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Saturday, January 29, 2011

XV - Tel Fyr

The sky over Balmora was bleak and dark when they stepped out of the Mages’ Guild. Julan had given Fen a plain dark robe with a hood to wear, both of them agreeing that it would be best if her affliction was kept a secret. Fen followed Julan across the River Odai with her head bowed, the hood pulled low over her disfigured face. When Julan knocked on the Spymaster’s door, Fen was surprised to see he let the two of them enter and did not throw Julan out again.
“We’ve had a job looking for you, Operative,” he growled, shutting the door on the darkness behind them. “Been tracking you all over the damn island for nearly a week.”
“I didn’t want to give anyone corprus,” Fen answered, feeling stupid. She pulled down her hood and couldn’t help but notice the involuntary shudder that passed over both men at the sight of her. She felt weak.
“Well, I researched a possible cure just in case you did get it, and you run off on me. For gods’ sake, Fen, just come back here when you finish duties and we’ll figure things out for any problems you met along the way. Now, with Dagoth Gares dead, the Sixth House shrine is no longer a threat. You’ve more than earned a promotion to the rank of Traveler. I’m very worried that you have corprus disease. But I have some good news in that department,” Caius said, staring hard at Fen. “I learned that your best chance of getting cured is Divayth Fyr, an ancient Telvanni wizard who runs a Corprusarium for victims of the disease.” He went over to the bed and bent down, groping beneath it, then coming back up with a dented Dwemer coherer, which he handed to Julan.
“Take this Dwemer artifact and go to Tel Fyr. Divayth Fyr will like the Dwemer artifact. A gift may sweeten his disposition. So get moving, and get that corprus disease cured. Then hurry back. I think I know how to get the lost prophecies Nibani Maesa asked for.”
Fen was exhausted, but determined to be rid of the disease as soon as possible. She and Julan took the guild guide straight to Sadrith Mora, where they water-walked together across the dark, flat waters of Zafirbel Bay.
Tel Fyr was, like all other Telvanni towers, grown from a mushroom. It was a lonely tower on a small island in the Bay, rising up high into the night with its strange, twisting spires and pulsating lights from within minute holes in the marshy walls. There was a single boat, a blue-sailed sloop, moored just outside, but it was empty, bobbing gently in the barely-moving water. There was a small, round door set low to the ground, and Julan pushed it open, letting them into a low-ceilinged tunnel with an uneven floor bathed in the yellow glow of lanterns.
“This is why I’m not a Telvanni,” Fen muttered to Julan as the crouched to avoid a vine that hung down from the ceiling. “These towers are impossible to move around in.” They had only just gone a few paces when a bright-faced Dunmer woman came around the corner, almost bumping into them.
“Good day!” she said cheerfully. Her hair was a vivid, almost unnatural red, her eyes unusually bright, her skin oddly stretched-looking. “Are you here to plunder the dungeon? Have you got corprus disease? Did you want to talk to Divayth Fyr?”
“We’d like to speak to Divayth Fyr, yes,” Fen said, pulling her hood lower over her face.
“Was he expecting you?”
“Yes,” Julan interjected before Fen could speak.
“Go right ahead then,” the woman said brightly. She stood aside to let them pass. “Up that ramp there to your left, then through to the Tower of Fyr. Fly straight up and turn around, his study is right there.”
“Thank you,” Fen said, and they followed the ramp she had gestured.
“Did she say ‘fly straight up’?” Julan muttered as they crouched to go through another small round door.
“Telvanni wizards don’t use stairs,” Fen said, coming to stand at the bottom of a long chute that led upward. “They just fly around their towers.” Julan rolled his eyes as they levitated up the chute, then touched the ground again on a broad landing. “Here,” she said, glancing down a hallway that had a plaque with LORD DIVAYTH FYR on it nailed into the wall. The hallway let out into a small round room with a brilliantly high ceiling, held up by pale crystals that pulsated with energy. The walls were lined with shelves, and a man in Daedric armor sat at a table poring over a book with his back to them.
“Excuse me?” The man looked around and Fen saw he had a bright, jolly face, though there was something sinister in his eyes. He stood up grandly and spread his arms, grinning.
“Welcome, friends, to the Corprusarium! How can I – ah, interesting Dwemer artifact you have there, lass.” Fen had just pulled the Dwemer coherer out of her bag. “What can you tell me about it?”
“It’s a gift, actually,” she said, holding the coherer out to him.
