To the west, another set of steps ascended to a ten-foot high ledge supporting an altar of bone and several wide pillars. A human, oddly familiar, wearing a horned helm and carrying a skull-capped rod stood behind the altar. His eyes were closed, a book resting open before him. He continued to chant a low, droning prayer as the portal bulged and grasped. Guarded by a number of skeletons and illuminated by the eerie glow of oddly coloured flame from the closest braziers, he cast a fearful visage, of one consumed by evil.

‘Fools!’ uttered a voice from the bone altar. ‘You cannot stop me. It is futile. You only serve to irritate me.’ The horn-helmed priest turned his gaze to the wights. ‘Destroy them!’ he commanded.

‘My Lord, you come to save me!’ exulted the priest. ‘Destroy these before you!’ he commanded. The statue wobbled, gaining momentum as it fell past Zero, missing the rogue by inches before the vast weight of stone crashed onto the magic circle and beyond, pulverising those beneath — the skull-capped rod that the Demon Lord held forth aiming directly for the heart of the priest.

The stone of the statue fell upon the group, crushing them to the floor and knocking the wind out of them. Several pieces of the broken statue were engulfed by the blackness of the portal. As the dust settled Zero looked on in alarm. There were groans and movement from the area, and he could see Khalin still standing, but covered in dust. Stood right in front of the portal, above a dazed Kireth, was the priest. A look of shock and disbelief was on his face, the carved rod of the Demon Lord embedded like a spear through his chest.

The price of failure.

The priest looked down incredulously at the rod protruding from his chest. He began to mouth some words, whether prayers of mercy or spiteful curses none could tell. Slowly, with his one-eyed gaze firmly fixed on the standing Zero, he slipped slowly backwards, silently through the dark glassy portal.

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