Lore: Summerset – 10 things to know
This time of year always kicks my butt. The amazing thing, though, is how surprised I am by that every year. I make lists in March, and around mid-May I look at them, laugh, throw the lists away, and start again.
Point being – I promised Summerset lore, and for some of you, Summerset will be dropping in 5 days… And here we are: 10 points of lore to know before you go. Sorry it’s a bit on the late side, but there’s Altmer, Maormer, Aedra, Alaxon, Towers, cults, politics, psijics, and slugs after the cut. And more!
One note, however: I have been on the PTS a little, but have not completed more than a couple of steps of the main quest, and never made it to Artaeum. There’s some speculation below, but it isn’t informed foreshadowing, it’s just me thinking out loud.
10 Lore Notes on Summerset
1. You’re not imagining the high elf superiority complex, but don’t take it personally.
The reason for that attitude goes back to the origins of Mundus, a story I told in this post. Essentially: when the et’Ada creating Mundus realized it was depleting their power, most of them left immediately, but eight et’Ada stayed to finish and became bound to it. Those eight are worshiped by the Imperials as the Eight Divines, but we also call them “Aedra”.
That word, Aedra, is an archaic elven word meaning “ancestor” – and that’s the key. The Aldmeri people believe they are the direct offspring of those eight gods, and everyone else is… not.
So when you visit the Altmer, and they seem obsessively weird about honoring their ancestors and doing every single little thing exactly the way the ancestors did it – or better! – that’s because every deviation from tradition is suspect.
“Young lady! Is that a pink streak in your hair?! Your grandmother was a goddess, and watching you disrespect your birthright is breaking my heart.”
–every Altmer mother since the literal dawn of time
It isn’t coincidence that everyone, including the Empire, uses an old Elven word for the Divines – the common tongue of Tamriel, and most of the Empire’s arts, politics, and science are based on Aldmeri foundations. As they will tell you, should you give them the chance.
Incidentally (or not), there is a sub-sect of Aldmeri who believe having frail, mortal bodies is a disgrace, that the entire physical world of Nirn is a pain-filled prison, and if the world were destroyed, they would be released from that prison and ascend into their rightful state as immortal spirits. (et’Ada, essentially) This sect genuinely believes the end of Mundus is a cause worth fighting for, and they do. Every party has its nihilists.
2. Alaxon / “Perfection requires vigilance.”
That’s an actual quote from an npc you’ll meet early in the main Summerset quest-line, and it telegraphs an entire societal standard. “Vigilance” she says, not hard work, not inspiration, not years of practice – vigilance. The last time I heard someone use the word vigilance in real life, they were referring to guarding against sin, which is not an inappropriate connotation in Aldmeri context. To fail in the pursuit of perfection means failing not only yourself and your family, but all your ancestors, i.e. your gods.
In the earliest human accounts of the Aldmer, they suggested nine out of every ten Altmer babies born were put to death because of supposed impurities, but that almost certainly was a misunderstanding or outright lies on the part of the humans – never discount the importance of bias in TES lore. Still, it should be apparent that it is also unwise to underestimate the importance of “perfect” to this society.
The npc I quoted was referring to her own work, but imagine growing up on an island no one ever leaves and no one ever comes to, and everyone you know is perched on a tightly-strung wire, waiting for you to drop an embroidery stitch so they can swoop in and screech about how you should never, ever drop a stitch because we are better than that.
It isn’t surprising Queen Ayrenn left and went drinking and carousing for several decades – what’s surprising is that she came back.
The path to perfection is called Alaxon, which is a term for an approach and philosophy that permeates their culture and lives. Each Altmer in his or her own way is hoping to achieve perfection. For the npc I quoted, that means finding the perfect shells from which to extract the perfect dye reagents to create the perfect paint in order to create a perfect painting. For another Aldmeri, Alaxon might mean making a perfect sword stroke. Summerset looks like it does (gorgeous) because some gardener is out there admonishing each little blade of grass to be its perfect best or GTFO.
Whatever one does, one must never let one’s attention falter – perfection is vigilant!
3. The Altmer have a Tower, too.
Back in this post, I described the importance of the White-Gold Tower – it is a metaphor for the axis of reality, created by the Ayleids to grow their power, and later seized by St. Alessia. But the White-Gold Tower isn’t the only ur-Tower metaphor; there are a bunch, including the Red Tower (Vvardenfell’s Red Mountain), Walks Brass (the Numidium, the Dwemer’s Tower), and Snow Throat (Throat of the World, in Skyrim), etc.
