"Look around you!” Lord Naarifin cried, wreathed in the evil light of his Daedric Gate. “The Culling has begun. I will unleash the fires of Oblivion tonight - after I've added your body to the pyre!"

Lyra had never faced Daedra before. She was terrified, but every fiber of her being was focused on not letting that show. She stood in the throne room of White-Gold Tower, at the heart of the Imperial City, on what she prayed would be the last day of the Great War – the conflict that had ravaged her homeland for the past four years. Beside her, resplendent in his golden armor, stood her Emperor, Titus Mede II.

She was one of the small retinue that had remained with the Emperor as they fought their way through the streets, cutting through the Dominion forces that struggled to defend the Tower that was the heart of the Empire. Though she had not heard him speak himself, only receiving her orders from Laaneth, his personal battlemage, she could not help but be inspired by his presence.

As an Imperial soldier, she had been trained since she was but a girl to defend the Emperor’s people and dispense his justice wherever he commanded. Though he was not a God, he might as well have been, for such was the fervor with which his servants fought for him and worshipped him. He was more than a man. He was an idea – a paragon of order, of strength, of rightness and she was willing to lay down her life for him a thousand times over.

All the same, she was afraid. But as her Emperor drew his golden sword and leapt towards Naarifin, and the soldiers with her roared into battle, her fear was tempered and beaten into a cold, deadly blade of fury. This man, nay, this monster, had driven her from her home, parted her from her husband-to-be and slaughtered her friends, and now was her chance to make him pay.

“Defend the Emperor!” Laaneth commanded, and Lyra obeyed, lunging forward at one of Naarifin’s Dremora, who blocked her strike with his cruel, black blade. The Daedra leered at her menacingly, pushing back with supernatural strength that she knew she wouldn’t be able to overcome. Shifting her feet on the floor, she twisted, letting the Dremora’s sword slip past her as it tumbled forward. Without stopping, she spun on her heels, swinging her blade around and cleanly decapitating her foe with a single strike.

As the headless body hit the floor, she turned to face the next enemy, but was knocked forward by a sudden weight on her back. She dropped to her knees, twisting her head to see the slavering proboscis of a Hunger, its claws scrabbling at her armor for the flesh beneath. Reaching behind her to grab hold of the creature’s legs, she pitched suddenly forward, pulling its spindly body over her head and slamming it down onto the floor. It hissed madly, writhing on the tiles as it attempted to right itself, but before it could rise, Lyra stabbed downwards, driving her sword through its ribs until it hit the stone beneath.

She glanced up, anticipating another attack, only to see Naarifin hurl a bolt of Magicka right into the Emperor’s chest. He staggered backwards, and the Altmer struck again, knocking his sword from his hand. Lyra’s heart was in her mouth as the shining blade flew through the air, clattering to the floor several feet from the dais.

Naarifin laughed, and Lyra saw the lightning crackling in his fingers as he prepared to execute his now unarmed foe. Moving faster than she ever had before or, she suspected, ever would again, Lyra threw herself forward, snatching up the Emperor’s sword and hurling her own towards Lord Naarifin.

The sorcerer grimaced in annoyance and took a step back, allowing Lyra’s sword to sail harmlessly past, but as he did so, she dived towards her Emperor, offering him back his blade, hilt first.

Without hesitation, he grabbed it from her hand and renewed his assault on Naarifin, but in that second, she caught the Emperor’s eye. There was gratitude there, and no small amount of fear, but that wasn’t what surprised her. Instead, for that briefest of moments, she found herself looking at a face that was utterly unfamiliar. Not the handsome, determined profile she had seen in the official portraits and glimpsed from afar at parades. This was someone completely different.

The person wearing the armor was not the Emperor.

Before she had time to process the realization, the moment had passed and the Daedra were on her again - and this time she was unarmed. She flailed desperately with her fists, pummeling at the pair of Hungers that that hissed and screeched for her blood, but she knew she had little hope. She stepped backward, unable to resist the onslaught, but her foot caught on the outstretched arm of a corpse and suddenly she was falling. With an explosion of pain, the back of her head struck the stone tiles of the throne room floor, and the world disappeared into darkness.

Her next memories were confused, twisted by the delirium of fever as she slipped in and out of consciousness in a hospital bed. Daedra cavorted behind her closed eyes, dancing in the burning ruins of her family home, laughing at her as she strained against covers too heavy for her to move. In her distorted dreams, Davidicus stood by her bed and told her he was leaving her for another woman. She spat in his face, but then somehow, he was her father, and all he would say was how disappointed he was in her.

She would later learn that though the battle at White-Gold Tower had been won, and Naarifin banished to whatever realm lay beyond his Oblivion Gate, the Daedra had torn into her shoulder, and the wounds had become infected. The field doctors the army had brought with them to the city had been uncertain she would survive, but Lyra had always been tough. The fever had broken after a week, and when she finally regained lucid consciousness, an official had visited her.

She had been raving in her sleep, he said, about the Emperor having a different face. He asked her if there was any reason she might have said that. She had answered honestly, and to her surprise, he had explained. “The Emperor was wounded by assassins shortly before the attack on the Imperial City,” he had said. “Unable to fight but knowing his presence was needed to inspire the troops, he sent a decoy in his stead. In the interests of preserving the morale of the people, he has instructed me to ask for your silence on the matter, and is willing to offer you his financial assistance.”

“Assistance with what?” she had asked.

“Why, the rebuilding of your family home, of course,” the official had replied with a smile. “That, and he understands your fiancé is in need of funding for his research projects. Rest assured that when Master Flavius returns to the City, he will find the Council more than willing to provide it.”

She had not hesitated. Regardless of the deal she had been offered, she knew she could do nothing but support the warrior who had worn the Emperor’s armor and risked their life to save her people from Naarifin and his minions. She had accepted gladly, but as the official had turned to go, she had one more question.

“Who was it really? The decoy, I mean.”

The official had merely shrugged. “A hero,” he had said simply. “And one who is willing to be forgotten.”

With Naarifin gone and the Dominion forces routed, the Great War ground to a standstill. In 4E 175, with the signing of the White-Gold Concordat, it was officially declared at an end. Davidicus returned to the City, and Lyra met him as a citizen, not a soldier, having decided at last to put her days in the army behind her. They were married by the end of the year and moved into the home Lyra had grown up in, restored by the Emperor’s master craftsmen and just as glorious as it had ever been.

But the house was awfully big for two. For a few years, they filled the space with frequent, lavish parties, where Lyra and her husband would entertain all the great and the good of the Imperial City, one night even hosting the Emperor himself. In time, however, it became clear to both of them that a more permanent solution was needed. In 4E 180, Lyra provided it, by giving birth to a son.

They named him Lucien.