The Ink Machine finally rose up through the final opening, and as soon as it did, the party had to recoil from the light streaming through the ceiling, and blinked before looking around the large chamber in which the Machine now stood.
"Where...where are we now?" Mikey asked.
"It's...it's the old workshop," Allie said, placing a hand on her chest. "This is where it all began. Where the Demon was born."
On the closest side of the chamber was a balcony, with a shelf on one side and a strange contraption on the other, and beyond that was an empty doorway.
"Wait a minute..." Mikey quickly opened the thermos, unrolled the map, and looked at it closely. "This is the floor where Exit is! The very first floor! We found it!"
"Not yet," Robin said. "First, we have to look for it."
The party carefully descended from the top of the Machine, crossed the lower part of the chamber, climbed up a chain near the balcony, and went through the gaping doorway together. These new halls were as silent as death, but they weren't nearly as unsettling as the previous hallways. There was only a few tables and chairs placed here and there, and doors that led to various places where Jake and Allie talked about the memories they shared with tones of immense nostalgia.
"Whoa," Army said as they passed a larger room filled with more tables, chairs, and a drawer cabinet. "Looks like they knocked out a wall or two after Henry left. Guess it took a few people to replace him."
"What was Henry like? And Joey?" Mikey asked. "I don't think Searchers have as many memories of this place as you guys do."
"Henry was the one who...well, let's just say that he created a little character that he said he thinks people will love," Jake explained. "And they did love him. Until...this place."
"Joey, on the other hand," Allie said, "was very demanding. Nothing was ever good enough for him."
"Well...at least he's, um, probably not here now!" Mikey said.
"Yeah, I guess," Jake muttered.
Soon, they reached a small area where a chair lay in a corner, and the words 'Dreams Come True' were written in ink that had dried up long ago. After another hall, they reached a semi-large room where another desk stood in one corner, and a projector propped up on a chair was playing the cartoon demon, who seemed to be dancing non-stop on the wall.
"It's him," Army said, "the Demon. Oh, how I wish he looked like his old self instead of a nightmarish being of Hell."
"Wait, are you serious?" Robin asked in disbelief. "THAT'S what he used to be? But...how? He's so different from THAT."
"Souls," Army said. "That's how Joey made the Demon. And probably every other inky being in these walls. The Demon just happened to not have one."
After a couple silent seconds, the party turned, and froze.
On the other side of the room was a final hallway, the walls on either side covered with the now-too-familiar posters. At the end of that final hall was a door, and above that door was a sign that read 'Exit'.
The party slowly went up to the door in amazement. They had found it. The Exit of the studio of horrors, and their key to escaping the Demon.
"...Here it is," Mikey said. "Exit. We made it."
"It's over," Robin said, "it's finally over."
"Not yet," Jake said. "We still need to get everyone out of here. Every Searcher, every Lost One, everyone the Demon has trapped here. We can't leave without any of them."
"Aaawww, but can't we at least see what's behind that door first?" Army whined. "I think we should have some knowledge of that before we just usher everybody out the door."
"I think we should," Allie agreed. "I've always wanted to see what kind of sky was outside. No more beige ceilings and all."
Jake thought about it, and sighed. "Yeah, I guess so. Who's gonna open it?"
"Well, since Mikey found the map and started this whole adventure," Robin said, "I think it's only fair that he open it."
"And he got kidnapped twice and practically died, not to mention," Army pointed out.
"Yes, Army, we know," Jake said. "We were there when it happened."
Mikey took a shaky, excited breath. "I can't believe this is really happening. I always hoped that it would come to this, one way or another. But it's really happening now."
Robin smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Go ahead, Mike. Open it. Let's see where it'll take us next."
Mikey took another breath, reached for the doorknob, and started to turn it.