We lost. I gave up. There is no purpose to return. Warmth. To feel her warmth one last time...

Thirteen-twenty-two, May, probably June, I lost track of time. It could be December here in this ice cavern. I am weak, starving, nothing to eat since a week, nothing to light a fire with. It is only her.

I can't ask her to go down there. I don't ever want to go back there.

* * *

Soaking in our own sweat, tumbling through the horrid wrecks of what once was a forest before the chemicals leveled it. The launcher on the top of my pack is a terrible burden. We can't know when we would be assaulted.

Trenches, fire, grenades flying to explode in terrible shrapnel, I was always lucky. I saw people falling by my side. I saw death. Then I marched through it. Bodies, dissolving into the raw earth, mere obstacles to conquer as we pushed forth, no longer even registering the stench.

Then fate caught up with me.

We were flying above here, the Sky Mountains, to a bridgehead previously established in the back of Tumania. A large detour, unstable weather conditions, the command thought it being a safe route which the enemy wouldn't tackle in time. They were wrong.

A can of damn sardines beyond hope, that's a freighter under fire. I never knew whether our support was outgunned or wasn't. They hit us. The thing didn't fall apart on instant, but went up in flames. We hardly had time to jump.

I waited, counted the seconds until pulling the ripcord. I saw a canopy popping open below, just to be shredded to bits in a few moments. They knew no mercy. I dropped it, letting myself fall, into the white mass of a cloud. The ground could have been just below, but it wasn't.

Minutes passed as I hovered in the pure nothingness. At first I heard the engines, the distant pops of the aerial battle, then all went silent. I was alone since I can't remember how long in the drill. A sensation of eternal serenity, my mind shut off, it all didn't matter in the white cold.

* * *

My situation was bleak. I had my full gear, prepared for lasting guerrilla war, but it was the vastness of the Sky Mountains against me or anyone else who got down in one piece. Nobody lived here.

I decided to stay where I was, waiting for the weather to clear up, hoping to join with the other survivors then. There wasn't any other real option. Nobody prepared us for this. My military cell proved to be useless without a base, neither it saw anyone in range. The day passed, giving way to a long, silent night of torturing cold despite the thick clothing I had.

The Sun of next day rose for a dazzling sensation. White, pure searing whiteness! Gargantuan peaks behind my back, a sheer drop in the front a long way down, to meet an other jagged mountain's base! There was nobody to be seen even as I ascended to a vantage point to oversee the hillside I landed upon. I knew I could easily recognize the canopy of a parachute from any distance, yet there wasn't any!

I knew no direction. There was no map, and even if there was, it wouldn't be of any use. I wished we still had satellite positioning system, but that was about the first thing destroyed when the war broke out a decade ago.

The only thing I could rely upon was my common sense and my hardened muscles. A long trudge. Downhill, probably to reach some flowing water, which after many dozen long miles might arrive to one of the scarcely inhabited valleys wedged in this forsaken mass of mountains.

It was hard to conceive there was anything more difficult than traversing the remnants of jungles and barricaded cities. This place was. Snow ever gave way under the foot, like wading in tar, barely making any progress. I was little. There was no war here. There was silence. There was the looming mass and the puny little ant struggling to conquer it.

Then next day even the fog returned, making me losing direction again.

I camped, trying to make progress whenever weather allowed, racing with time and my dwindling food supply. I barely felt my toes and fingers and feared the frost would do them in. I warmed them at nightfall by a small gas burner supposed to serve for cooking, but it was running out of fuel quick. There was no wood to build a fire from. I rationed everything, yet they were depleting at a frightening rate.

Why had I to end up there?!

Fate. One day, one way or another, it reaches everyone. Everyone dies.

But why? Why it had to happen? Why we have to kill?

There was no answer. There was no sound. Only the whiteness. The silence.

* * *

I couldn't wake up any more. I laid in my sleeping bag, wrapped up in all the clothing I had, yet cold was biting in me, and my fingers were too numb to get a cup on the burner. It kept bouncing off, then rolled away to sink in the snow far beyond reach.

The blue sky. I looked up, laying on my back. The distance, space, where we came from, where we descended from to conquer new worlds, to spread civilization and humanity, our unique gift for we were alone! Beyond... Somewhere... Were ever a God watching us?

A shadow passed over. A great winged shape!

So that was it. I couldn't move any more. I couldn't reach for my gun. I lost my will to reach for that gun, to kill any more. Fate had came to me.

