Martin smoothed his dark grey robes. It would not be long before his congregation would be arriving. He lit the taper. Today would be a big day, the Goldwine family was planning to come to the morning service. All of them. He began moving through the Temple of Akatosh, lighting candles as he went. It was a rare honor for the Temple. Martin had gotten out the good candles. All of them. There would be no cutting corners today.
With the candles lit, the prayer books laid out, the incense sorted, the service was prepped. Martin looked outside and the sky was still golden with the rising sun. He had plenty of time for a stroll through town. He waved to Oleta, the old healer from Hammerfell, on his way out.
The morning air was chilled, with a hint of dampness still clinging to it. Many in Kvatch sang the praises of the city at dusk, calling it a gem nestled amongst the bluffs. But Martin found himself much fonder of it at dawn. Instead of bathing the city in the warm pinks of sunset, the city was awash with a golden light at dawn. The pale sandstone buildings reflected the light of the rising sun, transforming Kvatch into a city of gold. Even though he walked out to see it every morning, it still managed to take Martin’s breath away.
At this time of morning, only the shop owners were out on the streets, getting things ready for another day. Kvatch was by no means a bustling city, like Anvil far to the west along the coast; but neither was it a sleepy little hovel nestled into the hills, line Skingrad to the east. It was always alive and moving with the busy days of its residents.
As Martin moved through the streets, he greeted the baker, the seamstress, the butcher, the armorer, the innkeeper. The general store’s shop keeper’s daughter was out, arranging a new display on the curb. Martin smiled at her; a girl in her early twenties, he knew from gossip that all the local boys were interested in her, but she paid them no mind. Her father, Amaretus, swore the girl had eyes for someone else, but could not for the life of him figure out who.
“Good morning, Amalia,” said Martin brightly as he passed, “the stand looks exceptionally nice today!”
The girl’s cheeks flushed, and she bowed her head. “Thank you, Brother Martin,” she said, “you are far too kind.” She tucked a loose strand of golden hair back behind her ear. “How is your arm this morning?” Martin’s brow furrowed in confusion at Amalia’s question. When he did not answer, she hastily continued, “You mentioned in the service last Sundas that your shoulder had been giving you trouble.”
“Oh,” Martin said feebly, “yes,” he said rubbing his right shoulder, wondering why on Nirn the girl had remembered that, “much better this week.” He smiled reassuringly at her, “Thank you for remembering.”
Martin was anxious to get on with his walk, the sun was trickling further up the sky, but Amalia looked on the verge of saying something else.
“Would you…” she finally began, “would you like some tea? Father is off-”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” Martin interrupted quickly. “It would not do for the priest to be late for his own service.”
Amalia flushed. “No,” she stammered. “Of course, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Think nothing of it!” He smiled again, “I’ll see you at the service, yes?”
“Oh, um, yes,” she stammered further. “I think so.”
Martin continued on his way.
“Good morning to you, Brother Martin!”
“Good morning, Stessa,” Martin called, waving to the Redguard woman leaning out the Wolf’s Den’s front door.
“Won’t you come in for something to refresh yourself?” Stessa asked, tossing her long, black braids back over her shoulder. The tiny golden bells woven into her braids tinkling as they went. Her burgundy silk gown with the metallic gold trim dazzled in the morning light, contrasting against the darkness of her skin. It was dangerously lowcut for this early in the day.
“I’m afraid I don’t have the time, Stessa.”
“Some breakfast, then?” Her tone changed and one brow rose invitingly.
“I, um, no, nor for that I’m afraid!” Martin’s brow wrinkled, what had he turned down the first time then? “Uh… another time!”
Stessa flicked her hand after him dismissively, rolling her eyes. “You always say that Brother Martin!”
“See you at the…” he trailed off as Stessa turned and disappeared back inside her tavern.
Safely back within the walls of the Temple of Akatosh, Martin closed the door behind him, leaning against it as he rubbed his eyes.
“Everything alright out there this morning?” Oleta asked.
“Fine enough,” Martin sighed.
“Are they after you again?”
Martin ran his hands down his face, his fingers catching on the prickly stubble along his chin. “Are they what?”
“After you again?”
“The ladies of the town!” Oleta laughed.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Martin said. He did.
“They can’t help but be distracted by a handsome face from time-to-time.”
“But I’m a brother of the church. A priest. I took vows, Oleta.”
Oleta shrugged. “They do not care much. They see a nice face to look upon, hear a nice voice to sooth them.” She laughed, a cackle more fitting of a coven than a church. “Why do you think the Temple is always so full?”
