Hrotti knew something was wrong as they began to approach Whiterun. Dark clouds hung above the city despite the weather being clear in the surrounding plains. Everild clearly thought the same as she urged her horse to a gallop. Hrotti did so as well with her steed and the two sped towards the hill upon which the city stood.
Thunder rumbled overhead despite the complete lack of rain. Soon, the two were beneath the cover of the clouds and the world dimmed around them. As they neared the walls of Whiterun, the sky turned a crimson hue and their fears were confirmed.
“We’re too late,” Hrotti said.
“No,” Everild shook her head. “The city still stands.”
They dismounted at the stable, handing the reins over to a frightened-looking stable boy and promptly rushing up to the city gates. Only a single guard stood at the gate. Several archers could be seen on the walls above, though they paid no heed to the two arrivals and instead kept their eyes inward on the city itself. The guard did not wait for them to reach her and ran over when she spotted the two Companions.
“Everild!” she shouted. “Thank Talos you’re here! The city’s under attack, some kind of portal-”
“I know,” the Breton knight cut off her description to save time. “We saw one out in the plains.”
“By the Nine,” muttered the guard. “There’s more of them?”
“We need to get inside, help the other Companions.”
The guard nodded, “Hadmir said to keep people out of the city, but I think he means traders and travellers. I have no reason to keep you out if you want to aid in the defense.”
And so they were let through the gates and into Whiterun. The Plains District was a stark contrast to when Hrotti had last seen it, or to any time she had been there in the past. Even late at night there was usually some activity in the busiest part of the city, with torch-bearing guards patrolling the streets, merry voices coming from the inns and the occasional drunk stumbling out. Today, the district felt abandoned. Not a soul was in the market and all the doors were bolted shut.
Climbing up the stairs to the Wind District, the pair caught their first glimpse of the gateway. The rock surrounding it was shaped slightly differently from the one they had seen in the plains, but it gave the same jagged appearance. There was no mistaking that it was indeed the same type of portal.
When they reached the gateway, they found that the other Companions, along with the city guard, had surrounded it. Several of the warriors of Jorrvaskr were at the front of the defensive formation, including the Harbinger herself. Ragnhild was wearing a strange armour that Hrotti had never seen before; its texture reminded her of ice, though that couldn’t be right.
Everild tried to make her way through the arrayed fighters, but just then a figure stepped through the gate and the formation tightened, making it even more difficult to pass. The figure that emerged resembled the horned demons Hrotti had seen within the portal, which Everild later told her were called Dremora. However, this one had blue skin instead of red and was much taller, towering over the Nord defenders.
The giant Dremora, if he even was one, swung a greataxe with a single arm. Ragnhild held up her own with two hands, blocking the blow. As they fought, Hrotti saw Terrfyg break rank and close in to jab the enemy on the side where he held no weapon. The Dremora noticed this and raised his free hand, all the while continuing to swing at the Harbinger.
Streams of what seemed to be fire circled the air between Terrfyg and the large Dremora, causing the Companion to step back. When the flames faded away, a Clannfear had suddenly appeared in their place. The Daedric beast charged Terrfyg, who was forced to turn his attention to slaying the Clannfear rather than aiding Ragnhild.
Two more figures stepped through the portal, these ones Dremora of ordinary height with red skin. The first was clad in armour with a sword and shield, the second wore robes and held a mage’s staff. Ulfdir and Jormund shot at the Dremora sorcerer, but the warrior raised his shield, intercepting both arrows. The mage raised his arm and more flames started circling through the air.
Hrotti realized that with the Dremora warrior focused on arrows from the other Companions, he would not move quickly enough to block a shot towards the mage from her angle. She immediately notched an arrow, took aim, and let the bowstring go. As expected, the Dremora dove for the arrow, but could not move fast enough. It struck the mage’s temple, killing him. The flames fizzled out and no Clannfear materialized from them.
