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Traveller Returning

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It’s cold. Bitterly cold. Colder than the very highest altitude he’s ever achieved, where the atmosphere is so thin that his engines strain with the effort of keeping his frame airborne. (That stings his pride, a little. He does pride himself as lord of the skies. Or he did, once. Before he set out on this slippery path and everything else melted into wisps of inconsequentiality.)

Ice has started accreting under exposed wing flaps and frost creeps in the edges of his optics despite his best precautions. He scrapes impatiently at the obscuring crystals from his optics. After all he has sacrificed in the search, such minor inconveniences grate unreasonably at his nerves. He has given up so much. He is already so close. He cannot miss what he is searching for because of blurred vision!

At least he can ignore his frozen wings. No matter how uncomfortably stray crystals jab into the substructure, he doesn’t need to worry about the damage inflicted. Flight is useless here. The cold has already choked his engines to death. He has been forced to land and complete the journey in root-mode.

(He gives himself a fraction of a klik to mourn his stolen flight. He will never climb the skies again, he knows. He has determined to give up everything he has while he seeks, and he does not regret, but some losses still cut deeper than others.)

Ice crunches under his pedes.

The freezing cold distracts him from mourning any longer.  Familiar hunger in his spark roars in answering emptiness. He’s scoured hollow between the two, a walking shell. All the better to be filled. He hungers for the answer.

(He will find the One he searches for. He has prepared well. His brother bought the map, his lover bought the secret name, his own head bought the knock. He will not fail.)

When he first approached the Gate, the cold was like a thief. Stealing a little warmth here, stealing a little speed there. Now, it lies upon him as oppressive as a tyrant and stabs straight into his core. It crushes his ventilations like a vice. He has to devote extra processing power to sustain basic functions. He holds his irritation at the back of his mind, one lone ember to guard against the cold hungry dark.

In-vent, ex-vent. He pauses for as long as he dares. Fighting against the cold is tiring, and he needs to pace himself if he wants to reach the Gate. He has no wish to collapse in a frozen, deactivated heap when he is so Pit-damned close. He has no wish to be a failure.

(He’s given up so much, too much. He’s scraped himself clean of everything as an offering. He must complete the search, open the Gate, find the answer-)

Only until his HUD starts blatting annoyed warnings does he give in to another cycle of ventilations. In-vent, ex-vent. The repetition is numbing as the chill, but it keeps his processor sharp. Sharp and hungry like the void-wind swirling past, like the waters where he pinned that minibot down until the struggles stopped and the drenched corpse could be swallowed smooth and slick and the hunger flared all the fiercer like the sharp void-wind now-

In-vent, ex-vent.

He checks his fuel gauge. He has enough. Enough to forge on ahead to go further north, to reach the Gate, to demand the answer he is ravenous for. Ambient light retreats and shrinks into scintillant spots, dancing maddeningly in the distance. The needle on his fuel gauge drops rapidly, he is burning himself up. The Gate is near, he knows, his spark is howling in triumph and trepidation and soon he will know.

Ribs of ice curve in above him, picked clean by the wind and cutting off the final glimpse he has of the sky. He does not mourn this time, because he is so close. The vast, ancient expanse of the Gate rears up before him in welcome. Dark and heavy, just like the last look that Skywarp gave him before he was betrayed and fed to the hunger. Sweet as the spark was between his teeth. Strong as victory, as triumph.

(He still remembers triumph, when his appetites had driven him to disarm and disjoint his beloved leader. He had held and hissed in his once-commander’s audial like lovers they never were. A reckoning will not be postponed indefinitely.

And oh, what a crimson feast there was.)

The wind is his one remaining brother and friend. (All others are in his belly.) The wind still loves him as he once loved it. It batters against him in one last attempt to back him recant, to turn back. It catches against his dead wings and pulls him away from his destination. His wings are no longer functional, frozen and fanned out by his sides. No sensor input feeds into his processor from them, and they do not respond to any command he tries to issue.

He has given up his name, his memory, his home, his companions. He knows what is required of him still.

It is the easiest thing in the world to reach back and snap them off, one at a time. He knows that fuel-loss is not a problem – his wounds will freeze solid. The wings obediently break like teeth.

He stumble-runs the last bit of distance. He cannot bear one moment of delay, not when he is finally here. The nervous fever of anticipation burns brighter than the frost and hunger.

The gusts that creep from the cracks in the Gate are strange to him. They whip about his audials and bear ice-sparks coalescing into words, words that taste old-blue and cold. These are the words that he heard that night he dreamt of the deep darkness and the drowning and the start of the journey. He cannot wait, he is already here, he must knock and the Gate must open-

He does not notice how his fist shakes as he knocks on the Gate. Neither does he notice how the void behind the Gate will eat his weak frame whole. He doesn’t even see the blazing thrones of distant stars or the dragons that roam and devour.

He only sees the One he has dreamt of behind the ice, who has been calling to him in words of frost and old stars. How the large silhouette with pale blue optics smile at him in gentle hunger.

He has eaten for so long, now he will finally be eaten.

He smiles back.