Root pushed through the double doors leading into the treasure room.

“Table for four?”

She stopped there at the threshold. She hadn’t expected an ancient treasure room in an old dungeon tucked away down a hidden passage accessible through the city sewers to be so well-lit. Or so busy. Or smell so good.

A spirit stood before her, the one who had spoken, tall and lithe on many, many hair-thin legs like the fibers of a tasseled skirt. Her face was shaped like a V, all pointed snout and horns and eyes like brass buttons under tired eyelids. She was impatient.

“Congratulations!” said another voice from the air as a smaller spirit fluttered over on an ensemble of bat’s wings to land perched atop a podium. “You’ve come through our super-secret back door, which means you’ve won a coupon for a free appetizer!”

Root scratched her head. She was still blinking in the sudden light.

“Excuse me,” said Azriah, maneuvering around her. “But what is this? Where… uh, are we?”

“Oubliette Steakhouse,” said the many-legged spirit with a deadpan tone and a gaze that never left the ledger propped in front of her.


“It’s a trap… for your wallet!” said the smaller spirit, baring multiple rows of fangs. While the expression was certainly startling, there was an uncanny hospitality on her face. Or maybe that was just more teeth.

Root looked around; the room had the same bones as the tunnel before, but distinctly different skin and organs and all those other fixings. The brick walls looked old—scrubbed of moss and sludge, but you just can’t scrub away or cover up old, even with a dozen coats of haphazard white paint, much to the dismay of every dungeon-flipper and landlord who has come before. A posh array of abstract art hung on the walls interspersed with vintage tapestries showing battle scenes or other situations involving blood and gore. A healthy assortment of weapons hung from the walls as well, each one just a broken hook away from a lawsuit, but it brought a certain vibe to the space that many agreed was worth the risk (though most of them were vying for a settlement and competed for the seats with the most weapons within falling range). Tables crowded into every corner, all bustling with patrons as servers wound around and between them doing that distinct maneuver of someone scooching their way through a space just slightly too narrow, going up on their tiptoes (in the case of those who had toes) and turning sideways for a step or three amidst apologetic motions of the hand and face—the worlds’ clumsiest and most awkward ballet. All wore black dress shirts and aprons—or what passed for the best approximation of a dress shirt and apron for their spirit forms.

All things considered, something told Root this was not a dungeon treasure chamber.

“But…” started Vit. “We just came through a dungeon. And the sewers.”

“Yes, our special promotion!” exclaimed the spirit in front of them, clasping two of her wings; each had a hand’s worth of stubby fingers at the crook.

“You built all of that as a promotion?”

“Oh, no. No, certainly not. It came with the venue, see—we just renovated it and handle the upkeep. The property taxes are low but the liability paperwork sure is a headache.”

Root exchanged a look with Vit and Azriah. Azriah tugged at the hair under his bottom lip. Vit reached into their pack and pulled out the old book—the one they had permanently borrowed from Ajis, now stuffed with a collection of loose papers of varied origins—and rifled through it.

“If you would, please, sir,” started the spirit, “we don’t allow torches into the dining area. There’s a bucket there—yep, right there by the door—oh, no, sorry, that one’s for rags. That one there, yes, the one filled with sand. Stick it in there. We recycle them—send them back to the dungeon entrance for others to use. It’s all part of our going-green initiative!”

“It did seem odd that torches were provided,” said Vit without looking up from the book. “So, now, hang on—is this still the Vault of the Sodden Fervor?”

“No, this is Oubliette Steakhouse,” said Many-Legs in the same tone as before.

“It once was the vault,” said the other spirit. “Now it is Oubliette Steakhouse.”

“Ah,” said Vit, snapping the book shut. “Right place after all, then.”

“Bereth’t’ka,” said Many-Legs, addressing her superior. “It’s time for my lunch break.”

“Yes, all right, go on then.”

“So, when this place was renovated,” started Vit, “did you happen to notice anything, uh… interesting?”

“Goodness, well I certainly wasn’t here all those years ago!” said Bereth’t’ka.


“Stories say there was a great treasure here before—great enough to rival our ten percent off kids’ meals between three and three fifteen!”

“Who goes to a restaurant between three and three fifteen?” asked Root.

“No one who qualifies for a kids’ meal, generally,” said Azriah.

“Anyone who wants a great deal!” said Bereth’t’ka.

“Is there any chance you know what happened to the treasure?” asked Vit.

Bereth’t’ka flashed another one of her famous warm smiles. “Yes, actually. Once upon a time…”

“A couple of spirits were the first to traverse the dungeon and enter the vault,” piped up a man dining alone at a table just to their right. He was stout and droopy with watery eyes and slicked-back black hair. He dabbed sauce from his mouth and sweat from his brow and then back to his mouth again.

“Yes,” said Bereth’t’ka, “and that was long ago now, back when the city of Midden was still young. The legend says that the allure of the treasure was so great that the pair dueled for the sole rights to the discovery right here in the treasure room. It was Wollun, the larger and stronger of the two, who prevailed.”

A spirit seated at a table behind Bereth’t’ka turned and put up a tentacle. “That’s not how I heard it. I heard that Sophsi, the trickier of the pair, was able to trick Wollun and take the treasure.”

“There are many versions,” said Bereth’t’ka, waving the comment away with a rustle of her wings.

“Yes, I heard that they never fought over the treasure and instead fell in love,” said a third patron.

“That was a fan retelling,” said the second of the interrupters. “I read that one also. The scene when they got back to the surface and went to bathe off the grime…” The spirit’s reddish skin turned somewhat purple around the armpits (tentaclepits?).

“There are many versions! I’m the manager here, am I not?”

All of the patrons returned their attention to their food, save for the man at their left who spared them a lingering glance before turning aside.

