Tundra

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There was absolutely nothing to look at but rocks, snow, ice, and broad swathe of trees. The island was bare of all life too from the looks of things, with nary a track or a path in sight. The whole place looked to be pretty small too, and probably took at most three hours at most to hike around following the frigid coastline. What little life survived on the frozen speck of land hardly looked to be worth the namesake, with just moss and a scant few bushes near the water’s edge. The desolate look was completed with a sole wreck, which was strewn along nearly a third of the island’s coast in various states of ruin. No bodies accompanied the wreck, but it was clearly fresh due to the lack of mold and weathering on the white-painted plane. All in all, the place was not one to be stranded, and yet Kesse was marooned there thanks to yet another stroke of bad luck.

The rhino had never had good luck, not once in his life. His father had abandoned him right after birth, but not before giving him a name that meant ‘fat’ in his native tongue. His mother had never forgiven Kesse for all that, and as such his childhood had been one worthy of a book; a very depressing book at that. School had been no better, as being named ‘fat’ around a bunch of cubs is hardly a way to make friends. To make matters worse, Kesse’s genes were unkind to him, and had given him the body to match his name. That meant the poor, fatherless cub was taunted endlessly all the way through to college, where he had hoped there would be some reprieve. It didn’t come though, and instead he was forced to struggle through five grueling years of studies before being freed out into the world with tens of thousands in debt and a degree which he could barely use. He had even gained weight too thanks to the sudden freedom in his diet, and the long nights of eating, studying, and drinking. No breaks seemed to come to the rhino, and that had discouraged him to nearly the point of being a complete shut-in. Bills needed to get paid though, and he finally got himself employed by a reputable travel agency after nearly a year of searching for a job.

The trip over the island, and ultimately to his destination in the Arctic Circle, had been his first job with the company. It had been cold, miserable, but well-worth the money which he had been paid to go. If he were a thinner rhino, Kesse doubted he would have survived the even-colder weather at all; three coats did little against winds which were nearly thirty miles-per-hours combined with temperatures far below zero. He had made it though, and was writing up his review of the ice hotel which he had been sent to check out when the plane went down. It was something about engine trouble, or whatever; Kesse couldn’t remember the specifics. He just knew that one minute he had been clicking away on his computer, and the next he was in the water with the pilot nowhere to be found. The rhino assumed the badger hadn’t made it through the crash alive, and planned to make a small grave for him later. Much later in fact, as Kesse had far more pressing concerns on his mind.

Kesse was in trouble.

First and foremost for the heavy-set rhinoceros was a shelter. His clothing had been soaked through and though in the crash, and it clung to his shivering frame like Death’s icy embrace. The freezing temperatures along with the salty, wet ocean air were not helping things dry any faster either.  Kesse knew stripping down out of his wet clothes was the best idea for him, but he was even more worried about the air on his bare hide. He had only just hauled himself onto shore as well, the plane going down less than three minutes prior, and was barely on his feet by the time shelter had entered his mind. He hadn’t even taken in his surroundings yet, but he did know that getting off the shore and getting into at least some cover would help increase his chances for survival; all that time watching nature shows was paying off. Kesse wasn’t going to leave the beach empty-pawed either, and grabbed the closest two bags that he could before he began to shakily trudge over the slick rocks towards the tree-line.

Given that the island was small, it was less than two minutes before the shaking mammal had reached the trees. Aside from a couple injuries which seemed minor; some blood on his ear and cheek as well as a chipped horn and some bruises, Kesse had made it out relatively unscathed thanks to his tough hide. Hypothermia was beginning to set in for Kesse however, as he was losing feeling in his extremities at a rapid pace. The rhino wanted nothing to become frost-bitten, so as soon as he entered the relative safety of the forest and found a spot not covered in snow, he set down his bags and immediately began stripping. He tore off his clothing like he was about to jump into bed with a model, shutting his eyes and letting that mental image warm what little of his body he could still feel. The fantasy was fleeting though, as the stabbing pain of the cold immediately wracked his body as his bare hide became exposed to the elements. The rhino howled in pain as he felt that, but didn’t stop stripping until he was fully nude was he knew how he took care of himself for the next several minutes would be life or death. That in mind, he just left his eyes shut for a moment, undressed that model in his mind just to give himself a spur of both bliss and warmth, and then went on to the next step of getting himself out of immediate danger.

Kesse had been smart when he packed, using water-tight bags to store his clothing just in case the plane hadn’t been sealed properly or the ice hotel leaked. This was paying off for him now, as unzipping the first bag he had brought revealed two changes of completely dry clothing, which would be more than enough to keep him warm. He upturned the bag without hesitation, dumping the clothing right onto the dry, cold ground and immediately began rummaging through it for his long underwear. Finding the woolen clothes, he all but jumped into them while tucking his tail inside them, followed by ski pants, then two pairs of thick woolen socks. With his legs covered, he pulled a thick long-sleeved t-shirt from the pile and tossed it over his head with blazing quickness. A large sweatshirt came moments after, and then a coat tossed on over that. Mittens were put on right after as they were all that could fit on his meaty paws. The pile small enough to easily manage at that point, and a hat was the final piece of the clothing puzzle to go over the rhino’s pointed ears. Kesse was still shivering violently, but he was dry and in clothing which was warm enough to help him stay alive. All of the effort, and shaking, was taking a toll on the beast, but he knew that sleeping now could be the end of him, so he soldiered on and just let his panting, raspy breaths in and out as fast as he could.

