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"So, either die and start over or stay on this level until you can kill everything on your own, or die and start over. I would do the latter because you are off on a rocky start, but you can decide for yourself." Vice said, looking at him.

Anton nodded absentmindedly, more interested in the brand-new second level world that was sprawled out in front of them. The fiery light from the ceiling was far brighter than any he had seen in ages, causing the surroundings to resemble a sunny afternoon. High pillars of dark red sandstone with golden-red dust swirling through them, blown by the first wind he had seen in ages, depicted a landscape that reminded him of westerns.

"ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING!" Vice shouted next to his ear, and he realized she had asked him a question.

"What did you ask?" He said, looking at her, drawing his gaze from the view.

"Do you want to travel together?" She bit, a dangerous glint in her eyes.

Anton shrugged, trying to pick his words with care. "I would like to explore the level by myself a bit. " He was starting to fear her chaotic reactions. She might rip him apart if he said the wrong thing, and having to look over his shoulder all the time for a crazy lunatic wasn't what he wanted.

Vice's eyebrows lowered, her lips pursed together, but she nodded. "Fine, I'll talk to you another time then." Then she stomped off, out of the tunnel, mumbling something about all men being the same.

Anton's mouth fell open, and he almost yelled for her to come back, but he caught himself at the last minute. It was better this way, or at least he hoped so. He waited until she disappeared in the sandstone maze before carefully looking around. Then he stepped out of the entrance, immediately feeling a scorching heat on his head, and a dust-laden wind batter against his naked skin.

"Bloody fabulous!" He hissed, feeling himself be pushed off balance by the wind. "How the hell did she manage to walk in a straight line so effortlessly?" Looking up in the air, he didn't see any dust, only the bright ceiling. It was hard to see what was giving off the light, but for now, he couldn't care less. Springing forward, he spread his wings and began flapping, quickly gaining altitude when the wind started carrying him up.

"IDIOT!" From below, he heard a loud voice yell at him. Looking down, he could make out the shape of Vice, looking up at him from between two stone pillars. Then another blast of wind, more powerfull this time, pushed him up. Within moments the heat became painfull, and he tried to fly back down. But even with his wings folded in, he was carried up by the current. His heart began racing when he saw blisters appear on his arms, the pain growing by the second.

Looking up, he saw two large serpentine eyes, golden with black slits for pupils, gaze down at him. They belonged to an enormous, winged demon chained to the roof of the cave. Fire burst from open round pillars behind him, scorching his emaciated charred body. The Demon hung loosely in the chains, not struggling, and Anton saw two ripped of stumps on its back, presumably from wings.

~ Not very smarrrrrt, are you? ~ A voice, like dry paper tearing, echoed all around Anton.

Opening his mouth for a snarky remark, a waft of super-hot air entered his mouth, burning it from the inside. Pain, more intense than any had felt before, even more than what the demoness had done, overwhelmed him. He felt as if he was melting from the inside and out. At the point of blacking out, he felt his body stop moving, and he barely managed to look up. He saw that the Demon had caught him with one of his hind legs and was inspecting him.

~ A young one, not yet molded to one shape, how is this possible? No matter, listen, let us make a deal! ~

Barely able to stay awake, Anton tried to nod that he was listening.

~ No voice anymore? I understand. Fine, I will propose a deal quickly. Nod if you agree. If you don't, you will be my first snack this century. ~ The Demon sounded like he was smirking, but the flames covering his head made it hard to see.

Looking around, almost as if to check nobody was listening, the Demon lowered his voice.

~ Swear a soul oath that you will break me free of this infernal trap, and I will explain how you can gain the highest power possible in this backwater place. With the power, you will be able to withstand these flames and break the chains that bind me. If you agree, say the words in your mind and nod. I will take care of the rest. ~

Barely hearing the Demons words, Anton, nodded vigorously. Why the hell wouldn't he take this deal? On his own, it might take him a thousand years to get out, and he would probably look like Frankenstein meets lemure.

A low rumble came from the Demon as he began whispering words in a language Anton didn't understand. Overruling even the pain from his body, Anton felt a sharp pang, as if something pierced his soul. Then it was gone.

