Originally published on Archive of Our Own on January 17, 2014. Reposted here with slight corrections.
Though there was no daylight in the Corprusarium, Yagrum Bagarn, the last living dwarf, knew it was Morndas. Because it was Morndas, it was not Uupse Fyr who brought his breakfast tray and morning medicaments, but one of the nameless servants of Tel Fyr. While Bagarn missed her sweet voice reading to him, the absence was expected, and he resigned himself to reading to himself until she finished her martial arts lesson with Vistha-Kai.
What was not expected was the tremor that shook the Corprusarium at the tenth hour of the morning. Dishes clattered in cupboards, rock ground against rock, and Bagarn found his centurion spider legs skittering beneath him.
He knew what earthquakes were, of course, though he hadn’t lived through one in years — not since Red Mountain had gone quiescent. Even then, such things were rarely felt as far as Azura’s Coast.
The tremor passed, and Bagarn righted himself, panting. Everything was eerily silent in the wake of the shock; even his corprus-demented neighbors had been silenced. After a few heartbeats, the drip of water on stone breached the quiet, and everything seemed to return to normal again.
Bagarn was returning to his reading — considering if this play had any merit, and if he would like it better had he seen it performed — when Lord Fyr bustled into the room, carrying a silver tray with a bottle and two glasses set upon it. The Dunmer wizard was not wearing his usual Daedric armor, but was dressed in loose robes for sleeping.
A social call? Bagarn surmised. An odd time for it, but well, Divayth Fyr was an odd mer. “Good Morndas to you, Lord Fyr,” he greeted his old friend. “I see it takes an earth-tremor to bring you down here, these days.”
Fyr gave a crooked smile. “Rather a nasty one, wasn’t that? Shook all the paintings off the wall in the Onyx Hall.” He set the tray down on the table beside Bagarn. The Dwemer thought he saw a tremor in Fyr’s hands as he did; but in his next movement, he smoothly unstoppered the bottle and poured a liquid into the two glasses with a little flourish, making Bagarn doubt he had ever seen the thing.
“Is Red Mountain erupting, then?” He lifted the little cup to his nose, smelling the bitter, fruity smell of comberry brandy. Greef, the Dunmer called it. He set the cup down again, content just to smell. It was early to be drinking.
“Doubt it.” There was a firm set to Fyr’s jaw, a glint in his red eyes that Bagarn read as mischievousness. Then he switched topics: “Have you ever seen Vivec?”
“The Chimer? Your warrior-poet?”
“The city that bears his name.”
“Ah. No.” Bagarn smiled. “Though I’ve heard it’s an unobliging place to get lost.”
Fyr chuckled. “It is, as that.” He seated himself on a stool that Uupse favored for reading. “I’ve had news from some colleagues there.” He paused, steepling his fingers above his cup of greef. “If I tell you Baar Dau has fallen, that means nothing to you?”
Bagarn shook his head.
“Hmm.” Fyr’s eyes searched the room. “It is a large rock, floating above the city, on which we have our Ministry of Truth.”
“Floating above the city? That sounds infinitely interesting. How is such a thing accomplished?”
“By Lord Vivec’s will, of course. Said he stopped it when Sheogorath tossed it out of Oblivion in a fit of pique. You know something of such things, I imagine, since Vivec’s power derives — derived — from –”
“Ah yes.” Bagarn cut him off, shifting uncomfortably in the seat of his centurion chair. He thought of the Heart of Lorkhan, Kagrenac, the Numidium project–things he hadn’t thought about in years. Not since that Argonian with corprus came to Tel Fyr.
It occurred to him then. “But Lord Vivec has been– I hear he has been in seclusion for many years now.”
Fyr made a snorting noise, and rose to his feet, crossing to the cupboard. “In seclusion, my grey arse. He disappeared. Lost his powers, and then disappeared.”
“Lost his powers?”
