Root lay on her back.

All things considered, this was not her least favorite position to find herself in. In fact, some of her best times had been spent lying on her back. In bed, sleeping, for one—a frequent entry on the list, though never as frequent as she’d’ve liked. Another: lounging just out of sight on the family farm when she should’ve been shlepping compost out to the worms or packing their shit into bags for all of the (apparently existent) people out in the worlds who wanted to pay for spirit worm shit—at least before the house and the property and Root’s older sister got turned into compost of their own. That made two. For a third, up in the hayloft in the old barn across the village while that girl from the neighboring town pushed Root’s legs apart and—

Well, ah, anyway.

This on-the-back time could not count itself among those others. It was noticeably less comfortable for two reasons.

One, the floor upon which Root lay was not cozy in the slightest. Uneven paving stones made the hallway floor feel like lying supine atop a vague association of her younger sister’s toy blocks, if those blocks also had muddy sewage trickling through the sizable cracks between them. Her shoulder blades found those cracks—so wide they certainly had canal-sized aspirations—and the dampness that seeped into her shirt made her wince almost as much as the corners and lumps that jabbed into her spine and the back of her skull.

Maybe more concerning was the second factor, and that was the enormous axe blade whistling back and forth just over her face.

Root watched it swing left, then right, tracking the trajectory with her eyes as its momentum slowly evaporated after its overenthusiastic debut springing from a gap in the wall just beside her. She would have liked to say a few appreciative words about her quick reflexes, maybe make a toast to her foresight and planning, but that just wouldn’t have been honest of her. In truth, the only thing she had to thank for what did follow her shriek and staggering whirl and what wasn’t then followed by her head making a beeline back down the sloped passage without the rest of her was one particularly out-of-place brick. Given how one of that brick’s colleagues was currently treating her left hip bone, she intended to hold onto the gratitude until further notice.

As the blade made another pass left, Root rolled and scrambled forward. Every muscle in her body clenched as the blade swung back right with a barbaric fwish! The tension left her at once in the absence of a second, likely more squishy sound, which would have replaced the tension instead with dread as she turned back to find out what, precisely, she would have to do without from now on.

With everything still intact, Root rounded the corner to rejoin Vit, Azriah, and Beel. They studied something beyond, which was notably not the direction where she had very audibly shouted in distress moments prior.

“Gotta say—thanks for coming to my rescue,” said Root, wiping her hands on her pants.

Beel cocked his head to look up at her, a movement that hardly suited his small, neckless form. “I thought about going back to check on you, but I was afraid there might’ve been danger.”

“There was danger.”

“Oh. Well good thing I stayed put, then.”

“Yeah, good thing.” Root brought her focus up to the passageway ahead.

It continued straight for another hundred and fifty feet or so before coming to an abrupt end at a set of double doors. No other feature interrupted the hall. In most cases, a hundred and fifty feet wouldn’t be very far at all, but in a dungeon that had so far been laden with no fewer than eleven deadly traps and another eight non-deadly but still pointier than was strictly healthy traps, a hundred and fifty feet was a very, very long way indeed. Almost impossibly so.

At the head of the group, Vit looked down at the floor. Root followed their gaze. A few inches in front of their feet, stretched taut and suspended just above the brick floor, was a thin silver tripwire.

All four of them stared at it.

“What do you think it does?” asked Vit after a moment.

“Kills us, probably,” said Beel.

“Do we trigger it?”

Root scowled up at them. “What? Are you fucking serious?”

“Well, hey, think about it—would you rather know what this hallway does, or walk through it without any clue which direction danger might come from at any second?”

“Hm. They have a point,” said Azriah. He held a weathered wooden shield in one hand—picked up in an earlier section of the dungeon—and the group’s torch in the other, which he lowered towards the tripwire for a better look.

Vit tilted their head to emphasize Azriah’s assent. “Better to know where the hidden dart guns are aimed and which cracks in the walls have spikes sliding out of them.”

“What if it floods the whole place?” asked Root. “We did come through the sewers. I don’t want to go for a swim in the city’s piss, and I definitely don’t want to taste it.”

“Maybe we should turn back,” moaned Beel.

“There are a lot more traps behind us.”

“Then maybe we shouldn’t have come here in the first place.”

“You didn’t have to come, you know,” said Root, “and you didn’t have to stick with us after the Affodell gig either.”

Vit pointed to the doors at the far end of the hallway. “There’s another mote periapt down here. That’s our ticket out. Remember how much easier things became after we got the mirror in Affodell’s crypt? Nothing bothered us in the tunnels the whole way back.”