I heard the faint sounds of it aligning itself to land, then the smooth thuds as it touched down into the snow beyond my feet. The noises came closer, then the beast's form emerged.

A large Tibiala, nobody knew whether any remained, but it was there, its cream colors blending in the snow. A mild, simple minded, but carnivorous creature out in these bleak mountains, its hunger was to be my end. I looked up at it without any will to fight, hoping it would be fast.

It wasn't.

The gargantuan body came to loom over my miserable camp as it poked around with the snout and a forelimb, supporting itself on the other, before turning to my sleeping bag. I felt a warm puff from a nostril on my face, almost soothing despite the circumstances. Then probably it realized I was there, a living body.

I waited for it to happen, that it would rip me out like any beast, yet it didn't. It handled me with a tormenting slow pace, first grabbing on my head, pulling me off from my bag. The clawed forelimbs were nimble, almost like hands, and it managed to do this without scratching me, or at least in my state I couldn't feel it any more if it did.

Then, laying down on its chest, it progressed to remove my clothes, an astoundingly delicate feat both bewildering and terrifying. I had no idea what it was up to do with me then! I would have been frozen, but it kept hovering its head over me all the time, exhaling eerily pleasant warmth. Time crawled. It was all otherworldly frightening, perplexing and amazing. It didn't matter.

Finally I was wrapped naked in my sleeping bag, which it snuggled to its chest with an arm, I could see how it assisted with the other to walk, then to leap into the air!

I barely felt it. Maybe it used the arm as pivot to launch towards the valley. All of sudden, the ground, the dark objects of my haphazard camp scattered on the pristine snow fell long below! It was only a wind. There was no motion. A sensation of peaceful serenity, the domain of these beasts! The cold started to bite in my numb body hard.

Then, soaring high between cloud-engulfed gargantuan peaks, it raised me in front of its long snout, I saw both of the red eyes looking down on me, the horns over the imposing curled up neck. A strange sensation of sorrow in a majestic frame. The huge jaws opened.

I couldn't do anything. I barely contemplated over the events, why it didn't just do it as soon as it found me. It didn't matter any more however I related to whatever happened. Very soon my head was in that mouth, I felt the faint stench of the carnivore gut, life was a matter of mere moments.

Yet it neither bit me, neither crushed in any manner. The air was foul but breathable. I felt every inch of my body sliding in, the contrast of the cold outside and the warmth of the predator. I felt my fingers, I felt them pressing against the smooth, slimy surface of the gullet. Despite the odor, it was a relief to feel the mouth shut behind me, closing off the chill biting in my feet. The beast's mild swallows, the work of the musculature was like massaging for my tormented frostbitten body.

A canteen, or maybe a pub, or, hell, even a bawdy-house. A faint odor of vomit, some sludge, and gentle hands, so many nimble gentle hands! The thumps of the large heart above me like distant machinery, the engines of the Conquistador! Yes, that vessel, that horribly foul mess hall, still, it was all it had! It was astounding what could pass the zonked mind in there!

Soon I felt I came to rest what I believed was the beast's stomach, curled up, almost as if hanging in a hammock, a warm, sludgy, reeking hammock, the rhythmic thumps emerging from above my feet. I was surprised to still have any air there, but somehow it lasted, and apart from the stench, I didn't feel deprived. Somehow it all just felt eerily pleasant.

To silently cease to exist, to just dissolve into this beast soaring high. I felt peace. I started to think about it as her, as the muscles of her stomach massaged my body, I couldn't help. I saw too much war, too much death, I marched for the will of distant powers for months in sludge and tar, the darkness, the nothingness felt like the well deserved rest. Unbirth in an unholy womb, where all my sins and concerns cease to matter any more. I gently pushed in the walls, sort of returning the caress, thinking maybe she would feel, maybe not, it didn't matter any more.

Hanging in the void, a gentle warm pouch, the nihil. I didn't exist. I just ceased to exist from the world, my mind just lingering in the void, a last pleasant place before the fire of hell waiting in the abyss. It didn't matter.

* * *

I felt cold, something pressing against my body all the way, yet it wasn't the walls of the stomach, although the odor, a reek of saliva still lingered. Below myself I felt the texture of my sleeping bag, also realizing I was naked. Light seeped in on the edges, illuminating cream colored folds of smooth skin. The Tibiala! I hardly believed it wasn't a dream!

I pushed myself forth with some wiggling to see where I was. A large ice cavern, the smooth surfaces reflecting sunlight to illuminate the whole of it! She laid on her side, resting on her left elbow, the right arm somewhere on the wing under which I was tucked. The posture looked so familiar, almost like human despite her size and dragonlike features. Then I realized even my packback was there sitting in a recess of the cave wall.

