The realm beyond the gateway was exactly what Terrfyg pictured in his mind when he thought of Oblivion. It was a dark mirror of the world of Nirn, where the ground was ash and cracked rock instead of grass and soil, where the rivers and seas were molten lava instead of water and where the sky was a raging red instead of serene blue. The latter he had already grown somewhat accustomed to, as the portal had brought the sinister weather to Whiterun. He could only wonder if the rest was what would become of the city should the Daedra win.
Terrfyg would never allow that to come to pass.
He emerged from the portal with his spear ready and the others were prepared for battle as well. All they found in the vicinity of the gate were four Scamps and a Clannfear. The Daedra must still have been rallying their forces after the last push and were clearly unprepared for such a counterattack. The Scamps and Clannfear were no match for five Companions and three mages, falling almost instantly to arrows and spells before Terrfyg even had a chance to reach striking range.
When the area was clear, the eight of them took a closer look at their surroundings. They were on a large island surrounded by lava on all sides. Ahead of them loomed two towers. The closer of the two was located on their island, while the more distant and taller tower was situated on a different, smaller island. A bridge connecting the two towers in the middle was the only visible path between the islands without crossing the lava.
“Can you scry where the anchor devices are?” Everild asked Archmagister Estalwe.
The Altmer shook her head, “I specialize in the schools of Alteration and Destruction. I know some Detect Life spells, but I wouldn’t know what to search for to detect these devices.”
“What did we bring you here for, then?” Holskar frowned.
Estalwe gestured up, “The towers are the most likely place to find them.”
Holskar simply scowled, “We could’ve made that guess on our own.”
“Let me finish,” asserted the Archmagister. “We search the towers. If we can’t find the devices, we’ll probably find some ranking Dremora up there. I have enough knowledge of Conjuration magic to bind one of them for interrogating.”
“We can pin one down and beat what we need out of it,” said Holskar. “Don’t need some fancy spell for that.”
The High Elf sighed, “Not a physical bind, you brute. We call that paralysis. Binding spells compel a lesser Daedra to do whatever you ask it to. It’s how conjurers can control the Daedra they summon.”
“We go to the nearest tower,” Ragnhild stated. “Either we find the anchors or someone who can tell us about them.”
The eight of them made their way across the blasted terrain towards the first tower. Terrfyg quickly realized just how different Oblivion was from his own world. It did not simply look foreign, but the very landscape was hostile to them. As they walked through a small gorge, roots that hung down from the rock lashed out at them, catching Terrfyg unaware and knocking his spear from his grasp.
He drew his sword immediately, though he did not have to use it as Estalwe and the battlemage Mettius set fire to the roots. Once the roots stopped flailing, Terrfyg was able to retrieve his spear and they continued more cautiously. The additional vigilance paid off when Ragnhild and Holskar stepped back just in time as a different plant began to spew poison into the air at their approach.
When they reached the entrance to the tower, they found it guarded by a pillar which resembled the tower itself, with a large spiked top and smaller spikes running up its length. The top of the pillar spun as they neared, then started launching balls of fire. The Companions deftly evaded the attacks as they ran for the door into the tower, while the mages shielded themselves from the flames with wards and other defensive spells.
The base of the tower was guarded by two flame atronachs, elemental Daedra with bodies shaped like that of a woman’s, though made entirely of fire instead of flesh and bone. They were clad sparsely in pieces of armour, with much of their fiery forms exposed and fortunately vulnerable to weaponry, unlike actual fire. Estalwe sent spikes of ice through one of them, which proved especially effective, while the Companions made short work of the other.
Entering a door to the side of the central chamber, the eight heroes progressed their way up the tower. They traversed winding corridors lined with deadly traps which would have been the end of many a less experienced warrior or mage, but proved little more than a hindrance to their group. All manner of lesser Daedra tried to halt them as well. With the martial prowess of the five Companions and the Imperial battlemage, the arcane power of the Archmagister and the restorative magic of the Breton healer for when one of them did receive a blow, the fellowship cut a path towards the top.