“Well, I liked to think it was my thought stirring sermons,” Martin grumbled. Oleta cackled again. “You are not helping, Oleta.” Her cackle echoed through the Temple as she left him in the entry.
Martin stared at himself in the mirror that hung over the donations table. He knew he was better looking than most, he had used it to his advantage after all, long ago. But he supposed he had hoped that he had found others who saw past it, saw the other things he had to offer. For once, the things he said held some meaning. What a waste if they were only there to look at him. Though… he supposed they did still possess ears while they looked upon him? Perhaps they were absorbing some of the things he said, even if it was not their intent.
He sighed, forcing himself to smile. That would have to be enough for now.
As the Temple’s bells began to ring, Martin propped open the front door of the Temple and took his place on the steps to greet his flock as they arrived, as was his tradition. He had always enjoyed greeting his people, seeing the emotions present as they entered. If he sensed a mood leaning a certain way, he would adjust his sermon accordingly. Despite what Oleta said, he also knew people talked about how he always seemed to know what they needed.
The minutes began to stretch as no one arrived. Martin looked around, expecting to see some sign of life… somewhere. But there was no one about. No sound wafting down the cobbled streets.
Had his two awkward female encounters that morning been enough to drive everyone off?
He looked up at the sky, seeing that he hadn’t gotten the time of day wrong. Blacked out and awoken at dusk, or something.
The sky had a strange, reddish tint. The hairs on the back of his neck began to tingle.
That was odd.
The rising sun did not usually cause the sky to go red, and when it did… well, the sailor’s had that saying for a reason. Martin noticed it was redder to the south, towards the city gate. He left his post and set off.
The closer he drew, the redder everything seemed to get. The sound of screams and… something Martin could not identify began to echo along the stone walls of the building. Martin’s walk turned into a run.
As he rounded the corner into the main square, he saw fire everywhere. The Wolf’s Den was in ruin, the rubble blazing. An arch of fire blazed at the city gate; a strange red shimmery substance covered the area where the gate had once stood. Creatures poured out of it.
Daedra were in the city, running rampant. Scamps were everywhere, riffling through rubble. A Winged Twilight could be seen rising above the city walls, a horse in her wretched grasp. A horde of Clannfear were gathered around something, eating it with vigor.
Martin’s blood turned to ice in his veins. An Oblivion Gate had been opened, a stable one at that. And it was pouring its monsters into Kvatch. Martin’s right arm tingled painfully. He had not done this in years, but his people needed him.
He pushed magic through his arm and an axe formed in his hand. The blade shimmered with an ethereal silver edge, and it hummed with the power of his Conjuration Magick. Letting out a roar, Martin raced towards the group of Clannfear, slicing clean through one of them. The others scattered, revealing their prey: Ogden, the armorer. The man appeared to be alive, though missing one arm below the elbow.
Martin hauled him up, giving Ogden a little shake to right his senses. The armorer’s dark eyes found Martin’s.
“Get to the Temple,” Martin said.
“Go!” Martin shouted, “Gather anyone you pass and get them inside and find Oleta!” He did not wait to see if Ogden listened, but started towards the Wolf’s Den.
Slicing through a few scamps and flinging a few back with a cupboard door he used as a shield, Martin made his way inside the tavern.
“Stessa!” he shouted. “Stessa, are you here?” He kicked a scamp across the dining hall. “Stessa!” Martin moved to the stone steps that led down to the kitchen. There was a trail of blood.
Moving into the kitchen, Martin could hear the throat clickings of a clannfear. The tips of the ridge along the monster’s back could be seen above the counter in the middle of the room, it was bent over something on the other side. Martin slammed his conjured axe blade into the granite of the counter, causing the Clannfear to shriek in raged startlement. Its head rose and it turned to look at Martin, its jaws dripping.
Holding out his hand, palm towards the beast, Martin began to mutter a spell, his tongue easily remembering the long-unused words. With a disgruntled warble and pop, the beast waivered out of being, banished back to Oblivion from whence it came. Martin moved around the counter to find Stessa slumped on the floor against the cabinet.
His heart dropped to his stomach. Martin had always enjoyed Stessa’s sparring conversations. He made the sign of the Nine and turned to go when he heard her cough. Martin spun back towards her, dropping to her side. Stessa’s hand was outstretched, pointing to a cupboard behind Martin.
“Bailin,” she coughed, her arm dropping to the floor once more. Martin watched the light go from Stessa’s eyes, again making the sign of the Nine above her. He rose, feeling much heavier than before, and moved towards the cupboard she had indicated.
Pulling open the doors, he found nothing but pots and pans. Confused, Martin looked around. The next cupboard over was a door that pulled out, the potato drawer. Cautiously, he opened it. Inside, sat a small boy, his eyes wide with terror. Her son.