~ Listen, and if you die before hearing it all, try and come back here. Find the fifth, hidden exit out of your starting area. It won't be easy to find, but the level it leads to will have higher grade lifeforms. Feed on anything that might help you resist the fire, but whatever you do, don't graft things on your body like those wings. And one more thing, be careful off...~

The voice grew softer and further away, and Anton didn't hear he Demon's last words. The pain in his body had long since faded, and all he felt now was tired. His eyes had popped, his ears melted, and then everything went black.

--

"Failed again I... Anton? Anton, what is wrong?"

Ignoring Victor, who was moving towards him, sounding worried, Anton lay down on the ground, his mind filled with questions. What were those Demons? Who could even trap one? Did Vice know the Demon was there? And, most importantly, how the hell was he going to find the fifth entrance? He only knew about four, let alone five!

"Anton, it will be alright. Come, let us go back, and you can tell me what happened." Victor crouched down on all eight limbs, nudging him with his spiderling head.

Trying to shake his head, frustrated when he remembered he couldn't because he was back in his base body, Anton got up and examined the other Spiderling.

"Victor, have you ever heard anybody talk about a fourth or a fifth exit?"

The other was silent for a while, and Anton hoped he was thinking, Victor finally replied, his voice slow and careful.

"Anton, listen. You should stop now. You have tried longer than anyone else and.."

"And I won't stop! Don't you get it? I don't want to stop! I can't stop!" Shouting at the other, it took Anton a few seconds to calm down as Victor stood in shocked silence.

"Victor. I will always continue trying to get out of here. I will never, ever stop. So you can either help me or leave me alone. Now tell me, do you, or don't you know about any more bloody exits?"

A sigh came from the other Spiderling, and he turned away, startling Anton. Had he finally pissed the geezer off enough? Reaching one of the many dark holes in the ground, the other turned around.

"Come with me, and I will tell you what I know." Victor's voice sounded aggrieved, but Anton didn't care. Quick as his eight legs could take him, he skittered after the other.

"I know about a fourth exit, and you would to if you had cared enough to talk to anybody else. It is common knowledge, and I can show you if you wish. But a fifth? There are only some rumors about a fifth entrance, but I will tell them to you. A few years after we got here, you were off on your own again, a group of us left together to attempt to find a way out. We tried all of the three commonly known exits, even the third, but we couldn't find any way passed any of the second floors."

As they moved through the caverns, Victor's gruff voice began speeding up, as if he had told this story many times before.

"Tired of our failed attempts, a few of us found the fourth exit, and we went inside." Victor sighed before continuing. "Out of the dozens of people that went, only four came back."

Startled, Anton interrupted him. "What do you mean? Didn't they respawn here after they died?"

"No, because they didn't die..." Victor seemed to relive the memories, and his voice carried images of unspeakable horrors as he continued. "The world beyond the fourth entrance was horrible. In it where intelligent beings. Intelligent and vicious. They captured as many of us as they could, but not to kill us. They keep others as slaves for their pleasure, keeping them alive and forcing them to involve in ways that would horrify you if you knew..."

A bit scared at the prospect of an eternity of servitude, Anton didn't agree with the last sentence but said nothing. But as Victor kept prattling on about how horrid it had been, his patience began wearing thin.

"Victor, what does any of this have to do with the fourth floor...?" Anton finally snapped, trying hard to keep from shouting.

"Impatient... I was getting to that!" Huffing a bit, about having his story cust short, Victor finally sighed. "As you probably don't know, there used to be one more person who tried more than others to get out of here. A few years ago, she came back and wanted a group talk. She spoke of a hidden entrance she had stumbled upon, that could lead us all to safety." Victor snorted derisively.

"She tried to get other people to follow her, and in the end, a few dozen went. I stayed here, so I don't know exactly where they went. "

Feeling like shoving the other down a cliff, Anton took a few deep breaths. "And? Did any of them come back?"

"A few ended up not entering and came back. But from the rest, nobody ever returned."

"Do you know who it where that came back?" Anton was getting excited. Perhaps it wouldn't be hard at all?

"I know of only one person, and we are going there now. But Anton? Don't expect too much, ok? This guy lost his mind ages ago, he might not remember."

Feeling his mood dampen, Anton followed Victor through the dark tunnels.

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Carrarn

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