Grazhir :: Crossover :: Diagonal :: 10

10: The Space

“I’ve just received word from the Countess of Bruma that an Oblivion Gate has opened outside the city,” Jauffre said.

Sora exchanged looks with his friends. They hadn’t noticed one on the way past the city.

“It seems that the Mythic Dawn are putting their plan to attack Bruma into motion. We are not prepared at this time to deal with that plan. Since you’ve dealt with these gates before, I’d like you to help the Countess’s guards close this gate. Once they’ve seen how it’s done they should be able to handle any new gates on their own.”

“Where is this gate?” he asked.

“Captain Burd is waiting for you outside the Bruma city gate. He’ll show you.”

He exhaled and nodded.

They found Burd near the stables. “Thanks for coming,” the man said. “Since we had the Hero of Kvatch available, I didn’t think it made sense to try this on our own the first time. We’re ready when you are. Just say the word.”

“Now is good.”

“All right. Give me a minute to talk to the men. Everyone’s a bit jumpy right now.”

While Burd did that Sora said, “All of us in this time. We know we can easily survive, but these guys… Let’s keep them alive. The more of them used to fighting the daedra, the better off they’ll all be.”

“Flames?” Lorenzo asked.

“Whatever they do see they’ll pass off as magic, I presume.” Burd looked his way and nodded, so Sora headed over. “You ready?”

“Yes, let’s go.” They piled through the gate along with Burd and two of his men. Burd looked more than a little alarmed once through. “This is no place I ever wanted to find myself. I don’t see how we can… No … no, we can do this. We have to do this. We have no choice.” Burd turned to him and said, “I’m glad you’re here. We wouldn’t have a chance otherwise. What’s our next move?”

“Follow us and don’t race on ahead. I don’t want to see one of you getting too excited or overconfident and thinking you can take on the world by yourself. You have to survive to get to the part that really matters, all right?”

Following that was the usual slog because they could not cloak themselves and race through the place unaffected. But once they finally reached the top of the tower where the sigil stone was he touched Burd briefly on the arm and pointed. “That is a sigil stone. Removing that will close this gate, and we get transported back outside in consequence.”

“It’s that simple?” Burd asked in disbelief.

“Yes.” He walked forward and reached out to yank the stone free, then stepped back a few paces. The massive chains holding the spiked ring in place where the stone would hover started breaking as usual and things began to fall apart. Then things went white and they were suddenly back outside Bruma next to a destroyed gate. It was full night.

“…It was an honor to serve with you, sir,” Burd said. “Now that I’ve seen how it’s done, I think my guardsmen and I can handle any new gates that open near Bruma.”

From behind them came an excited, “You did it, Captain! You closed the Oblivion Gate! We didn’t think we’d ever see you alive again!”

Burd turned with a smile. “Believe me, it was no picnic. But thanks to our friends here, I now know we can close these hell-gates. We can defend Bruma!”

He smiled as Burd and his men walked back toward the city excitedly talking to each other, then started for Cloud Ruler Temple. When they arrived there were only a few patrolling Blades, one of whom was kind enough to tell him it was one in the morning.

Sora thanked him, found a clear spot, and set up the tent so they could get some rest.

*

There was a massive design on the floor inside the Great Hall when they entered after eating a cold breakfast. It vaguely resembled what Sora had seen in the Mysterium Xarxes. Jauffre was eventually tracked down and told about the previous evening’s excursion.

“Good work. Captain Burd and his guardsmen should be able to handle any additional gates, at least for now. But the Bruma Guard cannot defend the city indefinitely. The daedra of Oblivion are innumerable; the guardsmen of Bruma are not. We need to gather what allies we can before Bruma is hopelessly besieged. If the Mythic Dawn manages to open a Great Gate here, the city will need a stronger garrison for there to be any hope of defending it. Please speak to the rulers of the other cities of Cyrodiil, as well as the Elder Council. Ask them to send aid to Bruma before it is too late. Oh, and Martin has made some progress. You should speak with him before you leave.”

Martin, when queried, said, “I’ve figured out another item needed for the ritual to open the portal to Camoran’s Paradise. It is a counterpart to the first: the blood of a Divine. This was a terrible puzzle to me. Unlike the Daedric Lords, the gods have no artifacts, and do not physically manifest themselves in our world. How then to obtain the blood of a god? But Jauffre solved it. The blood of Tiber Septim himself, who became Talos, one of the Divines.”

“Where would a person possibly find that?”

“This is a secret remembered only by the Blades, passed down from one Grandmaster to the next. Jauffre should tell it to you himself.”

‘For the love of cannoli, we were just speaking to him!’ Naturally, Jauffre had finished his breakfast and was elsewhere, which necessitated tracking him down again. The Grandmaster marked the spot on Sora’s map, a place called Sancre Tor. It was north-northeast of Chorrol and a bit south of west from Bruma.

“We’ll get it after we speak to the rulers,” he decided. “No sense going there now, coming back here, and then heading out again. So, Cheydinhal.”

His friends nodded, so they set out. “This is going to suck,” Lorenzo said, “canvassing every city in a gigantic circle.”

“Afraid of a little exercise?” Renato taunted playfully.

Lorenzo sneered and sent shocks into the Sun, just enough to make his sideburns straighten out briefly.

“Pfft. My hair already defies gravity,” Renato said. “I don’t need static electricity on top of that.”

*

“I don’t have time to chat right now,” Count Andel Indarys said sharply when Sora approached and passed on Bruma’s request for aid. “With that Oblivion Gate looming outside the city walls, we’re bracing for an attack. Perhaps we can speak later.”

Sora eyed his friends. Another gate they hadn’t noticed coming in? “A gate?”

“It manifested just outside the West Gate of our city. Nothing’s come out of it yet, but we fear the worst. My son, Farwil, has taken some fellow Knights of the Thorn and entered the gate bravely in hopes of meeting the enemy head-on. If you want to help, and we can use all the help we can get, head over to the gate and lend a hand to the guards.”

He nodded and reversed himself so he could leave. “I swear, I did not see a gate on the way in.”

“Neither did we, Sora,” Viper said. “Maybe it was the lighting conditions?”

It turned out to be north of the west gate and could easily have been concealed by the trees as they walked the road in toward the city. Or perhaps they just had not been paying proper attention. A guard stopped them when they got close. “I’d advise you to keep your distance from that accursed portal. Although, nothing has come through ever since Farwil entered.”

“How long ago?”

“About two days ago, Count Indarys’s son, Farwil, entered the gate with six other men. We haven’t heard from them since. The Count fears the worst, and has posted guards here so we can watch and see if anyone comes back out. So far, nothing. At this point, Count Indarys is offering a reward for the recovery of his son from inside the gate … or confirmed news of his demise.”

