The next two days after their arrival at Whiterun was marked by pounding rain. As a result, the trip to take the prisoner to the Imperial garrison at Black Moor was delayed, and Hrotti had a little more time to settle into Jorrvaskr before her first task with the Companions.
She used the time to get to know the other members of the guild and even partook in a few training sessions with them. As Hrotti expected, they were more skilled than her in close-quarters; though she was trained with a sword, she was not a seasoned warrior like many of them. Some of those whom she sparred with did not think much of her, the new whelp, as was their tendency of addressing recruits to the guild.
Bakir, however, was very helpful, which came as quite a surprise to Hrotti. She had thought of him as the more selfish type due to his stance on the prisoner and his subsequent unwillingness to have anything to do with the captive elf, having only reluctantly taken night watches and left all other care to his fellows. Now that Hrotti was a recruit, Bakir appeared very eager to show her the ropes, and he was quite good at it too. She felt that in two days with him, she had learned more about swordplay than she would in two weeks with any other instructor.
Meanwhile, Hrotti’s skill with a bow seemed to impress Ulfdir Gray-Mane. He gave her a few tips and promised to take her along on his next contract to see just what she was capable of in the wild. From her conversations with Ulfdir and Freya, Hrotti also became more familiar with the politics of Whiterun. She had been to the city before, but only ever stayed within the Plains District, as she always came for the market.
The Companions were not supposed to be involved in political affairs, but it always helped to know the state of the place she now lived in. Apparently, Jarl Jsashe was a self-proclaimed Priestess of Shor, though no official temple to the god existed in the Hold as it was one of the old Nord pantheon and not among the Nine Divines of the more widespread Imperial Cult.
Jsashe was an accomplished sorceress and was suggested by some to have been connected to the anti-Imperial Horme due to being a follower of the old gods rather than the Imperial Divines. She was also the wife of the previous Jarl, who had always dismissed these claims as nothing but slander. When her husband was mauled to death by a frost troll while out hunting, Jsashe had not yet borne him any heirs and as such she was chosen to be the next Jarl. To this day, Whiterun was still rife with conspiracies that Jsashe had assassinated her husband and magically charmed his court into supporting her.
These conspiracies apparently held some weight even among the Companions, hence their journey to deliver the prisoner directly to the Imperials rather than trusting him to the Jarl. It was not the most glorious of work, but this was her first task with the Companions, and Hrotti did not honestly expect to be sent on something worthy of song right away. Her entry into the guild had been eventful enough, in any case.
The weather cleared on the third day and Everild approached Hrotti during breakfast, telling her to be ready in an hour. She finished her food quickly and gathered what she needed- her bow, a quiver of arrows, and the sword that Freya had given her, along with some supplies for the journey. When she had everything, she returned to the main hall of Jorrvaskr, where Everild was waiting for her with the prisoner.
Everild wore full plate armour like Freya, which Hrotti expected as she knew that Everild had mentored Freya when she first joined the Companions. However, Everild’s armour was of a distinctly different style from her apprentice’s, whose armour Hrotti recognized as a traditional Nordic design from local smithies. The older warrior’s armour was presumably of Breton origin, like the woman who donned it.
As a Breton, Everild was shorter than Hrotti. Even with her armoured boots, she still did not quite reach up to the Nord woman’s height, and their Altmer prisoner easily towered over her. Hrotti knew that judging the Breton by her size would be a mistake, and no doubt one many of her opponents had made in the past. Having seen Freya in action, she could only imagine how skilled her mentor would be.
Hrotti did not have the chance to train with Everild when they were in Jorrvaskr, and what little she learned of the Breton was through Freya. After departing the city of Whiterun and setting out on the road with just the three of them, Hrotti struck up conversation with her fellow Shield-Sister.
“Everild. I heard the other Companions call you a knight,” she stated.
“That’s right,” replied the Breton.
“Is that because of your fighting style?” Hrotti inquired further. “Or are you a knight like the ones from the Imperial stories, who are part of an order?”
“Both. I was a knight of the Order of Saint Pelin. I don’t know if they would still consider me as one of them, though.”
“Should I be calling you sir or dame?”