As they ascended, Terrfyg came to the realization that many of the corridors spiralled in directions which should have caused them to criss-cross the tower. Yet whenever they reached the central chamber, the middle of the tower seemed hollow and they always had a clear view to the top. It made no sense to his mind, but he supposed that was the nature of Oblivion. They were without question making their way further and further up, and that was all Terrfyg needed to know.
Finally, after slaying numerous lesser Daedra and navigating countless traps, they reached the very top of the tower. It was a large circular room with three levels, and like everything else in this unnatural place, it all seemed familiar yet wrong. There were stairs leading up to the second level, but they were sharp red teeth jutting out of the walls. The ramps to the third level were long strips of flayed flesh which squelched disgustingly as they trod upon it. Both seemed like they would be precarious to climb, yet Terrfyg had no trouble walking on either other than the unease he felt.
On the third level, five Dremora were waiting for them. An archer and a mage fired arrows and lightning at them as they ascended the fleshy ramps. Everild and Mettius raised their shields, blocking the arrows from striking the others. The healer Olivier drew up another magical ward, absorbing the lightning with no harm to himself. Ulfdir took down the Dremora sorcerer with a well-placed shot while Estalwe retaliated with her own shock magic, frying the Dremora bowman even through his armour.
Terrfyg, Holskar and Ragnhild quickly overpowered the three remaining enemies. The Harbinger, who chose the tallest Dremora with the largest weapon, disarmed her opponent and pinned him to the ground. He struggled so fiercely that both Terrfyg and Holskar had to help hold him down as the Archmagister cast her spell. It did not stop even when her magic was complete.
“Did it not work?” Holskar asked.
“It worked,” Estalwe assured him. “He must obey my commands, but I haven’t commanded him to stop fighting yet. Dremora, stop your resistance.”
The Dremora snarled, though despite his audible anger he ceased his struggling as if his body was compelled to act counter to his will. The Companions backed away cautiously as the Dremora returned to his feet, their weapons held ready to strike him down at a moment’s notice.
“You dare bind me, mortal?” hissed the Dremora. “I am a Markynaz, a lord among the Kyn!”
“You will answer my questions,” stated the Archmagister. “You have no choice.”
“What do you want?” growled the Markynaz.
“Tell me what is keeping that gateway to our world open.”
“A sigil stone,” the Dremora answered in the simplest way possible.
“A sigil stone,” Estalwe repeated. “Of course! It’s the only extra-dimensional artifact capable of transpontine circumpenetration, as written by Camilonwe of-”
“Focus please, Archmagister,” Everild interjected. “Where is this sigil stone?”
The Dremora ignored the Companion, answering only when the Altmer mage repeated the question, “It is in the Sigillum Sanguis, at the summit of the Sigil Keep.”
“Is that the other tower?” inquired the Archmagister.
“Yes,” the Dremora recovered a key from somewhere on his armour, handing it to the elf. “You can reach the Sigil Keep through the bridge that connects the towers, but you will need this key to enter the Sigillum Sanguis.”
“Good try, but did you really think the Archmagister of a Mages Guild Hall doesn’t know that accepting a gift from a bound Dremora frees it? Now give it to me, by my command.”
The Markynaz snarled again with frustration as he lowered the arm with the key in it, then raised it a second time. Estalwe snatched the key from his open hand.
“Is there anything else we must know to close the portal?” she asked.
“You need only remove the sigil stone. You will never make it that far. We expected you would come. We are prepared. You will all die. The Deadlands will be your-”
Ragnhild swung her axe into the Dremora’s neck, silencing him.
“Let’s get across that bridge and finish this,” the Harbinger said.
Their passage back down the tower was uneventful, as they had already slain every Daedra within and knew the position of each trap. They found the door leading out to the bridge roughly halfway along the tower. Holskar and Mettius rushed out first, followed by Ragnhild, Everild, Terrfyg and the others.
When Terrfyg stepped foot on the bridge, he saw a great shape descending upon them. Like the sky above it, the creature sported a bright red colouration, which was no surprise given the appearance of the Dremora and the other denizens of Oblivion. What was a surprise though was that this particular creature greatly resembled the dragons of legend, which had not been seen to fly on Tamriel for at least an era.
