The Secrets of the Dwemer
Anders and Sorine materialized outside the Luxury Suite as the first rays of dawn were spreading from behind the mountains to the east. They’d left Fort Dawnguard in mid-afternoon, and while the trip had seemed to take no more than a few seconds they were both feeling a bit tired. It had been almost 24 hours of actual time since they’d arisen from their cots in the fortress to the east of Riften.
Despite that tiredness, they were both eager to examine the Dwemer mechanism that kept the Suite’s bathing pools clean and at the proper temperature. Anders had glanced at it once before, but had no idea what he was looking at. With Sorine’s expert help, he hoped it might be possible to find or build something similar for the hot pool he and Wyll wanted to incorporate into the home they would share with Kat.
Figuring nobody but Ellis would be up and about yet and seeing no need to disturb him, Anders led Sorine around the north side of the building to the hatch set into the rear deck, near the warm bathing pool. They went down the ladder and found themselves standing in the basement. At the far end, Anders could see Wyll curled up asleep – presumably with Kat. Oh crap, he hadn’t considered that.
Gesturing toward the bed and putting a finger to his lips, Anders made sure Sorine knew that they must be absolutely quiet. He walked silently to the door leading to the Bride of Migal’s chamber and they went inside. Then he gently closed it again. Now, they could speak softly without being heard. He led her through the second set of doors, to the chamber where the Suite’s spirit guardian resided in a pool of blue light. The light flared slightly, but the Bride recognized him as the beloved of The Dragonborn and let him pass without comment. Only one of the Dragonborn’s blood could feed her with the life essence she needed.
On the left side of the chamber, Anders pressed the wall in two areas and there was a faint “click.” Then a section of the wall swung inward, leading to a short stone-lined corridor. Dwemer lamps glowed on either side, providing cool illumination. “Farquhar showed me this a couple of years ago,” Anders murmured softly. “I was curious as to how the pool stayed hot and clean, but after looking at the mechanism I wasn’t any the wiser.”
Ahead of them was a stone wall, the outer side of the hot pool. To the right another chamber opened up, and as they approached it they could hear a faint whirring, almost like the susurrus of a breeze blowing through a forest. Anders beckoned, and there was the Dwemer device. “This is the quietest Dwemer machine I’ve ever seen,” he told Sorine. “When you’re questing down in the ruins sometimes the noise of the machinery is so deafening you can’t hear the Falmer sneaking up on you until they’re trying to stick you with a sword.”
Sorine rolled her eyes and nodded. She’d spent plenty of time in Dwemer ruins herself, and the hazards of those places – Falmer, chaurus, and hostile automatons – were all too familiar. Two large and gleaming Dwarven metal pipes ran between the machine and the wall on the side where the hot pool was, with another four pipes running down from the machine into the stone floor. “Are there three pools?” Sorine asked, her mind already ticking along like a Dwemer device itself.
Anders nodded, adding “The one on the other side of the wall is inside the Suite’s common room, and it’s kept hot. There’s another about the same size set into the deck, which is kept at about body temperature, and a big one for swimming in, also in the deck, that’s not heated at all.” Sorine, her eyes drinking in the overall design and its details, nodded abstractedly.
Slinging the pack she carried to the floor with a sigh of relief, Sorine crouched and began rummaging through it until she’d produced a roll of soft leather a little more than a foot in length and perhaps four inches in diameter. Laying it on the floor, she untied the cord that held it and rolled the leather out to reveal a set of small, gleaming tools the likes of which Anders had never seen before. He crouched on his haunches to get a better look at them.
Sorine glanced up smiling and said quietly, “Aren’t they amazing? They’re probably the most sensational Dwemer find I’ve ever come across. This is the actual tool kit the Dwemer mechanics used for working on their devices.” Anders just stared at them, awed. As beautiful as they were, he had no idea what you could use them for. He was beginning to wish he’d paid less attention to history and ancient lore in his studies, and more to practical matters like building and crafting.
Sorine walked around to the far side of the gently humming machine, and working with a couple of the tools from the kit she had soon somehow removed a panel from the side. “Aha, I see!” she said, peering into the depths. Oh good, Anders thought, because I sure as hell don’t. “You said the water level is maintained automatically?” Sorine asked.