Everild chuckled, “Please don’t. We are both Shield-Sisters of the Companions now. And even if we aren’t, titles of High Rock mean little here in Skyrim.”
“What brought you to Skyrim and to the Companions?”
“I wasn’t very good at playing politics,” explained the ex-knight. “And it turns out you need to be to work with nobility. I realized the part I enjoyed about life as a knight was the thrill of battle, not the social status. So I came to Skyrim, where a warrior’s skill was respected and not expected to be tied to games of politics.”
Hrotti listened intently to the Breton’s explanation, asking yet another question when she finished, “The Redguards are well-known for their warrior culture too. And Hammerfell is also quite close to High Rock. Why did you decide to come to Skyrim instead?”
“Many Knights of Saint Pelin serve in the Bangkorai Garrison, which guards the pass connecting High Rock and Hammerfell. We are known for fighting against Redguards. I doubt I would be very popular in their lands.”
“Fair enough. How did you come to find the Companions after you came to Skyrim?”
“Oh it wasn’t anything as exciting as your recruitment. I wandered across Skyrim, performing knightly deeds as I did back in Evermore. I reached Whiterun, heard about the Companions, asked to join, and here I am.”
Everild proved an amicable travelling companion, which made up for the problems of the first day on the road. They did not set out at dawn and thus did not have as long until they lost the daylight. When they were forced to make camp, the plains were still damp from the rainstorms and did not make for a very comfortable rest even after a campfire was blazing. Like the journey from Riverwood to Whiterun, Hrotti and Everild took turns sleeping, with one of them staying awake to watch the prisoner.
The next day, they departed not long after sunrise and made much better progress. Hrotti shot a rabbit while they travelled and they had covered enough ground near the end of the day that Everild was content to camp a little before dusk. This gave Hrotti some light to prepare their dinner. While Hrotti skinned her catch, Everild set up the camp, and when the day began fading away, they were ready to roast the rabbit atop a fire.
As Hrotti cooked their meal, Everild asked, “So you were a hunter in these parts?”
“From Riverwood,” answered Hrotti. “The village to the south of Whiterun.”
“That’s something I always like about the Companions,” commented Everild. “Anyone with skill can join, regardless of where you come from. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a hunter, a foreign mercenary or a member of a prominent Nord clan. As long as you fight well, you’re an equal among the Companions.”
“It’s not the case in High Rock, I take it? I’ve heard you have so many ranks and titles most outsiders can’t make sense of it.”
Everild laughed, “That part about the titles is certainly true. But the reason I like that about the Companions is because that’s exactly how things work where I come from. It’s why so many young Bretons go out on adventures. That’s how I became a knight, by making a name for myself and impressing the right people.”
“You weren’t born into a noble family, then?” Hrotti inquired.
“By Stendarr, no,” Everild chuckled. “That’s why I’m so bad at dealing with them.”
“I thought you came from a similar background to Freya, which is why you got on so well.”
“Freya and I get along well because we both like wearing heavy armour and bashing heads in with our shields,” explained the Breton. “Besides, people from your major clans aren’t much like nobles in High Rock.”
Hrotti nodded, “What did you do before you were a knight?”
“I was an aspiring knight,” Everild replied with a coy grin before elaborating. “I didn’t have a different trade like you, but I come from a family of blacksmiths. My father was passing down the business to my elder brother and was happy to let me run off in search of glory. He even smithed my first sword and armour- a basic iron breastplate and bracers.”
“When did you start using full plate?”
“It was only after I became a knight. The order gave me my first set. My father probably could’ve made me some right from the onset, but I wouldn’t even know how to move in it.”
“Yes, it takes some training to fight with all that on, I imagine.”
“And it helps to start with some basic armour first,” Everild added. “Get used to the weight before adding more on. Freya didn’t start with full plate, either.”
They continued to converse through their meal, passing a bit of food to the elven prisoner so he would not starve to death. Once they were finished, Everild offered to take the first watch in thanks for the rabbit and Hrotti drifted to sleep in her bedroll. She had some much needed rest before the older Companion woke her for her turn to keep an eye on the prisoner. Hrotti helped Everild remove her heavy plate armour before settling down by the fire, tending to it while occasionally glancing at the prisoner who was asleep nearby.
