Gorak sprinted to Geoff's side, roaring out the words to one of his most potent restorative spells. Grabbing Geoff and hauling him to his feet, he shouted, “ Keep singing! Keep the ritual going!”
“I can't,” Geoff replied, his voice trembling and hoarse. Despite Gorak's aid, his face was chalk white from loss of blood and his hands trembled with exhaustion. He struggled to stay standing.
“Gorak!” Shayla shrieked between spells, giving him a second's warning before a charging Orc split open his skull with an axe. Spinning on his heel, Gorak gripped his staff in both hands, raising it over his head and catching the blow with the haft. Stepping forward, he used his massive strength to drive the attacker away from Geoff.
Without Azarek at his side, the ranger at the door was hard pressed. Lacking heavy armour or a shield, his fluid defence was not enough to keep the Orcs at bay. Inspired by Geoff's fall, they redoubled their efforts to gain control of the entrance but before the lead attackers could drive him back, Shayla came to his aid. Drawing on her considerable reserve of power, twin jets of flame leapt from her fingertips, passing on either side of the ranger, incinerating the Orcs trying to flank him.
Khalid, seeing no way to help either Azarek or Gorak, both locked in close combat with their foes, cast another spell to temporarily blind the reinforcements crowding through the door. Geoff, leaning heavily on the statue, seemed once again incapable of action, his expression one of pain and something else...almost rapturous. The flow of blood continued unabated and the statue was now more than two thirds full. The distant look fading from his eyes, Geoff took a deep breath and heaved himself up onto the pedestal. Turning over, cradled between the Orcs outstretched arms, he lay back, allowing the blood to wash over him, soaking his armour and streaming off his face. Then he opened his mouth and began to swallow the blood pouring from the ceiling.
Khalid's revulsion quickly faded when he realized the effect Geoff was having. The blood that coated him was pulled into the statue, but little more. Eyes closed in concentration, his throat moved reflexively as he swallowed mouthful after mouthful of blood. Seizing on a glimmer of hope, Khalid realized his companions were too engaged to see what was happening, and sought to rally them. Geoff may yet thwart the ritual! We must buy him more time!
Gorak took a punishing blow, only partially borne by his magical protections before lashing out and driving the tip of his staff into the Orc's chest with bone crushing force, doubling him over in agony. Before he stave in the Orc's head, the Orc stumbled backwards, slashing defensively to keep Gorak at bay.
Azarek, still wrestling with the ranger on the ground, was unable to turn the fight to his advantage. His knife made useless by Azarek's hardened skin, the ranger dropped it and focused his efforts on squirming free. Heavy plate hampering his mobility, Azarek managed to use his weight to keep the ranger down but struggled to do any meaningful damage.
The blinded Orcs stumbling through the entrance bought a few seconds reprieve before Gorak's flaming barrier vanished. Shayla, ignoring the front ranks, concentrated on thinning the ranks behind, casting a handful of magical darts down the passage. The older ranger, the sole bulwark against the pressing horde, fought valiantly to keep the Orcs away from her.
Between Gorak and Shayla, the air in the tiny room was thick with smoke and the stench of burning flesh, making Khalid's eyes water and his throat burn. Almost depleted of offensive magics, he kept a close eye on Geoff and the pool of blood on the ceiling. To his overwhelming dismay, it seemed virtually undiminished. A blinded Orc, stumbling over the body of one his kin brushed against another similarly impaired Orc. For a few moments, chaos reigned as the two Orcs swung wildly imperilling everyone around them, including the Orcs trying to enter the room.
Gorak, still trading blows with the axe wielding Orc, roared in pain as the Orc recovered his balance and attacked. Holding the staff in both hands, he countered with a feint and then delivered a powerful strike to the neck, shattering the Orc's jaw and crushing his throat. The Orc dropped to his knees, axe falling from his hands as he clutched at his neck and gasped for breath that wouldn't come. Gorak followed through, swinging his staff over his head and bringing it down with all his considerable strength, breaking the Orc's collar bone. Stepping back from the mortally wounded Orc, he clutched at the ragged wound in his stomach and began to summon the power to restore himself.
A strangled cough pulled Khalid's attention from the battle and back to Geoff. His stomach was grossly distended, straining the buckles on his armour and his face was chalk white, streaked with the blood he was unable to choke down. Moving quickly to his side, Khalid pulled out his knife and cut free the binding straps. Geoff was beginning to struggle, unable to keep pace with the flow of blood any longer. Khalid, seeing no other way to intervene, reached out with his thoughts, placing the words directly Geoff's mind.
You are not alone. Your friends still stand at your side and hold the room.
“Azarek!” Shayla screamed. Risking a glance over, Azarek immediately caught her meaning. Relinquishing his dominant position he rolled over onto his back, dragging the ranger with him. Wedging a knee into the man's chest, Azarek propelled him upwards and held him at arms length as Shayla completed her spell. The first jet of flame raked across his body, searing away his leather armour and flesh, exposing the muscle beneath. Before he could scream, a second jet took him full in the face, blasting off his helmet and setting his hair alight. Oblivious to the flames, Azarek heaved the dieing man away, sending him crashing into the wall beside.
The older ranger, now bearing half a dozen wounds, struggled to catch his breath. Seeing an opportunity, he gathered himself up and lunged at a blinded Orc stabbing him in the stomach. Fatigued from wounds and battle, he couldn't recover fast enough to avoid the Orc's unexpected counter. Instead of recoiling from the blow, the Orc dropped his weapon and seized hold of his arm, pulling him off balance. Another Orc stepped around his wounded kin and hacked off the ranger's arm at the elbow. Stunned by the grievous injury, he was slow the react as the Orc swung again. The axe sheared through the ranger's leather armour and sank into his chest, felling him instantly.