“A gift? For me?” he asked, feigning surprise and plucking the coherer from her hands. “How thoughtful.” Divayth Fyr smirked slightly. “And shrewd. I suppose you know I am a collector. And that such a gift is bound to please me. I congratulate you on your diplomatic skills.” He chuckled to himself and dropped the coherer unceremoniously by the table. “So, why have you tried to butter me up? Come to consult the great Divayth Fyr? You have the divine disease? Want to plunder the dungeon? Or leer at my daughters?”
“Your daughters?” Fen said, her purpose momentarily forgotten, thinking of the odd-haired Dunmer woman they had encountered.
“Ah! My lovely daughters! Not bad for something born in a jar, eh?” Fen blinked. He had made his daughters in a jar? “Charming and talented,” Fyr was going on. “Not daughters, really. A little project, a side benefit of my researches into corprus disease. Made them myself, from my own flesh. Nice, aren’t they?” He started ticking names off his fingers. “Alfe Fyr, Beyte Fyr, Delte Fyr, and Uupse Fyr. Quite a comfort to me in my old age.” Divayth Fyr winked and chuckled to himself. “So! What can I do for you?”
“Can you tell me about corprus?” Fen asked, not quite wishing to know any more about the daughters.
“The magical principles of corprus disease are elusive and miraculous, far more subtle and powerful than any conventional sorcery or enchantment. I’m persuaded that it is in some manner the curse or blessing of a god. Perhaps both a curse and a blessing,” he added as Fen tilted her head skeptically towards him. “The victim, of course, cannot appreciate the marvelous nature of corprus. It saps the mind and destroys the body. But to a wizard, it is a profound and glorious mystery, a riddle worth a long lifetime of study. Have you got the divine disease, dear?” Fen bit her lip. She took hold of her hood and drew it slowly back. Just behind Divayth Fyr, she could see her reflection – her skin was warped, covered in sores and raw patches, her eyes bloodshot, her hair tangled and matted around her face. She could barely recognize herself. She saw Julan’s reflection wince behind her.
“How interesting,” Divayth Fyr said, stepping forward and tilting back her chin to examine her face. “Did you know that corprus makes you immune to disease? Have you ever heard of the prophecies of the Nerevarine?”
“Ashlanders say the Nerevarine will be immune to disease. I’ve always thought, ‘Maybe I have the Nerevarine down in my Corprusarium, and I don’t even know it.” He released her chin, grinning. “Ha! The Nerevarine is a fat, disgusting corprus monster, and mad as a marsh rat. Wouldn’t that be funny?” He let out a great, whooping laugh and slapped his knee.
“I may fulfill the Nerevarine prophecies,” Fen said crossly, more to stop his laughing than anything else. Julan elbowed her sharply.
“You might be the Nerevarine,” Fyr repeated, sounding unimpressed. “Means nothing, of course. Corprus victims have all sorts of delusions. But...let me think...” He went to one of the shelves and rummaged through the bottles there, muttering. One slipped off the shelf and smashed on the carpet, but he paid it no mind. Finally, Divayth Fyr extracted a small, dark brown bottle with a red seal over the mouth.
“I've got this potion,” he said, shaking the bottle a little for effect. “In theory, it should cure corprus. Doesn’t work, though. Probably kill you. Killed all my test subjects. But you’ve got nothing to lose.” He slipped the potion into his cuirass. “Before I give it to you, I want you to look around below in the Corprusarium. Know what's in store if you don’t take the potion. And while you’re there, I want you to pick up a pair of boots from a victim, calls himself Yagrum Bagarn. My oldest patient. Handy fellow, fixes things for me. Bring the boots back, and then you can have the potion.” He smiled and shooed them away, and they levitated back down and walked down to the lower levels of Tel Fyr.
“What an old n’wah,” Julan said scornfully as they pushed open the door to the Corprusarium and came out into a very dark cavern with a tall wooden gate at one end. A fully-armored Argonian man stood at the gate.
“I am Vistha-Kai, Warden of the Corprusarium,” he growled as they approached the gate. “I am here to warn you: do not harm the inmates. If you come to plunder the dungeon, you must endure their attacks, and take your chances with me, their Warden and Protector.” The Argonian crossed his arms, his eyes glittering in the dimness beneath his helm. “Lord Fyr shelters and maintains the victims of corprus disease here in the Corprusarium. He does them a great service, because no other could or would help them. He also does the world a great service by keeping them here where they can do no harm to others. The inmates are sad, distorted monsters, angry and cruel, and their sufferings are great, but they still live and feel, and I honor Lord Fyr’s care and compassion for them.” His reptilian eyes narrowed. “Do not harm the inmates. I will not tolerate you adding to their suffering. Indeed, they are brutal and ferocious, and they will kill you if they can. But you are their guests, and you may not harm them, or you will answer to me.”
