The Autumn Keep - Chain Link 10

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Last time on The Autumn Keep

Chainlink 9 of The Autumn Keep by @zakludick found Griffin discovering a shocking secret about his father, from a mysterious stranger.

It is now @fromage's turn to add a link to the story in Chainlink 10.
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Chainlink 10

It yawned. It had already finished the meat and the man-things were talking in their strange chirps and squawks. Occasionally a hint of surprise and confusion rolled off of Lionbird, but the other one's speech was eerily devoid of inflection. It could not tell what he was feeling or thinking.

Then again, it never had bothered to wonder about any man-thing's thoughts or feelings before Lionbird. Perhaps they did not generally have them. Even Lionbird's were thin impressions at best. It curled up at the foot of the table and licked its muzzle clean, slowly drifting off to sleep.

It was awoken by the cold. Lionbird was gone. It could not smell him. The room was empty. Truly empty. The tables had been removed, the chairs too. Even the ovens were gone. It was more than that though. There were no smells at all, no sounds. The branches no longer burned. All the warmth had been drawn from the room.

For the first time since it was a youngling, it was afraid.

It heard a sound from the end of the hall like hailstones striking trees. The steady drumming intensified, the door from the main hall of the Keep shuddering with each thump. It backed away, slowly at first, then quickly as the wood of the door gave way. A flood of insects poured through the doorway, moving as if they were a single lumbering mass.

It turned and broke into a run as it passed into the corridors at the other end of the hall. The passage was a tight fit; it could feel the heat as it's hide sparked against the stone walls. Behind it could hear the low but steady hum of wings.

The way was confusing. There were openings but they were all far too small. More than once it was forced to stop as the way came to a bare wall and carefully back up to try a different direction. The buzzing seemed to grow steadily louder, coming from all sides at once. It thought of its younglings and mate. It was growing tired and, despite the pace, cold.

Exhausted, it collapsed in the hall at a four way split in the path, the roar of the insects scraping along the walls of the Keep deafening. It had a vision of them filling the corridors and rooms of the Keep, of searching for something. Not food. More than food. I am sorry man-thing. I can protect you no longer. This place will be both our deaths.

As its eyes closed it felt an odd twinge of hope and a fleeting moment of warmth. Confused it stood and shook its head. The feeling seemed to draw it down one of the passageways. It stood and stumbled forward. At first it was a painful shuffle, but as it moved it began to warm up. It let the feeling guide the way through the labyrinthine Keep. No longer did it meet dead ends, nor slow. Ahead the corridor burst into colors as the flames on the wall leapt to life. The corridor ended in a small chamber almost completely filled with a gleaming golden throne.

It burst into the room and gathered itself up against the far wall, ready to pounce. Lionbird sat upon the throne, his eyes shut, and the other man-thing stood above him watching. Silently he turned and began to walk out of the room.

"Foolish man-thing. They are out there. They want you. They have been seeking you. Stay back!"

The man-thing turned back and raised his arms, eyes closed. The creatures burst from the darkness behind him and began to rip him to pieces. From the cloud a mass emerged, not simply a cluster of the smaller creatures, but a gigantic version of them. In an instant the man-thing was gone. Not even the bones remained.

Daylight burst from the golden throne, streaming from a window far above. Lionbird screamed. The beast shrank back as he convulsed, seeming at once in a thousand different positions, a thousand different ages. Impressions of the Keep in different ages as well streamed into the beast's head, too fast to process. It saw the Keep as it turned to ruin.

Steeling itself it gripped Lionbird in its teeth and yanked him from the throne. As it looked for another way out it realized that it could no longer hear the creatures. The way was clear. Holding Lionbird gently it broke into a run down the hallway, all concerns but escape forgotten.

From behind clear and strong it could hear a voice, speaking man-speak. Somehow the words were clear.

"None leave."

The voice repeated as it broke back into the dining hall. The far door was somehow undamaged, but open. It ran through, the sound still ringing through its head as as they barrelled through the entry way, the front gate wide open.

The voice repeated as they broke out of the Keep itself and back towards the forest, the sun shining, the land verdant. As they entered the woods the words became strained, desperate, then finally ceased.

Exhausted it set the man-thing down and settled in to rest. Madness. This was all madness. That is it, man-thing. We are even at last. I will take you back to your road and you will go home.

It knew that was impossible though. Autumn had ended. The man-thing 's road would be gone. It hoped Lionbird would have some answers to explain what had happened. It had none.

As it closed its eyes it spoke to the collapsed man-thing, his chest slowly rising and falling as if in a deep sleep. “We are stuck together.”

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Chainlink 10 completed!

Now the torch is passed back to @zakludick to add in Chainlink 11 of the story!

Previous Chainlinks:
Chainlink 1 by @zakludick
Chainlink 2 by @fromage
Chainlink 3 by @zakludick
Chainlink 4 by @fromage
Chainlink 5 by @zakludick
Chainlink 6 by @fromage
Chainlink 7 by @zakludick
Chainlink 8 by @fromage
Chainlink 9 by @zakludick


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