Caves are not shaped for human convenience. Floors are rough, and not always horizontal. Passageways can be large or small, wide or thin, smooth or convoluted. Some passages are so thin that it is only barely possible to make it through, sometimes you have to exhale to fit. Bruises are common, cracked ribs and dislocated shoulders not unheard of. You struggle for every inch. You can practice with a wire hanger to get an idea of how tight a space you can get through.
Caves are dark. Not dark like at night when there are stars, or dark like in bed with street lights peeking around your curtains, but utterly dark, dark like trying to look behind your eyeballs. It is easy to take flashlights and headlamps for granted, but switch them off and you’ll see. It takes your eyes a moment to adjust to the dark, for afterimages to fade, and then you know longer know where the things around you are. Your world is reduced to your thoughts, the touch of rock under your feet and hands, and the sound of your breath.
Being eaten alive is the most horrible of deaths. Excruciating, but not the most painful. Drawn-out, but no the slowest. The most horrible. It means being totally at the power of something which is not even bothering to kill you, waiting in between bites for the chewing to stop and the pain to come again, wondering how long it will take you to die, whether blood-loss will get you first or if the beast will at last tear into something important, utterly powerlessness.
At first I was not sure if I was mis-hearing my own breath. I thought that perhaps sensory deprivation was causing my mind to tricking itself. I thought I heard the heavy breath of something large behind me. Then I was hit by the smell, strong and primal and awful, and then a hand, strong and rough, into my back, knocking me into the ground.
I had been found by the manticore.