For several hours she kept watch. It was difficult to judge the exact time without the sun. She thought dawn had finally broken when she saw a light in the distance. Hrotti stood to wake Everild when she realized something was wrong about this sunrise. It took her a moment to determine why things felt so off, but her instincts from simply living on Tamriel had immediately told her that it was unnatural. A red glow in the early morning was not strange; however, this glow did not appear to extend outwards from the sun. Instead, the glow pervaded across the entire sky with no clear point of origin.
Hrotti only took a few steps towards her Shield-Sister when she heard a rustling among the grasses. She turned, drawing an arrow from her quiver. It was still quite dark, and despite her honed senses, she was limited by the capabilities of human vision. Fortunately, the campfire was still lit and Hrotti stayed close by. The fire would illuminate anything that closed in; Hrotti would simply have to react fast and shoot it down before it reached her.
She heard another rustle and adjusted her stance to face the rough direction that the sound emanated from. Her arrow was notched on the bowstring and she had but to draw and fire. Hrotti had done this only a handful of times when she encountered large predators. Most of the time, she was the hunter and had plenty of time to carefully line up a shot on her prey. She pressed the thought of not moving fast enough to the back of her mind and concentrated on the moment. She needed to focus.
The firelight caught the creature making its way towards the camp. Hrotti did not recognize it; whatever it was, it could not have been native to this part of Skyrim. In the dim light, she could make out a large oval head, arms ending in long digits, two legs and a tail. Hrotti quickly took aim for the head and let the arrow fly. It whizzed through the air, striking the centre of the head, and to her surprise, appeared to shatter upon impact. The creature let out a hiss and charged.
As it closed the distance, Hrotti discovered her mistake. She had not hit the creature’s head, but a tall bony crest that extended up from the head. Now, its head was lowered and the crest was coming right at her. Hrotti tried to step aside, but the creature was too fast. The side of the crest slammed into her shoulder and she lost her balance, falling on her back.
The beast continued its attack, leaving Hrotti no time to draw her sword. It reached down with its two clawed hands to pin her down and she held up the bow to keep the hands at bay. She was able to prevent its claws from stabbing into her body, but its long fingers proved difficult to contend with and she was left with several bloody scratches on her arms.
Whatever the creature was, it had to be a predator, as almost every part of its body was a weapon. As they struggled, it struck down at Hrotti with its head, which ended in a sharp beak. Hrotti moved her head to the side just enough to evade and the beak pecked at nothing but dirt. It let out another hiss and reared back to strike again.
Hrotti was not sure how long she could keep this up. She was on the ground with limited space to move. Sooner or later, if the beak did not get her, the claws would, and she had no means to counterattack as she was far too occupied trying to keep her enemy’s hands at bay to reach for her blade.
Fortunately, before the beast could peck at her again, a sword stabbed into its side. It let out a screech and spun around, swiping a hand at the new attacker. The creature’s claws met Everild’s shield, making a loud metal clang. With its attention no longer on Hrotti, she immediately dropped her bow and drew her own sword, stabbing it into the beast’s belly from below.
It screeched again and turned its attention back to Hrotti, swinging a claw down at her. She rolled to the side, dodging the blow. When its hand struck the ground, Everild’s shield came down hard, crushing its fingers. Her blade followed suit behind it, cutting the beast’s hand clean off. It stumbled and Hrotti jabbed her sword up once more, this time into its neck.
The creature tried to screech, but all that came out was a hoarse rasp. Everild slammed her shield into its side and it fell onto the ground. The beast rasped again, its remaining hand reaching towards Hrotti’s direction even in its final moments. Its fingers clenched the dirt, then went still.
Everild glanced around and upon seeing no further danger, sheathed her sword and offered Hrotti her hand. The former knight was not wearing her characteristic shining armour. There was no time to put it on, and she had no doubt sprung to action as soon as she woke and realized they were under attack. Hrotti took her Shield-Sister’s hand and was promptly hoisted up.
“What was that thing?” Hrotti asked.
“Clannfear,” responded Everild. “It’s a creature from Oblivion. I’ve seen mages summon them before. Did the elf...?”
