The Autumn Keep - Chain Link 3

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This is a Chain story passed between @zakludick and @fromage. Each writer authors a post based on the events of previous episodes and carries on the story.

There is very little collusion between the writers as it is challenging to discover and develop a story by attuning the writing to the partner's plot, style and presentation.

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Last time on The Autumn Keep

Chainlink 2 of Tarot Tales by @fromage.

Perspective had gone from Griffin, ready to defend himself against some kind of predator to that of the Beasts, who were about to hunt him down.

To the surprise of the Beasts, the man-thing spoke their tongue.

Having come to an agreement, the Beast sets off with Griffin in tow.

It is now @zakludick's turn to add a link to the story in Page 4 of Tarot Tales.

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Chainlink 3

To his great relief, the Beast bounded down the road.

Griffin let go of a breath that he had been unaware of holding. He followed the Beast as it progressed swiftly down the path. He wondered whether or not it would be safe to sheath his sword, perhaps he needed to keep it out just in case.

The thought lasted only a moment as he realized how ludicrous it was. The Beast was huge! There was no way that his sword would be able to hurt it sufficiently before its jaws slammed shut over his body. It looked as though it would be able to tear Griffin apart in its maw.

He followed after the gigantic creature. He hurried to match its speed but kept a wary distance. Its back glinted a dark coppery color in the dim light. Its fur stuck out in a pattern in clumps that looked hard and strong, like scalemail armor. It loped on all fours like a kind of massive wolf or a bear. Although it moved gracefully, the Beast's sides brushed the edges of the path either side of the track.

How on earth did it manage to travel anywhere in the forest when it did not follow roads?

"Keep up man-thing." The Beast looked back at Griffin. Its shoulder height was higher than Griffin's head. ".....need to get.... then back again... young to be cared for." Not all the words were understandable.

Griffin still could not believe his own luck at knowing how to communicate with the Beast. The old scholar in the Ochtendzwaard library had been some sort of mage in his youth. When Griffin had gone to the old man to learn his letters he had often pestered the old man to teach him some kind of magic.

Much to his disappointed the old man could not teach Griffin how to cast fireballs or to raise a thunderstorm. Instead, the old man had taught or tried to teach Griffin arts that were far gentler and more subtle. He would have to stand for hours at a tree and attempt to convince it to do something physically. Not as exciting at all.

One week he had learned a bit about speaking to animals and had discovered exactly how much the family's tabby cat hated Griffin. He had managed to hear the speech from a select few creatures and most of them were very basic. Except for the tabby cat, who seemed pleased not to have Griffin mess around with him.

This was the first time that he had sensed and heard a complete language. In fact, he could not understand everything that this Beast was saying. Though he also knew that there was at least one more of the Beasts. A flash of silvery grey flashed in the trees next to Griffin.

He started and placed his hand on his pommel.

"I would not use the metal claw on her if I was you." The Beast mental tones spoke over its growls and whimpers. "She would tear you to......" There were more words that he could not quite tap into.

In the distance, Griffin heard another voice. ".... was just curious... man-thing speaking is .... Go now to ...." It faded away in the distance.

This was nothing like those random thoughts or instinctual meanderings of the mind as Griffin had noticed of the animals in the Castle. At that time he had thought that the old scholar had taught him a skill that would allow him greater husbandry with his horse or other animals.

It seemed now to Griffin that the old man had been teaching him a skill that was connected to far more intelligent creatures. Was it only these Beasts that Griffin could now communicate with? Was this the purpose of the training all along? Griffin could not guess at this stage, but it had saved his life.

They came to a gorge in the forest. A deep cleft in the ground that Griffin could not see into. Across the gap lay a massive tree, it had plenty of length to spare on either side of the canyon. The path led up to the tree trunk and down on the other side, the path continued.