“That’s right,” he said. “If the outside pools get a lot of evaporation or a heavy rainfall, somehow the level always stays about the same. And sometimes people will splash out some of the water from the inside pool. But it always comes right back up.”
“There’s a well on the property?” she asked next.
“Right off the south side of the building, near the kitchen” Anders confirmed. Sorine continued poking and prodding, reaching a small tool in to lift something then dropping it back down again.
After a while she said, “All right, I think I can see how we can duplicate this in small scale for Katja’s hot bath in your new home. It’ll be much simpler than this, since the water supply for keeping the level right can be gravity fed. And you’ll only need one unit, maintaining one temperature. Plus there should be a lot less purification needed if it’s just you and your immediate family using the tub. But we’re going to need to pick up some specialized items. What do you say we get something to eat, and I can dig through the books I brought and get an idea of where to find them.”
Sorine refitted the panel, then she and Anders sneaked quietly back out through the doors to the basement. They found, however, that while they’d been investigating the machinery the occupants of the bed had arisen and departed. The two conspirators went out through the trap door to the deck and walked around to enter the Suite through the front doors, finding a few people beginning to stir now. They spotted Katja and Wyll breakfasting at their usual table, and walked over to join them.
Katja’s eyes lit at the sight of Anders’ face, and she jumped up to throw her arms around him and give him a big kiss. “You’re back!” she crowed unnecessarily. He’d been gone for nearly three days, and while she and Wyll had found plenty to keep themselves busy – by day and by night – in his absence, they’d missed him. Motioning them to sit, Katja greeted Sorine warmly. During their brief association she’d come to like the woman, even if her obsession with Dwemer technology tended to give her a distracted air at times.
“So,” she said to Sorine. “I see Anders dragged you back here with him.”
“Yes,” Sorine replied. “Serana’s very eager to come up with something similar to the bathing pools you have here for Fort Dawnguard, and I had some ideas about how your heating and purification system might work but I needed to look at it for myself. I thought I might enjoy a little vacation from Dawnguard, in any case. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in advanced crossbow designs for weeks.”
“How long did the trip take, Anders?” Katja asked next.
“Right around fifteen hours,” he replied. “A really awkward time interval. If you leave here in the morning you arrive there in the middle of the following night.”
Katja sat idly munching a sweet roll and doing calculations in her head. “I have to go pick up something in Solitude on the 10th,” she told them. “And I’m pretty sure that’s about an 11-hour trip so I’ll probably want to leave sometime on the 9th. Then I should be back late on the 10th. But it’d probably be best for you to wait until after I get back from that trip before you try to take Sorine home. Will that give you enough time for your investigations, Sorine?”
“I hope to study the system and figure out what’s needed, then see about obtaining the parts. I think that’ll take at least four or five days, so that ought to work out pretty well.” With that she relocated to a nearby empty table and dropped some books she’d been carrying on its surface. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a little research to do. Oh, and could I have some of that tea?” Amused, Katja handed her a cup as well as a plate with a couple of bread rolls on it. Sticky sweet buns might not be the best thing around ancient tomes of Dwarven lore.
After Sorine had relocated, Anders scooted in close to Kat and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Everything going all right?” he asked.
“Wonderfully!” she responded happily.
“Oh!” Wyll spoke up in his bass rumble, “one thing that happened while you were gone was that Kat and I decided it might be better for us to give up on buying the perfect house in the Whiterun area and start looking for some land to build on instead. She’s OK with continuing to live here for a few months after the wedding.” Were the hint any heavier, it might have punched a hole in the floorboards and come to rest in the basement.
Anders smiled at him, and said “that’s a good idea, Wyll. I’m fine with waiting, too.” He gave Kat a squeeze.
Washing down her sweet roll with some tea and licking her sticky fingers, Katja continued catching Anders up on the news. “I went up to Dragonsreach a couple of days ago and got Balgruuf to agree to come to Argis and Lydia’s wedding. He’s even getting there under his own power so that’s one less person I have to worry about transporting. And I told them the news – they were thrilled about it. Let’s see…” Another couple of bites of food and another swallow of tea went down before the next bit of news came up.
