Screams polluted the air, men, women, children, innocent people fleeing, innocent people dying because a select few thought themselves better than the rest. The crimes of the Mythic Dawn were many, but this, this was their worst offense. The Imperial City was burning, and somehow, Adria felt she was to blame.
What if she had escaped Paradise earlier? Could she have warned them? No. There was no way she could have known that the Gates would open within the city. Daedra swarmed the districts, paying no mind to whom they slaughtered. The guards battled in lonely groups of two or three, caught by surprise by the sudden appearance of the monsters. They never had a chance to mount a defense. In her heart she knew it to be the truth… the Imperial City was lost.
All was lost.
She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see Martin looking at her with concern. "By Talos," Adria croaked, holding back tears. They had been separated from the Blades in the madness of the battle, taking refuge in a dark alley. All she had done, closing the Gates, purging the Great Gate of its Sigil Stone, invading Mankar's Paradise and retrieving lost Amulet of Kings, all of it was for nothing if the Imperial City was lost.
And what if Mehrunes ****n managed to break through and reach the mortal world?
Martin frowned, his brows furrowed in concern, years of sadness etched on his face. Motioning for her to stay he glanced into the street, making sure they had not been discovered. He made his way back to Adria, placing both hands on her shoulders, and looking into her eyes. A fire burned in his eyes, one Adria had not seen in him since the Battle of Bruma, when they had tricked the daedra into opening a Great Gate. "We can do this," he said, holding her steady. "We must light the Dragonfires. It's the only way."
Adria straightened, resting her hand on his cheek. "I know."
Martin smiled with that foolish optimism that had led them through the trials of finding the Amulet of Kings. "Come then, Hero of Kvatch, we have a world to save."
Adria nodded and drew her bow, knocking an arrow as Martin drew his silver sword, a spell prepped in his off hand. It was a mad dash to the Temple District. Adria's heart ached each time she saw an Imperial Soldier fall, but they could not help. They avoided as much confrontation as they could, weaving through the path of least resistance to get to the Temple of the One, to finally light the Dragonfires.
Just as they reached the gates to the Temple District a group of Churls burst from it.
She held her breath as she drew the bow back, the arrow a whisper as it flew forward, and downing a churl as it pierced his neck. Martin stood straight as he raised his left hand before him, electricity cackling and striking forth with near perfect precision. Sometimes she forgot how powerful of a mage Martin truly was. She drew another shot, missing the heart in her haste as the daedra charged her. She ducked beneath its sword, and knocked it away with her bow hand, while it was distracted she took an arrow in her hand and stabbed it in the eye, driving the head deep into its skull. She looked up just in time to see Martin flay a Churl up the middle before blasting it away. The creature landed with a sickening thud several feet away. Martin wiped the blood from his cheek before turning to her, offering his hand. She took it, and together they pushed the gate open.
Only to have Adria's heart sink even further. The Temple still stood, but the entire eastern half of the district was in ruins. And it was no question why.
Standing there was the very avatar of Mehrunes ****n himself.
The daedric prince stood hundreds of feet tall; she could barely bend her neck high enough to see his head. His skin was red as blood, two pairs of arms swung at the warriors at ****n's feet, while he simply crushed any underfoot who dared venture too close. It was a massacre.
Adria caught the look on Martin's face before he had a chance to recollect himself. Fear. He shook his head, placing a gentle hand on her back.
"Come on!" he shouted, pushing her forward, "into the temple!"
They ran. Everything moved at a snail's pace. She shot arrow after arrow, scamps, dremora, anything and everything in their path they cut down together. At last they made it to the doors of the temple. The doors closed behind them, the sound echoing in the empty room. They caught their breath. "Mehrunes ****n," she said between breaths, "he's here, he's actually bloody here!"
Martin said nothing, shaking his head.
"What do we do?"
"Nothing," he said finally.
Adria's eyes went wide. "What, what are you saying?"
He took her face in his hands. "I'm sorry, Adria."