The Dremora warrior’s failed dive sent him to the ground. Holskar was upon him instantly, pounding the armoured demon with two war axes. Moments later, the fight was over. The Clannfear conjured by the giant Dremora disappeared as it had appeared when it was impaled by Terrfyg’s spear. Its summoner had been disarmed and knocked to the ground, the Harbinger of the Companions standing victorious over him. She brought her axe down one more time, severing the Dremora’s horned head.
Ragnhild looked around the battlefield after all the enemies were slain and her gaze settled on Everild, then Hrotti. She began to make her way out of the formation, with Terrfyg and Holskar following behind her when they too noticed who had returned. Their spots in the defensive perimeter were quickly filled by Bakir and the siblings Sigunn and Sighild.
Having been at the back of the formation, Ulfdir reached Hrotti before the other three members of the Circle.
“Excellent marksmanship,” he complimented. “I was hoping to see you in action, and I must say I’m not disappointed, lass.”
“Thank you,” Hrotti bowed her head towards the master archer.
“You’re back earlier than expected,” the Harbinger stated when the rest of the Circle finally made it through the other defenders.
“We lost the prisoner,” Everild explained. “A portal just like this one opened in the plains. We were ambushed by a Clannfear in the middle of the night and the elf seized the moment. He went through the portal and there were too many Dremora for the two of us to recapture him.”
“He went into the gateway?” Terrfyg asked. “You think he might’ve been responsible for them?”
“Not him personally,” replied the knight. “Though I’m certain whatever Daedric cult he’s a part of is behind this. The Dremora weren’t aggressive to him. He also threatened to destroy the Companions and now there’s another portal just outside Jorrvaskr.”
“Can we close the portal?” Hrotti inquired.
Ragnhild shook her head, “No weapon we tried can so much as scratch the rock around it. Not even Skyforge steel. If only we still had Tongues among our warriors. They could probably have shouted this gate down.”
“I don’t think we can hold long enough for someone to make the journey to High Hrothgar,” Ulfdir stated. “And even then the Greybeards probably won’t come down to help."
“We can ask the Mages Guild,” suggested Everild.
“How do we know the Mages Guild didn’t open this portal to begin with?” Holskar spoke up. “They’re led by a High Elf.”
“Just because their leader is an Altmer mage like the prisoner doesn’t mean they have anything to do with one another,” the knight argued. “The Horme are Nord warriors like you, yet they’re no friends of yours.”
“We’ll never make it to the Greybeards or the College of Winterhold in time,” Terrfyg added. “The only ones in the city who might have the knowledge to close this portal are the Mages Guild or Jarl Jsashe, and out of the two I think the Jarl’s more likely to be behind it all.”
Holskar nodded, relenting to their points. The Harbinger listened quietly as they discussed before turning to Everild.
“You know Archmagister Estalwe, don’t you?”
The Breton knight nodded, “We’ve spoken on a few occasions. I don’t think she’s involved in this.”
“Good enough for me. The two of us will ask for the mages’ help,” Ragnhild instructed. “Everyone else, stay here and keep holding the Daedra back until we return.”
The other members of the Circle nodded as Everild and the Harbinger turned and headed down the stairs from Jorrvaskr towards the Mages Guild hall on the far side of the Wind District. All was quiet for the moment at the gateway to Oblivion. Terrfyg and Holskar struck up another conversation, while Ulfdir strolled over to where the other archers stood at the back of the defensive formation. Hrotti began to follow the bowmaster but found herself approached by Freya and a man in the armour of the Whiterun guard.
“You always choose the most exciting times to arrive, don’t you Hrotti?” Freya remarked.
“I guess excitement just has a tendency to find me of late,” she replied.
Freya gestured towards the man beside her, “This is Hadmir Battle-Born, my brother and captain of the Whiterun guard.”
“It’s an honour to meet you, Hadmir.”
“The honour is mine,” the Guard Captain said. “Freya told me about your fight with the Horme, and I saw your arrow hit that Dremora. One of your talents belongs among the warriors of Jorrvaskr.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
“Of course, I could use another skilled archer on the guard, too,” Hadmir added with a slight chuckle. “But I don’t expect you’ll take me up on that offer now that you’re on the path of the Companions.”