“Right,” he said and strode toward the gate with his family.

Once inside it wasn’t long before they found one of the men in a pool of blood. Then another, and a third.

“This is not comforting,” he murmured as they ducked into a cave system. Two more bodies were found along the way, but on exiting they stumbled over Farwil and the last man.

“It’s about time someone got here,” Farwil said angrily. “What took you so long?”

“I’m going to make a wild guess and say you’re one of the Knights of the Thorn.”

Farwil’s expression lightened up. “We are knights sworn to uphold the laws of Cheydinhal. We fear no being, and we strike fast and true as lightning. Many wish to join our ranks—”

Sora’s brow started to go up in patent disbelief.

“—as we are of the highest echelon. Only a select few—”

‘Your drinking buddies and sycophants?’

“—may join the finest force ever to grace the lands of Cyrodiil. Until now, we numbered only seven, but attacked like a regiment. Our enemies quake at our approach, and falter at our charge. Huzzah!”

He rubbed his eyes to hide his expression, ostensibly to give them some relief from the lingering ash and smoke, then sighed.

“I set out with the rest of the Knights on the face of our fine world. When we arrived, we were overwhelmed.”

‘By what? Illusionary fans?’

“I myself was able to kill perhaps two score of them, but they just kept coming. Only Bremman and I remain alive. However, with you here now, we can take the sigil stone from that citadel and complete our quest for the good of all Cheydinhal! Huzzah!”

Sora eyed his friends despairingly, then said, “Let’s get you out of here.”

Farwil’s expression went from somewhat nervously pleased to angry again. “Are you mad? A Knight of the Thorn never returns home until the mission is done. It’s our way. Now, in my father’s name as Count Indarys of Cheydinhal, I order you to lead me to that sigil stone. I suggest we use the Reman Sweep Formation. You’ll assault and we’ll guard the rear flank. Onward and upward! Huzzah!”

“One moment,” he said, holding up a finger, then backed away so he could convene with his family. “Kami-sama, what an idiot.”

“I’ll keep them back,” Viper promised. “You three clear the way.”

He nodded. “Thank you. Let’s go, then.”

Halfway up the tower Bremman sidled up to him and whispered, “Don’t judge him too harshly. Most of what he says is … fabricated. But he’s young, and therefore quite brash and inexperienced. All he wants to do is please his father. I’ve known him since he was a lad, and fighting to defend Cheydinhal is in his heart. I just wish his heart was bigger than his hubris.”

Sora huffed a laugh and nodded, then continued on, clearing the way with Renato and Lorenzo. When they finally reached the top of the citadel he gestured toward the sigil stone. “Care to do the honors?”

Farwil looked surprised, but nodded after a moment and stepped forward. But before he reached for it he asked, “What will happen when I take it?”

“Things will start falling apart, the whole place will shake, and then it’ll go white. We’ll be safely back outside Cheydinhal then. We’ve done this a bunch of times already. Go ahead.”

Farwil looked surprised when they ended up standing in front of a ruined gate. “We made it! Er … I mean … victory is ours once again! Huzzah! You’ve done well. I wouldn’t have expected such bravery from someone who isn’t a Knight of the Thorn. Now that this battle between good and evil has been won, and the day is ours, you should go speak with my father. He will reward you greatly for escorting me home and assisting in the closure of the Oblivion Gate.

“And, since you have led us to victory, I am hereby giving you the honorary title of a Knight of the Thorn. Your name shall be revered and your deeds placed into song to be performed by the greatest bards for generations to come. Congratulations! As a Knight of the Thorn, you are expected to carry this symbol of your knighthood. Carry it proudly and wear it well. No more will the gate threaten the good people of Cheydinhal. The Knights of the Thorn have triumphed once more!” Farwil handed over medallions and turned to leave.

There was a house of some sort not far off, and Sora wondered if the young elf lived outside of his father’s castle. He was about to head into the city when Bremman stopped him to say, “Thank you for getting me out of that cursed place. Perhaps in the future, Farwil will learn patience and careful planning before dragging us into a situation like that again.” He, too, turned, and followed Farwil to that structure.

It was full dark and the guards they met on the way back to the city said it was approximately ten, so they slept at an inn. Even worried about his son’s fate, they did not expect the Count to be anxiously twiddling his fingers in the hall awaiting their return.

He did, however, hasten over to them the second he spotted them in his domain. “I’m pleased to finally meet the savior of Cheydinhal. I’m also overjoyed that you saved my son’s life. I realize he’s trying at times, and he speaks before he thinks, but he’s still my son, and I adore him greatly.”

‘At least you see him for who he is,’ he thought with a faint smile.

“I’m sure he was difficult to travel with, and I respect your patience. Most would have given him up for dead rather than deal with his ego. Anyway, I digress. I’m sure you wish to hear of your reward.”

‘Well, no, more the part where you agree to aid Bruma, but all right…’

“I’m in possession of two fine weapons. They’re both heirlooms of the Indarys family, held in the castle for several generations. I’d take great pleasure in bestowing one of them upon you. Please, choose the Thornblade or the Staff of Indarys.”

He bit his lip in thought, then said, “Thornblade, I think, please.”

“The Thornblade it is,” Indarys said cheerfully and handed it over. “Again, I thank you on behalf of all the citizens of Cheydinhal, and I especially thank you as an elated father. And, with the Oblivion Gate closed, I can now gladly send aid to Bruma. And if you’re ever in the market for a house in our fine city, do let me know!”

*

Chorrol was next, if only so they could stop in at the castle and catch everyone up, and then they headed to the castle in Chorrol to seek aid for Bruma.

“It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Countess Valga of Chorrol. I wish I had time to chat, but I’m afraid I am in the middle of an investigation. As for Bruma, while I understand their need, Chorrol’s own defense must come first. I cannot spare any soldiers as long as Chorrol remains under threat from the Oblivion Gate outside our walls.”

He nodded and took off again. “I’m starting to think they know when we’re around,” he muttered as they backtracked to the gate by the stables and scanned the horizon. He spotted the damn thing and took off at a jog. Thankfully it was day when they emerged safely so they returned to Chorrol Castle to see the Countess.

“It is quite nice to see you again. I hope you are fairing well,” she said.

“Can we talk about the possibility of aid for Bruma, My Lady?”

“Your reputation precedes you, Hero of Kvatch,” she replied.

‘You mean someone filled you in after you sent me away last time to close that gate.’