Tears came, though she had no idea why. "Martin, what?"
He shook his head. "I know now what I must do." He leaned his forehead against hers. "Thank you," he said his voice no more than a whisper, "for everything." He wiped away a tear from her cheek. "I had lost hope, and you gave me it again. Everything I am, I owe that to you. I know now what it means to be Emperor, what the sacrifice is, and why only I can light the Dragonfires." She stared at him, her eyes wide. "I love you."
"Say it," he interrupted.
"Please," he choked.
She laid a hand on his cheek. "I love you."
Then he kissed her, pouring all his love into the one action, and before she could react he was gone, sprinting toward the altar, the Amulet of Kings in Hand. The world shook as the roof finally gave way, knocking Adria to the ground with its force.
The face of Destruction was staring down upon them.
He stood at the Altar, gazing at her once with forlorn eyes before he smashed the gem against the altar. As soon as the gem broke Martin was bathed in a golden light. More of the roof came crashing to the ground.
And then all Adria knew was darkness…
She felt the heat of fires consuming her, but she felt no pain. Instead she felt a rush, the daedra that had been at her heels moments ago were gone in an instant. She gripped the Sigil stone close, holding on for dear life. She had no idea what was happening. She didn't know what would happen if she dropped the stone, or if she moved too much. Soon she felt a release of air, a cool breeze on her face for a moment before she fell to her knees on solid ground. Her bow clattered on the ground in front of her as she knelt on her hands and knees.
She heard Ilend cough beside her. She extended a hand and patted him on the shoulder. "Are you all right?" she asked.
He nodded as he coughed into his hand. "You save my life. I will be forever grateful."
Adria laughed lightly. "We aren't out of this yet," she said, stumbling to her feet and offering her hand to the Kvatch guard. "We still have to take back your city."
He took her hand without a word. He was a coward. Adria knew this, but still, she couldn't leave him to die in Oblivion alone. She would not have that on her consciousness.
It was as she turned that she heard the strangest sound. Here they were, standing in the burning ruins of a besieged Kvatch.
And the city guard was cheering for her.
The guard captain, Salvian Matius was the first to reach her. "Imperial," he said, taking her arm, "who are you?"
She took his arm in turn. "Adria, and I'm just here to help."
"I'm glad you're here then!" he said with a dry smile. "You've done it, you've closed the gate!" He stepped from her and turned to the remainder of his men. "This young Imperial woman," he pointed to Adria, "has given us the chance we had thought we could only dream of! She closed the gate! This is our chance" He paused, taking in the crowd. "We held the line! But no more! Now it's time to take back our home from these monsters! We will show them our hearts! I know we all have suffered, but this is our only chance.
"Men!" he called, drawing his blade. "Let's go home!" He turned, and started forward, nodding once to Adria, who already had her bow in hand.
Cool air greeted her, brisk and clean, instead of the fires of Oblivion and the smell of carrion and smoke. Adria's body was sore, still whole, but her heart felt like it was broken into pieces. She blinked her eyes open, taking a few seconds to focus. She was lying in a bed made with green blankets. The room was richly furnished, the walls made of fine wood and stone.
Adria propped herself on her elbows, only to have a hand hold her back. She looked up to see, not Martin, as she had hoped, but Jauffre. He was still wearing his Blades armor, all illusion to him being a simple brother now pointless. The Breton had a look of relief on his face. "You're awake," he said with a relieved sigh.
The room was slowly spinning. Adria shook her head to clear her vision.
She started to sit up to have him push her back gently. "Slowly," he advised. "You've only just woken up."
"Where are we?"
"The Arcane University," Jauffre said quickly. He took a fine wooden chair and sat beside her bed.
"What happened? The city, the Gates?" She paused. "Martin?"