“Dragon!” he shouted, unsure of how else to name such a beast.
“Quickly, across the bridge!” Holskar yelled back as he and Mettius broke into a sprint.
As the dragon-like creature came closer, Terrfyg noticed that it had four limbs in addition to its wings- two hind legs and two arms ending in hands. He had never seen dragons depicted in such a manner; they were always shown with two wings and two legs, never hands. Terrfyg recalled the events of a contract where he escorted a scholar to some ancient dragon sites in Skyrim. The scholar had explained that the draconic script was scratched onto stone by dragons with their claws because they did not have hands to hold writing implements with. Terrfyg knew then that it was no dragon, but some Daedric mimicry of them, as the Dremora were for men and mer.
The Dragon-Daedra came at them far faster than they could run, and it became evident that they would not make it across the bridge in time.
“Fall back!” Ragnhild called as she came to a stop. “Fall back to the first tower!”
The eight of them immediately headed back for the door they had come through. Terrfyg had only just made it into the safety of the tower when he heard a great rumble behind him. Spinning around, he saw the bridge collapse as the Dragon-Daedra slammed both its legs into it. To Terrfyg’s horror, Holskar and Mettius went down with the pieces of the bridge.
Ragnhild and Everild were spared the same fate, having made it close enough to the tower that they were on a stretch of bridge which still stood. They watched as the Dragon-Daedra dove, grabbing Holskar in one of its massive hands while the Imperial battlemage fell to his doom in the lava below. With the Nord warrior in hand, it rose up and landed on the second tower where it lifted the Companion high into the air for his Shield-Siblings to witness.
Holskar somehow managed to free an arm and swung the one axe he still had at the massive hand wrapped around him. The edge of the weapon bit into one of the beast’s fingers. The Dragon-Daedra growled, hurling the Companion upon one of the tower’s spikes and impaling him. Ragnhild let out a cry of fury. For a moment, the Dragon-Daedra locked gazes with the Harbinger of the Companions. Then, it leaned forward and its throat began to glow.
The two armoured women ran into the tower, shutting the door behind them just in time to block the ball of fire that had come from the creature’s maw.
“Where’s the other two?” Olivier asked. “Where’s Mettius?”
“They didn’t make it,” Ragnhild replied solemnly, and the six remaining members of the fellowship fell silent.
“How do we get to the tower now?” Terrfyg said when he finally decided to break the silence, knowing that the longer they tarried, the more dangerous things could become.
“I was well-versed in levitation magic before the Empire banned it,” Estalwe answered. “I can get us across, but not with that Daedric Titan flying around.”
“We get back down to the ground,” suggested the Harbinger. “We kill that dragon or titan or whatever it is, then it should be safe for you to levitate us across the lava to the other island with the second tower.”
Terrfyg and the rest gave nods of approval to the plan, having no better ideas themselves. They did not have time to carry it out, though. Terrfyg had barely taken a few steps forward when he heard the sound of marching echoing up the tower. The others paused as well, having noticed the obvious.
“This was a trap,” Estalwe realized. “The Dremora was right. They were ready for us.”
“Can you levitate us down the centre of the tower?” Everild asked the Archmagister.
Terrfyg glanced over the edge and saw that the bottom floor was already swarming with Dremora, “She’ll be sending us right into the enemy. No, we have to hold here.”
“Two doors lead to this level,” Ulfdir pointed out. “There’s no defensible position. If we focus on one side, they’ll use the other to flank us.”
“Then there’s only one option left,” Ragnhild stated, heading for the door that led to the broken bridge.
The Archmagister rushed after her, “What’re you doing, Harbinger? The Titan’s still out there. I can’t levitate you across the bridge, it’ll snatch you out of the air.”
“I’m not asking you to levitate me across the bridge,” answered the Harbinger. “I’m asking you to levitate me onto the Titan.”
“Onto the-” Terrfyg understood what Ragnhild was up to now and ran also to her side. “Let me do it, Harbinger. You’re the best of us. We need-”
“We don’t have time to argue,” Ragnhild silenced him, pushing open the doors.