“I need you to do me a favor, little one,” said Martin gently. “Close your eyes and keep them shut tight until I say so.” The boy nodded solemnly, closing his eyes tightly and raising his arms towards Martin. He scooped up the boy, clutching him tightly. “Hang on tight,” he whispered, backing towards the stairs, just to be safe.
The streets were overrun with Atronachs, Clannfear, Daedrats, Scamps, and Twilights. Martin darted between buildings, holding Bailin tightly, asking him every few buildings if the boy still had his eyes closed. Each time the boy nodded vigorously into Martin’s shoulder.
As they rounded the last building before arriving in the Temple square, a roar shook Martin’s bones and the boy in his arms whimpered.
That was much larger than a Clannfear…
“I’ve got you, Bailin, don’t worry,” whispered Martin as he stared at the Daedroth as it rounded the corner. The beast had the head and tail of a crocodile, but the body of a man covered in scales, and double in size. The razor-sharp teeth that lined it’s pointed jaw were stained red. Its massive tail swung wildly, demolishing the corner of the nearby seamstress’s shop.
Martin’s eyes scanned the square. There was no way he could cross safely with Bailin in tow without attracting the Daedroth’s attention.
“Bailin,” whispered Martin again, “if I set you down, can you run across the square to the Temple?” The boy’s wide eyes drifted towards the Daedroth. “Don’t worry about him, I’ll deal with him. You just focus on running. Can you do that?”
“It won’t catch me?” Bailin replied.
Swallowing nervously, Martin shook his head. “No, it won’t catch you,” Martin vowed.
“I can do it,” said the boy proudly.
“Alright.” Martin set the boy onto the cobbles. “I’ll go out first and get its attention, as soon as the beast is turned away from you, I want you to run as fast as you can to the door on the far side.” He knelt beside the boy and pointed towards the far side of the Temple’s entrance.
Bailin nodded vigorously. “I can do it,” he said again, confidence bolstering his young voice.
“Whatever happens, keep running,” Martin added firmly.
The boy nodded again. He turned his small face towards Martin, his dark eyes shining brightly. “I’ll see you again, won’t I?”
“You will,” Martin promised. “Akatosh will guide me.” He tapped the tip of the boy’s nose with his thumb. “And you as well,” he added.
Moving into the Temple square, Martin dragged his conjured blade along the cobblestones. The high-pitched shriek of the blade against stone drew the Daedroth’s attention from the seamstress shop’s roof it was currently eating.
“Come here, you ugly mutt,” Martin shouted, waving his arms above his head. The Daedroth lunged towards him, and Martin backed towards an alley. Out of the corner of his eye, Martin saw Bailin running towards the Temple. He sighed a breath of relief. At least the boy would be safe.
Claws swiped at Martin’s arm, drawing his focus back to the Daedroth; the beast had closed the distance faster than he had anticipated. Martin swung the conjured axe at the Daedroth, sending some of the beast’s claws flying through the air. The beast roared in anger and lumbered after Martin with surprising agility.
Cursing, Martin turned to run properly away from the Daedra. He had not expected a beast of that size to move as easily as it did. Skidding around a corner, Martin’s heart sank as he saw the destruction that was befalling Kvatch as Daedra continued to pour into the city from the Oblivion Gate. Entire buildings were being completely leveled. There would be nothing left by dusk at the rate the monsters were destroying everything in their path.
Rounding another corner, to head back up an alley that led back towards the Temple Square, Martin found himself flung through the air, slamming into a stone wall on his left. His ears were ringing, and his vision swirled as he staggered back to his feet. Jaws were clamping around his right bicep – jaws that were far too small to belong to a Daedroth. The spell for his conjured axe slipped from him as Martin felt hot blood flowing down his arm.
His head was still spinning, and he struggled to remember the words for his banishment spell. A hunk of stone from a building found its way into Martin’s left palm, and he slammed it into the side of the Clannfear’s head. The blow was enough to cause the beast to loosen its grip on Martin’s arm, allowing him to pull himself away. As he scrambled away, he kicked the Clannfear in its chest, giving himself more distance.
Martin raced up the alley, sprinting across the Temple Square, shouting to Oleta to open the bloody doors. His body bounced against the heavy timber door, his fists beating against it.
“Oleta!!” Martin wailed. “The door!” He could feel the vibration in the wood of the cross bar being removed from the other side. He whispered a prayer as he heard the sound of Daedra approaching from behind.
The door was pulled inwards, and Martin tumbled inside.