Jauffre looked at her sadly. "The Imperial City still stands. Thanks to Martin and the Amulet of Kings the daedra were pushed back into the planes of Oblivion, and never again will the Doors to Oblivion open again. "
"Martin smashed the Amulet…"
"Releasing the power sealed within. He took the form of Akatosh, and defeated Mehrunes ****n." There was something more, Adria knew. There was something behind his eyes, he wasn't telling her everything.
"He didn't make it, did he?"
"Martin is gone," he said sadly, but obviously relieved that he was simply confirming what she had already guessed. "The raw power of Akatosh was too much for a mortal to bear."
Adria held her head in her hands. "He knew," she cried softly. "He knew what would happen. " A dozen memories hit her at once. He knew before the end, that was sure… but had he known all along? "I loved him."
"He sacrificed himself to save us, save everything we know," Jauffre said simply. He patted her on the back with fatherly concern. "Martin was possibly the greatest Emperor since Tiber Septim himself. "
Adria sniffed, composing herself. "What now? Martin was the last Septim, the Empire…"
"The Empire has its leaders," Jauffre explained. "The High Council will crown a new Emperor in time, now that the Dragonfires are no longer needed. Ocato will continue to lead the Council, for now, until an Emperor is chosen. And then there is the matter of you, Adria."
Adria looked at him curiously. "What do you mean 'me'?"
"It has been a week since the Martin's death. You've been unconscious since." He took a breath. "We were worried you were damaged beyond repair, the roof of the Temple of the one collapsed on top of you. Adria, you were found in the wreckage, miraculously alive, and nearly untouched save for cuts, bruises and your unconscious state. We were worried you had injuries we could not see."
"I do not know if Martin was involved in your survival," the old Breton admitted. "It may be possible, though that is not what I was speaking of." He looked at her, like he was debating on continuing.
He shook his head. "You must understand the critical situation the Empire is in at the moment," he started. "The Empire has no Emperor. It was a quiet and little known fact that Martin was crowned Emperor, only becoming common knowledge after his passing. Barely a handful knew who he was before that. He was not married, and had no legitimate children to claim his place on the seat of the Empire."
Adria raised a brow. "Brother Jauffre, where are you going with this?"
"You are with child."
Adria looked over the walls of Cloud Ruler Temple. It was a fitting name for the fortress. From here it looked like she was looking down on Cyrodiil from the very sky itself. It was like she was the ruler of the entire world, looking down upon her kingdom. She wished she could just stay here and enjoy this vision forever. But tomorrow they would march to battle, to lure the daedra into creating a Great Gate in order to get the Great Sigil Stone.
She would be running straight into Oblivion for what seemed like the hundredth time.
She had done it, uniting the peoples of Cyrodiil, closing the Gates and bringing support to Bruma. She just hoped that it would be enough.
"What are you thinking?" said a warm voice behind her. Adria looked over her shoulder to see Martin behind her.
"You know those transport seals the Mage's Guild uses?"
He leaned on the wall beside her. "Yes?"
She looked down. "This place needs one of those," she said with a mock sigh. "This place is quite a task to keep coming back to."
He chuckled. "What makes you keep coming back?"
"You," she said simply, looking in his eyes. When she saw him grin, she breathed in and sighed, looking out over the world once more. "And the fact that if I don't daedra will destroy us all."
He laughed so loudly that Cyrus jumped a little on the watch tower across from them. Adria felt rather than saw the Blade's critical sneer, pointing it out to Martin, but it only made him laugh louder. The Blade shook his head and continued his patrol, much to their continued laughter.
After a few minutes they controlled themselves. They leaned on the wall, looking out over Bruma, gazing at the speck of the White Gold Tower far in the distance. Adria felt Martin's arm beside hers. She moved closer, and he did not shy away. "We are going to win, you know," she said to him softly.
He looked down at her, soft smile lighting up his face. "How do you know?"
"Because," she said, leaning in, "I'm never going to leave your side, Martin."