“You have done my city a great service by closing the Oblivion Gate. I will now gladly send soldiers to aid in the defense of Bruma. Consider it done.”

*

Their next stop was the Imperial City, to see Chancellor Ocato.

“From the Blades, did you say?” Ocato was another elf, a lighter-skinned one and quite tall, so an Altmer. “Jauffre sent you? What’s this about? Quickly, now.”

“I’ve been asked to request aid on behalf of Bruma. There is reason to believe our enemy will attempt to open a Great Gate there as they did at Kvatch.”

“This is terrible news. Under normal circumstances, I would dispatch a legion or two to Bruma immediately. But the circumstances are not normal, are they? I’ve been pleading for troops for Cyrodiil for weeks, but the generals assure me that the entire Imperial Army is already fully committed. Besides … I’d have a full-scale political crisis on my hands if I tried to pull any troops out of the provinces. I’m sorry, but the cities of Cyrodiil will have to fend for themselves for the time being.”

He smiled and nodded, then left once Ocato scurried off to do whatever it was people on the Elder Council did. It was not long past noon, so they pressed on toward Skingrad.

“The Count will not see you now. Not now, not ever. He sees no one. I’m Mercator Hosidus, his steward. I believe that’s all you need to know.”

Sora blinked and said, “I come on behalf of Bruma to seek aid for them. There is the possibility of a Great Gate opening there the likes of which destroyed Kvatch.”

Mercator visibly paused, then said, “I believe the Count may want to handle this matter personally. Wait here. I will tell the Count you are waiting to see him.” He wandered off up the grand staircase and disappeared from view, but Sora could hear a door up there opening and closing.

“Really unfriendly,” he murmured to his family.

“Either the man is ridiculously busy and can’t be bothered with random people dropping in to complain about grain prices, or…” Lorenzo trailed off, eyeing the huge portrait on the wall next to the stairs.

Mercator came back a short time later, followed a minute later by a handsome enough older man with oddly reddish eyes. He was a dead ringer for the man in portrait but for that one detail. “I’m sorry. We’ve not met. I’m Janus Hassildor, Count Skingrad. While Skingrad is threatened by an Oblivion Gate, I cannot spare any soldiers for Bruma. Whatever you may think of me, I still protect my own.”

‘What in blazes is he talking about?’ he wondered.

“This is my city, and Mehrunes Dagon will not have it while I remain Count of Skingrad.”

“We’ll just go close that gate first, then. Thank you for your time, sir.”

It was getting dark by the time they exited the castle, so even if they closed the gate in record time (they would) they would likely have to spend the night at an inn in town before braving the castle once more.

“I’m sensing a pattern here,” Renato said dryly. “I think when we get to the next one we should look around thoroughly first, take out any gates, and then go pester them for aid.”

“Oh, I agree,” he said, annoyed that they would have to walk all the way back down the path to the city, find the right gate, go take care of the Oblivion Gate, and then have to make that same walk twice more the next day.

Mercator greeted them with a wide smile the next morning. “Your bravery is the talk to Skingrad. Well done! I assume you wish to ask for aid, so allow me to see if the Count is available to see you.” Mercator trotted off up the stairs and was back a short time later, followed by Hassildor.

“Mehrunes Dagon has no more love for my kind than for my mortal subjects,” the Count said after greeting them.

Sora noticed that time, as the Count was actually smiling, that he had eyeteeth like a vampire out of some weird romance or fantasy novel. ‘I suppose that’d explain the eyes and the remark he just made. And why he avoids seeing people.’

“Less, perhaps, as we make poor slaves. You have helped me by closing the Oblivion Gate near Skingrad. I will likewise help you by sending aid to Bruma.”

Sora thanked the man and they hastened off toward Kvatch, mainly because it was on the way, even if it did mean traversing the switchback again. Savlian was looking well, though he was out of armor. He greeted them and asked what brought them to Kvatch.

“Ah, we’re presently on a journey to find aid for Bruma and since we were headed to Anvil we thought we’d stop and see how you were all doing.”

“We are well, but… Bruma? What is happening there?”

“Word has it that a Great Gate might be opened there.”

“As it happened here?” Savlian asked in surprise. “I have few enough men to spare, but you have more than earned our help. I will send what aid I can. Bruma must not share the fate of our city!”

After Renato had a chance to check to see if anyone needed healing, they departed back down the switchback and continued on to Anvil. Sora scanned the area very carefully as they approached, but perhaps the four gates they had already closed in the Anvil area was more than enough to get an immediate agreement to send aid.

“Don’t know if this is true,” one of the guards said as they approached the castle, “but I heard a gang of all female thieves is preying on the married menfolk of the town.”

Sora paused to stare at the man, wondering why he brought it up, and then realized, ‘Yeah, I’m a hero or something. Of course he’d mention it.’

“If you want to help us do something about it, go talk to Gogan and Maelona. Let’s just say Gogan is intimately involved and leave it at that.”

Sora nodded and started walking again. Inside the Great Hall there were the usual guards and servants. There was also a man dressed in low-class clothing sitting on one of the benches, just staring up at the Countess. It was a little creepy, he thought.

“I am Millona Umbranox, Countess of Anvil,” the lady said. “I hope you enjoy your visit. I trust you will give us no cause to regret our hospitality to strangers.”

He smiled and inclined his head briefly. “I was hoping to speak with you on behalf of Bruma…”

After he was done speaking she said, “I’ve heard that you closed the Oblivion Gate outside Anvil.”

‘And yet a moment ago you pretended you had no clue who I am.’

“I honor you for your bravery and service to my city. With Anvil safe for the moment, I will send some of my best soldiers to bolster the Bruma garrison. Don’t worry. Anvil’s soldiers are worth two from anywhere else. Bruma will not fall!”

*

Their approach to Bravil revealed yet another gate, so they took care of that before even considering entering the city. “Are we the only people closing these damn things?” he asked in frustration.

“Technically, I closed that one,” Viper said.

He blew a flat raspberry at his Mist. “And you were very speedy. I very much like that about the whole flying thing you’ve got going on.”

The count there was thrilled to help, so they spent the night at an inn and pressed on to Leyawiin in the morning. Leyawiin had two gates threatening it, so Viper took the one farthest away and he, Renato, and Lorenzo took the nearer one. He was angered to see a dead horse outside his gate, and another one not far inside. Did daedra even eat?

The count of Leyawiin agreed to send aid to Bruma, and they rested for the night before starting the journey north, to Sancre Tor, to retrieve the armor of Tiber Septim. On the way they were distracted by more gates and quickly dispatched them, including one up the hill from where Jauffre had marked Sancre Tor on his map. That little diversion saw them finding Hermaeus Mora’s Shrine, but they quickly retreated.