“Thank Akatosh you are safe!” Oleta exclaimed, helping Martin from the floor. “I was beginning to worry about you. I didn’t think you were going to make it back.”
“I nearly didn’t,” Martin muttered, rubbing his head as he watched the town’s blacksmith and a lone guard putting the cross bar back into place across the door. “Put that in front of the door, as well,” Martin said, pointing to a chest of drawers that held the prayer books.
“But… if any more survivors come…” Oleta began.
“No one else is coming,” Martin said grimly. “I pray others are holed up elsewhere.”
He looked around the Temple for Bailin. There were around a dozen townsfolks scattered throughout the pews, but he saw no small dark head.
“Oleta, where is the boy?” Martin asked.
“We’d best tend to your arm,” Oleta was saying.
“The boy,” Martin pressed, jerking his arm from Oleta’s grasp, “where is he?”
“What boy?” Oleta’s eyes went wide.
“Bailin,” Martin shouted, half at Oleta, half calling for the boy himself, “Stessa’s boy!”
“Brother,” said the one member of the city guard, placing a calming hand on Martin’s forearm, “I brought these people with me, but you are the only other to have arrived.”
Martin felt as though he were falling through the stone floor. “That cannot be right,” he exclaimed. “I escorted the boy here myself, to just the other side of the square!”
“Did you see him enter?” the guard asked calmly, and Martin felt a cold grip clasp his heart.
“I… I had to distract the Daedroth,” Martin said feebly. There was an ache growing in his chest, spreading throughout him. He felt ill.
“We heard a Winged Twilight come down and snatch something,” said Oleta as she once again reached for Martin’s arm.
The guard scowled at Oleta, that was not a helpful comment, but Martin did not see as he shoved the old healer away from him, fleeing across the Temple towards the stairs that led to his quarters in the tower.
Sobs racked through Martin, shaking his entire body where he had fallen upon his small bed. He was bleeding all over his bedding, but he did not care. What did it matter? What did anything matter anymore? They would likely all be dead within a few days, perhaps weeks. Akatosh certainly would not be intervening on their behalf.
He had promised…
Another sob escaped him. He had promised the boy that he would be alright, that Akatosh would keep him safe. Instead, the Divine had turned his back on the small child, allowing him to be taken away by a Daedra. The poor boy would have been lucky to simply have been released, high above, to fall to his death. It would have been a mercy, compared to what a Winged Twilight was capable of doing to a child of his small size…
He could not let himself think of that. Not now. Instead, Martin focused on the fact that the Divine to whom he had sworn his life, had turned his back on him and the boy he had claimed in his protection. Martin let his anger flood through him, he could feel the cracks forming within his faith in the Nine Divines.
When Martin emerged from his rooms, the sun was long set. He descended the spiral staircase, back down to the others in the heart of the Temple. He was unsurprised to see that Oleta had not worked to provide any of their refugees with any comforts and that they were all still sitting in the hard wooden pews.
Martin moved quietly across the large room, descending the stone steps into the basement, where he began to bring out crates of food and provisions. He set up a cooking stations and instructed the cook from the tavern to start preparing a meal. The guardsman, whom Martin learned was named Troy, began to help Martin bring out cots and blankets next. They created a watch schedule, as Troy informed Martin that the Daedroth was still around, and it kept testing the strength of their doors.
The work of caring for the others kept the questions about the gods on the outer rim of Martin’s mind. Kept the thoughts of Bailin, and wondering what had happened to him, a little further from his thoughts. His arm was throbbing painfully, he refused to allow Oleta to look at it. He heard her whispering with Agnes from the bakery that she thought Martin was punishing himself. She was not wrong.
Days dragged themselves past. The days turned into a week, which slipped into two. Martin wagered they had enough provisions for two more. Then he was not certain what they would do. He would think of something. He always did. The refugees in the Temple counted on him for that.
The same way Bailin needed Akatosh…
He dug his fingernails into his palm, drawing blood. Those types of thoughts did no one any good. Him especially. He was losing sleep every night, thinking about what little Baillin’s last moments must have been like. It was difficult to alter his thoughts then, he could at least manage it while he was awake.
As he returned to his tower room, Martin felt weary of body and spirit. Oleta had let it slip in front of the others that they were halfway through their food stores. Panic had taken root quicker than Martin would have liked, especially with no help in sight. By now, after two weeks of the city being under siege from the Daedra that kept pouring forth from the Oblivion Gate, the only two structures remaining in Kvatch were the Temple of Akatosh and the castle that housed the Count and his family.
Martin knelt beside his bed to pray, looking for guidance on food, as well as a plea for help.
