Smoke everywhere. The air smells like blood, smoke, and death. Wait…Not anymore.
I was holding his hand. My son’s hand. I had a son? I did, I remember.
Martin kept his eyes shut, trying to determine why he was shivering with cold when the air had been heavy with heat just moments before. He strained his ears for the sounds of terrified shouting and monstrous roaring from outside, but there was only silence. Calm.
He’s there but not here. He’s dead and I…
Am I supposed to be dead too?
A voice, strange, male, choked with fear. He was in front of Martin, but out of reach. “…Nivea, what in Oblivion’s name just happened?”
Then a woman, the tremor of her melodious voice driving a surge of familiarity through Martin. As if he knew her, as if she was somehow of vital importance to him. “I…This wasn’t supposed to…Oh gods…”
Unable to deny that something was completely wrong Martin slowly opened his eyes, his heart jumping painfully when he didn’t see the dreaded red haze that came in the wake of a Gate. The light surrounding him was merely torchlight…
Three people stood some feet away from him, flanked by what appeared to be four Blades. All of them bore looks of utter disbelief, but Martin’s gaze was drawn to the two women nearest him.
One was an old woman, loose silver hair framing age-softened features, which included vivid green eyes. She wore a deep blue cloak, but it failed to conceal the bright red gem that, to Martin’s horror and fascination, seemed to be embedded into the flesh of her chest. …The Amulet of Kings?
The second woman was younger, dark where the other was fair but with matching green eyes. He could feel the power emanating from her, pulsing like a heartbeat even from out of her unflinching gaze. For a moment he wondered if she was even completely human.
It was she who exclaimed to the older woman while raising a hand to point right at him, “Mother…that’s Martin Bloody Septim standing there!”
He breathed shakily as he stared back at them. They knew who he was. Frightened he looked around, searching for the only other soul who’d been with him in the Temple, whose forgiveness he’d been praying for only moments before. “…Minerva?” The others started at the sound of his voice, but he only kept looking around for Minerva’s familiar figure, clad in the bloodied white and black of Kvatch. “Minerva, where are you?!”
No, he couldn’t find her. He’d left her standing at the wall furthest from the doors, looking at him in confusion just after he’d said his farewells to her. Then Dagon had destroyed the dome and Martin had shattered the Amulet.
Could she have been killed? No, she was safe, she was alive! Wasn’t she? He grew more panicked as the seconds passed and there was no sign of Minerva anywhere.
One of the Blades asked fearfully, “Why’s he calling out to…?”
Martin spun around to look at the unfamiliar people, desperate for answers. Why were they not helping him? Why were they just standing there?
The old man who’d stood beside the two women suddenly stepped forward. He was a Redguard, tall and bearded, his white hair done up in a neat bun near the top of his head. He approached Martin slowly, holding his hands up before him. “Your Majesty…Martin…It’s alright, everything is alright.”
No, nothing was alright. He shook his head and demanded, “Who are you? Where’s the Hero of Kvatch? What have you done to her?!”
“Where do you think you are right now, Martin?” the man asked, avoiding the question.
Martin gave his surroundings a desperate look. “…This…this is the Temple of the One, but…” He shook his head as he shivered with cold and saw the starry sky above him. “I don’t understand…Mehrunes Dagon was out there…The sky…The stars, they’re…” Save for the Temple, everything was intact. There were no screams, no sound of people dying. “…Is it over? Have the Gates been closed somehow?” he asked, feeling hope for the first time since opening his eyes.
Yet another Blade hissed to her Bladebrother, “Great Talos, is it really him?!”
The old man shushed her and continued calmly, “Please don’t be alarmed, Martin…We are safe now. Oblivion no longer threatens us, but…You’re not when you think you are.”
Martin’s heart fell as he struggled to comprehend. “…When…?” What other time could he possibly be in?
This time it was the silver-haired woman who spoke, approaching just as slowly as the man did. “It’s been two-hundred and eleven years since the day Mehrunes Dagon appeared in the Imperial City. I’m sure you know what you did to defeat him…”
The amount of years hit him like a hammer striking an anvil. He felt colder, if it was at all possible, staring at the woman whose eyes radiated with sympathy. “Two-hundred…? This can’t…No! Then how am I…?”
“What do you remember?” asked the young woman, authority in her voice as she quickly made her way to him, taking no care like the other two had. Her eyes were as blunt as her voice. “After you shattered the Amulet…Do you remember anything?”
He looked at her, for a second wondering why her eyes were so familiar, and tried to remember. It should have been so simple to just recall it all, as if he were remembering watching Minerva emerge from the gate into Paradise, but it was as if huge iron doors slammed shut, blocking his way entirely. He shook his head as he came to the same conclusion, whatever he tried to recall. “I…I’m sorry, I-I…It’s all blocked, I can’t…” He suddenly realized how many years they told him had passed. An impossible amount of years. Sorrow formed a lump in his throat as he concluded that try as he might, he would never find who he was searching for again. “Then, Minerva, she…”
He found himself falling to his knees, the very thought making him dizzy with disbelief. He’d never wanted to think this, never wanted to be the one left behind, alone. But it was completely and undeniably true, and there was no way for him to deny it. “She’s dead…”
The old woman…no, her name was Nivea, he recalled. She slowly knelt in front of him, brows drawn together in a look of sorrow. “She is,” she said so gently.