“So yesterday, I had some free time and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon crafting. Wyll even gave me a hand. He’s actually getting pretty good, you know? We hauled everything we made down to Warmaiden’s in the afternoon and I talked with Adrianne and Ulfberth. Turns out they want to do a partnership with us! So I can just knock out a few pieces of enchanted arms and armor every week, and they’ll take all my output and pay us as it’s sold. Plus we’ll get a percentage from everything else they sell too!”
Anders smiled at this news. He had the feeling that their days as freebooting adventurers might be drawing to a close, and it was good to know that the family would have another source of income besides the Suite. Between Kat’s outstanding skills at the smithy and her growing facility with enchanting, she could probably work a couple of days a week and bring in all the gold anybody could need. For that matter, the farm should be a source of income for them too. Nazeem had certainly regarded it as a profitable business.
The three of them sat eating and talking desultorily for a while longer. At the nearby table, Sorine sat up abruptly with a barely audible gasp. It got Anders’ attention, and she gave him a meaningful look. She’d found something! Pulling a scrap of paper out of a pocket, she marked her place in Dwemer Inquiries (Anders didn’t see which volume it was), and said “Do you think I could have a look at your water system, now?”
“Sure,” Anders replied, giving Kat a kiss before standing up. “This way – there’s a trapdoor down in the basement behind the bar.”
He led Sorine across the room and they climbed down the ladder. They went in the doors again, making a pretense that this was their first examination of the system. Actually, it was just a good excuse to confer in private. “I’ve discovered a reference to the type of Dwemer devices we need to assemble our water system,” Sorine told him. “And I think I know where we can find what we need. There’s a Dwemer ruin that looks to be no more than about a day’s travel from here, called Raldbthar. We should be able to walk there and back in about the time we have before Katja returns from her trip to Solitude.”
Anders mused. One more big adventure? Sorine had seemed to acquit herself adequately during their storming of Castle Volkihar, and she was a wizard with weaponry – which suggested a martial bent. But were the two of them up to fighting off a horde of hostile Falmer while hauling who knows how many pounds of Dwemer devices around with them? A third team member might be in order.
“I think it might be a good idea to get Wyll to come with us,” he told her. “He’s one hell of a fighter, plus he can carry a whole lot.”
“That would be fine,” Sorine said. She wouldn’t mind spending a little more time in the company of that golden icon of manly perfection. What straight woman wouldn’t? Even if he was pledged to another, it didn’t hurt to look.
When they had been down in the basement long enough to simulate the initial inspection that had already occurred, the two returned upstairs. Kat had gone someplace leaving Wyll alone at the table, giving them the perfect opportunity to fill him in on their scheme. He had some more news to impart, as well. “Yesterday while Kat was hammering out details with Adrianne and Ulfberth, I went over to Arngeld’s place to see about getting him to build us a new ‘Owner’s Table’ for the Suite. You recall how we were talking about needing a bigger table here?” He gestured at the surface where they sat.
Anders nodded. “Anyway,” Wyll went on, “You also remember the really big bed we were talking about?” Anders’ eyes lit, while Sorine looked blank. “I discussed it with him, and he figures he can build it in pieces and then assemble it inside the bedroom. We won’t have to worry about fitting it through doors. So I ordered it! It’s going to be seven-and-a-half-feet long and ten feet wide. He’s got his wife and a couple of their daughters working on the mattress and bedding, too. It’s going to be the only thing of its kind in Skyrim!”
Anders gave his friend a toothy grin and slapped him on the shoulder. “Genius, Wyll! I can’t wait to see it. And sleep in it with you and Kat.”
Wyll grinned back, then said “Was there something you and Sorine wanted to talk about?” Oh, right! Anders and Sorine in concert filled Wyll in on the status of their investigations into the mechanisms keeping the bathing pool hot and clean, and the need for an expedition to Raldbthar in search of components. “I heard that place was infested with bandits,” Wyll remarked. “At least the outer parts of it. They usually won’t go in too far, because of the Falmer and automatons. Do you want me to come along?”
Both Sorine and Anders grinned at him. “Exactly what I was about to suggest,” Anders said. Then, after a moment’s thought, he added, “What’s going on with the house?” It had only just occurred to him that Wyll was supposed to be acting as their liaison with Hegmar while the work proceeded.