Azarek struggled to his feet beneath the weight of his armour, trying to collect his sword and shield to seal the breech left by their fallen companion, but he was slow to recover. Gorak made a move towards the ranger, but more Orcs poured out of the passage, barring his way. For a moment, they held defensive positions around the door, while another Orc stepped through behind. The twisted scars of flesh seemed to writhe beneath the flickering torchlight, as he surveyed the room and those that stood to oppose him. “Dogs,” he cursed. “Rasha'guar will feast upon your hearts this night.” In his hand, a gnarled club, blackened and twisted, seemed to seethe with a malevolence all its own.
Shayla, never one to be intimidated by a few words, framed her response in the form of a blast of flame that burned away the fur pelts draped over the Orc's body and heated the links of the chain shirt beneath until they glowed red. Along his arms and neck, the skin began to blacken and blister under the assault.
Khalid, almost drained of spells, saw the opportunity he had been waiting for. As the last syllable of the arcane words passed from his lips, the ground beneath the Orc's feet burned away with a flash of purple flame.
What happened next was the stuff of nightmares.
Dead bodies were hurled around the room, landing in grotesque heaps as a forest of squirming tentacles erupted from the ground. The Orc advancing on Gorak lunged forward, only to be snagged around the neck by a whipcord thin tentacle, and hauled backwards. Before he could catch his balance, he was dragged closer to another, and then was swarmed by a half dozen other appendages of varying thickness. He shrieked as he was slowly pulled apart, limb by limb. The Orc that had killed the ranger was encircled by a tentacle thicker than Gorak's leg, pulsing with dark blotches of muscle. He had no breath to scream after the first, as he was slowly crushed to death. The blind Orc beside him was seized and flung upwards against the ceiling with such force that it drove the top of his helm down level with his shoulders, killing him instantly.
The scarred Orc, surrounded by his dieing marauders, struggled forward with inhuman determination. Tearing his hand free from of the grasping tentacles, He began to chant, his guttural voice rising above the screams of the injured. “You are nothing before the might of Rasha'gaur,” he screamed, eyes bulging, consumed with religious fervour. Burned skin began to flake away, revealing greyish scabs beneath. Raging forward, bloody froth staining his lips, another tentacle snared him before he could pull entirely free. Twisting to face Gorak, he beckoned, “Join me brother! The hour of glory is upon us! It is not to late to take your place at his side.”
“Brother,” Gorak spat, his lip curling into a sneer. “If you wanna be in the arms of your false god that bad, all you had to do, was ASK!” he roared. Raising his hands above his head, he curled them info fist, and jerked them down The temperature in the room became explosively hot, as the ceiling above the Orc seemed to tear away, replaced by a gaping rent of billowing flame. An instant later, a column of elemental flame poured from the rent, incinerating everything beneath. For a moment, Khalid could see the shadowy form of the Orc writhing in the flames, before the light and heat forced him to look away. When the flare subsided, little remained of the Orc was a charred lump of flesh, streaked with molten steel, slowly being torn apart by the curiously unharmed tentacles.
Billowing smoke filled the small room, sending Khalid down to his knees in search of breathable air. Glancing up, through the haze, he could see the edges of the pool of blood on the ceiling pulling towards the centre. He could barely contain his elation. The ritual was drawing to a close and he began to hope he might yet live this terrible ordeal. Geoff, still draped across the statue, continued to drink, his stomach now grossly distended, continuing to swell, ripping apart his armour. Hands curled into claws, his body seemed to tremble and twitch, trying to escape the punishment his resolve forced upon it. But for all his strength, Khalid could see him begin to fail. His eyes flashed open, bugling from his head, and blood began to stream down the sides of his face as he gasped for air. Losing his struggle, he vomited up a mouthful of blood and began to choke.
Looking at the statue, Khalid began to panic as the blood began to fill it once again. The whelp was almost full and the ceiling was still coated with blood. Afforded a brief respite by the waving tentacles Khalid wracked his mind for a solution. Seizing hold of one last desperate thought, he concentrated for a second, recalling to mind the words of Geoff's hymn and shifting his focus to include his allies in the room. Sing he commanded. With whatever breath you can spare. With his long years of training juggling several magic formula in his mind at once, Khalid kept the lyrics and rhythm of song flowing out to his friends. Gorak and Azarek raised their voices, more chanting than signing, as Shayla's clear tone rose above them both. The effect on Geoff was immediate. His body relaxed and he stopped struggling as the familiar words renewed his faith and strengthened his will. Moments later, the pool shrank to the size of a dinner plate and then it was gone, the final stream of blood splashing down on Geoff.
Shayla carefully pulled the downed ranger back, away from the grasping tentacles and checked for any sign of life. Catching her look, Gorak didn't bother moving, turning his magic inward to bind up his own wounds. Azarek gathered up his weapons and moved as close to the door as he dared, pausing briefly to stomp on the throat of a dieing Orc. Feeling the threads of magic holding the portal open begin to fade, Khalid could see figures moving in the darkness behind the receding mass of appendages. Forcing his troubled mind through the meagre catalogue of spells remaining to him, he grimly pulled out a wand from his belt, and stepped behind the alter. Inspired by Geoff's selfless sacrifice, he steeled himself for the end, and prepared to sell his life dearly, in the company of the only friends he ever had.