The original story is in red text.
Deeper and deeper he delved into the tunnel with no breath of wind to shift the sweat from his body. He was not discomforted by cobwebs or biting bugs; nothing lives in this passageway. The words adorning the entrance some hours behind him assured him of the morbidity of the place, ‘Momento Mori’ …’remember that you will die’. He did not expect to find life here.
He had long since lost track of his direction in terms of a compass, he knew only forward and backward. at times he felt perhaps he was descending, at others that he was walking on a gradual incline, but he could not be sure.
Time passed strangely in the tunnel, the uniform earthen walls leaving him without a sense of his progress. Had his torch dimmed, had the flames began to shrink as his fuel literally burned away. he could not be sure. The mind is liable to play tricks, he had found.
He had not noticed that the walls were widening, in fact, to him it felt like they where tightening on him, as ribs on an anxious heart. But they were widening, in anticipation of a cavern ahead.
While his feet continued to beat the dirt mechanically his mind raced through a myriad of possibilities. Would the tunnel end in nothing, and he be left to question its purpose or would he find a doorway to some unknown kingdom, or might he find another inscription, what could the inscription say, where could the doorway lead. He walked on.
When he reached the cavern his breath caught in his throat. The cavern was of a high ceiling, and so wide that the failing light of his torch could not reach its edge. He walked, slowly now, into this new unknown. If he had been thinking logically he might have stuck close to the edge of the cavern, so as to maintain some sense of direction and attempt some understanding of its size. Unfortunately, he did not do this.
As he continued into the black pool of the cavern, he became aware of the fatigue in his legs, of the thirst and hunger in his body, and at last when the realization dawned on him that the darkness was dimming his torch, either siphoning its light into the cold black abyss, or dousing his fire with its weight.
Panic began to creep from behind his eyes, and as he looked around, holding his torch above his head to project the light further, he saw nothing, no sign of a bath forwards or backwards, no difference between left or right. His feet, which had carried him so well until now, stopped there procession, his knees hit the ground and he supported his weight with his hands. The torch rolled away from him, causing his shadow to bound and flex, a crouched beast aching for rest or reason, but in the tunnel, they are not found. Only the certainty of death awaited those who explored its depths.
He felt the darkness crush him with a mighty vengeance. Vengeance perhaps for daring to breach the darkness. He felt sleepy and the darkness forced his eyes closed.
His eyes fluttered open. He was no longer oppressed by the encroaching darkness. He realized he was holding a torch and staring at a craving at the entrance to a tunnel. ‘Momento Mori’ …’remember that you will die’. He stopped, acutely aware he had been here before. The same long tunnel that went on for hours. The same lack of cobwebs or biting bugs. As before, he knew that nothing lived in the passageway.
He sat on the packed earth and stared at the carving. Have I already died? He thought to himself. His thoughts were interrupted by a flickering light reflecting off the walls of the tunnel. He looked around for a place to hide, but the entrance was as barren and featureless as the tunnel.
He scrambled to the edge of the unassuming demarcation the entrance created. Whomever it is, he thought, they’ll not see me until it’s too late.
As the dancing light grew brighter, he waited, breathing as slowly and as quietly as he could. Footfalls echoed off the rough hewn walls. Each instance pressing on him as the darkness had before. The weight of the situation forced him to exhale, each breath stealing time as the cavern had.
A torch cleared the entrance, held by a gnarled old fist. The imperfections of the aged fingers were evident as the light made shadow of wrinkles. The figure was dressed much as he was, although the clothing was in disrepair. As the figure walked past him, torch held aloft, he noticed the long gray beard and unkempt hair. He couldn’t discern the age of the man, but he was most assuredly older than he.
The man spun around, torch threatening to extinguish, and he looked into the face of himself, albeit older.
“Where have you been?” The man that was an older version of himself asked. “I’ve been waiting so long for you.” A tear formed on the worn face. “I need you to walk for me.” The man pressed his hand into his back and arched, bones making audible pops.
“How long have you been walking?” He asked, eyed wide with terror.
“I…” The man fell to the ground the torch clattering and sputtering out.
He ran to himself and cradled his head. “Tell me!” He pleaded.
“I was found by an older version of myself in the cavern of souls. He lay in my stead and instructed me to walk until I found myself.” The man smiled. “And I have.”
He picked up the dropped torch and stared into the tunnel. At the edge, he paused.
“Go ahead, I’ll remain in your stead,” the old man declared.
As he broke the threshold, a flood of memories washed over him. Memories of lives lived and selves found in the wandering darkness. He gripped the torch firmly and stepped forward.