So, we explored fully the Level 366 (that for me will always stay : the First Level) in search of an exit.
The stores were mainly clothings and luxury items. There were also a few pubs, in which we broke and from which we took some bottles of bourbon and gin, for the road. There were three floors, linked by series of staircases, most of them mechanic and rendered inneficient by the lack of electricity.
I let Sharon and Simon do the stuff, while I followed them idly. And I watched.
They looked everywhere. I mean, really everywhere ! No square inch wasn't searched for a clue. But they didn't just follow their eyes. It seemed that they had developped some sort of eerie sense, which led them to the path ; or, at least, could allow them to know if they were standing right in front of it or not.
They looked everywhere. In dark corners. On the pillars. In the main alleyways. On the floor. Towards the roof. On the walls. They even looked through places or things, as if they were not even there and they could see something else, much farther away.
Round and round we walked, passing through the same places again and again. And we sometimes made big, weird detours when we could have gone straight to a place. When I asked why we were doing that, Sharon told me to shut up and Simon spoke about the intricacy of the layout patterns of virtual materialisation, or some such nonsensic crap. So I stopped asking stupid questions that would get no intelligible answer, and followed on. For hours. Or days. Maybe even weeks.
And then they found it.
It was a corridor we hadn't seen before. I don't mean that we didn't pass that way before, or didn't look thoroughly : that, we had done already. It just was as if the thing hadn't been there before, or as if we could have had no way of seeing it. As if we had to come a certain, complex way before it could make itself visible to us.
The corridor was misty, and some sick noise was emanating from it.
Can you imagine what a Siren's song would be if it consisted of the noises of unborn babies wailing and the screams of human beings flayed alive, all mixed together and put backwards like on a Led Zep record ?
That was worse.
Only, less loud, more insidious. A noise that came inside you, through your skin and not your ears, to fill you entirely without you noticing until it was too late.
The smell was, of course, on level with the sound.
We walked through this mist, and I tried to think that I was not seing what I thought I was. And then, my mind allowed me to forget what there was to see before it reached my conscious brain, because it would have been more than my sanity could have afforded.
And we went down. No staircase, but down still.
Thinking back on it, I'm glad there were the noises and the rest : it prepared us for what we had to live on Level 365.
When the smoke cleared a little, we found an archway leading to open mall space.
And, of course, on top of this arch was a pannel indicating : LEVEL 365.
So in we went, God forgive us.
NEXT... NO EXIT.