Last time on The Autumn Keep
It is now @fromage's turn to add a link to the story in Chainlink 8.
It had slept many times. The man-thing had been quiet for much of the trip. It could tell Lionbird wanted answers, but none of the questions made any sense.
“What...Keep. What buildings? Where...? Where place with many...? Man-things?”
It didn't know what to say to any of it. So eventually the man-thing stopped asking and just walked along side him, obviously disappointed but without any other options.
The pace drove it crazy. Travel from its lair to the edge of the Keep's land should be a few sleeps at most, not nearly half a moon. The man-thing was so tiny and clumsy, bumbling through the undergrowth. It would have carried him if they weren't moving through the forest.
“Do you have a family, Lionbird? Any younglings?”
“No. Only...no young.” An image of another man-thing came to its mind, along with tinges of age and affection.
“Your parent is your only loved one?” A terrible thought came to its mind. “How many dancing heavens have you seen?” The man-thing seemed baffled by this. Could it have been his first? “How many moons then?”
The man-thing seemed to understand this, “Almost two hundred.”
So few. Younger than his latest litter even, and marching to his doom.
Finally the forest began to thin. Before they knew it they were in the midst of the blasted lands. Nothing grew here. The ground gave off a constant heat and ash drifted in the wind. It was twilight, the Keep outlined against the setting sun. It had never seen this place at any other time of day. It could feel the draw of the Keep. More, it understood the Keep, trusted that it would be safe there. It had always been able to resist.
The man-thing seemed to feel the pull more keenly. On sighting the Keep he took off and ran. "Wait! Don't be a fool Lionbird!” He did not even look back.
It paced back and forth at the edge of the forest. This is where it had agreed to take the man-thing. What happened to him now had never been in question.
But could it really leave a youngling to face death in such a place, alone? It had its own to care for, but this one had saved its life.
Bounding over the open field it scooped the man-thing up onto its back and began to run. It could hear the telltale chitters and flutters of tiny wings from beneath them, around them. It knew their only hope was to reach the Keep proper.
The sky darkened as they raced for shelter. The twin moons rose, blood red in the sky. The clicking had grown to a fever pitch. Even the man-thing could hear it now. “The ground, they're coming up!” It spared no time to look.
It slammed into the door to the Keep but it did not budge. The man-thing slid off its back as it whirled to face the coming threat. Behind them they could see the rising dawn, a cloud of creatures swirling inside and streaming towards them. “Lionbird. Behind me. I will make them pay dearly for our deaths.”
Wood ground on stone, the man-thing had found a device of some sort, carved seemingly for his hands. The gate opened and they both slipped inside.
The creatures began to pour under the opening door. The man-thing was screaming something but the sound of the wings was defeaning. It followed his eyes upwards to a space on the wall, covered with odd shapes and with hanging material like what the man-thing wore beneath his iron skin. Leaping, it raked its claws along the wall. The hanging material had been filled with sand and it fell, the strange shapes coming away as well. The door crashed to the ground with the sound of squished beetles.
The man-thing swatted away the creatures remaining and it assisted. The little things tasted delicious. The room was quickly cleared.
The man-thing was struggling, doubled over trying to catch a breath. It did not think that he was injured, however.
They were in a large chamber. A soft glow came from burning branches hung on the walls. At the far end a man-thing sat, surrounded by carved wood. It was impressed by the resourcefulness of these tiny creatures, at least. The man thing appeared to be sleeping.
His face was serene, but in flux. He seemed to have a long beard at times, no beard at all at others. White hair shifted to black then back again.
It nudged Lionbird back and approached. Was he even still alive?
A few steps away the man-thing's eyes snapped open. He said something and Lionbird went pale.
“What does he say?”
Lionbird looked uncomfortable, would not meet its eyes. “It said, none leave.”
Chainlink 8 completed!
Now the torch is passed back to @zakludick to add in Chainlink 9 of the story!