"Quiet here man-thing. You do not wish to wake the... flutterings... beneath." The Beast climbed up the tree bridge carefully. The size of the bridge suited the Beast well and Griffin wondered if it was not the Beasts who had cut it down and placed it there. They certainly had the claws for it.

He caught sight of the claws as the Beast climbed, they were backed with plates that looked almost like scales so that the back of the paws were protected. On the inside of the paws, the claws flexed out when it climbed, digging into the wood to give it grip. Retractable, scaled claws, metallic fur, and a wolf's muzzle... what sort of creature was this?

The Beast was halfway across the bridge when it halted as if frozen. A split second afterward a screech tore the silence of the forest. The Beast tossed its head back. "Run man-thing! The ..... flutterings were laying in wait.... kill you... claws and pain... Find... call the pack!"

Before either Griffin or the Beast could move a muscle, dark shapes shot out of the black gorge and flew up to the forest canpoy above. They circled above for a few stalled moments. They were pitch black, roughly man-sized and flew on leathery wings.

Griffin slid his sword from its sheath.

"No good running now Beast. They will just catch me." He muttered in his best attempt of the Beast's tongue.

"... true... short little legs could never run fast enough."

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The flying creatures tore through the air downwards, four barreling their way towards the Beast. It growled and raised up on its hind legs, the long-toed paws settling down so its first joint touched the wood of the tree, imitating more a human's foot than a canine's paw.

The first flying creature was caught by the Beast's claws and it fell down the side of the bridge, its flapping wings hopelessly torn. The other three had dodged away from the Beast's grasp and clawed hind legs struck down like hawks. Their claws lit sparks from the Beast's fur. They sound they made was that of metal or crystal crashing into each other.

There was a slight whimper as one hand-long claw managed to find a weak spot. Blood spattered down on the wooden bridge from the Beast's shoulder.

One of the creatures landed on the bridge in front of the Beast and screeched. It had powerful clawed hind legs and its forelegs were its wings. The creature may have been a bat if not for the serrated beak that snapped at the beast.

The Beast stalked forward, slowly and the bird creature cawed.

It was just a feint. Griffin could see it, the Beast dove forward and the bird creature fell over the side of the bridge. At the same time, the two remaining bird things fell on the Beast's flanks. Claws screeched across its tough hide but again some found purchase and cut into its flesh beneath. The Beast gave up a bellow and twisted to snap at the birds.

This time they did not fly away but merely dodged. They had wounded the Beast and were pressing their advantage. It would take a lot of clawing and biting to get the beast down, but they did not need to do that.

All they needed to do was get the Beast to fall over the side.

Griffin could not even remember climbing on top of the tree bridge. He knew now that he was running across the bridge, sword in one hand and lantern in the other.

The third bird creature had flown up out of the gorge by now. Instead of joining the other two, it dove towards Griffin. He slashed wildly at it and the bird twisted in the air around the cut. It buffeted Griffin with a wing.

He staggered to the edge of the bridge and dropped to a knee to prevent himself from falling further. The bird thing turned in the air and came for him again. He managed to raise his sword in time to try to meet the creature but it was too swift.

Hooked claws tore through his shoulder and his sword dropped to the wooden bridge. Warmth ran down his arm, though he did not feel any pain. He tried to raise his injured arm and found that it would not move.

He dared to look. The wound was actually not deep at all. He had received worse in his life. There must be something about the bird creature's claws that made him numb. This is why the Beast was having so much trouble.

Dimly, he was aware of the Beast biting down on one of the creatures while the two remaining were on his back again, slashing at his flanks. They had left Griffin alone, a tiny human, of no threat.

Griffin's vision dimmed and flickered. There must be a venom in his blood. He was going to pass out.

One final act of desperation made Griffin draw back his left hand. He threw the lantern at the Beast with all his remaining strength. It trailed through the air towards the battling creatures.

As he fell backward his sight was flooded with bright white light and then darkness.

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Chainlink 3 completed!

Now the torch is passed on to @fromage to add in Chainlink 4 of the story!

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