Esther was bouncing with energy as they walked down Forthright Avenue.
"It's just down this way, you ladies alright?" she asked.
"We're fine, Meredith's just… a bit giggle-smacked," said Tea.
Meredith was bracing herself against her short girlfriend as they walked. They had spent some time at another nightclub waiting for their dinner time, and her drinks had been a bit strong. It had been a stressful week of work, sure, but according to Tea, Meredith always made a habit of choosing the strongest alcoholic beverages when they went out and about.
Lucas tried to keep up as Esther rushed forward towards their next stop.
"This looks like the place," he said.
The other ladies dragged behind. Lucas looked at his pocketwatch, it was five minutes to nine. Once they caught up they all walked inside.
They had entered the most sought-after reservation in the whole city, a table for four at the underground restaurant "The Underworld".
Staff guarding the front sat there with a clipboard and a small, but fancy steam-gun on the table next to them, meant to singe and spook anyone who tried to sneak or force their way in.
"Buford," said Lucas.
The man flipped the top page over the end of his clipboard and ran his finger over the list of names. His finger stopped, and tapped the spot where his reservation had been inked in nearly a year ago. Lucas had made another reservation for a couple months from now as well. This was not an establishment one decided upon an evening's fancy to visit, but a plan that was made. There were many stories of couples who stayed together during difficult times, just because they didn't want to have to cancel their reservation. One paid for their entire meal in order to reserve, no refunds.
"Alright. Gentleman, ladies, have you all been to The Underworld before?" he asked.
"None of us," Lucas answered.
"You're going to take this torch" — he handed Esther the lit stick — "and you're going to follow the stairs down. When you get to the bottom, you will answer the gargoyle's riddles. Once you pass through that, you will be sat in the boat of the dead, blindfolded, and taken to your table. One more thing, I'll need you all to sign this."
So, we all signed the legal agreement not to get scared or indemnify the restaurant for any emotional upset from the experience. Lucas was nervous they wouldn't allow Meredith to sign inebriated, but she seemed to either be sobering up or have enough wits about her to feign so.
And so they did just as their gatekeeper had told them. I won't spoil the gargoyle's riddles for you, though they do change them every month.
When the "boat" — a large raft on a small track — came to a stop at their table, a lady came by and removed their blindfolds.
"Welcome to your place within Madame Ursula's realm for the evening," she said.
It was a small room, though the ceiling was taller than they'd had expected. Above them were murals of fantastical cloud cities, demons, and the trickster god, Skret, done up in glowing paint. Her arm was held out, gesturing for us to take our seats at the table before us. The table had tall chairs and candlelight.
The waitress poured glasses of fine wine from the decanter into each of our glasses. "And now, I will return with your food. She has been expecting you."
Lucas smiled. This was all part of the shtick. They had to telegraph their orders weeks ahead; The chef would need to only acquire the exact ingredients needed, many of them being exotic or having a small window of peak flavor. Also, it meant that food would be ready when one arrived. It made every moment of the experience that much grander, smoother, more theatrical.
The restaurant had published a novella about their chef, Madame Ursula, being a psychic from a faraway land, east of Golah, in the heart of the unchartable sea. She made deals with the gods and trekked across the world, picking up rare and worldly animals and vegetables. So the idea was that she would already know, by telepathy or precognition, what you want to eat.
The candles flickered and extinguished all on their own. The room was pitch black. Then, laughter. It seemed to be from a pipe or speaker. Were audible signs of recording equipment? Lucas was trying hard to listen for them and tell.
It was very quiet. There were now sounds of windy, stormy oceans. Lucas thought he might have heard footsteps, saw figures in the dark around them, but it was too hard to tell.
Then, Madame Ursula's voice, it seemed, rang out from the center of the table. "Enjoy your meal, honored guests! I know you will be pleased, you are very welcome."
The candles re-lit. Lucas stared at them, and could see upon close inspection that they were not ordinary candles, but mechanical devices disguised as such by the dim lighting.
"Oh, my! Our food!" shouted Esther.
Meredith's eyes were wide open in surprise. "Woah."
Their food had appeared in front of them: The finest denizen in a lemon tahini sauce served with lentils and carmelized onion, chanka steak served with a cheesy potato and Titanian greens, a plate of Golahn squid rolls with a fine sweet sauce and hearty root vegetables, and a tender kuuvian venison burger with mouthwatering accoutrements and thick sweet potato wedges.
The speakers were now playing soft, dulcet piano melodies as they all dug into their food.
Lucas had never eaten a better meal in his entire life. The denizen was tender and bursting with flavor.
He was eager for the dessert course he'd put them down for, a Whortleberry pie. And then… who knows where their night would end?