Finally, it was evening. Nerevar sighed in gratitude and relief, kicking off his shoes and sinking into his favorite chair. It had been a long, long day, and the Tribunal had been no help at all. Almalexia had spent the day dealing with the latest Dwemer ambassador, who had developed a regrettable and frankly rather embarrassing attraction to her. Sotha Sil had run out of some sort of fancy expensive reagent he’d been using and locked himself in his lab. Vivec had just been gone. Nerevar had spent the entire day cleaning up the fallout, and now he could finally settle down with a book and a glass of flin—
There was a faint popping sound, and a small breath of air. The familiar scent of bug musk reached Nerevar’s nostrils. Oh, hell no.
“Hey, kiddo,” Vivec’s voice said.
Nerevar looked up from The Misadventures of Crantius Colto. The living god was completely naked, floating cross-legged in the air. It probably said something about Nerevar’s life that this didn’t faze him at all. “So you finally decided to show up,” he said. “What do you want?”
“We’re gonna go kill another one of my kids.”
Nerevar sighed. ‘Killing my children’ was, for some reason, the code phrase Vivec had chosen to mean ‘getting in as much trouble as possible’. “Not tonight, thanks,” he said.
Vivec cocked his head. “What? Of course tonight.”
“No, I’m staying here and reading my book.” Nerevar closed the book, keeping his finger on the page to save his place. “I’m fucking tired, Vivec, do you understand tired? I just came back from the fucking moons — where, I should add, you sent me—”
“I never sent you to the moons,” Vivec said. “I told you how to reach enlightenment, it’s not my fault you got it wrong. In any case that’s beside the point. Come on, the evening’s young.”
“I’m not coming,” Nerevar said, stubbornly.
“Then I guess I’ll just have to blackmail you.”
That sent a frisson of fear down Nerevar’s spine. But he held his ground. “Not happening. You don’t have anything on me anyway.”
Vivec grinned and produced a number of small, startlingly realistic paintings out of — no, Nerevar didn’t want to think about where a naked flying hermaphrodite would store things — depicting Nerevar in a series of extremely compromising positions with several women, men, and in one picture, a guar.
“What the hell is that?” Nerevar demanded.
“Evidence. Pics or it didn’t happen, everyone knows that.” Vivec looked at the pictures, and shrugged. “They’re faked, of course, but Lexi’s not gonna know that, is she?”
Nerevar rubbed his temple. Sometimes Vivec made no sense at all. Unfortunately, those were the times it was most dangerous to ignore him. If Vivec managed to convince Almalexia that he had somehow posed for those pictures, she’d have a conniption.
“Fine,” he said, setting his book down on the end table. “You win. Where are we—”
Vivec grinned and snapped his fingers.
“—going…” Nerevar trailed off. He was, abruptly, standing in a somewhat noisome puddle in a run-down part of town. He was not altogether certain the town was Mournhold; in fact, he’d have laid pretty good odds that it wasn’t. A flickering sign on the hovel in front of them read, “GURZUL GRO-GURGAN’S FINNEST SEAFOOD”. He wondered for a moment whether ‘finnest’ was a misspelling, or an intentional pun. Signs — specifically, the defective magelight spell on the sign — pointed rather dismally to the former.
“What the hell?” he said.
“Best seafood in the Aurbis,” Vivec said. He slung his arm around Nerevar’s shoulder. He had conjured himself a pair of pants — thank Azura — but remained shirtless as usual, and the warm evening had brought out a faint sheen of sweat, which looked appropriately glowingly divine, but was in fact merely rather damp and uncomfortable against Nerevar’s shirt. “They got everything here. Mudcrab, emperor crab, scallops, octopus — even dreugh, when it’s in season.”
Nerevar felt a little ill. “Dreugh?”
“Altmer of the sea,” Vivec said, cheerfully. He opened the door, paused, held the door with his bare foot, and wiped his hand on Nerevar’s pants. “After you, kiddo.”
The interior of the restaurant was poorly lit, and smelled strongly of seafood and cedar smoke. Something was scribbled on a blackboard behind the bar, in some foreign language. Nerevar glanced at Vivec, who wiggled his fingers. The scribbles resolved themselves into proper Chimeris.
…‘Dreugh Brew’ was probably supposed to rhyme. Fucking Orcs. No. Fucking Vivec, this is his fault. Vivec loved bizarre cocktails, the stranger the better. The problem was that he insisted Nerevar match him drink for drink, which Nerevar was fine with until the hangover set in the next day. Vivec, of course, never got hangovers.
“Oh, look, tonight’s the $3.99 All-U-Can-Eat Crab Smash!” Vivec pointed at a still-untranslated sign behind the bar, looking positively delighted. “Great! All the more to spend on drinks.”