In order to keep moving, and to keep blood flowing throughout his body, Kesse bent down to put the remaining clothes back into the bag which they had come from, or tried to. The rhino had forgotten his build for a moment, and barely even made it halfway down before his ponderous middle got in the way. Grunting with annoyance, the beast just lowered himself down into a crouching position and tossed the dry clothes haphazardly back into the bag. He was still shivering viciously as well as he did this, for he hadn’t had time to even begin to warm up. This made the task of stuffing the clothes into the bag a little more difficult than it had to be, but Kesse managed and finished up fast enough. He left his wet clothes out of the bag, as he knew that it would be incredibly dumb to mix the wet items with the dry ones. Instead, the rhino just spread out the clothing over the top of the bag so that it could begin to drip-dry, and he would be able to take it with him. Kesse did that quickly too, keeping moving for as long as he could.

Once he finished getting his clothing sorted, he turned his attention to the other bag he had grabbed. The rhino hadn’t looked at the bags which he had grabbed, instead just taking what was near him and getting it. The beast had been lucky enough to get just the bag of clothing, and fully expected to not get anything out of the other bag he had grabbed. As he looked at it and pulled at the zipper though, his heart rose and a broad smile painted itself across his freezing face. The survival bag was his other prize, and it was immediately going to get put to use. Kesse pulled the zippers all the way open, and tossed back the flap to check the contents. Not a thing was wet, and among those things was a flare gun, med pack, several days of food, and various other items which the rhino would need to survive. These all greeted Kesse as he looked into the bag. His smile just broadened further, and for the first time in several minutes, he managed to take a breath that wasn’t shaking or panicked. Kesse was hardly sure if he was going to be ok, but he did at least know that he would make it for a little while longer.

Kesse wasn’t going to fully take inventory at that time, and instead just pulled out a sole bar of food to eat as well as the matches, then zipped the bag shut again. He then put it with the other bag on the ground, leaning against a tree near him to try and take a moment to calm his nerves as he stuffed the food and matches into his pockets. The rhino was shaking slightly less now, and feeling was beginning to return to his paws as he rubbed them together and breathed into them through his mittens. His ears and feet were still painfully numb, but the pain was ebbing into just cold on both so he knew the worst was over. Kesse still feared he would lose a finger or two, or maybe a few toes to frostbite, but that would have to leave his mind if he wanted to remain at all positive and survive. The rhino sighed again and forced the thoughts from his mind with the image of the model again, shutting his eyes and taking a few more moments to collect himself. The tree wasn’t going anywhere, he was dry, matches and food were in his pockets, and he was alive. That had to be enough for him to make it, it would just have to be because there was going to be nothing else for him.

Straightening up after that little pep talk and the bit of warmth which came from arousing mental imagery, Kesse looked at the two bags which he had and sighed. He didn’t want to lug any more weight around than he had to, but he needed those heavy bags to come with him so that he would have supplies. That would have to be all the supplies he had for a time too, as heading back towards the beach when he was unsure of the time was hardly a good plan. Granted, the night would only last a few hours since it was summer above the Arctic Circle, but those few hours would be enough to kill with the temperature falling as much as it would combined with icy winds. Kesse had no plans to try and guess what time of day it was either, so he instead planned to get a fire and shelter going as fast as he could and just wait until the approaching ‘night’ passed him by. He would then go back and get the remaining supplies so that he could start working on getting himself a more suitable shelter set up, and possibly a chance at getting rescued. That had to be his plan; rescue, as nothing else would do for the rhino.

The rhino slung both bags over his broad shoulders and began walking deeper into the forest. He wasn’t sure of where he was going, and he was even less sure of what he would do once he got to where he was going. A cave would be his best bet, but he doubted one would be on the island. A fallen tree was a close second, and a dry clearing would come in last. Kesse looked around as he walked, drinking in whatever he saw and rating his chances for making it in his head. His survival skills were being pushed to their limit just by his walking around; all those nature shows could only teach so much. This meant that Kesse wasn’t entirely sure of what he was looking for, but he would know it when he saw it; if he saw it. His eyes were peeled regardless though, and he was hoping to catch sight of a trail, a cave, or just something at all. Trees and more trees greeted him though, and with nothing but bark and pine needles for as far as his eyes could see, the rhino was starting to lose hope as he trudged on.

This went on for a while, with very little sense of direction but an increasing sense of urgency. It didn’t take long for that lack of direction and the heightened urgency, as well as the cold, to catch up with the rhino. Kesse was beginning to give up, his steps slowing and his breath coming in shorter, raspier draws. Fatigue was catching up with him in a big way, and if the rhino wasn’t in some sort of shelter soon, he knew that he would be done for. He only had so much left in him, and his resolve was waning. Pacing himself in finding a shelter and in getting himself out of the wet clothing when he arrived on the island hadn’t crossed his mind, and thusly they were coming back to bite him. Kesse had a good run though, and as thoughts of his demise began to fill his brain, what lingering thoughts of what he would do if he made it were leaving his mind. There was little fear in his mind though as that feeling of impending doom set in; Kesse wasn’t necessarily ready to die, but he knew that he was going to have it happen and felt that being unprepared wouldn’t do him any favors. Defeatism was setting in, and it would have stayed that way had he not tripped and fell flat on his face right at that moment.