“It’s doing fine,” Wyll assured him. “I had to take a few days off from going down there because of being here alone with Kat, but Argis has been handling things beautifully. He’s turning into a builder before our eyes. According to him, they’re well underway with the stone understory and foundations, and they’ve started on the cistern tower.”
Catching a sudden look of concern in Anders’ eyes, Wyll added “Don’t worry. Argis says they’re leaving you plenty of space for the kitchen hot water system and access through the foundation for whatever kind of system you’re going to set up for the bathing pool.” Relief suffused his friend’s features. “I hope your confidence that I will be setting up hot water systems is justified. Until I hit on getting Sorine to reverse-engineer the Suite system, I was stumped.”
“Did you say something about hot water for the kitchen?” Sorine asked. “Oh yes, we’re hoping to have some of the water that’s piped into the house run through a set of coils that will be heated, so you can open a valve in the kitchen and get hot water for washing dishes or clothes.”
“You should have mentioned that,” she chided. “It’s no problem, we can do that with some of the same components that are used in the hot pool system. But I’ll need to add a couple of items to my list.” She pulled out a piece of parchment, already heavily annotated, and scrawled a few additional items at the bottom with a curious-looking implement.
“What’s that you’re writing with?” Anders asked.
“It’s another Dwemer invention,” Sorine said with apparent pride suitably clothed in modesty. “It’s cunningly carved out of Dwarven metal with tolerances so exact that you can drop ink in here at the bottom – she gestured to a carved finial on the opposite end from the pen’s nib – using a pipette, and carry it around upside-down in a pocket without it leaking. When you’re ready to write with it, you just shake it up a little and then hold it with the nib down to write. Only a little ink at a time can flow out of the metal tip. If you leave it too long without writing or use the wrong kind of ink it can get clogged, but a little soak in a cup of hot water will get it working again.”
This was fabulous! Carrying around feather quills and ink pots was such a nuisance he’d given up keeping a journal years ago. Anders suddenly had the sense that his life was slipping away from him. All the fabulous adventures he had had, the things he had seen and learned and done, had gone unrecorded – at least by him. Katja was already complaining that their deeds of a few months ago were fading into garbled legend. He had to get one of these pens, or perhaps get a jeweler to make one, and start writing everything down for posterity. At the very least, the children he hoped he and Kat (and Wyll) would have someday would want to read these tales.
Anders jerked his mind back to the business at hand at this point, and said “It’s agreed, then. Kat will just have to do without us for a few days, and Argis can handle things out at the house. It’s about a full day’s journey to Raldbthar and back, so if we’re going to go there and find what we need and be back here by the 11th to take Sorine back to Dawnguard, we’re going to need to leave as soon as possible.” The two at the table with him nodded, but he was already considering additional problems.
“Sorine and I woke up what seems like a few hours ago but was really early yesterday morning. And that was after only a nap for me. I think we both need to get some sleep as soon as possible, so we can’t just leave immediately. Do you think we could set out around mid-afternoon, maybe, and at least get some miles down the road before it gets too dark to travel? Then maybe you, Wyll, could pop up the road and let Argis know what’s going on while Sorine and I take naps.”
Wyll looked at them both, and nodded. “And while you guys are asleep I’ll gather up some supplies for the trip,” he said. “Sorine, what do you have in the way of weapons and armor?” She looked a bit surprised. Practical considerations were not always foremost in her thinking.
“Just what I’ve got on,” she said, gesturing at the studded leather Dawnguard armor she was wearing. “And I’ve got a couple of our best crossbows plus plenty of the regular and explosive bolts.” That Dawnguard armor wasn’t bad, actually. And those crossbows packed a bigger wallop than even some of the most expensive regular bows.
“Sounds good enough,” he said. “Why don’t you go find a bed, upstairs?”
Anders stood and said, “I’ll show you the way,” guiding her by the elbow to point Sorine in the direction of the stairs to the sleeping loft. Sleeping in the middle of the day while the life of the Suite went on around you could be a bit of a trick, but you could pull it off if you were tired enough. He and the Breton woman climbed the stairs, and he directed her down to the shadowy recesses of the eastern sleeping gallery where a spare bed was available. She thanked him, and shortly lay down fully clothed to rest. One advantage of leather armor, it was comfortable enough to sleep in.