Sancre Tor was a bit convoluted and involved scouring the entire place for the animated remains of the four men Jauffre had mentioned. Once each was soundly beaten (Sora kept their gear as souvenirs) they steadily marched off to deal with some barrier the first one mentioned. Once they caught up the four ghosts removed what blocked their way, and Sora was able to claim the armor.

*

The Great Hall was no different than before. Martin sat there at his table (another one had appeared to hold yet more books) and read. Sora approached and laid the armor down on an open spot.

Martin looked up and his eyes widened. “The Septim blood may flow through my veins, but you have the soul of a hero. The armor of Tiber Septim himself! Jauffre will be amazed to see it.” He paused. “You can reassure Jauffre that I will not destroy the armor. All I need is a scraping of Talos’s divine blood. The Blades are as touchy as priests about relics of Tiber Septim, it seems!”

He smiled out of politeness, though he was actually growing to like Martin a great deal. The man was dealing so well with his elevation from simple priest of shaky faith to the next emperor. “Is there anything else I can do?”

Martin nodded. “Ah, yes. While you were gone, I’ve made some progress in deciphering the Mysterium Xarxes ritual. The third item we need is a Great Welkynd Stone. You may have run across lesser Welkynd Stones; they are fairly common in Ayleid ruins.”

‘Can’t say as I’ve bothered to duck into one yet.’

“But a Great Welkynd Stone will not be easy to come by. They have been plundered one by one over the years, due to their great value to mages and occultists. There is only one place that is rumored to still contain one: the ruins of the Ayleid city of Miscarcand. Many have perished seeking its Great Stone, but nothing else will do, so you must succeed where all others have failed.”

“I see. What do you know of the place?”

Martin slid a map over and tapped the spot where Miscarcand was, so that Sora could update his own map, then said, “It’s the capital of one of the ancient Ayleid kingdoms which flourished in Cyrodiil before the rise of Men and one of the most extensive. It is said that the ruins are still haunted by the vengeful spirit of its last king. True or not, it is not a place to enter lightly. Be careful. You might find ‘Glories and Laments Among the Ayleid Ruins’ useful.” He slid the map away and tapped one of the many books on his desks. “I have the library’s copy here if you need it.”

Lorenzo picked the book up and set to reading.

“What makes these Great Stones so valuable?” he asked.

“The pinnacle of Ayleid magic. Once every Ayleid city had its Great Stone, but they’ve all been plundered over the centuries.”

When Martin said no more he nodded, still having little clue about the things, and waited until Lorenzo was finished with the book to say, “We shall return with the stone.”

*

Miscarcand—located between Skingrad and Kvatch—looked like any other of those white, arched ruins that frequently featured circular formations aboveground. Inside there were chandeliers with glowing blue-ish stones in them to light their way and what he came to recognize as very characteristic architecture. The elven races—or some of them, anyway—seemed to have a thing for being underground, and their craftsmanship was amazing in its skill and attention to detail.

As they cautiously wandered through the blue-stained white they picked up numerous small Welkynd Stones, “killed” a number of animated skeletons or headless, decaying bodies, and eventually came to a massive room with an equally massive Welkynd Stone on a pedestal not unlike the shapes of the chandeliers.

Guarding it was a less decomposed fellow who retained his head and the bare essentials of clothing, but he was easily enough dispatched and the stone claimed.

Returning to Cloud Ruler Temple saw them walk straight into an uncomfortable “discussion” between Martin and Jauffre.

“With all due respect, Sire, there must be another way. The risk is too great!”

“I know the risk. I was at Kvatch. But there is no other way. We have no choice.” Martin was wearing Tiber Septim’s armor and a longsword was hanging from his waist, which did not bode well.

“The Countess will never agree to it…”

“She will. She must.”

Baurus stood by awkwardly, gazing at the Grandmaster.

“The Blades are, as always, at your disposal,” Jauffre said.

Martin noticed them at that point and turned Sora’s way. “Ah, here you are! I have good news, of a sort.”

“Yes, let’s see what he thinks of your plan,” Jauffre said dryly.

Sora set the Great Welkynd Stone down on one of Martin’s tables to let them all know of the success before he was cornered by Martin.

“I knew I could count on you,” Martin said after giving the thing an interested look. “I never thought to see a Great Welkynd Stone! As beautiful as all the old tales tell… But of course its beauty is a mask for its deadly power, like everything created by the Ayleids. Now we only need one more item, and we’ll be ready to open a portal to Mankar Camoran’s realm…” The way Martin trailed off did again not bode well.

“I’m almost afraid to find out what that might be.”

Martin smiled disturbingly before saying, “I should have seen it sooner. It’s the counterpart to the Great Welkynd Stone, just as the first two were the opposed powers of the daedra and the divines.”

‘That would lead me to believe it has something to do with an artifact of man, yet I don’t think this is where things are headed,’ he thought.

“Welkynd stones contain the concentrated power of Mundus; their counterparts are sigil stones, which are used to hold open Oblivion Gates. A Great Sigil Stone, then, is what we require.”

He frowned thoughtfully. Martin obviously did not mean the ones they had already been collecting as a side-effect of closing gates, else he would simply have asked for one. His mention of Kvatch… ‘But even the gate there we closed had a stone no different than the others we gathered.’ He eyed Martin and said, “What’s the catch? Does this have something to do with their plans to open a Great Gate?”

“Yes,” Martin said, looking gratified. “You probably won’t like it. Jauffre doesn’t. The Countess of Bruma certainly won’t. Great Sigil Stones are the anchors of Great Gates, the kind of gate the Mythic Dawn opened at Kvatch. The kind of gate the Mythic Dawn wants to open here to destroy Bruma.”

‘And then you and Cloud Ruler Temple,’ he thought. This Great Gate must have been opened before they ever arrived to fetch Martin from Kvatch, and all that remained after the fact was the “normal” one they ended up closing to allow access to the city’s gates and to find Martin. “So you want to let them open the three lesser gates they need for a Great Gate, and let them open that, too, all so we can get to the Great Sigil Stone,” he said slowly.

“I said you weren’t going to like it. The risk is great. I know, I was at Kvatch. I saw the terrible power of the daedric siege engine.”

‘A siege engine destroyed the city?’

“But we have no choice.”

‘People say that a lot, but I suppose in this case he may well be correct if we wish to…’

“The only way to recover the Amulet of Kings is to allow the Mythic Dawn to proceed with their plan to attack Bruma.”

“And by the armor you’re wearing, I must assume you won’t be up here and reasonably safe.”

