|As Perilous Jack presses deeper into Red Ghurka territory, he notices that the few Goblins he encounters do not attack; instead they allow themselves to be seen and mass behind him.|
He realizes he is being herded. Although various methods of escape flit through his mind, ultimately he resigns himself to whatever fate the Goblins have in store. He must cross their territory, even if that means he does so on their terms.
There is one advantage to the Goblin escort; twice they pass near an Eyemoeba, one of the several species of Oozes so dangerous to the adventurer. These are among the largest specimens he has seen, standing nearly as tall as a man, and their bodies are studded with dozens of eyeballs and fanged mouths. But the Eyemoebas do not molest the Goblins or the man they are herding into their trap.
In moments, the jaws close around him and Jack has only one route open – up a staircase of stone blocks. The staircase ends at the edge of a pit. Below he sees four GreenShafts set in the floor of the pit, guarded by an enormous Stone Giant wielding a club of ironwood. Across the opening of the pit, the staircase continues upward. At the far edge of the pit stands a huge muscular human, busily striking poses for the amusement of the Goblin horde. The man notices Perilous Jack and grins at him, opening his arms in welcome.
“Greetings, traveler! I am Xerxes the Indomitable! Welcome to the Arena of Champions!”
Jack offers a wary salute, keeping a tight grip on the hilt of his sword.
“My spies are of the opinion that you desire passage through my land. Is this true?”
“It is,” says Perilous Jack. “I have business beyond Red Ghurka territory. I wish to pass and return when my business is complete.”
“Certainly, I will be glad to grant you this privilege,” says Xerxes with magnanimous sweeps of his arms – which incidentally show off his enormous muscles to good effect. “Provided you prove yourself worthy of Xerxes’ favor.”
Already suspecting the answer, Jack asks, “and how do I thus prove myself?”
“By competing in the Arena of Champions!” cries Xerxes. The Goblins clustered around raise a boisterous shout.
Xerxes indicates the four GreenShafts guarded by the Giant. “Beyond three of these portals lie three arenas, each containing a creature of mighty repute. Because you display such ready courage, I will do you the favor of introducing you to your choices.”
He gestures to the nearest GreenShaft. “Beyond the first portal waits the fearsome Catoblepas of Forbidden Swamp. Beyond the second waits the terrible Chimaera of Crumbling Peak. And beyond the third waits the Two-Headed Liger of the Burning Plains.”
“And the fourth?” Jack asks.
The wrestler shrugs. “The fourth is empty for the moment, until I find some suitable creature to occupy it.”
Jack considers. The Catoblepas is a massive winged bull, which breathes poison smoke and strikes with iron-hard hooves. The Chimaera is a three-headed horror with the heads of a fire breathing dragon, a goat with goring horns, and a fanged lion, also the claws of the lion, the wings of the dragon, and a serpent tail. The Two-Headed Liger is an enormous catlike creature with two heads, each boasting a single impaling horn.
Perilous Jack makes his decision and addresses Xerxes, who can barely conceal his glee.