The Magic Beans – Page 81



Looking up, Jack can see that the cavern is quite narrow – barely two dozen paces across the floor – but tall.

He can make out at least four of the odd wooden platforms from where he stands. The noise of combat has awakened other cavern-dwellers. He can hear the sounds of more snakes slithering their scaly bodies across stone and wood.

“Do not fear them,” says Princess Kiyoko. “They are my children; they will not harm us.”

The princess follows him up the stairway of wooden platforms, soothing the agitated serpent brood as she goes. Jack is pleased to have her company for this errand – children the snakes might be, but they are still as big as a man!

The princess tells her story as they climb: “The monster you slew – the Green Boa – is a prince of the serpent folk. He fell in love with me and asked his father, the Serpent King, to arrange the marriage with my father, King Arata. My father refused, but the Serpent King did not dare challenge him, because my father is very powerful. So the Serpent King cast a terrible curse on me, forcing me into the shape of a Coral Boa.”

Near the roof of the cavern Jack encounters two surprises. The first is a beautiful treasure chest inlaid with blue lacquer, in the style of the Eastern Empires. The second surprise is a narrow crevice in the ceiling, which must extend through to a higher cavern, for it admits the faint glow of torchlight and the distant gabble of Goblin voices. Jack listens a moment, but the words are too faint to understand – only the characteristic guttural voices and the cadences of speech reveal the nature of the speakers.

“Goblins,” says Princess Kiyoko with a shudder. “I hear them constantly. There must be thousands of them up there. They do not molest us, however. I think they do not know we are down here, and we use the Warp Portal to hunt in the TowaShroom Forest.”

The treasure chest is locked, but the lock yields easily enough to a blow of Jack’s sword pommel. Inside is a collection of gold coins stamped with the face of a crowned Serpent-Man and engraved with strange characters.

“The Serpent King’s coins,” the princess whispers. “My curse is bound in them. The King told me that the curse can only be broken if the coins are eaten by ‘the Sun or one of his sons.’ Only then can I be free. The magic of your sword has forced me into my true shape for the moment, but I can sense my impending transformation. Soon I will be a hideous snake again.” She begins to cry. “Will you help me, Jack? Will you find a way to destroy the coins and set me free from this terrible curse?”

Jack takes the princess in his arms. “I promise,” he says, although the task sounds impossible. Eaten by the Sun himself? Only a celebrated few have ever visited the Palace of the Sun, and the legends do not have encouraging things to say about the fate of those visitors. “Will you come away with me?” he asks. “We can search together for a means to set you free.”

“I cannot,” she whispers. “My children – if the curse is broken, they will be human, too. I will not leave them here to fend for themselves. Break the curse and we will leave this place through the portal. We will find a life for ourselves in the TowaShroom Forest.” Suddenly she begins to shudder and shake, and in a moment it is a huge serpent he embraces. He hides his revulsion and lets the transformed princess slither away, down into the cavern with her young. He turns back to the treasure chest. Among the coins nestles a beautiful paper fan painted with a scene of twisting, serpentine dragons with catlike faces, unharmed by the passage of time here in this forgotten place. There is something about the fan that suggests magic, but he doubts the lips of the serpent princess could shape any answers to his questions.

A place of many mysteries indeed. Having no answers, Perilous Jack calls a solemn farewell to the cursed princess and returns through the GreenShaft. Heavy of heart, he makes his way toward Foldoron Lake, bearing away a handful of foreign coins, a Paper Fan, and the sad image of a weeping girl as souvenirs.

Add the following to Jack’s Journal: Princess Kiyoko has been turned into a giant snake by the Curse of the Serpent King’s Coins. The curse can only be broken if the coins are fed to ‘the Sun or one of his sons’ – whatever that means.

Add the Paper Fan and the Serpent King’s Coins to the Pouch of Ghrul. Make a note that there are four dragons painted on the Paper Fan.

Turn to 40.