The three spoke for a short while. Hrotti recounted what had transpired on their journey to Black Moor- the attack by the Clannfear, the portal and the prisoner’s taunts. Hadmir was especially interested to hear what was on the other side of the gateway, as they were apparently considering a counterassault through the portal if the Daedra attacks did not relent. Hrotti described everything she had seen in that land of fire and brimstone, but their conversation was cut short as something emerged from the portal again.
This time, it was a massive reptilian creature. The beast reminded Hrotti of a crocodile, which she had only ever seen drawings of in books before. Despite her inexperience, it was obvious that this creature was no crocodile. It had the head and skin of one except it stood on two legs, with its forelimbs ending in huge, clawed hands. The front row of warriors raised their shields and weapons as archers began notching arrows.
“Daedroth!” Hrotti heard Holskar shout what she assumed was the name of the monster.
The Daedroth shook its body like a dog shaking out water from its fur and a bright glow enveloped the creature. Arrows flew over the defenders, all of them shattering or bouncing off the beast’s scaly hide. It roared and leaned its head forward in what seemed to Hrotti to be an animalistic gesture of intimidation. The warriors must have thought so as well and some of them even pounded their shields in reply. Then, the Daedroth opened its jaws and belched fire.
Sigunn and a guard standing beside him were set alight, screaming and flailing. Sighild cried her brother’s name and broke rank, charging the creature. Her axe barely cut the monster’s skin. The Daedroth sliced her open and sent her body flying with a single swipe of its hand.
A second Daedroth stepped out from the gateway, shaking itself like the first before falling upon the ranks of Companions and guards. Hrotti joined the other archers, though she knew her arrows would have little effect. A few of them did manage to embed within their hide, albeit serving more as thorns in their sides than deadly projectiles.
Bakir engaged the second Daedroth, adeptly evading its claws and flaming breath. He slashed it many times with his twin scimitars, doing little more than light cuts on its thick skin. The Redguard must have realized he would never bring down the beast this way as he sheathed his scimitars and grabbed a sword dropped by a fallen Dremora nearby.
With the blade in hand, Bakir dodged several more swipes from the creature before spinning around to its back. It tried to sweep him off his feet with its tail. The Redguard leapt up, not to jump over the tail, but instead landing onto it. Using the spikes on its back, Bakir clambered up the Daedroth and stabbed the Dremora’s sword into its eye. The beast roared in pain, shaking its head violently and making the Redguard lose his grip on the blade.
As Bakir’s hand slipped off the sword, the Daedroth snapped its jaw to the side. To Hrotti’s horror, its reptilian snout closed around the Redguard’s arm. A second later, his entire right hand was gone. Bakir howled and both Companion and Daedric beast collapsed together.
The death of the second Daedroth came too late, as the first had already broken the defensive perimeter. Dremora poured forth out of the gate, taking advantage of the breach and trying to make a push for Jorrvaskr itself. Hadmir and Terrfyg rallied the defenders, forming a second line further back to prevent the Daedra from spilling into the rest of the city.
Hrotti stood with the archers, firing arrow upon arrow into the enemy ranks. The last Daedroth was finally taken down by a combination of blades, axes, spears and arrows. Dremora, Scamps, Clannfear and all manner of other Daedric creatures fell before the defenders. The second line held, barely, but there was no end in sight to the onslaught.
Several more guards were lost in the intense fighting. Gunnar’s shield was shattered by a thing that seemed as if it were made of rocks held together by veins of lightning. He retreated from the front line, his arm likely broken from the impact. Not far from Hrotti, Jalmund Swift-Bow was struck in the eye by a Dremora archer. Ulfdir rushed over to aid him; however, there was nothing he could do to save his protégé from the grievous wound.
Just when the line was starting to waver, Ragnhild and Everild returned up the stairs of Jorrvaskr. Behind them came a row of nine mages, led by a tall woman with golden skin and silver hair, unmistakably a High Elf of Summerset. Elemental energies crackled through the air as the sorcerers unleashed their spells and the Daedra responded in kind.
