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Meanwhile, on Errux...

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Uncatalogued Barren Cavern
Somewhere in ITR Borderlands


The cave's depths redefined deepness and revealed new shades of darkness as Reen'ktan followed Vazto ever further into the network of half-hewn passageways. What were once occasional pools of breathless, poisonous air became massive reservoirs of invisible, silent death. Such was the miracle of plundered RDL technology that he could smell only the fizzy acrid stink of tomb gas instead of experiencing the personal agony of lung failure. What were the limits of the breathing masks? Would there be a warning, or would their potency crumble in an instant? Vazto offered no answers, and in the silence Reen'ktan's anxiety drove him forward a little faster than before. The impressive depths and their toxic pools were nevertheless a reassuring sign of progress. Anyone with the capacity to carve into kilometers of rock in mere months could easily drain the pools of tomb gas.

That is, if the excavators had lungs to poison.

After what had felt like hours of tense monotony, Vazto stopped. "This is the site."

"Is it?" asked Reen'ktan.

The light from Vazto's helmet dipped downward, revealing the start of a dirty path of steel plates bolted into the rock. “This fits the description of the abandoned sites.”

"We should return to the ships and assemble a team."

Vazto nearly blinded Reen'ktan when he turned to face him. "We can't afford the time. It would be nearly three nights to ascend and bring others back down, assuming the numbers don't cost us speed. It's either us or no one."

"And if we're too late? If it comes alive while we're down here?"

The gloom of the cavern swelled in the void left by Vazto's silence and within it, Reen’ktan’s doubts stalked the emptiness.The paralyzing dread of sleeping monsters gave way to that of abandonment as Vazto’s light dancing its way further into the site, driving him into the yawning chamber that lay ahead where a circular port door of damp steel lies motionless in its track. Reen’ktan ran his fingers along the wall and examined them. It seemed that this structure had been excavated too close to a deep water source, a mistake of desperation, Reen’ktan concluded through the fog of nervous anxiety.

“It…it doesn’t seem like there was much time to survey a new location when it was time to build this place,” said Reen’ktan, swiping at the quiet like a cornered animal.

“The Fourth Legion is winning,” replied Vazto, passing into a large steel antechamber with neat arrangements of machine parts already corroding in their carved-out shelves. “With every unearthing of one of these chambers, they learn more of their requirements and where the next one is likely to be. The poor location for this one is perhaps the only reason we found their quarry before they did, and why this one might be last.”
Together, Vazto and Reen’ktan opened a steel door at the far end of the antechamber, using every ounce of strength and the weighty tools they had carried into the depths. First, a foreign gadget no larger than a pistol slowly melted through choice components of the door’s structure, filling the antechamber with a blinding light and a shower of sparks. Then, with great effort and reliable pry bars, the two work free a section of the door that collapses with a deafening crash that, Reen’ktan believed, must have been heard by anyone waiting on the surface. Behind the door, a mechanical figure lay within like an entombed corpse.

Vazto hesitated for only a moment before springing into action, jamming his pry bar into a seam on the figure’s chestplate. “He’s still here! Hurry!”

Reen’ktan quickly joined his partner in the effort as dark thoughts of the machine-being coming to life to slay them for their intrusion welled up within. He channeled the full extent of his nervous anxiety into Vazto’s pry bar, dreading what would come next. With a metallic screech, the breastplate bent and tore free to expose a tangled mess of wires, mechanisms,and unknown components encircling a complex structure of strange alloys and gemstones, shaped into many carefully-measured facets and corners. Within that structure, a collection of rare talents and still rarer ambition somehow cobbled together to resemble a mind that could be recreated by the very thing contained inside. He wondered if it possessed the Kanra like its once-living progenitor did, if it could sense the two of them tearing into the inert body, if it could hear them. Reen’tkan shuddered at the thought of non-being while nonetheless sensing the conspirators hovering over his impotent form, seeking to butcher him for useful organs.

“Did I not tell you this was the one?” Vazto grinned. “This cavern would be the one! The one with the mnemonic core of none other than Pavosk Xaore himself. Get the cutter, we need to free it and take it up before the Fourth arrives.” Reen’ktan passed the cutting tool to Vazto, who eagerly set to work severing the various connections and housing clamps securing the core while Reen’ktan watched in dreadful awe as the heart of metal death itself was excised.

The monster’s cycle would end here, only to be placed into a new one, forged by hands more ambitious than its own.
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