With slight hesitation he took her hand, holding it tight. "You've saved me in more ways than you know, Adria," he confessed, moving in yet a little closer. He lifted her hand to kiss it, but Adria was a move ahead of him. She pulled his chest her hers, and kissed him, releasing the passion she'd felt for months. He returned the kiss, wrapping one arm around her and the other on her cheek.
The armor was heavy. Adria was grateful that the Imperial Dragon armor was merely ceremonial. She'd dread the day she would have to trade her leathers and chain for this. It was clunky and she clanked like a kitchen with each step. Two weeks after her recovery the High Council began arrangements for her title ceremony. In the wake of the disaster Ocato was desperate for any chance to raise the moral of the citizens of the Imperial City. And he felt that giving the Hero of Kvatch, who had fought at their savior's side since the beginning, the highest honor possible besides Empress would be the best way to do it.
It had been two weeks since she had learned that she was with Martin's child. The last Septim was inside her, the last of the line of the great Tiber was in her womb. The complications were disastrous. Had Martin survived it would have been something to celebrate. She was happy to have such a gift to remember him, to be a mother to his child. But this wouldn't be any child. It would be the last of the royal line. If any attempt at the throne was made, she would be cast aside, a harlot. They would say she never cared for Martin, and even if the child were his, it was an illegitimate claim. Now that she was to become Champion, the waters only grew more treacherous. Only the Blades knew, and a very confused healer. The Blades had been known of their love for each other. They had thought it a sign for hope, but even now Jauffre said that their allowance of such activities had been a mistake.
For now, she would act the part. Until her pregnancy began to show, then she would be thrust into Cloud Ruler Temple under high guard, until the child would be born. "You are an adventurer," Jauffre had explained. "They will believe you to be on a quest."
It was a decent cover. The future of the child was a matter for debate, if the child survived. Jauffre wished to have the child adopted into a common family. Immediately, Adria threw the option away. She had seen what the discovery of his parentage had done to Martin, the danger it had caused. No, she would not do that to her child, to his child. No, she would raise it, with the Blades.
The Blades were nothing but the remnants of a time now gone to the wind. Jauffre had said they would wait for the next Dragonborn. It was a fool's wait. There hadn't been a Dragonborn since Tiber Septim. Even Tiber Septims children, though often called Dragonborn, were not truly, especially if you asked a Nord. This would give them purpose again, to protect the last of the Septims, their last highly guarded secret.
Jauffre was somewhat disgusted by the idea of letting a man not of the Septim line take control of the Empire. But perhaps it was best, for now. There would be a time, Adria knew, and that the Septims would be needed again. By keeping them a secret they would be protecting them from the assassins that would surely come. When the line was strong again, maybe the Dragonborn Emperors would return, raised by their loyal Blades, and trained to rule with justice and mercy.
Evidence of the siege were everywhere throughout the city. Stone walls were blackened, walls crushed, buildings destroyed, and even the occasional remains could be found. But still the people came to see their new Champion.
They lined outside the steps of the Temple of the One, hundreds of citizens paying their respects. Legionnaires lined on each side, their armor polished and glinting in the sun. As soon as Adria saw the dragon avatar that Martin had called, looming high above the Temple of the One, the breath hitched in her throat. The Blades had already told her Ocato's plan to keep the avatar and rebuild the temple around it, a memorial to their last Septim. She knew immediately that she did not want to live under its gaze. Martin’s last act or not, it would only remind her that he was gone.
She walked slowly down the path, stepping in harmony with the cheers of the crowd. It was a show, after all. The battered doors swung wide to admit her. And soon she found herself at the feet of the dragon.
She knew nothing after that. She fell rather then moved to her knees, pain shooting up her legs at the contact with the stone. She stared at it with blank eyes. Why?! Why had he done this? They would have figured out a way, there had to have been something they could have done, together! She had no more tears. Her heart was broken, but now, so was her soul. She would carry on, but a part of her… a part of her died that afternoon as Ocato addressed the crowd, naming her the seventh Champion of Cyrodiil.
A roar broke through her ears, breaking her from her trance, "Long live the Champion!"