The exhausted defenders cheered when reinforcements joined the battle. They pressed forth with renewed hope and vigour and the Daedra were soon routed. Several Scamps fled back through the portal as the tide turned but the Dremora all stood their ground, fighting to their last breath. Upon clearing the gateway’s vicinity of enemies, Hadmir immediately reformed the defensive perimeter. The seven mages who survived the battle stayed to support the guards, standing ready for another assault or tending to the wounded with restoration magic.
Freya, Everild and Ulfdir took up places within the formation while the other Companions who could still fight spread out to hunt down the remaining Daedra. Though the second defensive line prevented any foes from making it into the residential areas of the city, several had scattered further into the grounds of Jorrvaskr in the chaos of the combat.
One band of Dremora was attempting to set fire to the mead hall and the Harbinger led the charge towards them. A smaller group of three Dremora warriors had retreated up to the Skyforge, where they lit the forge and began sabotaging the Companions by tossing their weapons into the hearth. Upon seeing them, Shelaz hoisted her greatsword and broke off, marching up the stairs to defend her work. Hrotti followed to support the Orc smith, as the three members of the Circle would be able to handle themselves.
Shelaz let out a war cry and the trio of Dremora turned to face her. Hrotti kept her distance and ducked low, using the stairs to hide herself from the enemy’s view. She let the Orc draw the attention as she quietly notched an arrow and took aim. The Dremora circled around Shelaz, who swung her greatsword about herself in wide sweeping arcs, foiling any attempt to flank her.
One of the Dremora did not have a helmet, and as soon as he came into Hrotti’s line of fire, she let the arrow fly. It found its mark in the demon’s unprotected head. Another of the Dremora turned towards the direction of the arrow as she saw her fellow fall. This Dremora wielded a single mace, though Hrotti noted that she had a quiver which was empty. The mace was likely a backup weapon like Hrotti’s own blade and she had discarded her bow in the midst of battle when she ran out of arrows.
The Dremora sent a bolt of lightning towards Hrotti, who managed to evade it and quickly fired an arrow in reply. The arrow only staggered her opponent, shattering on the armour and doing no damage. Hrotti reached to her quiver only to realize that she, like her enemy, had also used up her last arrow. The Dremora let out an echoing laugh, holding out an armoured hand and curling her fingers inwards, taunting the huntress to engage her in close quarters.
Hrotti drew her sword and approached. The Dremora wasted no time and swung her mace as soon as she was in range. Hrotti managed to evade the first two blows and tried to counterattack, only to find her blade turned away by the mace before it even had a chance to strike armour. Her opponent was clearly more skilled than her and the huntress went on the defensive, dodging and parrying the mace while watching for an opening.
She never had the chance. During one parry, when the mace head came into contact with the flat side of the sword, the steel blade snapped into two. Hrotti leapt back from the fight just in time, making it far enough back to avoid the Dremora’s next swing. She looked around desperately. Shelaz was still engaged in a duel with the last Dremora, who also wielded a greatsword and was managing to hold his own against the Orc smith. Hrotti would not be getting help from her Shield-Sister.
However, she did notice a pair of axes on the side of the forge which the Dremora had not yet tossed into the flames. Unfortunately, the Dremora followed her gaze and stepped over towards the forge, placing herself squarely between the huntress and her potential armaments. There was the dead Dremora’s mace, but Hrotti had never practiced with such a weapon before and doubted she stood a chance against an enemy who carried one with them.
There was only one thing to do. She charged the Dremora with the broken half of her sword. Just as she hoped, the Dremora went for the killing blow, swinging for her head. Hrotti ducked under the mace and kept on running forward. She slammed hard into her opponent’s armoured torso, hard enough to cause a jolt of pain to shoot through her shoulder. The Dremora was sent back several steps, stumbling into the edge of the forge. She lost her balance and, toppling under the weight of her armour, fell straight into the hearth.
The Dremora wailed a demonic scream as she was set alight. It did not take long for the Skyforge’s searing heat to finish her and she flailed for only a few seconds before she went motionless. Hrotti turned to aid Shelaz, only to realize that the Orc had also gotten the better of her opponent. Glancing down from the forge, she saw Holskar execute the last Dremora below, and the attack was finally repelled in full.