Kesse grunted loudly as he landed, rolling over onto his side and rubbing at his horned muzzle with his left paw. Surprise and a little bit of annoyance washed over him as he looked at the cause of his tumble and uttered a few choice words at it. A small root, just barely protruding from the brown surface of the forest floor, had sent the pre-occupied beast tumbling down. Giving it one good kick in retaliation for falling, Kesse then rolled back onto his stomach, and immediately winced in pain as he could feel the bruises coating its surface. Once his thick middle was on the ground again, he pushed up and slowly slid his legs back under him. Working his way back to standing, the rhino took that moment to drink in his surroundings, just observing as he slowly stood back up. This proved to be beneficial too, as right before he was fully erect again he spotted something just beyond where he was, hidden conveniently behind his line of sight by large tree. It was the mouth of a cave, sticking just barely above the ground and covered in moss. What was better yet, there appeared to be no tracks of any kind leading up to the cavern, meaning it was more likely than not uninhabited.

Kesse was saved.

The rhino was elated, and had to nearly force himself not to run over to the cave and begin exploring. He instead took his time making his way over, his eyes looking more towards the ground just in case another root decided that he needed to fall again. None did though, and in short order Kesse was standing in front of the cave with his bags, looking ready to move in. He did just that too, stepping inside with nearly no hesitation and setting his bags down right at the mouth of the cavity. He took a few steps into the dark, murky cavern before realizing that light would be needed to explore further. This brought him back outside, and also started a quick hunt for burnable materials. Not much was around to be found for burning, but there would have to be enough as there was not going to be another cave, and Kesse was impatient to get inside. He grabbed what he could grab, getting his paws on pine needles and somewhat dry twigs quickly. A few leaves here and there were ripe for the taking, and the rhino grabbed those as well.

Once he had gathered enough kindling to fill both his arms, he went back to his bags and took a couple steps past them. Kesse then set down the bundle of tinder he had in a small dip in the cave’ floor and began arranging it into a ball so that he could light it. His shaking paws did their best, the cold still nipping at him and making fine motor control a near impossibility. The rhino managed though, and after a minute or so of fiddling with his kindling he had a decent enough shape. All that was left was to light it, but as Kesse reached for his matches he thought about it and changed his mind. If the fire took off, which he suspected it would given how dry some of his kindling was, there would be nothing for it to burn but itself. This meant it would go out before he had time to come back with other things to add into it, and thusly make all his efforts for naught. The rhino didn’t want that and decided to hold off on lighting the fire so that he could find both some logs and some thicker twigs to use. There wasn’t going to be much to find still, but something would be better than nothing, and Kesse had to keep up hope now that he had found himself a shelter.

**********

It had taken almost twenty minutes to find enough wood to satisfy the rhino, but he did it and was hauling his find back to the cave. Kesse had been cautious the entire time, as he was worried about finding animals; there were several tracks everywhere he looked. No animals to be found though, and he had fortunately stumbled across a fallen tree in an area where the canopy was so thick around where he was at, the tree was relatively dry. This meant that it could be used, and a sole trip back to fetch his knife later, Kesse was hacking that tree up to be used. He had gotten as much as he could carry, and intended on making another trip once he had the fire going good enough for him. That was in the future though, and Kesse had no plans to think that far ahead just yet. He had to get back so that he could get the fire going and start to warm up. He had begun to get cold in spite of all his physical labor, as being out of the direct sun and in the wind beneath the trees was taking a toll on his body temperature. The rhino didn’t want to freeze to death in the forest after finding shelter and clean clothes. So he just kept trudging along, his eyes trained on the mouth of the cavern just a few short yards away.

Once inside, Kesse set down his logs and re-examined his pile of kindling in the impromptu fire pit. It had barely moved as there was little wind coming from deeper within the cave. Kesse barely cared about that though; he was just glad to not have to look for more kindling or rearrange what he already had. The rhino put his logs down beside his bags, having brought them into the cave a little further to get out of the elements. He then sat gingerly beside his things and began to arrange the logs around the kindling. Making what looked to be a teepee, Kesse carefully set up his fire as best as his shivering, clumsy paws could manage. He had in intention of making a mistake and having to start again, so taking his time was all he could do. This meant taking each bigger twig he had found and placing them one by one around the teepee to add even more places for the smaller fire to get bigger, as well as making sure the hole which he would light it and let air in was perfectly sized.

The rhino’s masterpiece took a solid few minutes to create, but once he was done it looked like a fire made by a trooper rather than a travel agent stranded on an island. Pleased with his work, the rhino reached for his matches in his pocket and carefully pulled out the container they were in. The matches were made to strike on anything, even wet rock, so Kesse was hardly worried about the long, thick fire-starters. He was more worried about his shaking hand and the faint breeze which he could feel every so often along what tiny bits of his hide were exposed to the cold. He had a limited number of matches, and once they were gone, he was done for. That in mind, he removed his mitten first before taking a single match out with a slightly-shaking paw. It was a true effort not to just light the match and get started, but Kesse knew that would be a bad idea. Instead, he just moved his paw down towards the fire and struck the match as close as he could to the tent he had made of wood. Sparks jumped from the match, setting it ablaze almost immediately as Kesse tried hid hardest to keep it steady once that happened. The fire waned for a moment after being lit, then steadied and slowly started to work its way down the match. Kesse watched that all, barely daring to even take a breath as he looked on in anticipation.

