Last time on The Autumn Keep
It is now @fromage's turn to add a link to the story in Chainlink 6.
It swatted the little ones away. "Give the Lionbird space to breathe."
The man-thing scrambled back from the young swarming around him, eyes wide. It didn't blame the man-thing for being afraid, they would shred him in a heartbeat if they were allowed.
It had carried the man-thing here after he had succumbed to the Greyl's poison. With the bridge out, the den was on the way. Its mate had not understood why the man-thing had been brought there. It had not been able to explain its attachment to the little creature. It was small enough to look like one of their young, perhaps that was it. It found itself wanting to protect the mewing thing. It had hunted as the man-thing had slept, preparing food for their young while it was gone.
It regarded the tiny creature with a mix of pity and affection. This was for the best. Whatever the Man-thing thought to find in the Keep, death was all that was waiting. "It is time for you to return home Lionbird. Come." It turned to leave the den as the man-thing stood to follow, grunting in protest.
"No home. Lost everything. I lost everything. For go. Must make it to..." An image leapt to its mind of a bustling city, of a man that was a part of the man-thing's family. None of it looked like the Keep. Still, it looked more like the Keep than any where else it had ever been. The man-thing groped for the words. "I must find leader. No, no leader..." He shook his head and said something it did not understand. Another vision came of the man-thing learning to hunt. No, not hunt, fight.
It bobbed its head in the odd way the man-thing associated with agreement. "Very well, Lionbird. We shall continue to the Keep" The man-thing sighed in relief. "But know that it is much different from how you imagine it. Much time must have passed since you were last there. If your teacher was there, they are likely long since dead." The man-thing seemed to understand none of this except agreement. He looked hopeful. You cannot say I did not try, Lionbird.
In any case the sun was setting, they'd be going no where tonight. "Sleep now. You are useless in the true dark without your light box. I will hunt and we leave in the morning. Come little ones, it is time to learn." They were still young, barely larger than the man-thing, but they were already growing strong enough to hunt.
As the man-thing settled in to the bedding they'd prepared, it and its family stalked together out into the night. The man-thing had lost much, had saved its life in fact. It would take him to the Keep. It owed at least that much.
"You would leave us to help this catsparrow?" Its mate teased. "The young are near the quickening. They will soon leave us. Will you be here?"
It nuzzled playfully against its mate. "That is a ways off. Let us see how ready they are. Little ones, the first to bring me a squirrel in its jaws will be first to drink at the spring." With excited cries they leapt off into the undergrowth. They always fought to be first in everything.
By the end of the hunt the smallest of them drank first. It was no surprise. The smallest was always the most vicious. It took a special pride in this. It was itself the smallest of its litter. As they settled down to rest the stars shifted in the sky, two moons to one, back and forth. The shift of the skies each year before winter was terrifying, but beautiful. As dozed it noticed the man-thing was awake, looking up at the sky in horror.
"Where at. Where are we? What is happening?" The questions poured from the man-thing, his eyes alight with fear. It rose just as the man-thing leapt to his feet and ran across open ground.
Chainlink 6 completed!
Now the torch is passed back to @zakludick to add in Chainlink 7 of the story!