Note to self: do not let him stick you with the bill, like he did after that ‘Pomegranate Banquet’ fiasco. Nerevar still had nightmares about that. Vivec had utterly lost his head and ordered drinks for everyone, including a whole host of children who had shown up out of fucking nowhere, and then gone on some sort of sex-murder rampage, leaving Nerevar to soothe ruffled feathers and placate angry caterers.
“Know what you want?” Vivec said.
Nerevar scanned the list at random. “I’ll try the Dead Argonian,” he said. And please let it not contain an actual Argonian.
“Great! One Dead Argonian, then, and two $3.99 specials.”
Nerevar boggled — is he not going to drink anything? — but the Orc just growled, “Y’need a hammer for the $3.99 special.”
Vivec stretched, and leaned casually on the sticky counter. “Honey, you give me five minutes and I’ll give you all the hammering you could possibly want,” he purred.
The Orc looked at him blankly, and Vivec sighed and elbowed Nerevar harder than was probably strictly necessary. “Hammering. If y’ know what I mean.”
Slowly the meaning of Vivec’s extremely bad innuendo dawned in the Orc’s squinty, piss-yellow eyes. “Make it ten minutes,” he grunted.
“Why don’t we start with five,” Vivec suggested. “And if you feel up to another five, then you can make that call.”
“All right, all right, ten.” Vivec held up his hands, but he was grinning. “Drink first, though.”
Without taking his eyes off Vivec, the Orc grabbed a bottle of something black and viscous, splashed it into a glass, then grabbed another bottle of something searingly red and splashed that in too. Some ice, a sprinkle of salt and the glass came sliding across the table in Nerevar’s direction.
“Meet you in ten minutes,” Vivec said, and vaulted over the bar. In seconds he and the Orc were gone.
Nerevar stared after them for a moment, then collected his horrible drink and wandered away. There was a small table at the side of the room, well away from the noise. He sat at it and sipped the Dead Argonian. Fortunately, it wasn’t bad — a little too sweet, but not bad. He tried very hard not to think about what Vivec was probably doing right now.
He wondered what the next chapter of his book was about. Whether someone had — oh, fuck, he’d left the flin on the table by his chair. Hopefully someone took that away before Almalexia saw it. Not that she disapproved of him drinking, but it had been the good stuff, the sort she usually only broke out for major celebrations. Even a visit from Dumac didn’t rate the good flin these days.
This always fucking happens.
“Hey, hey.” It was Vivec, slightly flushed and grinning like a fool. He was holding some kind of pink drink in a tall skinny glass. It had a paper umbrella in it and — was it glowing? It was. “He only wanted five after all. But what are you doing over here in the corner? Come on, all the action’s over here.” He grabbed Nerevar’s hand. His hand was damp and a little sticky; Nerevar couldn’t help but cringe as Vivec led him to a table in the center of the room, where a bunch of Orcs were already drinking and carousing. As soon as Vivec let go Nerevar surreptitiously wiped his hand on his pants.
“So,” Vivec said, after a moment. “These Orc fellows, eh?”
“Please tell me you at least washed your hands,” Nerevar said.
Vivec blinked at him. “Of course I didn’t… Wait. Wait wait wait. You’re not mad, are you?”
“No, why would I be mad?” Nerevar said. “Just because I was tired and pissed off and finally, finally relaxing with a book and some decent fucking flin, and then some asshole shows up and fucking teleports me to some random bar before fucking off to fuck, sorry, I mean hammer a fucking Orc, no, why would I be mad?”
“You’re mad. It’s my fault.” Vivec bit his lip. It was actually sort of adorable. “Shit. All right, all right. I won’t do it again. But stick around tonight. Please.”
Nerevar bit his tongue on what he really wanted to say, which was fuck off, asshole. “Fine. Just this once, though.”
“We good now?”
…Vivec would never apologize properly; it wasn’t in his nature. “Yeah, we’re good.”
“Great, great.” Vivec slid onto the bench beside him and draped an arm over his shoulders. “Now. I gotta tell you about this sick dream I had last night…”
Nerevar did his best to tune Vivec out as the living god rambled on and on about his dream. “And we were under Red Mountain next to this creepy-ass disembodied heart thing, and it was me and Lexi and Seht and you were mad cos I’d killed you and ripped off your face and I was wearing it like a mask and making out with Seht but he wasn’t super happy about it, y’know? And then you were fucking Lexi and she was fucking me only you were dead and she doesn’t have a dick so I’m not sure how all that was working but whatever, fucking is fucking y’know? so I just kinda went with it—”
“Vivec,” Nerevar interrupted. “What kind of drink is that?”
Vivec beamed. “It’s called Dwemer’s Daughter. Kicks like an Orc sow, lemme tell you. The bartender was pretty pleased to have some new recipes.”
Nerevar looked back at the board. It had changed.