Slowly, carefully, the rhino slid his paw towards the wood he would need to burn. Inch by inch he got closer, and once he was where he needed to be he angled his arm in and slid the match up to the kindling. There he held it for just a moment until the leaf caught before moving onto another leaf. The next one lit up just as quickly, and Kesse moved onto the final one before lightly flicking his wrist and tossing the match into the ball of pine needles, twigs, and leaves. He then pulled his paw back and slid his mitten right back on so as not to let his fingers get too cold. Once that was done, the rhino leaned down and rested right on his stomach, groaning slightly as it was heavily bruised. Shaking it off, he moved his thick muzzle towards the base of the fire and gave a few light huffs into the fire so that he could help it grow larger. Those helped, and the smoldering leaves lit the pine needles up, which began to burn hot and slow thanks to their sheer numbers. Kesse didn’t sit back up just yet though, and continued to lightly blow into the fire to make sure it was going well. This was in spite of the increasing discomfort he was feeling from his bruises; the rhino was toughing that out to make sure he had warmth.

A twig went ablaze after a few minutes of smoldering and light flames, and that was when the rhino could sit back up and just look at his handiwork. He had a change to breathe finally, and that was all that he needed in order to calm down and begin to finally relax. Granted, that word was incredibly relative as one doesn’t relax when they are stranded on an island, but Kesse needed a break from being constantly in a state of near-panic. He took it too, leaning back lightly and letting his whole frame settle and relax. The fire was beginning to grow and left the rhino with little he could do on that front. It wasn’t burning hot enough to make a torch yet either, so the rhino was left in a holding pattern which gave him a change to have a break. Kesse didn’t dare shut his eyes as he sat though for fear of falling asleep. He was warming up slowly from the fire and being in warm clothing, and had all but stopped shivering. There was still cold all around him though, and that coupled with his injuries and how much physical labor his vastly out-of-shape frame had been put through it was a surprise he hadn’t passed out yet. Adrenaline was a powerful drug though, and it had kept him going this far.

Kesse decided to take inventory of what he had as the fire worked its way up into being a real fire. He saw no point in watching over the thing, there was no wind, and movement would shake the last bits of frigidity from his body. The rhino had to haul himself to his feet in order to go get the two items of luggage, which he loathed doing in his fatigued state. He did it though with a loud grunt and a crack or two from his tired joints, and took the few steps over to his bags. He grabbed one in each paw, barely lifting them off the ground and instead choosing to mostly drag both of them over towards the fire so that he could be seated again as fast as possible. The bags rustled along the ground, and while Kesse was careful enough not to stir much wind with them, he could still see the fire move in a way he didn’t like. This made the rhino be far more careful, and as he gingerly sat once he had finished positioning the bags, he could see the fire settling and beginning to get to a point where it could potentially handle a log.

From his seated position, Kesse tossed one log onto the burning bushel of twigs and leaves, the convenient pit held the small fire as it collapsed in on itself and smoldered for a moment. Kesse went wide-eyed as this happened, panicking for a moment that his clumsy, oversized paws had put out his source of warmth. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief though as that was far from the truth; the fire was still going strong, just not burning as big or bright as the rhino was comfortable with. He had thankfully positioned himself so as to get little smoke on himself, and thusly could breathe as the log he has tossed on started smoking nearly immediately. It was only a matter of time once that caught fire, but Kesse wasn’t going to sit and watch his handiwork; he needed to take inventory. That on his mind, he tossed another smaller log onto the fire carefully, then turned towards the bag of supplies which he had barely even looked at. In doing so, he felt the food in his pocket, and his stomach responded with an angry growl. It looked like he was going to have to eat too while he did his inventory…

**********

Kesse barely managed to sleep that night; the fear of both predators, in spite of seeing none, and the cold kept him awake or at least too nervous to get any restful sleep even when he closed his eyes. He had put on another layer of clean clothing over his current one, and even found a safety blanket in the bag of survival gear. He was set, but he was still afraid that it would be forever until he was found. The island was too remote, the plane too damaged, and his own survival skills were lacking at best. There would be nothing for him to eat in a few weeks too unless he stuck to strict rationing, and even then that would stretch the food to a month at most. That aspect of taking inventory had been grim, but everything else had been positive. That was what Kesse needed to do too and he knew it; stay positive. He had medical supplies, enough warm gear to make it for a while more, even if it was mostly a few sizes too small for his heavyset frame. Still, he would take stinking in old clothes over freezing to death any day, so that was his solace.

Sitting up once the morning sun had pierced the trees only just, the rhino squinted out into the forest around him for a moment. He then looked down at his fire and sighed a large sigh of relief; it was still smoldering. He looked around for a moment to try and shake the fatigue from his mind, and then reached for the small lump of excess kindling which he had gathered the previous day. Clumsily tossing that onto the fire, he blew a few times and then beamed as it caught without much effort. From there, it was just a bit of waiting and then a log, and the rhino would have fire yet again. This was not to say that there weren’t other dangers, but he was looking at the small stuff; a fire was a good thing. He would have to keep it going, but for the time being he just waited and sat while he looked over the small plethora of food in front of him for what meager morsel he could have for breakfast.