Martin let out a trembling breath as the tears escaped. Of course she was. How could someone like him ever deserve to have the world, her beauty and strength, her effortless kindness? Was this his punishment for his sins? To be doomed to live out the rest of his wretched life while she was dead and buried? “Did she survive the battle at least?” he asked, not wanting to imagine her dying in the Temple after all.
“This is…I can’t think of another way to say this, but…” Nivea cleared her throat and stated slowly, “She did survive, and…she had a son. Your son.”
Martin sucked in a breath at that, suddenly taking the woman by the shoulders and finding the confirmation in her eyes. His heart raced ceaselessly as the world fell apart, put itself back together, and fell apart again. No, no, he remembered, he hadn’t known she was with child!
Every battle preceding the siege in the Imperial City flashed through his mind, and he recalled Minerva dodging blows as she ran into the Great Gate, remembered her bruised and bloody form when she appeared in Cloud Ruler Temple after Paradise collapsed. He remembered one instance of wrapping his arms around her from behind, hand unconsciously caressing down her front. He hadn’t known.
“She was pregnant?!” He was struck by another, terrifying possibility. “By the Nine, she…Did she know!?”
The young woman shook her head. “No, she didn’t find out herself until about a week after you died.” Then she turned to look toward the wooden doors leading to the outside, and Martin suddenly heard exclamations of shock and fear coming from outside. The woman made a growling noise and said, “Sounds like people are starting to notice that there’s no dragon statue in the middle of the fucking district.”
A Blade immediately asked, “Shall we bar the doors, my Empress?”
Nivea answered with a quick nod. “Yes, do so.” She raised herself to her feet with a grunt of effort, the Redguard steadying her. “We should move to the Temple interior, Martin. We can explain more there.”
Martin got to his feet but reached for Nivea’s thin wrist. “Wait! Who are you all? Why did that Blade call you ‘Empress’?”
The young woman replied in the same, straightforward way with a flick of her thumb in Nivea’s direction, “Because she’s Dragonborn, like you and me. We’re your descendants. Yours and Minerva’s. I guess the eye color didn’t give it away.”
Martin was stunned into silence, gazing at the two women somehow descended from Minerva…from him. Their eyes, the same vivid green that blazed like fire, and it was as if Minerva were looking at him from wherever she was.
He let the women with Minerva’s eyes lead him into the interior.
Martin sat at a table and stared at his mug of cold tea, going over everything he’d learned in his mind. Nivea was the Empress of Tamriel, and a bloody war had been fought to put her on the throne in the years following the assassination of the Mede Emperor. Her husband was the old man, Faizal, and the fierce-eyed young woman was their daughter, Crown Princess Aziza. She was not only Dragonborn, she was the fabled Dragonslayer, called Dovahkiin in the ancient language.
From the time of his son Martin Gaius's birth they’d hidden their identity, Minerva having wanted to protect their son from any remaining enemies of the Septims. His throat tightened at the thought of her so frightened and alone. He had done that to her.
Worse still he’d led her to the awful death they’d just recounted to him. Poisoned by a surviving agent of the Mythic Dawn, masquerading as a friend, Minerva dying in their son’s arms, in front of their little granddaughter.
He didn’t want to keep coming back to those thoughts but he could only picture Minerva in pain, her agonized screams, his son’s helplessness, and a little girl’s terror. He thought of where he was; the living area of the Temple. A priestess stood silently, though the awe on her face was unmistakable. It was the first week of Sun’s Dawn, Fourth Era. 211.
Her face when she died.
“…Did she suffer?” he asked, his voice tight with tears.
Nivea hesitated. “I-I’m sure it was--”
“Tell me the truth.”
Aziza sighed and told him while staring at her own tea, “…Apparently it was utter agony. If you ask me the poor woman didn’t die quickly enough, but the bastards wanted her to suffer.”
“Aziza!” Faizal exclaimed in dismay and anger.
The woman glared back at him. “He asked for the truth, Papa. He obviously can’t stand not knowing, especially since he loved her so much.”
“…I still love her,” Martin said, closing his eyes against the pain of knowing he was alive and hadn’t been able to do anything to save Minerva. She did not deserve that death, she’d deserved as long a life as possible, growing old in peace, surrounded by dozens of grandchildren playing around her. No, she’d died by a coward’s hand, barely forty-five years old, her last moments filled with unimaginable pain. “…Where is…Where does she rest?”
He needed to see her, to kneel at her grave and beg for forgiveness, pray for absolution once again, to tell her that he would have died for her each and every time her life was in danger, hers or their son’s.
“Here,” Nivea said, getting to her feet. “Before the city was sacked we…moved her body into a sarcophagus so that it would rest near…well, you. At first it was kept secret but once I was crowned and the truth came out, you’ve both worshipped in the Temple as saints.”