“Uh…Fen? Can I talk to you for a minute?” Fen turned and saw Julan was standing a little ways away, looking rather sick.
“What is it?” she asked, coming over to him. She saw him looking apprehensively at her and she drew the hood back over her face.
“It’s just…I don’t think I should come into the Corprusarium with you, Fen. I think I might get angry and attack one of them if they try to hurt you and…I don’t want you to get in trouble for that. Do you think you’ll be okay?” Fen’s stomach flipped over. The thought of entering the Corprusarium on her own was frightfully daunting.
“Sure,” she said uneasily, trying to sound nonchalant. “That’s fine. Just wait here. I’ll be back.” Julan nodded, relieved, and she went back to the gate, which Vistha-Kai pushed open for her.
The Corprusarium consisted of a large network of cave tunnels inhabited by the swollen and deformed corprus monsters. All the tunnels were hung with a sickly yellow haze that hovered in the air like a tired moth. Everything stank of illness and rot.
The corprus beasts did not attack her, but she paused for a moment to watch the nearest one. Its body was lame and bloated, and as she watched, it buckled over and tore at the skin on its head, letting out terrible, bellowing roars and scratching open the scabs that had formed there. Blood and pus began to clot upon the creature’s back, and it moaned weakly, curling into a prostate ball on the cave floor and rocking back and forth, cradling its bruise-coloured head.
Trying very hard not to think of herself coming to that state, Fen entered the next room, where a low wooden platform with a table and a wardrobe stood. A woman was standing on the platform, talking to…something. It looked, from the top, like a fat old man, but where his legs should have been, there were only six golden spider-like legs planted firmly on the wood and swaying slightly. Fen approached the platform slowly and both the man with the spider legs and the woman looked around.
“Yagrum Bagarn?” she asked tentatively, and the man chuckled.
“In the flesh!” he said brightly. Up close, he was even more grotesque. His scab-covered body drooped over the edges of the metal legs, and his face was flabby and slack around the greenish-black beard of tightly curled ringlets. His eyes, though, were bright and jolly, and he waved a fat little arm at her as she stepped onto the platform. The woman merely rolled her eyes and scoffed, going back to slicing what looked like raw meat on the table. The stench was nearly unbearable. “Old Fyr send you down to get the boots, eh?” the man said happily. “Uupse, would you be a dear and hand my friend those boots on the ground there?” The woman picked up a heavy-looking pair of Dwemer boots and held them out to Fen, who took them and found they were surprisingly light. “Lord Fyr obtained these enchanted Dwemer boots from an unfortunate thief,” Yagrum Bagarn said. “And, given the quality of their craftsmanship, little wonder the fellow came a bad end. But I can do nothing for them. The fundamental enchantment is flawed. Might as well start over again...if such a pair of boots could still be fashioned in these benighted latter days. But I have done my best. Take them to Lord Fyr, with my sincere apologies.”
“Yes,” Fen replied distractedly, looking at his legs. “I’m sorry to be rude, serjo, but could I ask…what are you?”
“Good question!” Yagrum Bagarn chuckled. “I like to style myself as the last living dwarf, dear. Now, I do not know for a fact that I am the last. But in my travels thousands of years ago, I never encountered another. And since I have been here, I often ask Lord Fyr, but he says he has never heard a credible rumor of another Dwemer, on Tamriel, or in any Outer Realm.” The last living dwarf. Edwinna would have killed to be in Fen’s position right now.
“Can you tell me about the Dwemer?” she said eagerly.
“Oh, yes, child. The tales I could tell you of our glorious race! Once I was a Master Crafter in the service of Lord Kagrenac, chief architect of the great Second Empire freeholds, and the greatest enchanter of his time. I could not match the genius of Lord Kagrenac, but what he could envision, I and my colleagues could build. All of that is gone forever. I still retain my cunning, but my hands and eyes fail me, and my memories have long faded. My only consolation is each day to mock the gods who destroyed my race, and condemned me to this bleak existence.”
“What do you mean?”
“Since the disappearance of the Dwarves, I have been alone in this world, trapped in this grim prison,” Bagarn said, gesturing sadly to the moaning monsters around the platform. “I can scarcely move. And my fellow inmates are hardly good company. The risk of corprus disease deters most visitors. But if you meet with cultivated minds undaunted by the terrors of the Corprusarium, you might mention your recent interview with the last living dwarf.”
“So does that mean…that you know how the Dwarves disappeared?”
