We were fugitives to a man, escaped slaves. While crossing the eastern Aurora Badlands our caravan had the misfortune of disturbing a large nest of Tlaké beetles. Those flesh-eating insects swarmed the caravan, consuming flesh in rapturous delight. Only a few of us survived. We fled deeper into that sun-drenched wasteland. We would have surely died had it not been for Old Whitan's discovery of the cave. Damn that cave! We got so lost within its depths that to this day I still don't know fer how long we were down there. It musta been weeks. But I'm not complaining, see, 'cause we were free, and there was plenty of water.
Startin' out, the cave was easy to navigate. We made good time as we passed through a number of huge caverns. Eventually, ease gave way to vertical drops, perilously narrow passages, and raging torrents. Our pace slowed to a crawl. It was a hellish place, I tell you. It was very nearly always wet and everyone was constantly on edge. The oppressive darkness was beginning to take a toll on us all.
After yet another treacherous descent, we emerged into a ragged tunnel. The way ahead was lit by a dim reddish glow. That's when Old Whitan went batshit and took off, runnin' straight into that glow. I remember it like it was yesterday. He was a hootin' and hollerin' like a crazed one! We ran after him, but were too late. The reddish glow came from a swift, open-faced lava flow. Old Whitan musta lost his footing, as he fell straight on in. He didn't get much of a chance to scream. Sometimes the darkness will make a man go crazy, know?
Anyways, the lava flow provided much needed light and we were mighty pleased by it. Lookin' around, it was apparent this place had received a chiselin' hand. The walls, although rough, had obviously been tooled and rose up in a great curved arch. Who woulda thunk to discover something like this so deep within a cave? We kept moving.
Eventually we emerged into a vast chamber. It musta been a hundred feet long, if not a day. Huge pillars of rock rose into the darkness above. This place was definitely fashioned by some intelligence. The very rock of the place was old and seemed to be decaying, turning into chalky, white dust. And the floor… it was a mess of metal bits, bones, and other strange scraps. There was a very unwholesome feel to this place.
Chills went down all our spines when the whirring and clacking sounds started up. At first we were scared and confused, but all became clear. We were beset by man-machines of death. They were corrupt, decayed beyond years, and belching foul smoke and acid. There was nowhere to run. The men were butchered and mauled by those death machines. I only escaped because I twisted my ankle and fell headlong into a sinkhole. Luckily, I broke no bones and managed to crawl off into sweet darkness. In time I managed to win back freedom from the darkness. That was a long time ago.
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