“I think I remember getting attacked shortly after, actually,” said Beel.

Vit’s response stalled as they considered this. “Yes, well, that didn’t have to do with the crypt.” They scratched their head. “Anyway. Uh, if the tunnel floods, it would take a while, right? The water will all run downhill back that way to the lower parts first.”

“If you’re going to trigger it, I’m going to hide over here,” said Beel, starting back around the corner.

“And what if it triggers a trap over that way, too?” asked Root. Beel paused and looked back and forth from one side of the bend to the other. He made a pitiful noise as the pent-up energy of the past few dozen seconds spent without uttering a whine all escaped at once, and then he slumped over on the spot.

Vit inched a toe towards the tripwire.

“I’m still not sure this is the best course of action,” said Root. Her words were like a pail of water trying to stall a raging house fire—this she knew before they left her lips, but she spoke them anyway even as she took a few steps back.

When the toe of Vit’s boot made contact with the tripwire, the air filled with that hallmark rumble-scraping of an ancient trap being sprung. Dust rained from the ceiling in just the way one expects. Root braced for piss; piss never came. That, at least, was worth a sigh of relief.

With a hhhHHHuca-runk unk, the floor gave way. Azriah staggered back, the crook of his elbow shielding his nose and mouth. When the dust cleared, Vit was balanced on a strand of spider web strung between the two walls, perched over the new pit.

“Interesting,” they said in much the way a person who has just been made to learn tightrope walking on the fly wouldn’t. They crouched down, leaning forward on their toes to peer into the chasm below. As the dust filtered down, Root risked a half step and cautious lean forward. She spotted the floor a dozen feet below. Not too deep, then.

Something moved in the dust.

“Is that…?” Azriah looked closer. “Are those… scorpions?”

“Looks like it,” said Vit with the calmness of someone not suspended on a thread above a pit of scorpions.

“Mmm. Scorpions,” said Beel.

“?” said Root with a wordier expression.

“Makes me miss the desert. Ah, the desert. Plenty of scorpions. Tangy. Good flavor.”

“Good news,” said Root, and gave the spirit a rough nudge forward with her foot. “All you can eat.”

“I don’t want sewer scorpions. What if they’re spoiled?”

“They’re moving.”

“Doesn’t mean they’re any good.”

“Typically I’d call it a symptom of the contrary.”

“Doesn’t this seem a little odd?” asked Vit.

“Beel being more concerned with expiration dates than bodily harm?”

“No, scorpions.”

“Hey, sometimes expiration dates can lead to bodily harm. Have you ever had food poisoning?”

“You’re talking about eating scorpions. Isn’t that, like, the whole point?”

“No, only the tail is the point.”

“Elaborate, Vit,” said Azriah a little louder and more abruptly than was strictly necessary, in Root’s opinion.

“I guess the claws, too,” muttered Beel.

“Well, for starters, scorpions are venomous, not poisonous,” Vit said to Root. “Some are neither.”

“No, about the—” Azriah pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Oh, that it’s odd? Well, yeah, I mean, we came through the sewers, and it’s all been kind of damp and mossy, you know? I feel like scorpions don’t really fit is all. Like, aesthetically.”

“Okay, got it,” said Azriah. “Yep. Very odd. Some pointers to pass along to whoever built this place however-many-thousand years ago. Replace the scorpions with something damper. I think there are more pressing matters, though.”

“Ah, like getting across.”

“Maybe, yeah, that and the fact that they’re coming up the walls.”

Sure enough, the scorpions were taking the opportunity to survey the recent changes in terrain.

“That’s your cue, Beel,” said Root, giving him another less-than-gentle push. “You’re up.”

“But what if they have pee on them!” whined Beel, stamping his feet in a tantrum.

“Beel, quit acting like my baby sister.”

“Do you force her to eat pee scorpions too?”

“No. Just act your age, for fuck’s sake.”

“I don’t know my age.”

“Not the point. Scorpion!”

The first of the critters crested the edge of the pit.

With a pop and a terrible, terrible image that Root had never managed to get out of her head since the first time she saw it, Beel unhinged his jaw and snapped up the scorpion. He chewed twice and it was gone.

“How did it taste?”

“It had a weird flavor. I told you.”

“Hang on, I’ve got this,” said Vit, and straightened up. Their five mismatched eyes came alight with a green glow as they began throwing webs across the pit. Several seconds and one snack for Beel later, they had a bridge by the flimsiest of terms and materials alike.