The Dunmer was rummaging in the cupboard now, and Bagarn could hear the clinking of metal and glass. “When that slave destroyed the Heart,” he said, over his shoulder. “You remember her. The Argonian.”
“I was just thinking of her, actually. You mean to say… she destroyed the Heart of Lorkhan? How is that possible? Lord Kagrenac himself couldn’t…” He trailed off, not sure what this all meant.
Fyr emerged from the cupboard, holding a Dwemer coin in one hand. His other hand waved dismissively. “It’s all very complex. Damned if I can quite follow it myself.” He stared off into the distance, a look of nostalgia written on his face. “Clever gal, wasn’t she? Didn’t give her a single key, but she opened all the boxes in my labyrinth.” He hefted the coin in his hand. “Sure she figured something out. They decided she was the Nerevarine, did you know? ‘They’ being I don’t know who. Vivec. House Telvanni. Whatever. Fulfilled the prophecies, and all that.”
Bagarn drew in a breath, trying to keep up with Fyr’s stream of consciousness. Luckily, he was well practiced at it — plus he knew some small amount about Dunmer legend. “An Argonian Nerevarine? Isn’t that… odd?”
“Yes, well. Azura does rather have a sense of humor, doesn’t she? Anyway! Our intrepid slave girl destroyed the enchantments around the Heart, severing our dear Tribunal from it, and causing them to lose their powers.”
Bagarn was well aware his friend was speaking what the Tribunal cult would call heresy. Perhaps he felt safe doing so because he was a four-thousand year-old wizard who could travel to Oblivion. Perhaps, here at the center of the Corprusarium, he simply knew he could not be overheard by anyone who cared about such things. “Do go on.”
Fyr tossed the coin from hand to hand. “Vivec disappeared. But as the legend goes, while the people loved him, Baar Dau would stay afloat.” He paused. “Today, it has fallen.”
He dropped the Dwemer coin, then, into a puddle of water at his feet. It splashed and dispersed the puddle, rolling unharmed to the side. “That coin is Baar Dau. The puddle is Vivec.” He bit his lip. “Was Vivec.” He sat down abruptly and picked up his cup of greef, sipping at it. “One of my colleagues was on the road to Pelagiad when it happened. Contacted me at once. Told me he saw the cantons knocked over like toys under an ogrim’s heel.” Again Bagarn saw that hesitation in his caretaker’s movements. “That was,” Fyr licked his lips, “the last I heard. Lost the transmission. He must have Recalled out of there.” He didn’t sound sure.
Bagarn was silent, shocked. He had never been there, but he knew Vivec was the greatest city on Vvardenfell.
And now it was gone.
“I’m sorry,” Bagarn said, because he did not know what else to say.
Fyr drank deeply of the greef, before continuing. “Well. You know. It’s not just that.” There was a hint of menace in his voice. “Do you remember,” he began, and then cleared his throat, because his voice was gritty. “Do you remember how Red Mountain would erupt and cause an earthquake? And if there was an earthquake, it would conversely cause Red Mountain to erupt? And sometimes, over in Mournhold, the waves would rise high off the coast, smash fishing boats and houses, and…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “Of course you don’t know about that last part. Point is. Nirn and the roots of the mountain and the tides, they are all connected. What affects one, affects the others.”
Bagarn thought he understood. “Ah. You believe there will be… after-effects?”
Fyr shook his head. “Already begun. In another quarter of an hour, we’ll know the full extent.” He rolled the cup in his hands.
Bagarn’s mind moved infinitely slow, as if refusing to accept the gravity of the situation. Was it his imagination, or could he hear a low rumbling beneath the Corprusarium? Was a river of lava already snaking its way right to their door? He felt a thrill of fear. It was an odd sensation, entirely foreign to a mer whom corprus had inoculated from simple mortality.
The first inane thing he said was, “What of your daughters?”
