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Sweating, with his heart pounding in his chest, Anton flapped as fast as he could. Skirting close the ground, he heard the other wings, all hundreds of them, getting closer. Making a sharp turn, hugging a black rock a few hundred meters high, he took a quick peek across his shoulder.

Hundreds of angry demon birds were in hot pursuit, beaks wide open, razor-sharp teeth flickering in the dull red light.

"Leave me alone, you filthy chickens!" Screaming, he looked around for any way out of his trouble. Below, he saw the black stones change into white sandy dunes, his shadow rushing up and down over them. Deeper and deeper, he flew, when he saw something move from the corner of his eye.

"What the hell is that... don't tell me...." He muttered, looking at an enormous bulge, moving through the desert in his general direction. Turning, he dove towards it, making sure not to go straight over the bulge, which was a good thing too. An enormous tentacle shot up from the ground, almost grabbing onto him, causing his heart to skip a beat. Behind him, he heard the birds flapping become erratic, and he took a quick look. Dozens of the same green tentacles grabbed at the birds. As Anton looked, he saw dozens of birds unable to dodge, and get caught, struggling uselessly as the tentacles pulled them under the ground. The rest scattered before flying up and away, heading back towards their nesting ground.

Gaining some altitude, Anton circled the spot only to see that everything was quiet again. The only signs of the thing under the sand were the bulge, and a few blood spatters on the white sand. Exhaling, he turned towards one of this level's exits. "Let's hope no birds nest at this one..."

--

Flying as slow as he could, Anton inspected the two tall demons standing below him, amidst the ruins of what looked like a defense outpost. Behind them was the level exit.

"Horns and tails included, straight from the bloody book itself." He muttered, thinking about what Victor had said.

Inspecting the demons, who either hadn't seen him or didn't care, he wondered how good his odds were at just flying over them and into the entrance. Looking at the length of their arms, and how close to the exit, they were he guessed not very good. Although the hole seemed wide enough for him to fly into, he would have to go through the guards.

Feeling disinclined to restart this soon, as he was enjoying flying around immensely, he was about to head back when he saw something move amongst the ruins. Circling back around, he saw a familiar shape move between the ruins towards the demons. A cross between a lizard and one of the demons, it resembled the entity he had seen in one of the feeding pits in the insect hive.

"Now, what are you up to..." Feeling his curiosity peak, he decided to stick around to see what would happen. Flying towards the wall of the cave, right above the ruins, he found a ridge wide enough and landed on it to watch the show.

Below, the figure snuck closer towards the demon guards, stopping just behind a piece of the leftover tower wall. Leaning forward, Anton tried to make out what it was doing now, but all he saw was the demon lizard rummaging around his waist. Appearing finished, it now held something in its hand, and looked around the corner. Taking a small step back, it tossed the thing to the opposite side of the ruins, where it hit a wall causing a small explosion. The two guards looked over, just when yellow smoke started forming around the place of the blast.

As Anton looked on in astonishment, the two guards exchanged a nod. Then the one closest to the smoke moved forward, away from the exit. Leaning forward, Anton unfurled his wings. Could he perhaps get an excellent opportunity here? Preparing for anything, he kept a close eye on the lizard demon that had begun sneaking forward. As soon as the lizard reached the last of the buildings, he grabbed something from his waist. After examining it, he dashed towards the exit, straight at the remaining guard.

"Here we go!" Anton grinned and jumped forward, dropping along the cave wall like a meteor. Below him, the guard had noticed the intruder and stepped forward to intercept. The lizard, full speed, threw something at the demon guard, causing him to howl and raise his hands to his face. The other guard turned around and began rushing back.

Just before Anton would slam into the ground, he unfolded his wings and skirted along the grey stone pavement towards the exit. Three meters in front of him, he saw the lizard dive beneath the guard's legs and put something on his back before rushing towards the entrance. A step before he got in, Anton brushed passed him, entering the tunnel.

Feeling the tips of his wings hammer into the sides of the tunnel, he cursed and tucked them in before hitting the ground face first and coming to a sliding halt.

"Fuck, that hurt." Anton rose, shaking his head to get it back together.

"I am sure it did..."