The Harbinger stepped onto the broken bridge with her Skyforge steel greataxe gripped tightly in both hands. Her Stalhrim armour gleamed bright blue in the fiery light of Oblivion as a solitary star shining on a dark night. Standing there on the precipice, Ragnhild took a brief glance back. Whether it was to check if the Archmagister was ready or to have one final look at her friends, Terrfyg could not say. He knew one thing for certain- that it was not out of hesitation.
The Daedric Titan swooped down from the sky, its crimson wings spread wide. Ragnhild waited patiently, biding her time. When the Titan’s hands were almost upon her, she leapt, shouting Ysgramor’s name as her battle cry. Just behind the doors in the tower, Archmagister Estalwe made a sweeping gesture and the Harbinger soared up past the Titan’s outstretched arms. Grabbing onto one of the beast’s spikes, Ragnhild landed upon its back and drove her greataxe down in a powerful two-handed blow.
The Titan roared in pain and its flight faltered briefly. It reached back with one of its arms to swat the woman away. Despite her armour, Ragnhild was nimble enough to evade the strike. She brought her axe down again and the Daedra began to circle erratically, desperately trying to shake off its attacker.
“Go while she’s keeping the Titan busy!” Estalwe shouted.
Terrfyg was the closest and approached the bridge first. The Archmagister stopped him at the doorway, handing him the key she had received from the Dremora.
“Take it,” she said. “In case I don’t make it over.”
He nodded, understanding the Archmagister’s reasoning and knowing they were short on time. Terrfyg made a running jump and found himself floating when he expected to fall. A few moments later he was across the gap, landing on the segment of bridge still attached to the second tower.
Everild came next. She paused as she stepped onto the bridge, looking over to the side. Terrfyg followed her gaze. Off in the horizon, the Daedric Titan plummeted from the blazing sky. They could not make out whether Ragnhild was still upon it, though it appeared that the creature crashed on a distant land mass rather than into the lava. Terrfyg hoped beyond hope that the Harbinger was still alive, despite knowing there was little chance that someone would survive a fall from such a height regardless of where they landed.
Ulfdir was nowhere to be seen through all this. Terrfyg realized why as the Archmagister stepped onto the bridge to levitate Everild, followed by Olivier. Ulfdir came next, slowly backing onto the bridge firing arrow upon arrow. The bowmaster had been guarding the rear of the group. The first Dremora that stepped onto the bridge after him was struck in a weak point of his armour and toppled off the edge. The second however managed to shrug off Ulfdir’s shot.
Olivier and Ulfdir were almost back to back now and there was nowhere left to go. The master archer cast aside his bow and drew his sword, with which he still possessed considerable skill. The Dremora were forced to advance one by one and he slew them as they came. He received several blows in return but the Breton healer supported him with defensive and healing magic.
Everild arrived safely upon the other side, turning to observe the fighting. She was no doubt thinking the same thing Terrfyg was. One of them should be there, holding the rear against the Dremora. They were more suited to the role and if Ulfdir were here, he could be helping with his archery while the two of them could do nothing except watch.
Archmagister Estalwe did not wait for Olivier to jump, levitating him over herself as soon as Everild had landed. Ulfdir cut down yet another Dremora, but the one that came after struck the bowmaster in the chest with her flaming mace. He collapsed onto his back and the Dremora stepped over him, firing a stream of lightning into the Archmagister. While the shock did not kill the Altmer mage immediately, it broke her concentration and the Breton healer plunged to his death with a long scream.
The Dremora was too preoccupied sustaining her barrage of lightning and did not notice Ulfdir stirring beneath her. The wounded Companion grabbed the Dremora’s legs and rolled to the side, sending them both hurtling over the bridge’s edge. By chance, they did not land in the lava and instead fell upon some rocks, though neither rose from the impact. Terrfyg could tell from the unnatural position of his Shield-Brother’s body that Ulfdir Gray-Mane was dead.
By the time the next Dremora approached Estalwe, the sorcerer had regained her composure. She spun around, unleashing lightning of her own into the enemy. The Dremora dropped dead, though another simply stepped over his comrade’s corpse, launching a ball of fire. The Archmagister parried it with a magical ward, then retaliated with a burst of ice magic that froze her opponent solid. As that Dremora crashed to the ground and shattered, yet another foe approached, charging with sword in hand.