“No. I’ll lead the defense of Bruma myself,” Martin replied, looking resolute. “If I am to be emperor, it’s time I started acting like one.”

That gave him pause. On the one hand, he hated the idea. Martin was no slouch in battle, but he was the only one who could relight the Dragonfires. To risk him in front of four gates like that… But on the other hand, he was rising to meet his responsibilities, and that wasn’t something Sora could disagree with. To be a living example of courage and resolve as Martin proposed would endear him to his people and give them strength, courage of their own, and belief in his ability. “It’s so risky,” he said slowly.

“Remember when we first met in Kvatch? I said I didn’t want any part of the gods’ plan.”

He thought back and unfortunately, he had already misplaced a lot of those memories given the frenetic pace of those events.

“I still don’t know if there is a divine plan. But I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter,” Martin continued. “What matters is that we act. That we do what’s right, when confronted with evil. That’s what you did at Kvatch. It wasn’t the gods that saved us, it was you.”

Sora felt unaccountably like blushing, but he hadn’t done it alone; his family had been there. He also found it inappropriately hilarious that it was a Daedric Lord who had brought them to Tamriel to play parts in this crisis. He wondered if that meant he and his family were avatars of some kind for Sheogorath, who even in his madness did not wish to see the end of the mortal plane—perhaps because it would signal the end of his amusements.

“Were you acting for the gods? I don’t know. But now it’s my turn to act.”

“…I don’t like it, but I approve, for what it’s worth.”

Martin exhaled in relief. “I explain myself to you so you understand me. And so you can explain to the Countess. I’m afraid she may take a bit more convincing than you.”

He nodded. “I will take on that challenge.”

“Good. Have her meet me in the Chapel of Talos for a council of war. That seems a fitting place to make such desperate plans.”

*

“Greetings. What news from Cloud Ruler Temple?” the Countess said.

Sora inclined his head and said, “A plan you will not be fond of, I admit, borne of some desperation. We seek a Great Sigil Stone, and that would mean allowing our enemy to open three Oblivion Gates so that they can then open a Great Gate, much like what happened at Kvatch, in order to get that stone. A lesser gate will not provide what’s required. If that were all that we needed I already have a collection of those.”

The Countess closed her eyes briefly. “A desperate plan indeed. This … prince? Emperor? Martin would risk my whole city to gain a Great Sigil Stone?”

“It is the only way to make it possible to recover the Amulet of Kings.”

“This is the only way to stop this invasion from Oblivion?” She let out a tense breath. “I must confess, you are the first person to speak of victory against these daedra. This war has seemed hopeless to me, but what else was there to do but hold on and wait for a hero to save us? And now it seems there is an heir to the throne after all, hidden at Cloud Ruler Temple … and perhaps a hero as well?”

He considered himself a reasonably sane man, not some hero of legend. “Martin waits at the Chapel of Talos. He would speak with you.”

“You avoid answering my question…” she said, calling him on his evasion. “Very well. Don’t think I doubt you. The rulers of Bruma have long had dealings with Cloud Ruler Temple. We know whom they serve. I will meet Martin at the Chapel. When all is ready, I will order my men to stop closing the gates and prepare for battle.”

On the way to the chapel he overheard a townsman saying, “Did you hear about the ghost of Lord Vlindrel? They say he haunts the road to Chorrol. Not that I’ve ever seen him myself, mind you.”

‘I don’t recall seeing him, either,’ he thought, ‘but perhaps he only comes out when it’s dark?’

“Your Highness?” the Countess said once they were assembled. “I an Narina Carvain, Countess of Bruma, at your service.”

Martin replied, “There is no need for any formality at this time. I am not emperor yet. And I am quite new to this notion of being heir to the throne. Thank you for coming. I know I am asking for a great deal of trust. But this is the only way. I would not suggest it otherwise.”

“Your champion has already explained the situation to me.”

‘I am a champion now?’ he thought, frowning when Renato smirked.

“I have agreed to it. We will not win this war through caution.”

“You have a rare gift, to know when desperation is the path of wisdom,” Martin said with every evidence of sincerity. “I will do everything in my power to defend your city, my Lady.”

She nodded. “If Bruma falls, the Empire falls with us. So be it.” The Countess turned to him and said, “I am ready for battle when you are, champion. What say you?”

He looked at Martin, who nodded. The look on his face was equal measures excitement, anxiety, and confidence. Sora said, “Let the battle begin.”

“So be it. Bruma’s fate in in the hands of the gods now … and yours.” She turned away and called out, “Burd! Deploy the troops for battle!”

“As you command, Countess,” the man said, and swiftly hastened off.

The rest of them exited at a more sedate pace, to give time to the troops stationed outside the castle to deploy to meet them at the battlefield. Townsfolk cheered as they walked by. And, as if to prove that no secret lasted very long, they were cheering for the emperor, for Martin.

As they neared the gates the other troops caught up, and it was not far down the road outside that a gate could be seen already tarnishing the landscape. Martin paused some distance away and began to give a speech, but Sora signaled his family to ready themselves for the appearance of any daedra. They would take out as many as they could each time, to keep Martin that much safer. If the man was hit by spells, however, that was not so easily blocked.

Daedra began to emerge and they webbed into action, though Renato was using an oddly-shaped Leon to deliver arrows of destruction as a sop to the appearance of magic. A second gate opened, then a third. They kept ranging around taking out enemies and ensuring that Martin was still kicking. And then the Great Gate opened and they practically flew to it to enter.

What they saw after the transition was bizarre. There were three towers, one ahead and one to each side in a rough triangle, but the way immediately in front of them was all lava. They would have to find passage to either side rather than just sending Viper to fly to the rescue, for there was a massive siege engine bearing down on them, accompanied by numerous daedra.

“Left,” he ordered, and started running. It was tricky not only keeping from misstepping into the lava, but also dodging the fireballs shot from the guard towers, but they reached a doorway and ran through, barely pausing to do more than let Lorenzo paralyze every daedroth who dared be in the vicinity.

Out the other side was the way to the tower they needed and inside, from there, it was just like any other they had already seen. A race to the top, paralyzing daedra, a short pause for Renato to pick a lock, and they were at the platform that allowed access to the stone. Sora reached out and yanked the thing free.

Moments later they were back outside Bruma, in the midst of a battle still ongoing, and the siege engine was right over their heads. The closing of the gate, however, chopped the thing in half, rendering it so much scrap metal. Another side effect was the closure of the supporting lesser gates.

Once the dregs were cleared up the soldiers started to cheer. Martin wandered over to them and Sora offered up the Great Sigil Stone, which Martin accepted. “We won a great victory here today! We now have the means to recover the Amulet of Kings from Mankar Camoran.”