He heard a rough, hissing voice coming from behind him. About to turn around, he felt sharp edges along his neck.

"Don't move. What are you?"

Confused, Anton wanted to shake his head, but feeling the biting edge of something wickedly sharp on his flesh, he froze. Swallowing, he tried to come up with an appropriate answer.

"Human?" He tried, wondering what that even meant nowadays.

A peel of laughter, clear and refreshing burst from behind him before stopping as the lizard thing cleared its throat.

"You do look, really human to me...."

Anton felt the pressure around his neck disappear, and he quickly scrambled forward and up. Looking at the lizard demon, that he could now see had some female features, he saw she was inspecting him curiously.

"Why are you still in such a base form? Did you arrive recently? How long have you been here? Where are you from?"

Anton blinked at the barrage of questions, feeling his tension melt away. Inspecting the other, he noticed she was wearing pants and some handcrafted utility belt with lots of pockets. Seeing him look at her belt, the lizard girl giggled. "Cool, huh? I made it myself. Back home, I was a leatherworker! I would never have guessed that could come in useful after dying."

"I have been here for a while now... You?" Anton asked, trying to cut through the constant talking of the other.

"Really?" She looked him up and down, raising an eyebrow, the corners of her mouth dropping a bit in disapproval. "Well, I have been here for almost two hundred years, for as far as I have been able to keep track. But you look really weak. Are you sure you didn't just arrive yesterday?"

Feeling a headache pop up, Anton remembered why he preferred being alone most of the time. Deciding he better come up with a reason for his current state, he shrugged. "That female demon from the third level caught me, and I have been retracing my steps."

"Retracting your... You have never gotten passed the third level! Noobie!" Another burst of laughter followed the loud exclamation.

Shaking his head, Anton tried to suppress his rising desire to rip her apart. Instead, he turned around and began moving through the tunnel. From behind, he heard the stupid schoolgirl, for that's what he felt she must be, stifle her giggles.

"Wait, wait. I didn't mean it in a bad way!" She ran forward until she was next to Anton. "It is just that I haven't seen any new people in ages!"

Deciding that no matter what he said, it would be useless, Anton kept quiet.

"Don't be like that! I said I was sorry. Listen, how about I help you along a bit? Nobody can help another passed the gates, but nobody said anything about sharing some intel!"

Although he tried not to, Anton felt his interest piqued and looked at the figure walking next to him. She was a bit taller and far more muscled than he was. Trying not to sare at her large canines, he blinked when he saw her cold reptilian eyes observe him.

"Fine, I'm interested. How about you tell me your name, and if the rumor is true? Does it matter what you look like when you cross into the fourth level?"

A sharp intake of air followed, and he saw a pair of wide eyes stare at him dumbfounded.

"Err... how do you know that? Nobody should know that down here. Did you lie? No, that is impossible, nobody can look like that and make it passed any third level no matter how backwater and crappy it is."

Listening at the other prattle on and on, Anton wanted to scream at her to shut up. Taking a deep breath, he tried again, interrupting her mid-sentence.

"Do you have a name? Or should I call you Reptile Girl?"

Moving her face close enough to his that he could smell her breath, sweet of blood, she snarled. "Careful, I don't like being made fun off..."

Anton snorted and kept walking. "You make fun of me, call me a noob. You have no right to say that."

A taloned hand clutched him on the shoulder, keeping him in one spot as if anchored to the ground. "You're not powerful enough to make fun of me. I, on the other hand, can do as I please. Weakling." All fun had left her face as she glared at him, and he swallowed before nodding.

"Ok, fine. You're right. I haven't been on the third level yet. I keep dying in that insect hive." He added the last to distract her, or so he hoped.

Restraining him for another second, the reptile girl looked him over before letting go and pushing him forward. Immediately her smile came back as if nothing had happened.

"I thought so! It's ok mister newbie, and for the record, my name is Sinthia, but most people call me Vice. So should you." Her voice got a bit lower at the end, and Anton shivered.

Walking alongside her as he continued yabbering about nothing usefull, he started planning how to get rid of her. She was way too dangerous to be around. But before that, he needed more information.

"Say, Vice. Can you tell me how to get strong enough to get passed the third level?"

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Carrarn

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