Fyr opened his mouth to reply, but it was a long time before the words came out. “Safe. Recalled to Mournhold. With family.”
“You could Recall, too,”
Fyr laughed. “Bitter irony. Mine is set to Vivec.”
“Or seek intervention.”
“To Molag Mar, which is hardly safer than here.”
“You have that daedric amulet –”
“No. I gave that to the Argonian.”
Bagarn thought. Water dripped. “Look, old friend. If nothing else, you can travel to Oblivion, can’t you? Hardly comfortable, but if you choose the right realm, you’ll be safe for a time.”
Fyr shook his head. “The ritual takes time, and supplies I don’t have. I can’t just pop off to Moonshadow in an instant.”
A sudden, clever thought occurred to Bagarn. “Aren’t your people known for their resistance to fire and heat?”
“Resistance is not immunity. If nothing else,” Fyr said, grimacing, “it will just kill me more slowly.”
That was a frightful picture, but Bagarn was becoming exasperated. Everywhere he offered suggestions, Fyr threw them aside. “You are the single most brilliant sorcerer in Vvardenfell!” Bagarn cried. “At the very least, you can levitate yourself somewhere neither lava nor earthquakes nor giant waves can reach you.”
A thin, sad smile stole over Fyr’s lips then. “And leave the Corprusarium behind? Leave you behind?” He gestured to the Dwemer’s bloated body. “Where I would go, you cannot follow, friend.”
And that was the entire truth behind the excuses, Bagarn saw at last. His shoulders fell.
“Please, drink up,” Fyr whispered. “Hate to drink alone.”
Bagarn looked into his cup, and considered his own death. All things considered, it would be a relief. His body was a twisted, traitorous ruin; even his senses were beginning to fail him.
But it was a funny thing, to have survived so much, only to die now.
To have survived the failed experiments that turned his people to ash.
To have survived Akaviri invasions.
To have survived corprus, which made him this ruin, but also allowed him to live to this far-attenuated age.
To have seen the Nerevarine.
To die, in the path of a natural disaster. A natural disaster caused, however indirectly, by the very thing Kagrenac had tried to do to improve the Dwemer, thousands of years ago.
He wondered if it would hurt much.
He sipped his greef, and felt its numb his tongue.
“I’m sorry there’s not much left,” Fyr said, smoothing his topknot of white hair with hands that visibly shook. “You know how Alfe likes her drink. This is good stuff. Second Era vintage. They were drinking this stuff when Vivec flooded the Akaviri out of Vvardenfell.”
The numbness did not leave Bagarn’s tongue. He licked his lips, and knew suddenly that the Fyr daughters had not gone to Mournhold. They were duplicates of Fyr; what family could they claim?
“This will make it easier,” Fyr said. “I don’t know if the seas or Nirn will take us… but sera alchemy is always obliging.” He set his head down on the table, his breathing heavy. “That is the hackle-lo leaf you taste. To numb the pain. Luminous russula and violet coprinus does the rest.”
A cold stone settled in Bagarn’s chest, and with surprising eagerness, he embraced it. He reached for the bottle of poisoned greef and poured out the dregs of it, speckled with precipitates. “Will this… be enough?
Fyr tried to nod, but didn’t quite manage it. “Yes,” he rasped instead. “Excuse me if I don’t pour for you. My spine — seems to have stopped working.” He laughed. His skin was pale, the color of a Falmer’s. “Terrible old man. Lived far too long. But. Know how to be a gracious host.”
You have always been good to me, Bagarn wanted to say, but the words froze in his throat. He saw the same glint in Fyr’s eyes he had seen earlier, and knew it wasn’t mischievousness, after all, but fear.
Fyr was too proud to ask for his company–he was as haughty as any Dunmer. But he was slipping away, his intelligent eyes dimming, even as the Dwemer delayed. The least he owed Divayth Fyr, Bagarn determined, was follow him into the dark.
He threw back the cup of greef and drank greedily.