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Lost and Gone

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The vaulted, rough-hewn ceiling above him is shadowed and dark. Diffuse light spills around him as he slowly sits up and looks around. Moonlight, he thinks, but that makes little sense. He fell, hadn’t he? Buried himself in the Earth? The moon shouldn’t be able to reach here.

He gets to his feet hesitantly, adjusting belts and layers of fabric with long-practiced hands. He’s unarmed, he realizes after a moment. His vulnerability should bother him, but another worry nags at the back of his mind instead. A missing weapon is a concern, of course, but he’s missing something more.

The unfamiliarity of his surroundings distracted him and kept the panic at bay, but now that he’s noticed one missing thing, the other absence is clamoring for attention.

Anxiety rises like bile. He casts around him, fingers skittering in and out of moonbeams. He’s alone. He’s forgotten someone, somewhere. The knowledge crashes around him. How could he have forgotten?

He can’t remember the person’s name, only that they are an inextricable part of him. Their absence burns like someone has ripped his lungs from his chest. He struggles to breathe, but that might just be the panic.

That same panic gets his feet moving. He needs to find them. How could he have left them behind? But they can’t be far - he wouldn’t have gone far.

The cavern gives way to a narrow corridor. The walls are bricks in places, unfinished stone in others. He trails his hand along them. It’s cold and lifeless. He won’t find what he’s looking for here.

He looks all the same.

Corridors spill off in all directions. Openings to the moonlit sky let in light in some of them. He can’t wrap his mind around these windows - every other sense tells him that he is underground, and yet the sky is there all the same. Other corridors are bathed in inky blackness. He tries to walk slowly through them, tries to listen for even the slightest sounds, but his soul aches and his steps speed up against his volition.

The corridors are empty. Minutes stretch long, and he’s no longer sure how much time passed since he awoke. Nothing looks familiar, and everything looks the same. Occasionally, he spills back into the chamber he started in. He should probably wait - stay put instead of chasing the missing presence through the dark - but he plunges into another tunnel anyway.

He starts crying out until he goes hoarse. He doesn’t know the name to call, so he shouts questions instead. His voice fails him eventually, leaving him with little more than a croaking wheeze. He falls silent, but doesn’t remain so with any amount of patience.

His loses his voice again. And again. He loses track and stops waiting for it to come back fully, calling out whenever he can make a noise. The periods of silence grow longer.

He takes to rapping his knuckles on the walls. The echoes are meaningless but will still signal anyone within hearing.

But the person remains missing. He remains alone.

The moon is unchanging, hanging full in the sky. The sun never rises.

He’s running. He’s always running. He turns corners blindly, too tired and too frantic to think about the path he’s taking. The twisting tunnels always lead back to the central chamber eventually anyway. He’s desperate and broken and on the verge of giving up. Whatever is missing aches to his bones, but all of his searching has turned up nothing.

He throws himself down another passage without really looking.

A figure stands at the end of the corridor - tall and slender. He tries to stop. The gravel path offers little purchase, and his feet almost slide out from under him. The name continues to escape him, but it doesn’t matter. This is what he was missing - who he was missing.

Moonlight spills through the open door behind the figure, light liming every stand of hair and casting just enough illumination to see the broad smile. He lunges forward, reaching out and feeling like he can finally catch his breath.

His hand closes around the figure’s arm. A name finally rises to his lips, spilling out. The relief that burns through him is almost painful. Found you. He wants to whisper. Finally. Finally.

The arm turns to gray mist under his hand. He stumbles and plunges through the figure. Rapidly dispersing smoke curls around him, taunting him. He grabs for it, snatching handfuls of air that ooze between his fingers, tantalizingly tangible before turning insubstantial and wafting away.

An attempt to chase the vanishing smoke overbalances him. He sprawls onto the path and scrambles to get his feet back under him even though there is nothing left to follow. He wails then, a broken exhausted sound that tears itself from his chest. The name on his lips comes out as a scream.

He wakes. One second, he was crying, screaming; the next, he can feel the dirt on his face and smell the redolent earth that buries him. He’s not screaming, has not screamed - his mouth is free of dirt - but his throat aches with the memory of it. He sits slowly, vaguely aware of a group of people approaching. Like the phantom screams, his face is similarly bereft of tears, but he can feel the burn of them behind his eyes.

Found and lost. He looks at every face over the next few days, wanting to find him, wanting to close the hole that’s opened within him. He remembers now - the dream state had mercifully taken that from him - and it’s no longer a meaningless nightmare spent searching for an unnamed, vanished thing. He knows what he lost. He knows in the worst of concrete terms how badly he wants it back.

This is worse than the nightmare, he thinks. He continues to search.

Decades, centuries, millennia passed while he scoured those endless halls. He can only hope that he will not have to wait that long again.

But he will wait forever, if he must.