He had heard that name so many times already that it was starting to blur and sound unreal.

“But we need to act quickly. Camoran will not take long to recognize this danger. Remember, the portal will close behind you. Anything you need, carry it with you. I’ll have the ritual ready in the Great Hall when you arrive. Farewell.” Martin nodded and hastened off, Baurus and Jauffre guarding his flanks.

The red of the sky faded to reveal just how late it was, so they hastened off to Cloud Ruler Temple and set up the tent. Casks of water were broached so they could clean up, though a proper shower or bath would have been nicer, and they turned in for the night.

Breakfast was bread and cheese, and then they packed up and entered the Great Hall. The symbols on the floor had been augmented with the Great Welkynd Stone and the Great Sigil Stone. Both were floating there, one to either side, and Martin was back in his simple robes.

“I have everything in place for the ritual. I’ll open the portal whenever you’re ready. I don’t know what you’ll find in Camoran’s Paradise, but as the portal will close behind you … you’ll have to find another way back.”

“I can hope it’s like the gates,” he said.

Martin nodded. “I believe that Mankar Camoran acts as the ‘anchor’ for Paradise, just as a sigil stone anchors an Oblivion Gate in place. Kill him and you will unmake his Paradise.”

He exhaled slowly. “I’m ready whenever you are.”

“Farewell, my friend. Our fate is in your hands. Bring back the Amulet of Kings. Now, brace yourself.” Martin moved away, to stand at the edge closest to the massive fireplace, and raised his hand. With magic he brought the ritual to life; a portal appeared, not dissimilar in appearance to an Oblivion Gate.

Sora took a deep breath and stepped through.

He ended up on the other side alone, which was a bit frightening, but at the same time he had expected that his family could not follow, not unless they had enacted some convoluted and acrobatically flexible configurations of their bodies in order to all be brought through. How they were reacting back at Cloud Ruler Temple…

Paradise was gorgeous. Blue skies with wisps of white clouds in a time approaching either dawn or sunset. Given that whole Mythic Dawn thing, he suspected dawn. The trees were large and well-leaved, plants grew everywhere in abundance, and there was either a very large lake or an ocean nearby, in glimmering blue.

As he was preparing to cloak himself a voice echoed around in his head. “So, the cat’s-paw of the Septims arrives at last. You didn’t think you could take me unawares, here of all places? In the Paradise that I created? Look now upon my Paradise, Gaiar Alata, in the old tongue. A vision of the past … and the future.”

When he heard no more he followed the path of stones in front of him, deftly avoiding the hostile creatures wandering about, and happened upon a woman who seemed to have misplaced her shirt.

“So you found your way to Gaiar Alata at last,” she said disparagingly. “Don’t we have enough troubles here, without you adding to them? Leave us alone. Your quarrel is with Mankar Camoran, not us poor fools.”

“Gaiar Alata?”

“It’s the Master’s name for this place. We usually just call it Paradise. This here is the Savage Garden. At the top of that mountain lies the Terrace of Dawn, which leads up to Mankar Camoran’s palace … Carac Agaialor. Beneath the mountain lies the Forbidden Grotto, the only way out of the Savage Garden.”

“Why call it the Savage Garden?”

“Everyone here died in the Master’s service,” she replied. “As the Master promised, we are now immortal, like the daedra. But our life here is a nightmare. The creatures of the garden torment us endlessly. When they kill us, we are soon reborn and the cycle begins again. No one has yet found a way to leave the garden, except those few given the Bands of the Chosen and allowed to enter the Forbidden Grotto. But they never return, so we don’t know what fate awaits them.”

He nodded and moved on, respecting her reluctance to bother with him in the first place. He kept walking, careful to dodge any hostiles, taking some enjoyment in the scenery. The architecture resembled the Ayleid ruins he’d seen numerous times.

“Behold the Savage Garden,” Camoran’s voice came again, “where my disciples are tempered for a higher destiny, to rule over Tamriel Reborn. If you are truly the hero of destiny, as I hope, the garden will not hold you for long. Lift your eyes to Carac Agaialor, my seat at the pinnacle of Paradise. I shall await you there.”

The portion of the Savage Garden he could traverse was not actually all that large, so it wasn’t long before he ran across an actual Dremora.

“You destroyed the Sigil Tower at Ganonah,” it said. “My kin say you fought well.”

“Right. I’m after Mankar Camoran.”

“You speak directly like one of my people almost. I’m glad I did not kill you immediately.”

‘Considering how many of your sort I’ve already killed, I wouldn’t be too sure of your prowess.’

“There is but one way out of the garden.”

Sora looked to his left and saw a pseudo-bridge and a door into the mountainside.

“I guard that path. You will travel that path, and it will bring me honor to defeat you. But you shamed my kin at Ganonah. To bring you into my service… That would also bring me honor. So I offer you a choice. Would you confront me in battle? Or offer me service?”

Sora shot out a web and solidified the threads; the Dremora dropped like a stone. Sora rifled through his gear and turned up a few potions and a set of wrist bands that glowed a sullen red. He took the bands and started off along the bridge.

Camoran decided to talk at him again as he walked. “How little you understand! You cannot stop Lord Dagon. The Principalities have sparkled as gems in the black reaches of Oblivion since the First Morning. Many are their names and the names of their masters: the Coldharbour of Meridia—”

‘Wow, even I know better than that and I’ve only been on this world for a short time.’

“—Peryite’s Quagmire, Moonshadows of Mephala, and … Dawn’s Beauty, the Princedom of Lorkhan, misnamed ‘Tamriel’ by deluded mortals.”

‘Is he seriously suggesting that Nirn is yet another Plane of Oblivion? And even if it is, so what? It’s still the mortal plane.’

“Yes, you understand now. Tamriel is just one more Daedric realm of Oblivion, long since lost to its Prince when he was betrayed by those that served him. Lord Dagon cannot invade Tamriel, his birthright! He comes to liberate the Occupied Lands!”

Sora rolled his eyes and continued to enjoy the view of the ocean from the bridge, but when no more came he entered the cave at the end.

Naturally, Camoran piped up again. “Ask yourself! How is it that mighty gods die, yet the Daedra stand incorruptible? How is it that the Daedra forthrightly proclaim themselves to man, while the gods cower behind statues and the faithless words of traitor-priests? It is simple. They are not gods at all. The truth has been in front of you since first you were born: the Daedra are the true gods of this universe.”