“No, it came from somewhere else. If he summoned it, I’d have seen-” Hrotti paused as she looked to where the prisoner was sleeping, only to realize he was no longer there.
“Gods damn it,” the Breton woman cursed as she came to the same discovery.
“Make a torch. I’ll start following his tracks.”
Hrotti sheathed her sword and retrieved her bow before searching for the prisoner’s footprints. She found them with little effort, having known where he started from. She began to follow the tracks and Everild soon reappeared behind her, holding a torch to provide them illumination.
As they followed the fleeing prisoner’s trail, Hrotti suddenly noticed that the light she thought was on the horizon earlier was actually much closer. The tracks were taking them directly towards it and before long, Hrotti was able to make out where the light came from. It was a towering portal supported by black stone on all sides. The sight gave her the impression of a reptilian eye, except it was the pupil that was bright with the surrounding area pitch black.
The portal flickered like a roaring blaze. Instead of embers from a campfire, streaks of unstable energy stretched out from it resembling some combination of lightning and flame. The stone that supported the portal was jagged, and the ground beneath was cracked as if it had been through some terrible drought despite the rainstorms just a few days prior. All the plants in the immediate area were dead, the ones immediately by the portal burnt to ash while the grasses further away were dry and shriveled up.
Hrotti glanced at Everild as they approached the portal, “Have you seen anything like this before?”
The Breton knight shook her head, “Never. I’m no expert on the arcane, but I’ve dealt with plenty of mages and I doubt any of them would be capable of this. Whatever this is, it’s some advanced magic.”
“The elf’s friends must have come to his rescue. We should’ve brought more people.”
“We haven’t lost him yet, Hrotti.”
Despite the damage done to the terrain, it was clear that the prisoner’s tracks led directly into the portal. The two Companions stopped just short of it, exchanging a quick gaze. Everild looked to the portal, then back to Hrotti, giving her a firm nod before drawing her blade and stepping through. Hrotti steeled herself, took a deep breath, and followed suit.
They appeared on the other side to a completely different landscape. Gone were the wide grassy plains of Whiterun. Instead, the pair found themselves standing on a small stretch of barren rock amidst fields of lava. Sinister spires loomed in the distance, their shapes accentuated by the unnatural red sky which was even more prominent here. The cracking of thunder filled the air as the same streaks of fiery lightning which emerged from the portal danced above them.
The elf stood some ways ahead of them with two others at his side. They were dressed in crimson and black armour, which matched the colours of their faces. Horns sprouted from their heads, not unlike the spikes that crowned the towers around them. Though Hrotti did not know what these beings were, she had little doubt that they were native to this place.
“Welcome,” the High Elf called to them, making a dramatic sweeping gesture with his now unbound hands, “to the realm of Lord Dagon.”
“I knew it,” muttered Everild. “He’s a Daedric cultist.”
“Challenge the armies of my master, if you so wish,” continued the elf. “I understand you barbarians like to perish in combat. My lord will much appreciate the donation of your souls.”
Hrotti notched an arrow, but Everild pushed her bow down with her shield before she could take aim. She gave the knight an incredulous look, but soon noticed what had prompted the reaction. Another ten armoured demons were marching towards them, with two clannfear striding in front. Behind the group stood two other members of their race dressed in robes, likely their mages.
“We are outmatched,” Everild stated, looking at the bloodied arms that held the bow. “You’re hurt and I don’t have my armour. There is no honour in dying here. You’ll never see Sovngarde if Mehrunes Dagon claims your soul.”
“Or run,” the elf taunted. “It makes little difference. The dawn is breaking. Lord Dagon will soon reclaim Lorkhan’s realm from the traitors. All unbelievers shall burn, and your order of savages and murderers will be one of the first.”
It was Hrotti’s turn to give a nod now, “We need to warn Whiterun of the portal and the monsters coming out of it.”
The two Shield-Sisters turned to step back through the portal, which was thankfully still there. The Altmer and his Daedric allies made no attempt to pursue them. Instead, the mad elven cultist shouted after the Companions as they made their escape, his voice ringing with triumph and laughter.
“The tyranny of the Septims is over! Liberty! Liberty for Tamriel! Mehrunes is come!”