Deciding on half of an energy bar as he was feeling less hungry than he should, the rhino unwrapped it carefully and broke it as best he could. Inevitably he chose the larger half, and popped the whole thing into his mouth without a second thought. A few chews, a swallow, and the beast was onto looking for what to do next with himself. He didn’t want to watch the fire the entire day, and he had found a flashlight in the pack during inventory. Exploring the cave seemed like the logical thing to do, but that would be quite unnerving for there could be any number of things waiting for him. Bats, bears, mountain lions… The rhino was no anthropologist, but he did know enough about the north to know most things there wanted to kill him. That alone made him worried about the cave, but even more of him wanted to make sure that he could claim this cave and make it there, lest rescue not come for a time.

Thinking of rescue, he knew he needed to do something on the beach first to get rescued. A sign, something, anything there that would get the attention of a passing plane or helicopter. It was all that the rhino had not to race off and do that immediately, but now that he was fully awake he could see the very light snow falling through the trees and onto the forest floor. He didn’t want to go out in that, for it could change in an instant and he would never find his cave again. It would also make him leave the warmth of his fire, and that was something the beast was reveling in at the moment as he tossed a log on and blew on it for a few moments to try and get it to catch.

Waiting for the log to catch gave Kesse time to think, and while he thought he decided on exploring. There was less to be lost than gained, and there was a chance of fresh water in there. That alone was enough for the thirsty rhino, as he looked at the few bottles his scrounging had found and winced. He knew he needed to ration them out as well, but it was hardly something he was looking forward to doing; water was his best friend in most cases. There was snow, sure, but that was effort the rhino hoped he could spare himself. Exploring the cave was effort of its own too, but at least he was quick effort and accomplished a lot. That made up his mind, and once the fire was going Kesse grabbed one water bottle and the flash light, as well as the longest stick that he could find, and turned to face the blackness that was looming behind him.

The light clicked on his meaty paw, and immediately Kesse sighed with relief. Nothing came screaming out at him, but the cave looked to go on for a long while. It looked new, for some reason too; the walls had a certain pattern to them that looked as though they had been formed recently. The rhino wasn’t sure why that was, as he had slept through that part of the show he had been watching on caves, but he did know something was strange about where he was. Since he didn’t know how to place it though, and the fact that the cave was offering him shelter, the rhino decided to press on and leave the safety of the mouth of the cavern once it had been established that nothing in his immediate vicinity was going to eat him.

Taking careful steps along the slick ground below him, the rhino gingerly trudged deeper and deeper into the cavern. It seemed to go on for ages, and just got bigger as it went. Kesse had to wonder just where it went and how big it was, but at the same time he was starting to see less and less of what made a cave a cave. Fewer stalactites and stalagmites, less moss, less ice, and mostly just odd lines along the sides of the walls. He saw what looked to be tufts of fur in those lines as well, but didn’t waste any time investigating; curiosity wouldn’t get the better of him in every respect. He wasn’t sure what he was looking at, but the more he studied it the more apprehensive he became. It almost looked constructed, and if that was the case, then the rhino was saved. Why a facility would be out on the frozen tundra was beyond him, but a small part of him hoped. It did help his moral too, for without a way to tell time, it felt as though Kesse had been walking for ages. A part of him wanted to turn back, to check on his fire and to maybe grab another small bite to eat, but more of him was curious and wanted to see where the cave went. That part of him won out, and he pushed on after a very brief internal debate.

Going on and on, Kesse was just about to turn back when he saw something change again about the cave. The flashlight was losing its effectiveness; the whole cavern was starting to have light in it. Either it went straight through the hill where it was, or something else was going on entirely, but either way that redoubled Kesse’s spirits and made him move forward just a bit faster. He was exhausted, his body nowhere near used to what he was demanding of it, but he just moved anyways in hopes that he had found either civilization or another place for him to call his temporary home. Whichever reality it was, he wanted to know and he wanted to be done with his exploring so that he could get back to his warm food and blanket.

Kesse stopped short as soon as he came to where the light was coming from, his eyes going wide as he shook both his arms wildly to try and maintain his balance. This set his entire frame wobbling, his stomach peeking out from under the large jacket adorning it and his legs rubbing heavily against one another. The rhino couldn’t help but inwardly groan at his body’s reaction to sudden movement, but that wasn’t all that he was focusing on at that moment. Where the light was coming from was below him, and a ways below him if looks were to be believed. How he was going to get down there was beyond him, but as he looked around the great room of sorts where the light was, he had to wonder how it got there. It was a giant dome, obviously made by something unnatural, and gave Kesse the chills just standing in it. Curiosity was eating him alive though, and so despite every fiber of his being telling him it was a bad idea, the rhino began to look at the sides of the cavern for a way down.

In spite of his size, the rhino saw what looked to be handholds on the side of the wall. He put his flashlight into his mouth carefully, reaching a shaking, slightly-jiggling arm out for the place to rest his paw. It was just a bit off the edge where he was standing, and a quick glance down told him to be careful where he placed his paw. Not even thinking about how much of his adipose would be touching the wall, Kesse placed his paw onto the hold and tested its firmness. Satisfied, he leaned out and placed his foot into the hold below. He still had one paw on the wall where he was, and his foot was on the ledge below.

