The silence of the tomb was broken seconds after the group found and opened the hidden doorway. Suddenly, the hallway was full of swarms of creatures crawling, skittering, and flying, the sound of buzzing rendering normal speech inaudible. At the back, two huge, lurking figures, an unholy magnification of insect features on a frame ten feet tall. Herodes knew this was some form of daemon, but one fouler even than those he had seen at the Worldwound. The chittering infected his thoughts, the presence of the fiends threatening his sanity; it was a struggle even to think.
A woman’s voice sounded in his mind. One he knew well, yet had heard only a few times in his life.
Focus, Herodes. This is your time.
The swarms spilled from the corridor, engulfing Gaeren and Nibbs as they came rushing toward the rest of the party.
The foe are beyond you. But all is not lost.
Herodes saw Gaeren’s sword slashing at the closest of the daemons, but unable to fend of the attacks of its five claws. The magus was going to fall. A fatal blow stabbed right through Gaeren’s torso and the fiend advanced hungrily, while yet more biting and stabbing and chewing swarms materialised and flooded over the heroes. Herodes knew what he had to do. Divine power flowed into his sword, the blade blazing with grey flame. He charged into the fray, sword grasped in both hands.
“Flee! I will cover you!”
His sword slashed into the fiend’s chest, the holy fire eliciting a shriek from the beast. In response one of the creature’s claws sliced into his abdomen, peeling through the plate as if it were silk. The second fiend roared behind it, impatient to enter the melee but unable to pass its cousin.
You have served well.
Time slowed. Herodes felt rather than saw the passage of bolts from Lem’s crossbow, Springsnap, and heard, over the buzzing, the shouting of his friends. He pressed his attack, trying to drive the fiends back, and all the while beetles crawled over him and pulled at his innards through the wound inflicted by the daemon.
The pain of the swarms distracted him and he stumbled. He looked up to see two of the daemon’s claws crashing down, burying deep in his torso. His sides exploded as the beast tore its claws free, and his arms followed with it. Herodes dropped to the ground and the swarms crawled over him and into him. His last sight was of his sword, still burning brightly, gripped in one of his severed arms.
Only in death does duty end.
Images flashed through Herodes’ mind; he saw his life as if from afar, from above. He saw his actions, all interconnected. He saw that everything had pointed to this moment; his contribution was not his service in Galt or at the Worldwound, but in bringing Lem to fully embrace Iomedae’s faith, and in his sacrifice this day so Lem and the others could escape. He saw what would befall Lem and Ursundova in the coming years, and the part Lem would play in it – a role Lem would only have a chance of succeeding in through his devotion to Iomedae. Finally he felt his wife and family, half a world away, and knew that they would grieve but endure.
Herodes understood, and then darkness overtook him, and he saw no more.