Reach Heaven by Violence
Motherfucker reach heaven by violence my left asscheek why can’t the motherfucker ever say what he means—
“Drink. Come on, Nerevar, you’re not drinking enough. I got you some Gortgrog for when you’re done with that, it’s some kinda local specialty. And then I wanna do shots.” He brandished a drinking horn.
Nerevar drained the rest of the Dead Argonian and snatched the horn before Vivec could accidentally put out a particularly surly-looking Orc’s remaining eye. “That remark about Orc sows was probably not a good idea here,” he hissed.
“Hm? Oh, that. You worry too much.” Vivec punched Nerevar playfully in the arm. Nerevar tried very hard not to yelp. “Oh look, here comes the waiter.”
Nerevar looked, and then ducked as the Orc dumped a pot full of boiled mudcrabs directly onto the paper-covered table. One particularly large one scrabbled a little, convulsively snapping its claws. “Uh…”
“Hammers?” Vivec said, brightly.
The Orc dragged a heavy-looking warhammer of Dwemeri make from under the cart and gave it to Vivec, then gave Nerevar a dainty clawhammer from his apron pocket. “Here y’ are, darlin’,” he said. “Don’t strain y’ self, now.”
Nerevar’s frayed temper finally, finally snapped, and he stood up. Behind him, Vivec snickered. He knew what was coming.
“Let me see that,” he said to Vivec. The living god handed Nerevar the massive warhammer. Nerevar took it almost without looking, and swung it up over his shoulder. It was brutally heavy. He set his boot on the wooden bench to brace himself, lifted the hammer — the room went abruptly silent as his biceps flexed — and let it fall on the carapace of the twitching mudcrab with a resounding crack.
Actually, that crack might have been the table.
In the resulting silence, Nerevar stepped over the bench, seated himself, and began to strip the steaming crab meat from its shell with his fingers. Vivec sat beside him and thumped a flagon down on the table. “Drink,” he said.
Nerevar drank without asking what it was. Either Vivec would roofie him or he wouldn’t, and there probably wasn’t any point trying to get out of it. To his surprise, it was perfectly good beer.
“Hey.” It was the manager this time, a huge hulking fellow. “You broke my table.”
Nerevar looked. Yeah, the crack had been the table. The entire structure now wobbled precariously on three and a half legs.
“Whoops,” he said.
“We’ll pay for it,” Vivec said.
The manager nodded, slowly. “You’ll pay for it.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m good for it.”
“I won’t worry about it. You’re good for it.”
Nerevar boggled and then realized that Vivec was pulling the old Psijic mind trick on the fellow. These aren’t the mer you’re looking for. Son of a bitch.
“Now you’re just going to go off and do… manager things,” Vivec pressed.
“Now I’m just…” The manager’s forehead crinkled slightly. “But the table—”
“DRINKS FOR EVERYONE,” Nerevar bellowed.
Several hours later, things had smoothed over considerably, and Nerevar was feeling much better. He’d had another one of the pink drinks, and then several rounds of shots with Vivec — those Redheaded Sluts were excellent, Vivec had laughed and said he thought Nerevar had a taste for them. Nerevar was sure something was going over his head, but he let it go for now. And now he was feeling pretty loose, yeah, pretty relaxed, and the boisterous Orcs all seemed to be friendly now, and even Vivec was just enjoying himself instead of trying to make more trouble.
The waiter had come by twice with more boiled crab — apparently when they said it was ‘all u can eat’ they weren’t fooling around. Nerevar was picking at the third round when Vivec nudged him.
“So where’d you learn to use a hammer like that, anyway?” he said.
Nerevar swallowed a particularly large bit of crab before responding. “Dumac taught me, of course,” he said.
For a moment he thought Vivec was going to be angry, but then he laughed. “Canny whelp. I knew you were hanging around him for a reason.” He punched Nerevar’s shoulder, lightly. “Come on, finish your crab, I wanna talk to you about something. And save your shell fragments. I want to give them to my mystics — they need a little distraction.”
Nerevar looked doubtfully at the ruddy bits of shell. “These pieces?”
“Yeah — it’ll be good for arts and crafts, they eat that shit up. Come on.”
There were only a couple of pieces left, anyway. Nerevar gathered up a handful of broken crab shells, stuffing them in his pockets. “Sure. Done. What’s up?”
“Great,” Vivec purred. “Now lemme tell you something, kid. I haven’t brought you all this way just to embarrass you in front of a bunch of dungmer.”
Nerevar felt a flicker of hope. Maybe this was like the last time Vivec had taken him on a trip. They’d gone to ancient Yokuda, and Vivec had made Nerevar fight all the Yokudan kings, and then promptly married them all in a ceremony that still made Nerevar feel a trifle queasy to remember, but after that he’d given him some useful advice for dealing with Almalexia; namely, that she liked chocolate. The fancy kind, with raspberry syrup.
