troll Mountain is about to begin…
The trolls poured up and out of the lone tunnel that granted access to the Winter Throne Hall, fanning out as they did so, rushing eagerly to the eastern side of the great open space so as to get the best view of the Fighting Platform.
Storm clouds rumbled overhead. Rain was coming.
The king and his entourage mounted the winter throne while Raf and Grondo marched across the open-air hall, through the ranks of trolls, to a plank-bridge leading to the Fighting Platform.
As Raf strode past all the trolls, they mocked him, spat at him, declared their eagerness to see his blood.
But then, fleetingly, Raf noticed two things: first, he snatched a glimpse of one of Ko’s distinctive little green barrels over by the north-western column. And second, he saw Düm.
The gentle troll was lingering at the very back of the crowd of trolls, over by the single entrance cut into the floor of the Winter Throne Hall, unnoticed by any of the others.
Before he could see any more of Düm, Raf was shoved across the plank-bridge onto the Fighting Platform. Grondo followed behind him.
The two hobgoblin jesters were already on the wooden stage, pantomiming a death match. One stabbed the other with an imaginary sword and the second one fell, clutching his chest in mock agony. The two jesters scampered off the platform as Raf and Grondo stepped onto it.
The plank was removed and Raf suddenly found himself standing alone with the troll champion out on the round wooden stage, high above the eastern slope of the mountain. The stage was perfectly circular, perhaps twenty feet across, and made of thick wooden planks.
By the gods, Raf thought, now he really hoped he had interpreted Ko correctly.
The sight of the barrel made him think that perhaps he had, but then again, he might have gotten it all terribly, terribly wrong—
“Choose your weapons!” a troll who appeared to be some kind of referee called.
“My war hammer!” called Grondo.
The crowd cheered.
“And you, thief? Choose your weapon, for what it will be worth!”
The trolls laughed.
Raf thought for a moment. “My axe.”
A massive hammer was thrown onto the platform. A troll was sent below to the cell area where Raf’s axe had been sequestered.
As he waited for its delivery, Raf’s eyes scanned the Fighting Platform desperately. He was sure Ko had been directing him to challenge the king, knowing that such a challenge could not be refused, and thus bring himself here—although perhaps Ko hadn’t known about the king’s special privilege. And Raf had seen the barrel up here, and Düm…
But why? What was Ko’s plan? The Fighting Platform was completely bare. There was absolutely nothing here that Raf could use.
He looked up and saw that, owing to the way the platform extended out from the Winter Throne Hall, he could see the crenellated battlement ringing the summit of Troll Mountain, complete with its troll-added horns.
If he could fling a rope over those horns, he supposed, his current position offered a viable route up to the Supreme Watchtower, but such a throw was well beyond his range and right now, with the imposing figure of Grondo looming before him, finding a rope and throwing it was the last thing he could do.
At that moment, Raf’s axe was tossed onto the Fighting Platform and the scene was set.
The massed trolls leaned forward, leering, salivating. The Troll King grinned nastily. His son, Turv, did the same; his wedding day would be remembered for a long, long time.
Raf’s heart sank.
He’d clearly got Ko’s plan wrong, and now he would have to face the trolls’ best fighter in mortal combat.
Grondo towered over him, impossibly huge, his tusks rising from hairy tufts on his jaws, one of his great gray fists gripping his enormous hammer.
Raf just stood there, puny and thin, holding his home-made double-bladed axe. The axe hardly looked capable of nicking Grondo’s thick hide.
Then it started raining. Thick, pelting drops. The trolls didn’t even notice. Rain didn’t bother trolls.
“We don’t have to do this, you know,” Raf said to the champion. “We don’t have to fight.”
Grondo smirked. “Fool. You do not realize. This fight has already begun.”
Raf dived. And the hammer came down on the stage with a resounding boom. So powerful was the blow, splinters flew up from the slats.
Grondo swung again, chasing after Raf, but Raf dived clear again.
Boom, boom, boom!
Duck, roll, dive.
The rain kept pouring. Lightning flashed.
The crowd cheered at every swing.
As the trolls roared at the action on the Fighting Platform, at the very back of the crowd, Düm came alongside the she-troll, Graia.
“Graia,” he whispered. “If you want to leave Troll Mountain forever, come with me now.”
Without a word, Graia took Düm’s hand and followed him down the stairs, away from the Winter Throne Hall.
A short way down, in a tight bottleneck of a tunnel, with the echoes of the crowd far above them, Düm did a strange thing: he closed the thick stone door—the only point of entry or exit to the Winter Throne Hall—and then he reinforced it with a pair of heavy stone sleds parked nearby.
Almost the whole troll community was up in the winter hall watching the fight… and he had just trapped them all up there.
Somehow, Raf was still alive, dodging and evading Grondo’s mighty swipes, slipping and sliding in the rain.