‘And Aedra and Daedra are but two sides of the same coin, you moron. Even what few books I read made that clear enough. That makes all of them gods. But if it is true that the so-called Aedra were the ones to lend their power and substance to create this world, then they are already in it. They just don’t have the same agency as a Daedric Lord due to how they were involved.’

“Julianos and Dibella and Stendarr are all Lorkhan’s betrayers, posing as divinities in a principality that has lost its guiding light. What are scholarship, love, and mercy when compared to fate, night, and destruction? The gods you worship are trifling shadows of First Causes. They have tricked you for Ages. Why do you think your world has always been contested ground, the arena of powers and immortals? It is Tamriel, the realm of Change, brother to Madness, sister to Deceit.”

He pursed his lips at the “brother to Madness” part.

“Your false gods could not entirely rewrite history. Thus you remember tales of Lorkhan, vilified, a dead trickster, whose heart came to Tamriel. But if a god can die, how does his heart survive? He is daedroth! Tamriel ae daedroth!”

Was this why Sheogorath had stepped outside his own universe to find a champion? To find someone not lifelong-indoctrinated in the beliefs of this world? Because he had to admit, as annoying as he found Camoran’s ceaseless nattering, he could also see how the man could win so many followers with that sort of rhetoric.

“ ‘This Heart is the heart of the world, for one was made to satisfy the other.’ You all remember this. It is in every legend. Daedra cannot die, so your so-called gods cannot erase him from your minds completely.”

He was finally able to pay attention to his surroundings. The tunnel led immediately into water, though judging by the person he saw farther along, it would only come to mid-calf, his knees at best. He did not bother to speak to any of the people milling about inside and instead pressed on, eventually coming to a dark door with symbols on it glowing the same sullen red as the bands he was carrying.

It refused to open and a test of harmonization showed the he was prevented from using one of his more interesting tricks. With no other choice he put the bands he’d taken from that guard on and watched in dismay as they locked into place. The door, however, then easily gave way to his touch.

He was barely down the tunnel when a red-robed elf scurried up to him and said, “You wear the bands, but you’re no prisoner.”

‘Did my clothing give me away?’ he thought sarcastically.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to kill Mankar Camoran,” he said.

To his surprise the elf said, “Can you really do it? Can you bring this eternal nightmare to an end? Can you defeat Mankar Camoran? And free all the souls of the poor fools who followed him? Listen, I can help you. You need my help if you are ever to leave the Forbidden Grotto.”

‘Not much of a grotto considering it’s a smoky cave with lava and the sounds of people in pain.’ “Why would you help me?”

“I was at the sack of Kvatch. They had no chance. We took them by surprise, and we carried the walls in the first assault. But they fought on anyway. Desperately. They seemed to think this decadent, mundane world of theirs was worth defending. I was slain after the battle was over. Three townsfolk hiding in the cellar attacked me when I entered their house, hunting down survivors. They tore me to pieces, although I have no doubt they were immediately killed by my companions. I’ve had plenty of time to ponder my deeds since I came here. Ponder, and regret. An eternity of regret.”

“You wouldn’t last a week in the Christian concept of Hell, then,’ he thought.

“For my weakness, the Master sent me here, to torture my former comrades who showed similar ingratitude for his gift of eternal life.”

He wondered if they took turns at the torturing part, and if the whole point was to make them all more like daedra in the end. “How can you help me?”

“No one wearing the Bands of the Chosen can leave this grotto. The doors will not open, and there is no other way out. I can remove them, but I will need time on my side. The Dremora overseer will be here any minute to check up on me. You need to play along until he leaves. Just act like a prisoner, and do as I say. Once Orthe leaves, we can find a quiet spot to remove these bands.”

Sora leaned against the tunnel wall and sought out his intuition. He already had a hard time believing the elf was lying, but he wanted some kind of supporting evidence. “Fine. I’ll play along,” he said, but thought, ‘And I will ensure it if I must.’

“Good. Follow me, and don’t worry. You can trust me.”

‘That usually implies otherwise, but whatever.’

He followed the elf over to a cave area with a river of lava flowing down the middle, though the level was quite low. Suspended over it were two cages. One was down in the lava and one was waiting up top. Nearby was a lever.

He was about to ask what next when a Dremora stalked in to say, “What’s going on here? Who’s this?”

“A prisoner, sent in by—”

“Show me some respect, worm! Unless you want to end up in the cages with them.”

“…Yes, kynreeve, sir. This prisoner was sent in by Kathutet for questioning. I was about to begin.”

“This is not one of Mankar Camoran’s chattels from the garden. Who is he?”

“Nothing escapes your vigilance, kynreeve. Kathutet wondered as well. This is why he sent him for questioning.”

The Dremora eyed him again. “Well… Carry on,” he ordered.

“Of course, kynreeve.” The elf looked his way and said sharply, “Prisoner! Into the cage, now!”

Sora walked up the open side and turned. The side slowly came up to cage him in, and the elf moved to the lever. He pulled it and Sora’s cage began to lower. A look down showed only lava and the heat was horrendous. It stopped just short of actually dunking him, though, and started the journey back up.

The back side dropped that time to give him an exit.

“I’ll meet you farther on,” the elf said. “I will have to kill myself so as to do so.”

Sora blinked at the matter-of-fact pronouncement, then shrugged and took off, blasting anything in his way, but being far more careful around red-robed figures. One of them could turn out to be his ally, and murdering him would be unfortunate, even if he would pop back up a short time later.

“You made it,” the elf said once they found each other again. “I didn’t think you’d have any trouble. Let’s get these bands off you… There,” he said as the bands clicked open and dropped away. “You’re not a prisoner of the Forbidden Grotto any longer. Let me come with you. Let me help you kill Mankar Camoran. I am not without power.”

He had kept his word, so—“Sure, I wouldn’t mind the help.”

“I am no match for Mankar Camoran directly, but perhaps together we can find a way to defeat him. Lead on.”

He was about to get moving again when Camoran butted in with more chatter that reverberated in his head. “Well done, champion! Your progress is swift and sure. Perhaps you will reach me after all. You think I mock you? Not at all. In your coming I hear the footsteps of fate. You are the last defender of decadent Tamriel. I am the midwife of the Mythic Dawn, Tamriel Reborn. I welcome you, if you truly are the agent of fate. I tire of the self-styled heroes who set themselves in my path, only to prove unworthy in the event.”

He sighed and pressed on, eventually coming to a door much like the one he’d used to enter the grotto. This one opened immediately. Perhaps they were enchanted to check on both sides for the bands, but only open to them from the outside.

It led to more of the Savage Garden, but higher up the mountain. The path led them to a structure that seemed undamaged. Two red-robed people were milling around outside, but neither wore hoods, allowing him to see they were elves—Altmer probably, going by skin colour and height—and one was female.