It wasn’t enough.

**********

Kesse sat bolt upright in what he could only describe as a bed of sorts, hollering at the top of his lungs and looking around wildly as he flailed in as panic. The last thing in his mind was falling, and now here he was in some place he didn’t recognize. He was alone, and a very faint pink light illuminated the whole room which he was in. The bed which he was in looked to be the only piece of furniture in the room, and as he settled down and realized he was indeed alive, the rhino began to try and take in his surroundings. How he was alive he had no idea, where he was he had no idea, but he was warm and safe for the moment, so he just took what solace he could in that; he needed his positivity more than ever at that moment.

Slumping down a bit and placing both his paws on his stomach, the rhino let out a light grunt as he felt his tawny flesh, and not the parka he had been in. A quick glance down revealed he was utterly nude, and with no clothes in sight he had to turn a little red with embarrassment. He looked around the room again for any sign of anything aside from the slab on which he was sitting, and found nothing. Groaning a little at that, he moved his legs off to the side of the sort-of bed and just let them hang there for a moment. He took stock of his own body once he was seated like that, swinging his legs and arms one at a time to make sure everything moved alright. He felt his face to check for any cuts or stitches, and found nothing there either, a bit concerning to him considering just how far he had fallen. The room was also a concern, but how Kesse was alive was far more of a thing to the rhino right at that moment.

Deciding he was good enough to at least lumber along, Kesse slid himself off the bed with a grunt and situated himself on his feet. Moving around a few wobbly steps, he had to use the bed for support as he did his best to try and stay upright. His balance felt off, but a few shakes of his head and he was a bit better. Not trusting himself to fully move away from the slab just yet, the rhino took another, closer look around the room. The construction was very odd, with what looked like ribs making up the walls and a central, gentle pink light directly above. The light looked to pulse in some way, and the ribs almost looked as though they had fluid flowing through them. Nothing was on the walls, there were no windows, and the floor was a pure black tile of some sort. Kesse had no idea what to make of it, as it looked alien or like a set of some kind, but the rhino was trying to not think about all the things it could be. He had more pressing concerns, and once he was steady enough to venture on, he went off to alleviate them.

Arriving at what looked to be a door, Kesse reached out to open it only for it to open all on its own. This took the rhino aback slightly, but he had been shopping more than enough to know an automatic door was nothing magic. Stepping right through, he made it into a hallway, and from there he just looked left and right to see what he could see. Neither direction looked very descript, both looking to curve around in a large circle. There were no sounds in the hall aside from a very faint hum, and both the lighting and the decor was the same as it had been in the room he had woken up in. Simply sighing to himself, Kesse mentally flipped a coin and began to cautiously lumber off to the left thanks to the outcome of that toss.

He saw what looked to be other rooms, but he didn’t venture into any of them. He wasn’t sure of what he would find on the other side of them, and most of his mind didn’t think it could handle what he saw if he did. His imagination was running wild with just what could have saved him, and for that matter designed a space that was so alien in nature. Aliens surely didn’t exist, or at least his mind told him as such. This had to be some sort of prank, the fall some dream, or something like that. It felt too real though, too much like something that could have happened… So much so that Kesse was assured that reality was really making him wander the halls of wherever he was that when he stubbed his toe on one of the outcroppings, it really hurt.

The thuds of him hopping around in pain must have been heard by the others in the area, for immediately three doors shot open. Kesse froze, looking around in a panic as he heard that whoosh and waited for whatever was on the other side of said doors to come out and look at him. Most all of him was afraid, but there was that part of him that was curious; that part which had put him there in the first place. He wanted to know what was there, but the cost of it seemed too high. Of course, had he truly known the cost, he may have been more inclined to go forth and seek out his rescuers, but at that time he had no idea. Thusly, his ignorance kept him standing as still as a paunchy, jiggling rhino could be that had just stubbed its toe.

Through the doors came figures which Kesse could only describe as alien, but before he could turn and flee from them he felt his body freeze. Not a muscle could move, even his eyes were forced to stay open, and he had to watch as figures which looked foreign to him approached. They looked to be speaking to one another, but it was in a language which Kesse had never heard. Each was looking at him as they spoke as well, one pointing while another made a grandiose gesture out above his head. The third was just transfixed with the rhino, his eyes staring the thick beast up and down and back again as he came closer and closer. Kesse was breathing hard and using every fiber of his being to try and move, but it was all for naught. Nothing would listen to his commands on his body, so he just had to stay stock still and pant while he was held in place and studied by the beings coming closer and closer to him.

Hello. No harm to you.’ A very robotic voice spoke in Kesse’s head. The rhino was utterly confused, and when coupled with the terror of seeing aliens for the first time, his reply was less than friendly to that thought. ‘Peace. We bring it, and joy. Save you we did, fall happen and you injured. Cured.’ The language was as rudimentary as could be, but Kesse understood the meaning for the most part. His second response was much less hostile, as he was starting to get that he was meant no harm. The beings were now within reaching distance by that point, but none touched him, they all just looked. That did make Kesse feel a hint better, but he was still far too nervous to show it. ‘We let you speak.’

