I sit at the top of Fort Nikel overlooking the city, dressed in my old Black Hand robes. I know the march is beginning when I spot torches twinkling in the distance, a gradual chain of light that stretches far along the main bridge. It seems as though all of Cyrodil is here.
There are so many in the procession that I can hear the songs begin, thousands of voices rising up in unison to mourn the passing of a great savior, even from where I sit. The night is hushed, as though nature itself pays tribute to Martin's funeral. The line begins to move across the entire expanse of the city, torches rising as the praises grow. I can even see distant lights from farms near the city.
My hands are shaking so badly I can't strike the flint to spark my torch. As the songs grow even louder as more join in, I'm sobbing, clutching at my light, breaking the silence of the world around me.
By the time the songs and weeping are done and the march complete, the sun is beginning to paint the sky a blushing pink in the distance. Tamriel's mourning isn't complete for Martin, nor the Septim line, but rebuilding will begin now that his tale is brought to a close in the Scrolls.
For days, I wander the forests, avoiding towns and farms. No one is around to congratulate me, to call me Champion, to praise the great sacrifices Martin and I made for their good. I cannot be happy about what happened yet, and I cannot show that to the grateful people who are alive because of what we did. I cannot give praise to the gods for our accomplishments. For now, the loss is the only thing I've gained.
I know I won't be hidden from the Nine here, for even in the wilderness I am in the Halls of one of the Divine. But this is the closest to escape I can find.
Finally, eventually, I muster up the courage to go to the Imperial City again. I speak with the Chancellor about the state of rule in Cyrodil, endure well-meaning citizens thanking me, and spend a few long hours looking up at the great stone figure of Akatosh, the memorial of what occurred. I have to ensure that no one will need me.
I leave for the three days' journey to Skingrad primarily because I don't have anywhere else to go. My life was centered around Martin and the people I had to save ever since the old Emperor let me out of prison. Now that all these things are gone, there isn't a 'way things were' to go back to.
I find quietude amongst the dense woods as I stray from the road. I suppose on a subconscious level I've been searching for Martin on these long walks, even though I know he's not here any longer. But I'm ready now after all these days. My voice, though steady, is hardly more than a whisper.
"Stendarr, God of Mercy, I praise You for allowing me to help in the Divine's great plan, despite my past sins. Julianos, God of Wisdom and Logic, You granted us the understanding needed to hold back Oblivion; our own minds could not have found a way. Zenithar, God of Work and Commerce, You gave Martin and I the strength to keep working despite our weariness. Kynareth, Goddess of Nature, You gave me resources for shelter and sustainment in all my travels in Your Halls."
I take a moment. These next prayers would be more difficult. "Tiber Septim, God of War and Governance, Your line brought a truly great legend into this world. Mara, Goddess of Love, and Dibella, Goddess of Beauty, t-thank you for the brief time Martin and I had. I never thought I'd feel what I did in my lifetime; because of You, I was able to seek joy and inspiration in the mysteries of love. Arkay, God of Life and Death, I ask for forgiveness for the bitterness I feel at Martin's death and thank you for the life you gave him. And Akatosh, Dragon God of Time, You have foreseen all that would occur, and I humble myself in the great design of Your plans."
I go still, my feet treading quietly on the rich grass at my feet. It had been as hard as I'd known it would be, but now that I've acknowledged Them and my part in the histories, I feel that I'm finally done.
Something strange is happening to the woods the farther I walk. There is a gradual shift in the things I see, the grounds I step on altering under my feet. In a few moments, the world I'm in has changed completely.
There are colors I have no name for in the blooms, the trees stretching taller than any tower I've seen, otherworldly people I only recognize by storybook illustrations in great green fields. But there's a woman walking toward me more gloriously beautiful than I thought possible, and I don't recognize her in feature, but in what she is.
Her skin is a soft brown, black hair pooling at her feet, and her long limbs carry her effortlessly across the grasses as large doe eyes watch me. But it is her wings, feathered in grays, whites, blacks and browns of every shade and more, that define her. Kynareth herself is approaching me.
Though I am not exactly frightened, there is no closer emotion I can name that would describe it. I can only think to kneel at Her bare feet when She stops in front of me.
"Rise, Champion." Her voice carries the rustle of leaves and the flow of water, and I obey.
Her wings flutter. "You have followed Me for a great deal of your life, though you may not have always acknowledged Me." She gestures toward the forest with a slender hand. "You've wandered My Halls, used My resources, made your shelter, your haven, in My House many times. You've protected My children and guardians by closing the Gates that bring fire and evil into My Sanctuary. You've followed Akatosh and served the Nine well. So, for all your sacrifice and service to the Divines, We have found a suitable reward for you, as all heroes in the histories who have taken on the great tasks the aedra give. You have become one of those who intervene on Our behalf, and We see that this greatness cannot be borne without suffering."
There are a thousand melodies of each songbird behind Her speech, rainfall and snow trickling through syllables, and Her words carry the wisps of the faintest of hopes. I dare not give the thought attention, for fear it will dissolve if I imagine it, but the thread of it is there.
I follow the Goddess through woods that seem familiar. It's as though I'm walking the same paths of Cyrodil's open air I always have, but from behind a different set of eyes.
Kynareth's words are the breeze that shift the clouds, translating to language my mortal understanding can comprehend. "The reward you've earned is mirrored in another, and We shall see both attained. You are almost there."
We're climbing up a hill now, and as the crest comes closer, I'm not listening to the sounds of the birds in the trees, or aware of Kynareth's beauty beside me. All my being is honed in on one point- one infinitesimal chance- and that chance is above the crest.
Then, at the top, the slope down leads to an expanse of open green that waves as the wind flows over it, and there's a figure at the bottom. Looking up. Waiting for me.
I'm running down to fly into his open arms. At last, at long last, as I'd dreamed since he let me go in the Temple, he's holding me again in just the way he had then, but the despair is replaced with the feverish gladness of finding me. I spend moments pulling him to me as tightly as I can, doing nothing but breathing him in and allowing myself to believe that it's happened.
This is the reward the Divine have given to us. We were separated for our service, and brought together again. The Sign that I saw was a law that was changed, just so I could rejoin him now.
His hands cradle the sides of my face, holding me close to him, kissing my mouth again and again. Neither of us speak: it is not necessary. He promised he would find me, and he has. And now, I will join him in the Halls of his forefathers, unite with the great heroes and champions of Tamriel, allow my part in the Elder Scrolls to end and for others to take their turn.
There will be time for the things we tell each other later. For now, this is enough.