It was a dream. I couldn't hope anyone finding me, yet she did, and saved me on her own way! It was something otherworldly, something which just couldn't happen, yet it did. I wished to thank her in some manner, yet all I could do was attempting to stroke her which I miserably failed to do proper, shivering. She pushed me towards my pack.

To my bewilderment, in a haphazard arrangement, a few things torn and broken, but just about everything was there, so I could quickly dress up in those wholly unpleasant steel-cold garments. I kept shivering, chafing my hands to warm up before assessing my situation further.

My remaining little food was all gone.

I felt the warmth of her breath. She pushed her snout to my face, then leaned back on her elbow, slightly opening her mouth, rasping. To my bewilderment, I understood as she clearly vocalized our language!

"Ungry. Eat sood. Ery ery ungry." She rubbed her stomach with her right hand, the area under the chest, above the lump of muscular base powering her wings which many mistake for a round belly not knowing the animal.

But I never knew they could speak. If that was true!... I left my packback returning to her side. "It's okay". I stroked her hand "It's okay". I knew it wasn't okay. It immediately dawned on me that if such a large flying beast can't find anything to eat here, then there was nothing to eat for many many dozen miles.

I observed her features. I recalled some of the old days, before the war.

The Tibiala was always endangered. I thought them amazing creatures, just as a lot of the young, but they were dangerous. I had never seen one for real before, as they were constrained to reserves hard to access to the public. Encounters were rare and expensive, and in many countries, outlawed due to the perceived danger. More so, as a global law, they were required to carry a sedating implant triggered by the global positioning system, so they would be tranquilized if they left their zone, to avoid them endangering aerial traffic, or so it was told.

The GPS went down as the war progressed. So did probably most of them, merely by the fundamental safety system of the implants. There was an uproar, it was all in the news for a few weeks, but overshadowed by the tolls and deaths of the war. When entire cities are bombed into oblivion by the enemy, nobody cares. We had to march on. Why?!

A few maybe cared. Probably a lot more, but only a few had the chance, the luck to be away from the mindless destruction. I heard about cases when Tibialas flew over war zones and were shot down. They had their implant removed.

She was also one of those. I found an oval shaped scar on her side, clearly artificial. My childhood dreams returned as I stroked her features. "It's okay." Despite her naturally somewhat plump shape, I knew she was starving. She looked skinnier than anything I ever saw, and it wasn't normal. Her folds of scaly skin were thick, however it wasn't by fat. All her loose flabs were light, merely consisting the airy foam they evolved for insulation.

"It's okay." She laid on her chest, allowing me to massage her neck. It was amazing to feel this creature, to be there with her. I couldn't imagine they could be like this, I still hardly believed that despite her hunger, she released me, to nip up that meager amount of canned food which I had, which she even had to chew or ram open somehow piece by piece. Peace. Serenity. It was all in her.

* * *

"Lead salley." She spoke to me, yet I failed to understand. "You ride. You lead salley." She even motioned with her hands, that I should ride her, but I didn't understand what she wanted. Where I was supposed to lead her?

I tried to talk with her, straining my feeble mind. "Where is salley?" "Salley, sorest! I know ai!" "You know where is it?" "I know ai!". Then why she doesn't fly there on her own? "Why you need me?"

"You unan! You tell unan I sriend! You tell unan I don't kill!"

The war. Damn them. I felt I understood. She somehow knew she could be shot down wherever she wanted to head. This was all at best neutral territory. If she brought me there, I would be saved, but for her, the chances were bleak. It had to be tried.

"Can you fly low?" "I can!" "Can you hide?" "I can!" So we started. At dusk she let me climb her shoulder, motioned me to lay flat, and we took off! The clouds, the jagged peaks under the waning light were wonderful! If it was possible to just fly, to keep flying not heeding the world!

However at the onset of night, she steered low to follow a path tight between cliffsides, a gigantic ravine with a stream washing its bottom, and finally, some foliage! She stopped before a turn of the valley, and I noticed a faint old road leading up by the side of the water. I stroked her, "Stay.", and she obeyed, folding up her wings laying in a recess of the rock wall. Her bright colors stroke out even under the cover of darkness, but I hoped nobody would come this way until I scouted whatever laid ahead.