“Ugh… He… Who?” The rhino spoke finally, his words now much more appropriate than the rampant thoughts whizzing through his mind.

‘We are Kat.”

“Ok then,” Kesse paused, looking his hosts over again with a clearer mind. Each of the beings before him was abnormally tall, which explained the high ceilings of the area. They lacked any real thick fur coating, but did appear to have some sort of hair covering their bodies, which gave them a very white hue in the pink light. Their limbs were thin and lanky, though didn’t look to have bones in them. Their heads were tall and narrow, which distorted their facial features out somewhat like a funhouse mirror. Tall, red eyes, narrow mouths, and a pair of holes that Kesse could only guess was some sort of nose. A pair of pointed ears sat atop the alien beings, and that finished them off with a weird look that Kesse still couldn’t fully get into his mind. Each was clad in a black jumpsuit of sorts, which looked to be form-fitting and showed off how little mass each beast had; surely physically overpowering them could happen if it needed to. The rhino didn’t think that would be necessary, but he did keep it in the back of his mind. A tail whipped around behind a couple of the aliens, slowly flowing like string in the wind and almost mesmerizing Kesse’s gaze for a long moment.

“You hungry?” Kesse’s stomach let out a loud growl, which snapped him from his observations and immediately made him blush involuntarily. He was there making first contact with aliens, and all his body could think of was food. The rhino sheepishly just nodded, and two of the aliens made a few clicking noises back and forth before rushing off in one direction, leaving just Kesse and a sole being behind. “They get food. Eat soon.”

“Thank you, uhm…”

Kat. We Kat.”

“We? But who are you?”

“We are all Kat. You Kesse, yes?” The rhino just looked at the alien for a long moment, utterly confused by what he meant. The red, soulless eyes of the being just looked back at Kesse, unflinching and never once blinking, which made the rhino shiver slightly in unsettled discomfort. He was unsure of what to say in response, but he did manage a nod after a moment of just trying to comprehend the Kat’s response. How could they all be named Kat? It made no sense, but then again it was applying rhino logic to an alien race; that was never going to work. “Good. Kesse bring peace, yes? Help Kat?”

“Peace? Sure, but help? What can I do?” Kesse had to ask, his mind becoming even more muddled as he spoke, of sorts, with the Kat before him. He could hear the other two returning as well, and wanted to at least converse with one Kat rather than three. “What do you need me to do for you?”

“Eat, then help, yes?” The Kat said, stepping aside very delicately and folding his hands together. He stood there for but a moment before his two companions returned, each carrying a small plate of food. Kesse knew the little amount would be nothing to sate him just from seeing it, but he would not turn down food. He also didn’t want to upset his hosts, for even if he could physically beat them, he had no match for what their minds did to his body. For the time being, Kesse was at their mercy, and he knew that as he just watched with the first Kat and waited for the other two beings to return to them.

The short trek took the two tall aliens no time at all, their limber legs carrying them along gracefully through the hall. Kesse had to watch, almost transfixed by how dainty and careful they were, just like dancers. It was a sight to see, but once they stopped his eyes were immediately drawn to the food. On the plates sat what looked to be a hamburger, though the coloring of the bun and meat was off; it was pink and purple, respectively. The other plate held a shake, which was also colored strangely. Kesse had to look at both food items curiously, not taking them as he had not truly been offered them yet, but just looking. Both plates descended towards him though, each resting within reach easily as he just remained curious, but cautious.

“We try making food you eat. No poison. Eat.”

“Alright then…” Kesse said quietly, taking the burger in both of his paws and looking it over again. At least it looked tasty, in spite of the strange myriad of colors it was. He brought it to his muzzle, looking at the three Kat who were each looking at him expectantly, or at least so he thought since reading their faces was nigh impossible. “Thank you,” And with that Kesse bit into the burger.

And nearly died.

It was the best burger he had ever eaten times several thousand, and then some. He had to have it, and polished the thing off in a few quick bites. It was too good to even savor, and as he vacuumed it up into his middle, he just let out a light groan of bliss from the taste. His eyes had shut almost immediately in anticipation of something awful, but had been forced to stay that way thanks to just how orgasmic the taste which was flowing through his muzzle was. It was indescribable, and of course Kesse could do nothing about it other than to chew what giant bites he could ravenously take and just deposit the food inside his gut. The gastrointestinal nirvana ended far too fast with that burger though, so the rhino reflexively reached for the shake, without opening his eyes, and pounded that down in four solid gulps. It was just as earth-shatteringly good as the burger too, which did wonders for Kesse’s mood, and even more for his stomach. He rubbed it blindly in bliss, his meaty paws digging into the doughy, bare adipose below without a sole care in the world. Aliens or not, he had never, ever eaten something so good. Ever.

Slowly the rhino’s eyes opened, his fear of embarrassment beginning to grip him again as he was released from the vice-like grip food had taken over his very being right then. It was as if he had momentarily blacked out from just how good it was, and as his vision returned he could see that the food was not the only thing which was gone from his life. The aliens were also gone, all three vanished in silence and without a trace. Kesse’s eyes opened wide the second he noticed this, and he began to look around frantically as he searched for his hosts. Had he been left there? Had he been rude in how he had eaten the food? The rhino had no idea, and he had to hope that he was just being brought more to eat rather than having been left where he was standing. Fear began to bubble up in Kesse all over again, and something else too; a belch rushed out of his muzzle.