Behind that one, three other Dremora had stepped onto the bridge and many more could be seen beyond. There was no end to the enemy. Archmagister Estalwe directed her hands downward. The Dremora with the sword ran her through too late. What was left of the bridge on that side shattered. The four Dremora still upon the bridge plunged into the lava along with the mortally wounded elf.
“Stendarr have mercy on their souls,” Everild muttered.
There was no time to mourn. The two remaining Companions knew what had to be done and entered the Sigil Keep. Its interior was similar in appearance to the other tower save for the pillar of flame that flowed through its centre. As they were already part way up the tower, the pair did not have far to go and they hurried towards the top.
Terrfyg and Everild met little resistance here; the Daedra must have concentrated all their efforts on pinning them down in the first tower and never thought they would reach the Sigil Keep. A flame atronach tried to stop them, followed by a Dremora and a Clannfear. The two Companions dispatched them with ease and soon reached a locked door which Terrfyg opened with the key Estalwe had given him.
The topmost room of both towers were identical in structure. Once again, the pillar of fire was here, going up the middle of the room. It ceased at the third level, somewhere past a ring held in place by chains reaching down from the ceiling. Terrfyg assumed that the flame, which was not present in the first tower, had something to do with the power holding the gate open.
Before they could make their way up, two Dremora tried to stop them. After a brief duel, Terrfyg and Everild bested their opponents. They had no time to catch their breaths as a Daedroth, the final foe between them and their objective, charged down the staircase of teeth. Like with the Daedroths that emerged from the gateway, its hide was strong and their weapons had great difficulty piercing it.
Learning from Bakir’s ill-fated maneuver, Terrfyg went for the Daedroth’s throat, though he did not climb the beast as his spear provided adequate reach. He waited for the Daedroth to open its mouth to breathe fire, then jabbed the spear in. The Daedroth stumbled back, roaring and grabbing at the spear. Everild seized the opportunity, slamming her shield into the bottom end of the spear. The force of the impact drove it through the Daedroth’s head and it finally collapsed.
Unfortunately, the Daedroth fell forward and the bulk of its weight landed on the spear still impaled through its skull, causing the shaft to snap. Terrfyg drew his sword as he once again heard the sound of marching armoured figures. The bulk of the enemy force was catching up with them.
Everild’s helmet turned towards the direction of the broken spear before settling on her fellow Companion. “I’ll hold them off. Get that stone we came for.”
“No,” Terrfyg shook his head defiantly, raising his blade for battle. “Too many of us have been lost today. I won’t leave you, Shield-Sister.”
“I don’t think any of us are getting out of this, Terrfyg. We’re here to save the city, not ourselves. Now go! I’ll buy you as much time as I can.”
Terrfyg sighed, knowing that she was right. Reluctantly, he made his way up the teeth-stairs and the flesh ramp to the final level. The sound of metal hitting metal echoed below as the former knight turned Companion engaged the incoming Dremora. Terrfyg wished he was there by her side, but he knew Everild was a hardy woman, especially in her plate armour. There may yet be time to aid her once he was done here.
Reaching the very top of the chamber, Terrfyg saw that a black orb hovered above the ring which hung from the ceiling. This was where the pillar of fire ended, or perhaps originated from. The flames converged around the orb, pulsing red waves outward. Terrfyg had no doubt that the orb was this sigil stone that the Dremora spoke of.
He reached in and grabbed the orb. To Terrfyg’s surprise, his hand was not burned. In fact, the sigil stone was rather cool to the touch. With the orb in hand, he moved to help Everild with the Dremora. Terrfyg had barely taken a step towards the ramp when a puff of flame shot across his path.
With the sigil stone gone, the pillar of fire had extended all the way up, shooting through the hole in the centre of the ceiling and into the red sky beyond. The entire structure shook around him. Flames expanded outwards in all directions, soon consuming the whole room. Intense heat washed over Terrfyg and his vision was overtaken by a white light...