He closed his eyes for a moment and stood. Resting near him. Never with him.
The priestess took out a key and motioned for them to follow, “The crypt is just through there, Your Majesty…Your son and his wife are there too.” She opened a door that revealed a set of stairs that led deeper underground. Martin followed her down, not knowing what he would do once he saw their resting place. He could only think of remaining in the Temple, going into Akatosh’s service yet again, seeking atonement for Minerva’s death.
A short corridor led to a wooden door, and the priestess opened the door. Martin stepped into the crypt, his heart beat painfully hard as he stared at the three sarcophagi within, surrounded by torches that shone brightly from the walls. He took shaky steps towards them, wanting a closer look at the stone effigies.
Minerva’s was immediately recognizable. Hers was of a sharp-featured woman lying in repose, long wavy hair strewn beneath her, clad in ornate armor and clutching the hilt of the familiar silver sword Minerva used throughout the Crisis. He stared at the face, wondering if it was true to life, if Minerva’s face had changed so much from the one he’d known. Nearly thirty years…
His gaze lingered on it before he looked at the other two. Next to Minerva was the effigy of a wizened man with long hair and a short beard. Somehow it was relieving to know his son had lived such a long life. Next to him was the carved form of an old woman in unfamiliar garb, her hair appearing to be an impossible length. His son’s wife right beside him.
Martin sighed heavily, not knowing what he could say, what to think. He laid his hand on the stone hands of Minerva’s effigy, the hard pulse of his heart beat reminding him of all that separated them forever. Why he’d returned, he knew not. He just knew it was quite the apt punishment.
He looked up, frowning at realizing he’d heard some manner of muffled noise from very close by. It was prolonged and almost…human-like.
“What’s that noise…?” Aziza asked from behind him.
Faizal replied after a moment, “I can’t hear anything.”
Martin strained his ears for the sound, catching it again. “It’s coming from in here, but…” He listened hard, hearing it die out into silence for a few moments before it began again.
It kept happening and it finally sounded like a wail, a scream. Martin’s heart gave a hard thud yet again as his eyes fell on Minerva’s sarcophagus and he heard the muffled scream again. No, it can’t be…He looked over his shoulder and caught Aziza’s gaze as it traveled to Minerva’s effigy.
Her eyes grew wide and she shuddered as she covered her mouth with a trembling hand, “Oh, fuck me.”
Faizal screamed, “The sarcophagus?!”
“Impossible! Aziza, check!” Nivea commanded, her hand fluttering to the glowing gem on her chest.
Martin anxiously watched as Aziza focused her gaze on the sarcophagus and felt the rush of energy as she hissed in an otherworldly voice, “Laas Yah Nir”.
Suddenly the space was aglow with life-force, Martin able to see the pulsating glow coming from Aziza, Nivea, Faizal, the priestess…
…The writhing figure within the confines of the sarcophagus.
The spell ended when Aziza screamed, “Shit, she’s alive!”
Martin suddenly began to pull at the cover, roaring in desperation when it barely moved an inch. “MINERVA!” he shouted, deaf and blind to everything else save for the fact that Minerva was in there, alive, screaming. “Minerva, it’s me! I’m here!” Gods, he prayed she could hear him, prayed she had enough air, prayed she’d hear him and realize she was safe. “Help me get this thing open!” he shouted at the others.
Aziza pushed alongside him, her strength acute and enough to move the cover.
Minerva kneeling at the altar in Kvatch, seeing her face for the first time when she turned to look at him with her exhausted yet determined gaze.
He heard the pained gasps clear as day when the damned cover finally came off, heard Nivea’s shocked oath just before the cover hit the floor with a resounding crash.
Minerva kissing him awake in the morning, her face free of fear and worry, his heart lighter than it had been in years.
Martin looked into the sarcophagus, his breaths trembling with fear, expectation, a wild half-joy that wanted to become whole.
So different from how he remembered it.
But there was no mistaking her eyes.
He stared into green depths one last time, silently begging her to forgive him for the pain he was about to cause her. He had to do this. He had to save her.
Minerva Saturnius, the woman who had yanked him out of his stupor of silence and guilt, who fought in his name day in and day out. She lay in the sarcophagus, alive and gasping for breath.
There were lines along the corners of her mouth, tiny wrinkles along the corners of her eyes. Her features were slightly thinner. Her hair was so much longer, black tresses curling slightly at the ends. Her shoulders strong and solid as ever. Her entire body shrouded only in a black dress made of thin material. Her hands held before her, shaking violently and bleeding.
The sigh that escaped him was wracked with dismay and horror. She’d nearly torn her hands apart beating at the stone. Nine, how long was she in here…?
She was still gasping, whimpering brokenly as her lips struggled for words. Her eyes that locked on his face and he held her gaze, taking in every beautiful change in her features, committing them to memory and smiling down at her as he fell in love all over again.
“Minerva,” he breathed, reaching for her hand to gently take it in his. She was here, they were finally together…
Minerva brought bloodied hands to her mouth as she began to scream again.