Anders continued on to the master bedroom, and found Katja in there pawing through the chest and throwing clothing onto the bed. Evidently she and her wardrobe were having a serious discussion. He came up behind her as she stood there, arms crossed, glaring at the garments spread across the bed, and wrapped his arms around her tightly while he pressed his lips to her neck. The unexpected sensation made her jump, but she leaned into it a moment later.
Katja and Wyll had been having a high old time alone together in the Suite, their lovemaking rattling the roof and going on late into the evening. They’d even done it on the smithing bench in between bouts of crafting, and given the alchemy table a try. It wasn’t as capacious as the enchanting table. Sex with Wyll was solid-gold bliss, no denying it. But she had still missed Anders. She was marrying them both for the simple reason that she could not bear to part with either of them. It was certainly fortunate that the two were fast friends.
Katja rotated in Anders’ arms, her wardrobe dilemmas put on hold, as she melted into him for a deep kiss. He thought it fair to explain to her, however, that he would soon be leaving. “Sorine found a place where she thinks she can find the components she needs for a hot water system,” he told her. “And it’s too dangerous for her to go alone, so Wyll and I are going with her.”
Katja was taken aback. “Uh? Should I go too?” she asked. She wasn’t used to being left out of quests, but she was really too busy to go on any expeditions right now.
Anders drew her closer still, kissing her hair. “It’s an easy walk,” he told her confidently. “With Wyll along, we’ll just knock off the opposition, make away with the goods, and be back here in a couple of days. By the time you get back from your trip to Solitude, we’ll all be back here. And then I can borrow the map again to run Sorine home.”
Katja’s brows knit. She was not happy at the idea of her bridegrooms running off to fight Falmer and who-knows-what-else without her. But she needed to trust her men. Time and again they’d proven their abilities, and she really had no reason to fear for their safety. Besides, this was a noble thing for them to volunteer to help the Dawnguard, and should be supported. She herself might be willing to spend more time with that organization, helping in their anti-vampire campaign, if hot baths were to be made available at headquarters.
“When are you leaving?” Katja asked him, without a trace of argument. Gods, how he loved her! Give or take a few early morning conflicts, she was the perfect woman.
“In order to get there and back in plenty of time, I think we’ll head out this afternoon. But I really need to take a nap first.”
It was still early morning, and he and Sorine should be able to get in several hours of sleep before leaving. “Oh,” Katja said, beginning to pluck the clothes from the bed and toss them back into the chest. “Not without a little nooky first, I think.” She seized him by the shirt front and dragged him to her, practically climbing him as she writhed against him. His cock immediately stood straight up.
Well, maybe he wasn’t all that tired after all. It had been a few hours, or maybe a few days, since Anders had last had Kat in his arms. And he knew he couldn’t go off and leave her for half a week without taking this opportunity to make love with her again. In the brief moments during which these thoughts had crossed his mind, she had peeled out of the stretchy dress she was wearing and was already standing naked before him. Now she began working on his armor. In another few moments he too was naked, the armor tossed negligently to the floor.
Katja gazed up at him. Anders, her first true love, the sometimes-exasperating man who had become as essential to her as breathing. So beautiful, so desirable, so strong and intelligent, such a good man. Her desire for him was mounting as they stood there, nearly touching, then fell together in a passionate embrace. In moments they had dropped onto the bed and he entered her, no slow buildup this time. For once, his aspect as a careful, thoughtful lover was cast aside and there was nothing between them but naked desire and deep, deep love.
They plunged together into a spiraling wave of pleasure, carrying them upward until it seemed as though they must burst through the Suite’s wooden roof and up into the sky, exploding in a fountain of sparks like a pyromancer’s display. In mere minutes Katja had extracted every drop of seed from Anders and left him gasping for breath, wrapped tight by her arms and legs, his mind a blaze of white fire.
When his breathing had slowed to the point where speech was possible, Anders gasped “By the Divines, Kat!” She grinned into his chest, still gripping him tightly with arms, legs, and cunt. In another few minutes he slipped from her grasp, though, and rolled onto his back. Katja nuzzled into his shoulder and lay there resting against him. She’d gotten up early this morning, a couple of hours ago, after having made love with Wyll for an hour or more the night before. But she wanted more skin time with Anders, before he and Wyll vanished on their quest. So she closed her eyes and let herself drift off to sleep in his arms.