|“Who is Xerxes?” asks Perilous Jack.|
“Him great wrestler,” the Gigas moans. “Him say he pay me to catch big animal for him to wrestle, but he no pay. He lift me off ground and make me weak. He put us here and not let us leave.”
“Us?” Jack has seen no other. Stump presses himself back against the wall, allowing Jack enough room to drop to the bottom of the pit if he wishes. Believing the stupid Gigas incapable of duplicity, Jack does so, landing among a few stinking furs the Gigas has used for a bed. There, in a small alcove in the far wall, a Giant Mantis crouches atop a rotting treasure chest. The insect regards Jack with brilliant eyes and clacks its mandibles, but makes no move to attack. As the insect shifts, Jack can see the wink of gold and silver coins through the rotted planks of the treasure chests.
“Him Klickak,” the Gigas offers. He slumps to his haunches and releases another forlorn sigh.
“Why do you not escape?” Jack asks. “The GreenShaft is open and not well guarded, and you have enough treasure here to start a new life somewhere else.”
“Me scared of birds,” Stump admits.
At first Jack is appalled by the answer, and then he simply shrugs. Fear is the stoutest chain.
“Stump, what kind of creature is Xerxes? Is he near?”
“Xerxes man, like you, but bigger. He King of Red Ghurkas. You go that way – ” the Gigas cocks a thumb toward the west “– you find him. He make you wrestle big animal or he feed you to Boros.”
“I see. And if I wrestle his big animal and win?”
The Gigas shrugs. “He let you go. He like wrestlers, not like me. Me no good wrestler. He make me wrestle with big cat, and me lose.” The Gigas lifts his arm, displaying a horrible row of scars inflicted by massive cat claws. “He have three big animal, make people pick which animal they wrestle. They no know which animal easiest.”
“Stump, which animal is easiest to wrestle?”
The Gigas shrugs. “That two-head cat, he not so tough. Chimaera, he one who hurt me. Very strong. Flying bull, he have poison breath. Hardest of all.”
“And the Boros?”
The Gigas shakes his head in terror. “Very, very poison. Ugly face, turn man to stone. Very bad.”
Jack considers a moment. “Stump, if I help you and Klickak escape, will you let me look through that treasure?”
The Gigas looks fearfully at the treasure chests. “Xerxes say treasure have curse.”
“More of his lies, I’ll wager,” says Jack. “Do we have a deal?”
The Gigas nods.
Jack rummages through the chests, turning up a good quantity of gold and two curiosities. The first is a collection of Dragon scales, ranging in hue from purest snow-white to deepest crimson. Clearly these once adorned the proud bodies of a Frost Dragon and a Fire Dragon, but how they found their way here is a mystery. The second odd treasure is a triangular piece of alien steel, such as the Old Ones used to build the odd structures of the Emerald Dynasty. It is a shard only, having been broken – the gods only know how – off a larger piece, but it is heavily engraved with tiny, precise lines and circles. It could be a map, or a set of machine schematics, he does not know, but the fact of its great antiquity means it is considerably valuable. He tucks the Engraved Shard back into his pouch. If he already has another Shard like this one, he will discover that the two connect, forming a larger part of a whole.
Jack leaves the gold coins behind, reasoning that they represent at least a minor requital for the Gigas’s suffering.
Perilous Jack leans toward the Gigas. “Now listen, here’s the plan . . .”
Add the following to Jack’s Journal: Ahead lies Xerxes, a great wrestler. He has three beasts imprisoned and will force any captive of his to choose among them for a wrestling match. The two-headed cat is easiest to wrestle, the chimaera more so, the flying bull worst of all. Any who refuse to wrestle are fed to a monster called the Boros, who can turn a man to stone.