“Thanks for the assistance, whelp,” Shelaz said. “You’re not half bad. Now let’s get back down there and make sure more of them don’t break through again.”
As they made their way back down, Hrotti took another glance at the ancient forge. The Dremora’s red and black armour still lay within, slowly melting away. Her greaves and boots, which hung on the edge of the forge, were beginning to slide in as the rest of the armour was being consumed. Soon, there would be nothing left of her.
When they returned to the gateway, Hrotti found a Dunmer woman healing Gunnar’s arm and a Breton man tending to an unconscious Bakir. Freya and Hadmir made their way to them as well, the armoured woman kneeling down beside the fallen Redguard.
“Is he alive?” Freya asked the Breton man.
“He’ll live,” the mage replied. “No restoration spell I know will regrow his hand though, I’m afraid. We should take him to the Temple to recover.”
Freya moved to lift Bakir’s legs, but Hadmir shook his head, “I’ll get two of my men to take him there. We’re needed here if the Daedra come again.”
The Guard Captain waved two guardsmen over and instructed them to carry Bakir to the Temple of Kynareth. As Hrotti watched them take him away, she became aware that the members of the Circle were having a discussion nearby with the leader of the mages.
“I’ve never encountered one like this in my time, but any stable portal to Oblivion needs something to anchor it,” the Altmer was explaining. “A portal of this magnitude is too large to be sustained by mages. It must use a powerful magical device to maintain the bridge between Mundus and-”
“We don’t need the details of how it works, Estalwe,” Everild cut in. “If we find this anchor and destroy it, then we can shut down this gateway?”
The High Elf nodded, “Without the stabilizing device or devices, it will collapse.”
“So how do we find these devices?” Terrfyg asked.
“When Molag Bal invaded Tamriel centuries ago, the portals he created brought the devices that sustained them along,” Estalwe looked around. “Since I don’t see anything that could function as such anchors here, the only conclusion is that they must be located on the other side.”
“Then we have no choice,” Holskar said. “We must go in.”
“We’ll be fighting the Daedra in their own territory,” Ulfdir pointed out. “Who can say what awaits us there?”
“Holskar is right,” the Harbinger concluded. “We can’t weather another assault like that last one. We may all die on the other side, but that’ll happen eventually if we keep trying to hold here.”
The members of the Circle regarded one another, each giving a nod as they agreed on their Harbinger’s reasoning.
“We’re with you to the end, Ragnhild,” Freya chimed in, as by now all the other Companions still on their feet had gathered around to listen.
The Harbinger shook her head, “Not this time, Freya. It would be unwise to commit all of our warriors to this. The enemy might sneak another force behind us once we begin our offensive. Closing the gateway will be pointless if we come back to find the city burned to the ground.”
“I’ll stay with my brother and maintain the defensive line, then,” Freya replied.
“Good. The Circle will head into the portal with a few of the mages to find and destroy whatever’s keeping it open,” Ragnhild stated. “Estalwe, bring two of your guild who can aid us best in battle.”
“Mettius. Olivier,” the Altmer sorcerer called two of her fellow mages. “The three of us will accompany the Companions.”
The Breton healer who was tending to Bakir stepped forward beside an Imperial man in a suit of legionnaire armour. Though the man seemed more of a warrior than a wizard, Hrotti had seen him hurl spells alongside the other sorcerers. Just now, she realized that in place of the usual helmet, he wore a hood over his head- the adornment of an Imperial Legion battlemage.
While the mages gathered, Ragnhild turned to Captain Hadmir, “If we don’t return by nightfall, evacuate the city.”
Despite the fact that he was no Companion, the Guard Captain took the instruction from the esteemed advisor of Jorrvaskr, giving a curt nod of his head, “Yes Harbinger.”
And thus did the fellowship set out, five Companions and three mages. The defenders parted ways for them as they approached the gate. Their comrades and colleagues in their respective guilds bowed their heads or saluted with their blades, knowing that in all likelihood, they would never see their friends again. All eyes were upon them as the eight heroes stepped through the jaws of Oblivion.