The rain didn’t help Grondo’s footwork and at one point, Raf managed to run under one of the big troll’s lusty blows and swing at him with his little lightweight axe—and he drew blood from the troll!
The axe cut Grondo’s skin under the armpit, in one of the few places where a troll’s skin was soft and sensitive.
The crowd gasped.
The big champion touched the nick, and saw his own blood on his fingertip. He glared balefully at Raf.
He wasn’t hurt. He was angry.
Grondo roared, a great bellow, and, raising his hammer above his head, came charging at Raf.
Hammer blows rained down around the darting figure of Raf and had any one of them hit, he would have been knocked senseless and done for.
Grondo’s charge was fast and furious and relentless and it afforded Raf no chance of reply. Indeed, it took all his nimbleness to evade the flurry of blows—until suddenly, Grondo anticipated one of his moves and trapped him at the edge of the stage.
Grondo had him.
Raf had nowhere to go. He stood there exposed, soaked by the rain and lit by the lightning storm.
The big troll swung the final blow of this match and Raf went flailing off the edge of the platform.
Raf went cartwheeling over the edge of the stage.
To the massed crowd of trolls, it looked as if Grondo had dispatched him once and for all with the mighty blow, but both Raf and Grondo knew that Grondo had hit only air.
Out of sheer desperation, Raf had intentionally dived off the Fighting Platform, reaching for the edge with his hands while Grondo’s hammer swished above him, missing him by inches—so that now Raf clung by his fingertips to the Fighting Platform’s rain-spattered edge, his feet dangling high above the deadly drop.
But Grondo knew it wasn’t over.
The big champion stomped forward to see where his opponent had gone, but as he did so, Raf swung himself underneath the platform, gripping his axe handle in his teeth while clutching the network of rafters under the platform with his hands, disappearing completely from every troll’s sight!
After a couple of swings, Raf stopped suddenly. He saw something wedged between two of the support beams. Something that must have been left here by…
He had interpreted Ko correctly.
Raf swung forward with renewed energy.
Up on the Winter Throne Hall, the crowd of trolls grunted and murmured in astonishment. None of them had ever seen this happen before.
Grondo dropped to all fours and was peering out over the edge of the platform when abruptly, Raf’s head appeared at the opposite edge behind him.
“Over there!” the trolls called.
Grondo spun and, moving with frightening speed, bounded over to where Raf was trying to climb back up onto the stage, grabbing his axe from between his teeth with his free hand—
—but Grondo was on him too quickly, and he seized the axe from Raf’s hand, wrenching it away—
—only to reveal a knife still in Raf’s hand: the flint knife he kept concealed in the axe’s handle. With a quick but firm thrust, Raf plunged the knife deep into the soft flesh on the underside of Grondo’s chin.
Grondo froze, his eyes wide—the knife had gone right up into his brain.
There was a flash of lightning.
The assembled trolls fell silent. Even the jesters stood motionless in astonishment.
The drumming of the rain was the only sound.
Then Grondo fell.
His rigid body toppled forward, falling clear over Raf, and he dropped off the Fighting Platform, sailing down, down, down through the air above the eastern side of the mountain before he smashed against the rocks far below, his body spraying blood in every direction. But Grondo had been dead long before he struck the rocks.
The crowd of trolls remained silent, thunderstruck.
This was unheard of.
But what happened next was unthinkable.
Reaching underneath the platform, Raf brought up the object he had spied wedged between the support beams earlier.
Tied to it was Ko’s beautiful gold-colored rope.
Before the trolls even knew what he was doing, Raf raised the crossbow and fired it—not at any of them, but upward, at one of the big horns extending out from the battlement crowning the summit of the mountain.
Given the Fighting Platform’s slight protuberance from the Winter Throne Hall, he had a clear shot.
This was Ko’s plan: to complete his mission, Raf had needed to get to the Fighting Platform, where he would find the crossbow—planted there by Düm—and use it to get up to the Supreme Watchtower and get the Elixir.
After that, somehow, he had to get back down.
An arrow shot out of the crossbow with terrific force, soaring up through the rain-streaked air, trailing the rope behind it like a wobbling tail, before it looped over the horn at the north-eastern corner of the battlement and held.
Then Raf did the most outrageous thing of all.
He slung the crossbow over his shoulder, gripped the gold-threaded rope, and, pelted by the rain, took a fast-running leap out to the north of the Fighting Platform and…
… in a long, swooping arc out, around, and behind the king’s winter throne, high above the rear flank of Troll Mountain.
His daring swing ended in the space behind the king’s podium, far from any of the trolls massed near the Fighting Platform.
And before any of them had even started to move from their places near the Fighting Platform, Raf was climbing, nimbly and quickly, hand over hand, up the now-vertical rope, heading for the summit of Troll Mountain for the second time.
The race was on. Only now it was Raf versus the entire population of Troll Mountain.
Troll Mountain © Matthew Reilly, 2014