A few turns of the road among the cliffs, maybe half a mile of walk, and it started to open up. From a vantage point I could see a village further down, but it didn't look normal even from the distance. Stalking closer to get a better view revealed a military force stationed there with a few trucks and a mobile anti-air missile station.

I could have just walked in. I could have just submitted myself to whatever force was there, to continue my trudge through life. But the chances to even see her any more were near nothing. I couldn't do it. I silently sneaked back.

"We go back." She understood. She didn't even ask, just letting me on her shoulder, and starting a tiresome flight upwards. She couldn't find any beneficial updraft for long, straining herself to rise with her own power, or maybe she was even afraid of raising high before getting far enough.

It felt like an eternity to reach the cave. I was cold. I didn't feel my fingers. I felt my stomach, my hunger chipping me away, and there was no way to remedy that. I only had some filters of tea, and the remaining fuel in my gas burner. But I was so dead I could only crawl to her, to curl up on my sleeping bag under her wing.

Next day I asked her if she knew any other location. She only told she was hungry. That she couldn't fly. I was myself hungry. I caressed her. I felt like she was all I had. Peace.

I brew myself some tea. She was excited by the smell, hovered over me curious. I couldn't deny it from her. I ceased to care that even this would run out in a very few days.

Next day she told about another valley, as I now understood. She told it was twice as far as the one we visited, and that she felt the winds were bad. She wouldn't be able to return in her state. We decided to wait, another day, hoping for favorable weather. It didn't came, only a dense fog.

"Ai unan kill? Ai unan kill all orld?"

I couldn't answer her. I didn't know why we kill. I knew the war, the cause, the Tumanian aggression, as they told. It wasn't like that in my childhood. Then there came a recession, and a so called revolution. A novel way of of democracy, serving our interests rather than theirs. The removal of their agents from power, cutting out the sick flesh from the body of the nation. I couldn't believe it all. We were people. They were people. And we were killing each other. We were destroying all the good we once made. And we fail to see.

Here was this creature, on the verge of extinction for our madness. All she wanted was peace. An we would destroy them even before we knew we weren't alone!

To cease to exist. I wished to just be with her, away from all that world we made and destroyed! I caressed her, stroked her neck, hoping to comfort her despite I knew she felt the same hunger like clawing my own belly, the same weakness numbing my own limbs, and probably even the same cold biting in her flesh without proper insulation.

* * *

"Will unan kill you too?"

I shivered under even her wing, unable to fathom whether hunger or the bitter cold was worse. I was past my last filter of tea, I was past my last puff of gas from the burner. It was over. Then she asked this. Puzzled, thinking about the village, I replied "No".

"You lead salley." She meant she would fly me to the village. "Why?", I asked. "You starse, you die. You lead salley. You lise." "But what about you then?" "I starse. I die alone."

Silence. She looked in front of herself, sad, hopeless. "Unan kill I. Unan kill all orld. I die."

I felt I couldn't let this happen. I couldn't just leave her dying up here. I stroked her hand. "I can't leave you. I stay. It's okay."

My mind struggled to devise a solution, anything. There was nothing to do. We were doomed. I could have saved myself, but I wouldn't have been able to live with that burden in a world where probably all the Tibiala were destroyed without us ever knowing. She was more than a friend. She was everything I had, with the world below seeming so distant.

I didn't want to live in that world. I was tired of being pushed around, to kill for degenerate commander's degenerate commands. I wanted to go home, which was all aint any more! They were bloody killed! Some moron bombed them for some dickhead's wretched order! It was all over. There was nowhere to go. There was nowhere... Expect here. She was all I had.

"It's okay."

* * *

I think I am hallucinating. I am talking.

I am talking to her. I am talking about my home, my parents.

Her skin is so smooth. I feel her warmth on my fingers. It is good. She understands me. She watches with those big red eyes of her. I remember her warmth. The serenity, the solitude in the darkness.

* * *

Shivering. It is cold.

She embraces me by her wings, her warm breath. My fingers are numb. I wrote, but I can hardly do it any more. I don't know if she tried to fly since a while. Cold might have killed me if she left me alone. Hunger is coming. I have nightmares.

I caress her. I wish to be one with her.

"It's okay."

* * *

Thirteen-twenty-two, probably June. I lost track of time.

It is over. It is over for both of us. I don't feel my toes an more, only hunger. She is gentle with me, yet I see she is in pain, starving.

Warmth. Serenity. Nothingness. I want to be one with her before we pass away, the only being who I had.

If you find this cave, please remember her. Please remember we met an intelligent race, one who just wished peace. We weren't worthy.


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