“I don’t suppose the stories agree on what happened next?” asked Vit.

“One of the pair left with the treasure and it was lost to time. Then eventually we came in and turned the place into Oubliette Steakhouse, which has been a popular venue for almost two hundred years now, a home for live music three nights a week and our worlds famous three-meats burger, iconic with locals and tourists alike!”

“And the treasure. What was it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Ask around, sounds like we’ve got a room full of know-it-alls. Er, well, I might not ask her over there; in her version, the treasure was, ah, well… This is a family venue, you know?”

Azriah shook his head and turned to Vit. “Worth a shot, Vit, but this is a dead end.”

“Um, excuse me, Bereth’t’ka?” A spirit in a server’s uniform approached timidly.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Uh, I have a table complaining that their food is too salty. They’re asking for the manager.”

Bereth’t’ka bared her fangs. “Did you tell them our policy?”


“Good. I will be over in just a minute.” With a nod, the server hurried off.

Something on Root’s face must have betrayed her question, because when Bereth’t’ka turned back to them she smiled.

“I take a taste—oh, not of the food, no, I can’t eat from a customer’s plate. The health inspectors would throw a fit! I taste them to see if they taste salty. If they’re telling the truth, we comp their meal. If they’re lying, I take another taste just to be sure.” She flashed her fangs again.

Behind Root, Beel made a distinctly Beel noise.

“Well, I suppose we can’t have expected to be the first ones here,” said Vit. They pulled one of the loose documents free of the book and looked it over. “It did seem too good to be true.”

“In retrospect, the fact that you heard about it from that pamphlet you got at the visitor center back in Jobog might’ve been an indicator that we wouldn’t beat out hundreds of years of competition,” said Root.

“Hey,” said Vit defensively, holding up the worn trifold and letting it fall open. “It had a map and a clue.”

“Excellent marketing, wouldn’t you say?” asked Bereth’t’ka with a grin.

“Guess so,” said Vit as they tucked the book away and crumpled the pamphlet.

“Oh! And before I forget…” Bereth’t’ka scuttled around the podium and fished a sheet of paper from a stack on a lower shelf. “We would be so grateful if you could fill out this brief survey about your experience in our little attraction. Any additional comments and suggestions can go in this box down here.”

“Thanks,” said Vit absentmindedly before perking up. “Actually, yeah, I did have one suggestion.”

“Oh? And what is that?”

“The scorpions. They don’t fit the rest of the vibe.”


“No, it’s all wet down there with the sewers and drippy ceilings and all, but the scorpions… well, they’re from the desert, so they’re too dry and hot. Maybe if the rest of the dungeon was themed to look like the temples in Akhet…”

“I take your point. What would you replace them with, then?”

“Oh, I don’t know, something more… damp? Like piranhas, maybe. Or an alligator.”

“I see, I see. Perhaps we will invest in some of those damp creatures you speak of.”

Vit nodded. They finished writing and handed the survey back to Bereth’t’ka.

“Now!” she said, straightening up and flexing her wings. “About your free appetizer…?”

“Oh, right. Table for four, please.”

The grease-spattered door out to the dining room swung open and Bereth’t’ka flapped her way into the kitchen. A stain rimmed her mouth. Orshon lowered his gaze to the murky dishwater lapping at his elbows. The boss was always crankier after having to eat someone.


Of course.


“Some customers came in through the back door. Go reset the dungeon.”

“On it,” said Orshon with faked enthusiasm.

Nothing was worse than resetting the dungeon—nothing. And he had soggy, half-chewed food up to his armpits. Why couldn’t she send one of the spirit employees to handle the dungeon? It wasn’t the same for them. But of course, it had to be the human, the busboy, already covering for the dishwasher who hadn’t shown for three days. Probably died after a weekend of heavy drinking down by the university houses and was now making a leisurely return from Yg Balta.

He wasn’t paid enough for this.

Leaving the sink to continue establishing new life and a complex ecosystem from customer saliva and the special sauce of the day, Orshon made his way to the rack by the door. He hefted the heavy padded armor over his head and strapped it on.

“The customers had some suggestions for improvements,” said Bereth’t’ka, landing on the prep counter beside him.

“Mm?” hummed Orshon as he clasped the chin strap of his helmet.

“No more scorpions.”

“Oh, good.” He tightened his shoulder, elbow, and knee pads.

“Something else.”

“… Oh?” He slipped the mouthguard over his teeth and the cup down the front of his pants. In his disappointment at hearing Bereth’t’ka’s follow-up comment, he had nearly swapped the two. He shuddered.

“Something more damp, they said. Pirates, maybe?”

“Pirateth?” Orshon nearly dropped the utility belt as he snaked it around his waist. The vials clinked—antidote, antivenom, another antidote, the antidote for in case he had to take both antidotes (they reacted horribly when they mixed in his system).

“No, no, that wasn’t it. Piranhas, I think, or something. Have you heard of them?”

Orshon did some incredibly quick thinking. “No, I havend. Are you thure they didn’t mean, uh… petuniath?”

Listen, it wasn’t perfect thinking. He wasn’t typically very good at this sort of thing.

“Petunias? No, what are they?”

“Deadly. Uh, in the right thircumthtantheth.” Surely there was someone out there with an allergy, right?

“Hm. Maybe it was petunias. Yes, could have been. If you come back, go down to the market and see where we can get two dozen petunias.”

“On it,” he said, and for a change the enthusiasm was genuine. He wasn’t sure if he liked it.


“Yeah?” came a voice from elsewhere in the kitchen.

“You’re on deck if Orshon doesn’t finish resetting the dungeon!”




“Hurry back, and then get those petunias,” said Bereth’t’ka to Orshon. She wiped at her mouth, which did nothing to remove the stain.

“On it.”