The way up was by a winding, rocky path that had obviously not seen much use in the recent past. In fact only a few scuffed footprints could be seen as far as Merida reckoned, and aside from this the bare stone looked as though it hadn’t been touched in some time. The creatures that watched them from afar were new however. According to legends of this place even the evil queen for whom the castle was named hadn’t kept such foul beasts as these about, preferring her ravens as spies and lookouts.

The creatures that watched their ascent now were simply grotesque, stone-faced monstrosities with heavy, tapered claws that dangled from thin, bony arms and heavily-muscled legs that were bunched as they sat upon their various perches, well away from the trail. Horns sprouted from their heads just above shelf-like ridges in their foreheads, almost hiding their dark-red eyes that glimmered with malevolence. Jaws that appeared wide enough to swallow a piglet whole were thankfully closed, though several of them had long, sharp teeth protruding from their upper or lower jaw. Not a one of them took their gaze away from the trio as they made their way up the winding, treacherous trail, no doubt marking their passage for their mistress.

“Were the gargoyles always here or are they new?” Red quipped, trying to lighten the mood.

“She’s been recruiting it seems,” Mulan replied, stone-faced, “These were never a part of the castle from what I remember.”

“How would you know?” Merida asked, “You’ve been across the realms?”

“More than once,” Mulan said with a nod, “You should try getting out more.”

“An’ leave my brothers t’ run things? Ye’re daft.”

Mulan offered Merida a wry grin despite the situation they now found themselves in, glad to have companions such as these on such a dangerous trek. They had no idea what they were going to find once they reached the castle, but at the very least she knew her friends wouldn’t run out on her.

As they continued to ascend the dark, foreboding battlements of the castle seemed to loom over them, standing almost hungrily as the front gates awaited, ready to devour them should they walk through. Above them the sky was starting to darken as the last of the light began fading towards the distant mountains on the horizon, seeming to plead with them to turn back.

There was no turning back however. Snow needed them, even if she didn’t realize it.

(to be continued)

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