“Good. You helped Kat. Thank you.” Came the voice in Kesse’s head again. He wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but its tone had changed to something far more sinister. It sent a shiver down the rhino’s spine, but that was nothing compared to the bubbles that were building in his stomach. The large gut on the front of the beast was churning slowly, forcing out a few hiccups and burps from the rhino as he felt his insides gurgle. He had to groan and just try to rub at his lard-laden form; a vain attempt to soothe whatever was happening inside of him. It was something foreign, and as he began to feel more and more full, something that he wasn’t entirely sure he hated. Sure, it was terrifying, but that full feeling which was coming from his stomach as he felt it slowly but surely expand with what the rhino could only guess was the food he had eaten expanding was very good. Almost too good, and that made Kesse wonder if the Kat were influencing him.

That wonder faded almost immediately though, for Kesse felt something new on his body that made him jump with surprise, though it was more of a sluggish wobble than anything thanks to his size. He was swelling with fat all of the sudden. It was a steady gain, but it was there and it was quickly making the rhino more and more rotund. He was already horrendously out of shape as it was, with his gut hanging on his thighs and a rear that had earned him two plane seats. As he grew though, he quickly passed those paltry dimensions and turned into a real hog of a rhino. His rump and belly swelled proportionally, while his moobs, arms, and legs lagged behind somewhat thanks to how his body was processing the sudden influx of fat. Kesse had never seen or felt anything like that before, and he had no idea how it was helping the Kat. He didn’t even know what was happening to him, but a part of him could already tell that it was just beginning.

Indeed, no sooner had Kesse thought that than his gain began to increase in pace. The rhino was now thankful that he was naked, for his clothing wouldn’t have even made it to that point as his gut surged forward and down all at once. It met the floor with an unceremonious slap, and then began to spread as though it was being inflated with pudding. His titanic rear wasn’t far behind, and gave the rhino something to lean against as his legs were forced wider and wider apart, soon leaving the floor entirely thanks to the pressure of his fat. At that point Kesse could just feel how big he was getting, for he just couldn’t even begin to see it. His cheeks had swollen up so fat that he was forced to look up, and even further than that he was forced to tilt his head back to accommodate the many rings of lard which had once been his chins and neck. Even if those things hadn’t been in the way, the rhino had sprouted utterly massive manboobs, which impeded his vision further and gave him nary a slit to see through as he watched the ceiling grow closer and closer. He tried to lift his arms to brace himself, but the sheer weight of his appendages was too much for many body builders to lift, let alone an out-of-shape Kesse.

“We really should thank you Kesse, for helping us out with this,” The voice returned, and Kesse just growled to himself as the last vestiges of light left his vision and he was forced into the created blackness of his own fat. He could still feel himself expanding at an exponential pace, which made him groan inwardly as well. “We played the innocent part, but really we just needed someone dumb enough to eat our food. The non-anthro animals just don’t seem to gain the same way that anthros do, and we need all the fat we can get. So thanks for that by the way, you were the first visitor we’ve had in a while so it was a blessing you are such a pig.” As if on cue, Kesse snorted into his fat, a vain attempt at taking a deep breath as he just heaved in the air which was rank with his sweat and gas. Being at his size, he was sweating up a storm, and whatever was making him grow had made his stomach very upset. That meant that Kesse was trapped smelling his sweat and gas, a fate which he didn’t relish in the least. It was his to bear though, so he just had to try and deal with it as he began to feel the very walls around him buckle from being tasked with holding back so much rhino.

“Just in case you’re wondering, you’re helping us terraform the planet; by covering it entirely. See… We come from a planet on which fat is worshipped, and not just a little bit. We use it as food, fuel, and even currency. However, because of this we need a being whose fat we can harvest. That being is going to be you, for a time… And then we will move on to the next, and the next, and the next. Your planet’s atmosphere and proximity to the sun are ideal for us, and that moon you have… It will make an excellent place to house our race. So thank you again, Kesse, for giving us a new home. Now just lay there and gain, because you’re going to be there for a long, long time.”

Had the rhino been able to move, open his eyes, or make any meaningful expression on his face, it would have been fear. Or anger. Or maybe even disgust. None of those could be done by Kesse though, for he was so impossibly obese now that he could feel himself beginning to rupture the very cave in which he had found the aliens. He hadn’t left his home, and that was at least some solace, but as he felt the walls of the very ground around him beginning to crumble thanks to the pressure of his own body, the rhino couldn’t help but feel as though his entire existence was over. He was doomed to be nothing but fat, fat, and more fat for all of his shortened life. Something about the food was going to keep him healthy too, and that was an utter shock for him. With how stretched his pelt was, it was incredibly sensitive, to the point that he felt every single stalactite and stalagmite which he hit with his lard as it grew and grew. The very idea of having an entire race live atop him, and harvest from him… Kesse didn’t want to imagine that. He wanted to shut his eyes and pretend it was all a dream.

The cave collapsed around him however, raining down countless tons of stone onto a surface that rippled more than water itself could. It reminded the rhino that this was indeed no dream, but what his existence was going to be for the rest of eternity.

And Kesse was still just getting started.

It was just his luck after all.

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