Rather than ask questions he simply took them down with solidified webs and rifled through their clothing. A ring and some weapons caught his eye, so he took them as spoils, and he moved on through the only available door. It was large and not unlike one he had seen at Miscarcand.

The interior was in fabulous shape, with more of those bladed chandeliers, a set of stairs to either side leading up and back toward the entrance, and up ahead was a series of low steps and a throne. Sora walked forward, shooting out his webs without breaking stride, and killed the man before he had a chance to start babbling again.

The air went hazy and red, so he quickly rifled through the man’s clothing to retrieve anything that looked interesting, plus the Amulet of Kings, then dashed off to the side to avoid the chunks of stone from parts of the ceiling collapsing.

When the dust and sound cleared he was back at Cloud Ruler Temple. Renato, Lorenzo, and Viper whipped over and started reassuring themselves he was fine.

“You found a way back!” Martin said.

Sora took in the change in clothing; Martin was dressed in fancy robes with fur trimmings, the sort of thing he had seen the emperor wearing.

“Does this mean…?”

“Mankar Camoran is dead,” he said, and offered up the Amulet of Kings. “Here. This belongs to you.”

“Belongs to me? The Amulet of Kings?” Martin took it almost warily. “So you and Jauffre have said. If it is true, if the emperor really was my father, then I should be able to wear it. Only those of Septim blood can wear the Amulet of Kings.”

“Stop stalling,” he said gently.

Martin smiled. “Yes, of course. What am I waiting for? After all, this is my destiny … and no man can deny his destiny.” He lifted it up and slung the cord over his head. The amulet settled into place with a faint rustle of metal.

“You see? You are indeed Uriel’s son.”

“I didn’t really need the amulet to tell me that,” Martin replied. “I’ve known it was true since you first told me back in Kvatch. But it is one thing to talk of becoming emperor, and quite another to actually be the emperor.”

“Be that as it may, but you are the emperor.”

Martin shook his head slightly. “Not yet. Until we relight the Dragonfires, the gates can continue to open, and Mehrunes Dagon’s invasion continues. While you were gone I sent a messenger to Chancellor Ocato. He waits for us in the Imperial City.”

“I remember him,” he said.

“He is the head of the Elder Council, and the Council rules in the emperor’s absence. I don’t expect any objections from the Elder Council, but we should defer to their authority. Let us go there at once, before the enemy can recover from Mankar Camoran’s death.”

*

The Elder Council Chamber comprised the entirety of the ground floor of the structure but for a hallway that ringed it. The table inside was massive and had numerous seats around it, and the ceiling was so high up he could see nothing but darkness.

“I have been expecting you,” Ocato said. “The full Council has already considered the matter of Martin’s claim to the Imperial Throne in detail.” He went down on one knee and said formally, “Martin Septim, on behalf of the Elder Council, I accept your claim to the Imperial Throne. We should arrange the coronation ceremony as soon as—”

“Chancellor Ocato! Chancellor Ocato!” cried someone racing into the chamber. He wore full plate armor and had a hand at his sword to keep it from tangling with his legs. “Chancellor Ocato! The city is under attack! Oblivion Gates have opened, and daedra are inside the walls! The guard is overwhelmed!”

“Courage, soldier. We have an emperor again. Your Highness, what are your orders? Shall the Guard fall back to the palace?”

“No,” Martin said decisively. “If we let ourselves get besieged in the palace we’re doomed. We must get to the Temple of the One immediately.”

“As you command, sire. Guards! Form up and protect the emperor! To the Temple of the One!”

Outside was a madhouse of sullen red skies, daedra, and soldiers. Lightning arced from Storm Atronachs and large hammers came down on guards. Martin went to begin fighting, but Sora grabbed his arm rudely. “Hey, we don’t have time for this! Your duty is to relight the fires. So come on!”

Martin cast a lingering look at the fighting taking place, then nodded sharply. “To the Temple of the One!”

They burst through the door into the Temple District and Sora jerked to a stop so fast that Martin nearly plowed into him. Up ahead was a massive red figure with more arms than was sane and symbols in a darker red all over its body.

“We’re too late,” Martin breathed. “Mehrunes Dagon is here! Lighting the Dragonfires will no longer save us… The barriers that protected us from Oblivion are gone.”

He spared a moment to eye Martin askance. “Giving up now isn’t an option. Can we cast him back into Oblivion?” he asked, then went back to keeping an eye on the giant.

“I don’t see how… Mortal weapons may hurt him, but now that he is physically here in Tamriel, they have no power to actually destroy him.”

“The Amulet of Kings is divine. What about that?”

“Wait… Yes. It was given to mortals by Akatosh. It contains His divine power…” Martin frowned. “But how to use this power against Dagon? The amulet was not intended as a weapon…”

Sora watched another soldier get smashed to paste up ahead, and shot out a web to take down a daedroth that got too close to their position.

“I have an idea. One last hope. I must reach the Dragonfires in the Temple of the One. You’ll just have to trust me on this. I now know what I was born to do. I’ll need your help, though, to get past Mehrunes Dagon, somehow.”

“Oh, I’ll get you there. But I hope you’ll forgive me ahead of time if I suddenly reach out and yank you around a bit.”

Martin smiled and nodded. “Let us go.”

“All right. Keep close and follow me. Guys?”

His family nodded, so Sora took off, leaning heavily on his intuition to guide his steps. He did have to yank Martin to the side a time or two to avoid lightning strikes from Atronachs, but aside from that, and the creeping sensation of horror up his spine from getting so damn close to Dagon, he was able to get Martin to the temple doors and whip them open so the man could race through.

He and his family raced in after him. Martin called back, “I do what I must do. I cannot stay to rebuild Tamriel. That task falls to others. Farewell. You’ve been a good friend in the short time that I’ve known you. But now I must go. The Dragon waits.” He reached the center of the temple just as the ceiling and parts of the walls were ripped free and Dagon stepped “inside”.

Sora and his family backed up against the far wall as Martin faced Dagon from the center. Then beams of light—eight of them, then nine total—emerged from around Martin’s chest. A bright white and gold light erupted, obscuring the area, but Sora could see that Martin was rising up into the air on a stream of gold.

He vanished and Dagon roared.

A massive gold dragon appeared overhead. It fought Dagon with flame and tooth and claw; and won. Then it landed, threw back its head, and glowed so brightly Sora had to shield his eyes, suffering a minor flashback to the Fated Day because of it. When he could see again it was a statue of stone, an enduring reminder of Martin’s sacrifice.