Vit stepped onto the bridge first, and it held. “Careful—uh, here, maybe one at a time?” they said as they picked their way nimbly across the pit. Root followed, then Beel, then Azriah.

On the far side, Vit had already encased two scorpions in little mounds of webbing, pinning one to the wall and the other to the floor. It was neat, clean work, topped off with bows around the web-bound masses that wrapped their barbed tails. The scorpions did not seem thrilled with their new fashionable looks.

They were less than a hundred feet from the door at the end of the tunnel now. Azriah took the lead, moving swiftly, the sight of the end of their journey bringing a fresh eagerness to his pace.

It’s important to note, of course, that in a dungeon, eagerness is indistinguishable from recklessness.

Azriah had taken hardly half a dozen steps before the wall to his left came alive with a series of clicks and twangs. He barely had the chance to raise his shield before a trio of darts shot from a constellation of holes in the wall and embedded themselves in the old wood. More clicks echoed down the hallway as a barrage of darts were primed to fire.

“There!” said Vit, pointing to another series of holes. They thrust out a hand and a string of webbing stitched itself into a glob around the holes. “Just move carefully.”

“Thanks, I don’t think I would’ve thought to do that,” said Azriah, hefting his shield back up and taking another few steps down the hall. The gobs of web pulsed like parasite-inhabited pustules as the darts slammed against the blockages. A few tore through the web but lacked the remaining momentum to do anything more than spin and bounce impotently against Azriah’s shield. A few came from holes Vit had missed entirely.

“Oh sorry, should’ve seen that one.”

“Oops, missed that one too.”

“I actually saw that one right before it shot.”

“Oh, I thought that was just a chip in the brick.”

“Wait, I swear I got that one. Weird.”

When the sounds of the hidden mechanisms stopped, Azriah cautiously lowered his shield. Just ahead was the doorway.

“Phew. Well, that was pretty easy, right?” said Vit. They reached over and plucked a dart from Azriah’s shield, turned it around in the light, then sniffed the tip. “Just a run-of-the-mill poison. Nothing serious.”

Root put one hand on the doors. They were heavy and worn, thick wood stained with the years, simply crafted with a design amended by moss and other growth depicting an indistinguishable treasure radiating light and floating at the height of a chamber.

Azriah cleared his throat and read the etchings around the doorframe. “Arriven at last, seekers of the most ancient source of life, to dine in glory.”

Die in glory?” said Beel, aghast.


“Hm. If there’s food down here, I can’t imagine it’s still any good,” said Vit.

“I think it’s more of a metaphorical dining, like… like we receive something—the periapt—to partake in the power of. If we were after them for power, that is, like Ajis or Ophylla.”

“What if it means we will be dined on?” asked Beel to the acknowledgment of no one.

“Here we are then,” said Root, “mote periapt number three.” Then with both hands, she pushed open the doors.

It’s not easy to be a creature in a dungeon trap, you know. Your whole existence, all boiled down to trying to kill someone just because they’re passing through somewhere that someone once decided they didn’t want anyone passing through—at least not easily. And often you don’t even get the satisfaction of knowing you’re the trap. There are other traps before you, and more after. Maybe the dungeon goers die to a trap before you and then you never even get your time to shine, or maybe they die after you—after you’ve failed in your sole duty—and then what an embarrassment that is. Shown up by a dart trap or a spike pit, as if either could ever put up as much of a fight as something with a brain, however tiny; the nerve! And after you’ve been there all day long, sitting around, waiting for someone to show up just so you can act all scary at them. Darts and spikes and big axe blades don’t have to wait around with only the other trap creatures for company. And they’re not even good company, most of them—sure, it’s someone else to talk to, but they’re not well read or anything, and they don’t get out much. So the conversation never transcends the usual piddly small talk about the new drop of dungeon ooze dripping down the wall or what it’s called when someone bites you and then you die (some say venomous; others say “getting eaten”). And really there’s only so much speculating about the next passersby that anyone can take. That theoretical role play—“then I could jump out this way, and you could come around from there, and ol’ five-leg Larmie can—”. It’s inane. And it’s always the same plan you’ve talked through twenty-eight times.

And then finally someone shows up, and it’s your big time to shine, and they have the gall to stick you in some web and tie a bow around your tail. Insult to injury, and all that. At least it’s better than ol’ five-leg Larmie. Word is he got eaten and then the guy complained about how he tasted. There really is no justice at all.