“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully, scratching his beard. “I cannot say what happened. I was not there to observe. I was in an Outer Realm at the time, and when I came back, my people were gone. I left Red Mountain, wandering Tamriel for years, searching our deserted colonies, looking for a survivor or an explanation. Then, a long, long time ago, I returned to Red Mountain, still looking for answers. Instead, I found corprus disease, and I have been here ever since. I have theories, if you are interested.”
“Oh, yes,” Fen said eagerly.
“You should go,” the Dunmer woman snapped, but Yagrum Bagarn waved her off, smiling brightly.
“A scholar!” he chuckled Well, love, Lord Kagrenac, the foremost arcane philosopher and magecrafter of my era, devised tools to shape mythopoeic forces, intending to transcend the limits of Dwemer mortality. However, in reviewing his formulae, some logicians argued that side effects were unpredictable, and errors might be catastrophic. I think Kagrenac might have succeeded in granting our race eternal life, with unforeseen consequences – such as wholesale displacement to an Outer Realm. Or he may have erred, and utterly destroyed our race.” He shrugged. “Scholars like yourself have other theories, but those are mine. Anything else for me, dear?”
“No,” Fen said breathlessly. She could have easily stayed there for hours and talked to the dwarf, but she knew Julan would be worried if she dawdled too long. “But thank you. Thank you very much.”
“You got the boots!” Julan said as Fen came out of the Corprusarium clutching them. “Excellent, now we can go get you cured…hopefully.” He squinted at her through the gloom. “You are going to take the potion, aren’t you?”
“I haven’t got much else of a choice,” Fen said as they went back up through the halls to the Tower of Fyr. “Have I?”
“No…but just…I don’t know, Fen. I just hope it doesn’t….you know…kill you.”
“Thanks,” she said wryly as they came into Divayth Fyr’s study.
“You have the boots!” Divayth Fyr said cheerfully, taking them lightly out of her arms as they entered. “Now, the potion!” He took the little brown bottle out and broke the seal. “And now, I'll give you the potion, on the following condition: you must drink it here, before my eyes. It should act immediately, and I need to observe you very carefully. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Fen said, and Divayth Fyr passed the little bottle to her. “Cheers,” she said, holding it up to Julan, then, before she could think about it, she swallowed the contents of the bottle in one drink. The first thing she felt was a terrible, gnawing pain in her stomach, as if she hadn’t eaten in days. She collapsed, lightheaded, the room swimming before her eyes. Her skin began to burn as if she had just plunged into fire, and she screamed, unable to stand the terrible pain.
“My gods! It’s working! It’s actually working!” she heard Divayth Fyr shouting over her own cries. Then, very suddenly, everything stopped, and Fen lay weakly on the carpet, tears of pain brimming her eyes but the burning sensation gone. “Let me check your skin,” Fyr said, kneeling down and seizing her chin, forcing it up. His eyes were wide with amazement. “Your eyes…your tongue…Amazing! Do you feel any pain? No? I think it worked! No sign of the disease at all.” Grinning, he stood up and offered her a hand. Fen got shakily to her feet, her limbs aching as if she had just run for hours. “Of course, you still have corprus disease, just like I planned,” Fyr went on, looking for something on his cluttered desk. “But all your symptoms are gone. Marvelous. I’ll go try it out on some of the more desperate inmates.” From between to reams of paper, the wizard suddenly pulled a small gilded hand mirror, which he handed, with a jaunty flourish, to Fen. Slowly, Fen turned the mirror around to see her face. It was as it had been before they entered Ilunibi, clean and smooth, unbroken by the harsh scars of Corprus. Fen brought a shaking hand up to her cheek, hardly daring to brush her fingers against it.
“Thank you,” she murmured gratefully, handing the mirror back to Fyr. “I’m completely indebted.”
“No matter, no matter,” he said airily. “You’re the Nerevarine or something aren’t you? Don’t you have to go drive off the Outlanders?”
“Something of that sort,” Fen told him, and she and Julan left quickly. “I’m normal!” she shouted gleefully as soon as they were outside. Julan hugged her tightly. “This is fantastic.” She looked down at her hands, which were blissfully clear of sores.
“He kept calling you the Nerevarine, though,” Julan said as they started to water walk back to Sadrith Mora. “He obviously didn’t really know what he was talking about.” Although she didn’t voice it, Fen wasn’t sure Julan was right. She knew he regarded the Nerevarine prophecies as foolish superstitions…but Dagoth Gares had called her Nerevar. She glanced down at her hands again, her euphoria momentarily forgotten. She had been under the impression that she was simply meant to play the Nerevarine so that the Emperor could use her to gain the trust of the Dunmer…but now she wasn’t sure.

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