He could not help but sit back on his heels and laugh at himself. No one was listening. Not to him, not to anyone in Kvatch, that much was abundantly clear.
He pulled himself up, wincing at having used his right arm. It had taken a few days, but Martin had finally allowed Oleta to patch him up. Martin moved away from his bed to his window, looking out at Kvatch Castle. He prayed – no, hoped – that the rest of the city guard had managed to get other survivors to the Castle before the city had been overrun.
There was a flickering that caught Martin’s attention out of the corner of his eye. Martin turned his attention towards it, the massive Oblivion Gate blocking the city gate. For the past two weeks, the Gate had remained solid, stable, glowing brightly, and washing the city in red. But now it was flickering.
Martin stood a little straighter, his attention peaked. He noticed all the Daedra appeared to also be noticing the activity. Monstrous heads swiveled in the direction of the Gate. Some beasts acting and racing towards it.
The gate flickered once more, and then was gone. In its place appeared a singular figure that fell forward onto the cobblestones. Martin was not certain what he had expected, but it was certainly one lone person conquering an Oblivion Gate. Especially one of its size and stability.
He gripped his windowsill, watching the swarm of Daedra closing in on the figure that laid sprawled across the cobbles. They did not appear to be stirring, and Martin knew how disorienting exiting an Oblivion Gate could be to one not accustomed to dealing with them. He cursed, realizing the poor thing must be incredibly inexperienced and had been knocked unconscious.
Martin hurried across the room to the rope for the bell. Pulling it with just his left arm resulted in a pitiful clang, only enough to draw the attention of a few scamps. Cursing again, he gritted his teeth, gripping the rope with both arms and heaving with all his might.
The bells, still high above him, began to pull one another into a merry, deafening peal. Releasing the rope, they would keep one another going for a while now, Martin hurried back to the window. He saw the figure slowly picking themselves up, a hand going to their head, before they staggered backwards, away from the Daedra. Flames erupted from their hands, charring the beasts surrounding them. Martin saw their head swivel in the direction of the Temple, hearing the bells. They picked their way through the corpses and headed in Martin’s direction. He kept watching for any sign of reinforcements to follow the figure in through the now unblocked city gates, but none came.
For the third time, Martin cursed and raced to the stairs, bounding down them two at a time.
“Unbar the door!” he shouted, nearing the ground floor. “Troy, unbar the door!!”
“Are you mad?” Oleta cried as Martin raced past her. “First clanging the bells at this ungodly hour, now demanding the door be opened!”
“Someone’s coming, unbar the door!” Martin exclaimed again, ignoring the woman.
“But-” Troy started a feeble counter argument.
“Someone from outside,” Martin cried, tugging at the cross bar. “The Gate is down! I watched it with my own eyes!! Someone closed it and is coming!”
People began stirring on their cots, having heard Martin’s proclamation of someone coming. Perhaps he should have been quieter about it, he didn’t know if these people could tolerate being let down about this.
Troy helped Martin heave the bar from across the door and Martin pulled the doors towards him, opening them wide. He stepped out onto the steps of the Temple for the first time in two weeks. Their savior was walking towards him, a trail of dead Daedra in their wake. Martin had expected to see them running from the monsters chasing them, but they walked calmly across the square and climbed the steps.
As they drew near, Martin saw it was a woman. She tossed her long, red-kissed raven black braid over her shoulder, her ashen-blue skin smudged with ash and dark Daedra blood. Her violet eyes twinkled as she sheathed her sword in the scabbard slung on her hip. She wore ill-fitting city guard armor, had a slight limp, and was bleeding from the temple, but otherwise looked unharmed.
She held out her hand to him after wiping the blood away on the sigil of the city guard tucked in her belt.
“Are you Brother Martin?” she asked, her voice having the lilt of someone from the docks of Bravil.
“I… uh… yes,” stammered Martin. “Yes, I am he.” He could feel Nirn tilting beneath his feet as he starred into those violet eyes.
“I’ve been sent to find you, lets get you to safety,” she said, peering around him. “Is there anyone else with you?”
Martin motioned mutely behind him, the Dunmeri woman giving him a curious look as she ducked past him. He watched her, gathering up the refugees he had been housing, rolling her words over and over in his mind.
She had been sent… sent by whom? Had the Divines finally heard his pleas and sent a champion forth? What else could explain a clearly inexperienced fighter closing an Oblivion Gate on their own?
The woman reemerged from the Temple, following the trail of refugees.
“My name is Astor, by the way,” she said with a smile. She continued past him, following the others back the way she had come.
Martin watched her. There was something about her, he could feel it. She could be it; the reason he needed, the reason to believe again.