The fighting is fierce and bloody. The undead constructs do not know fear or pain, and are immensly strong. Several mercenaries are torn limb from limb. Laeoden and Sinjin are both wounded. The Captain is crushed to pulp between two of the creatures. Aether rains down eldritch fire on the monsters. Tarin launches arrow after arrow. Every where the creatures are pierced they leak mud with a silvery sheen and gobbets of flesh and hair. The bone constructs fair no better and are hacked to bits Thorac’s and Sinjin’ swords and repeated volleys form the mercenaries.
The creatures are destroyed, and the Manticore Mercenaries aim their guns at Laeoden and the other strangers. Darian assumes command and demands they stand down. They are reluctant to do so. They recognize Laeoden as the man who was gambling with the paymaster the night he disappeared. The situation is tense. Thorac calls them fools for fighting when there may be more of those abominations in these woods. Things get even tenser when Idgen comes out of the woods dragging the paymasters sack.
The men agree to follow Darian as long as they’re paid when they reach the castle. They bury their dead, while the party examines the monstrous corpses. The fleshed ones are little more than stitched skins and mud. The insides of the skins have been branded with magical sigils. The skins are stitched together with the same silver wire that binds the bone constructs. Even the mud’s silver sheen comes from powdered silver. Aether and Sinjin try to figure out what type of magic this is but it is either a necromancy they have never heard of or of a power far greater then their understanding.
Darian searches the body of they’re dead captain. He finds a medallion with the manticore crest as well as a small wooden chest the size of a jewlery box. The chest is locked but the key is secreted in a small compartment in the back of the medallion. Stuck fast with melted wax. Darian pries it loose and discovers a cryptex inside. A slight sloshing sound is heard when the cryptex is tilted back and forth near their ear. Sinjin offers to examine it and discovers that all though the puzzle box is well made the combination has been set to an absurdly easy combination of 12345. They open the box and discover a small scroll of paper inside. It reads
Your orders are changed. The Thrune woman is not to reach the Citadel. Kill her and her retinue and hide the bodies deep in the mountains. We all serve in our own way.
Darian shows Lady Thrune who goes into a rage she orders Darian to conscript the rest of the party as her new body gaurds and execute the remaining Blue Manticores. Laoden and Darian convince her to spare the men. She agrees to show mercy as a boon to her saviors.
The company packs up and heads down the road. In its glory days, the road to the citadel of the Red King must have been a wonder in itself. It is carved from the living stone and etched to resemble cobbles. Where the road troughs through the rougher terrain there are crumbling walls of brick decorated with geometric designs. Every ten miles there is a set of stone watch towers on either side of the road where soldiers could rain arrows, or flaming death down on anyone they didn’t like the look of. Most of the towers are little more then ruins now, victims of winter storms.
They only make a few miles before camping again for the night at the base of a watch tower. During the dead of night, everyone is awoken by a gun shot. On edge they spring to action expecting foes all around. Instead they find that one of the mercenaries on guard duty has shot another returning from relieving himself in the bushes. He will surely die if not attended to, so Aether uses her wand to heal the man.
At dawn they march on. At 11:00 that day they come around a curve in the road and finally gain site of Alcazar del mano de Diablo. It is a massive fortress with acres of land separating the outer wall and the inner castle. It sits on a column of rock with five natural out croppings giving the citadel the appearance of being cradled in a massive fist. The only access to the fortress is by a draw bridge that spans a steep ravine 100’s of feet deep.
Above the draw bridge is a balcony, as they draw near a bell rings announcing the start of a procession of fantastical beasts. Centaurs, dragons, griffins, sphinxes, manticores and knights parade across the balcony. Each is a mechanical marvel that moves it’s head, stomps it’s feet and waves it’s weapons. Fezik the merchant stands dumbfounded. Thorac laughs remembering the pride the man had displayed when showing him a music box full of mechanical birds that sang when wound.
Darian calls out to the castle announcing the arrival of Lady Thrune. Just as he thinks he should shout again there is movement on the wall. At first they rake them for soldiers but soon realize they are more constructs made to look like soldiers. Their faces are smooth, lacking any features at all. Where the lower part of their right arm should be a repeating crossbow has been mounted. They stare at the castle guard. The castle guard stare at them. Just when things start to feel their unease begin to rise the drawbridge begins to lower first with a shower of dust and then on creaking chains.
They ride into the silent castle with a feeling of unease. The castle gate almost feels like a mouth waiting to swallow them whole.