“I got some advice for you. Important advice.” Vivec leaned in, and Nerevar leaned closer, to listen, seeing the first glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. “I’m not always going to be around, y’know, and when I’m gone you’re going to have to fend for yourself.”
His lips brushed Nerevar’s ear. “Y’wanna be careful of seafood in places like this,” he slurred. “Really, y’wanna be careful of seafood in general. Like dreugh. Especially dreugh.” He looped his arm around Nerevar’s neck, tugging him close. “Alduin ate the dreugh once, y’know.”
The end of the tunnel was on fire. “Alduin?”
“Northman deity. Eats the world every so often, you know how it is. Anyway, he ate them but then he puked them up again. Bad seafood will do that to you. ‘S probably good for all of us he didn’t get the runs, eh? Eh?” He elbowed Nerevar. Vivec’s elbows were sharper than Nerevar would have believed it possible for elbows to be. He thought Vivec probably secretly enhanced them, like Muatra.
After a moment he realized Vivec was looking at him expectantly. “So,” Nerevar finally said. “Is that what you wanted to tell me? Not to eat bad seafood?”
Vivec gazed off into the middle distance for a few moments, then nodded. “Yeah. That’s about the shape of it.”
Nerevar let his head fall on the table. Why did I expect anything else. Why. Why. Why.
“Hey.” Vivec shook his shoulder. “Wake up, you lightweight.”
Nerevar turned his head and stared at Vivec blindly.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? Perfectly good advice… Are you mad? Ugh, you’re mad. All right.” Vivec beckoned over the waiter, and whispered in his ear for a minute. The waiter leered and left. Nerevar shut his eyes. He opened them again when something went clunk by his nose. There was a short, fat glass in front of him, containing some sort of fizzy, clear liquid, and a steel nail.
“Hammer and Nail,” the waiter said.
Nerevar rolled his eyes upward to look at Vivec, who was holding a tall, thin glass shaped like a — oh no ohhhh Azura oh fucking hell no no no no.
“Oh,” Vivec said, noticing the look of utter terror on Nerevar’s face. “Right, you don’t do that, do you? Other way around, then.” He took the Nail, leaving the terrifyingly phallic Hammer in its place. “Good? No? Not good yet?” Vivec shook his head. “Touchy fucker, you are. All right. Will you stop sulking if I write you a poem? I can do you a poem. Give me a sec.” He thought for a minute, then declaimed,
“Both our drinks are set upon the table;
Come, I will drink yours, and you will drink mine.
When we have drunk together, we will get
The finest spears in all the eastern lands…”
Nerevar started to laugh. He couldn’t help it. Vivec was trying, he really was, he just… he was…well, he was so bad at it. But he decided to forgive Vivec, anyway. He always did, in the end. He was… well, he was pushy, arrogant, annoyingly cryptic, and quite possibly cracked in the head. But he was a god, after all. You probably had to expect these things from gods.
Besides, he’s an amazing lay.
He picked his head up, and leaned it against Vivec’s shoulder instead. “Sure. Sure, you crazy-ass motherfucker. We’re cool.”
Vivec grinned. “Great. Now… no, we link arms first…” He made Nerevar straighten up and pick up his glass, then looped his arm around Nerevar’s. “Cheers, kiddo.”
“Cheers,” Nerevar said, and together they drained the Hammer-and-Nail. Then Nerevar set his glass down and rested his head on Vivec’s shoulder. All right. Decent night. Started out bad, but getting better. Everything’s gonna be fine.
“So, uh…” Vivec was rolling his empty glass between his palms. “Looks like that Psijic mind trick I pulled to get over your little table shenanigan isn’t gonna be good for much longer.”
Nerevar glanced over. The manager was staring at them, his brow slightly furrowed. Shit. “Looks like,” he agreed.
“It’s your turn to cover the check, right?”
Nerevar straightened up. “Vivec, I don’t even know where we are.”
“Oh. Nova Orsinium.” Vivec fidgeted slightly. “Probably should have let you grab your wallet before we left. I haven’t got any of the local currency either.”
Nerevar had never even heard of Nova Orsinium. “What are we going to do, then?”
Vivec shrugged. “That’s your problem, isn’t it?”
“Come on. A little help, please?”
“Oh, yeah. Sure.” Vivec leaned in close, and whispered, “There’s a gutter just below the window on the other side of the room. It’s pretty strongly secured, it should hold your weight. I’ll meet you outside the city gates, all right?”
“See ya, kiddo,” Vivec said, and vanished.
Nerevar hesitated. He glanced at the board.
Then he looked at the stunned manager, who was still staring at the space where Vivec had been. He ventured a little wave.
“See ya,” he said, and ran for it.