The Tower of Summerset is Crystal-Like-Law, or the Crystal Tower. Each Tower is powered by a “stone”, which is a magical metaphor, but also sometimes a real stone. Red Tower and Walks Brass are/were powered by Lorkhan’s Heart; the White-Gold Tower is powered by the Chim-el adabal (the Red Diamond in the Amulet of Kings). The “stone” in the Crystal Tower is said to be a person. Hmmm.
4. Despite their efforts, the high elves are not what they once were.
I mean, who of us is, really. But once upon a time, the races of mer were collectively different.
Altmer are thought to be direct descendants of the original Aldmer elves, but how they got from one to the other isn’t clear. It is also generally believed all Merethic races are descended from the Aldmer, but the connection from the Aldmer to the Dwemer and Snow Elves is also unclear.
We do know, however, how some of the “offshoot” branches formed. Veloth (St. Veloth, of Vvardenfell fame) was born on Summerset, but he disagreed with his people on a number of issues, one of which was the veneration of the Aedra. He instructed his followers to worship instead the ‘good Daedra’ (Azura, Boethiah, Mephala) and placate/appease the four Daedra he referred to as the House of Troubles. He and his followers eventually left Summerset and traveled to Vvardenfell, and after this separation, they are referred to as Chimer, not Altmer. (Chimer literally means mer of the north.) Much later, Vivec, Sotha Sil, and Almalexia promoted themselves to gods, incurring a curse from Azura, and it was Azura’s curse that turned the golden Chimer of Vvardenfell into the ashy-skinned Dunmer we know today.
In any case, much it might pain them, the Altmer are not the Aldmer. I wouldn’t bring that up when you meet the Proxy Queen, though.
5. And on that note – Summerset is ruled by a “Proxy Queen”.
Queen Ayrenn is off making allies, forming the Dominion, and running the Three Banners War in Cyrodil, so her cousin Alwinarwe sits on the Summerset throne and handles all the administrative duties at home.
But I’m sure “Proxy Queen” Alwinarwe doesn’t at all mind doing all her cousin’s work while Ayrenn is off drinking with Nords or whatever it is this week. No cause for strife there, nosirree. I mean, Ayrenn has broken with tradition in almost every possible way, continually cavorts with the beast races, has opened her race’s pristine homeland to outsiders, and is hardly ever there to see the effects of her choices on her people, but that’s no reason for any of the Altmer to resent her or have a problem with her new ideas, right?
6. The Psijic Order originally formed over religious differences.
Waaaay back in the beginning, Aldmeri society was egalitarian, and all ancestor spirits were worshiped equally. But as they sorted into a more class-based structure (scholars above laborers, etc.), their religion shifted as well, until only the ancestors of the most elite houses were venerated as gods – those are the deities now represented in the Aldmeri Aedric pantheon. (Auri-el, Magnus, etc.)
Some Aldmeri scholars were not okay with this change, believing instead the Aedra are merely very powerful spirits, not gods. So they left to go form their own cult, as Veloth would, centuries later. They established their base/school on the island of Artaeum, and call their practices “the Old Ways” or “Elder Ways”.
The term “psijic” is actually a corruption of their proper name PSJJJJ, which is unpronounceable. The concept of PSJJJJ is a linchpin of the Psijic’s beliefs and philosophy, and understanding the layers of its meaning can take an Order member a lifetime of study. PSJJJJ concerns the nature of change, which the Order considers the most sacred of the Eleven Forces. Understanding the difference between good change and bad change is a core component of their meditations. (Me too, Psijics, me too.)
Psijic magic is somewhat different from other magic practiced on Tamriel, and is often referred to as “mysticism”, implying it might be the precursor to the Mysticism school of magic we’ve used in the solo games. And yet, despite my hopes and prayers, the new Psijic skill line does not contain a Detect Life spell to help me avoid guards. ::sighs wistfully::
The Psijics are powerful, but incredibly insular – even more so than the Altmer, which is a high bar. Their desire to isolate themselves is usually only surmounted by their desire to give advice – accounts describe them showing up via projections, or in person, to counsel Tamriel’s leaders. This is the practical application of their function as agents of “good” change. When not dispensing advice, they and their island retreat of Artaeum are usually inaccessible.
And not merely “inaccessible” as “we put up a ward, dare ya to get through”, no, no. In the most introvert move ever, they picked up the whole island and took it to a different plane of reality, removing it from Nirn entirely. Now there’s a spell I wouldn’t mind learning, but sadly, it is also not on the new skill list. They still keep an eye on things – can’t mysteriously show up to give a leader advice if you don’t know who’s in charge or what’s going on. But they’re very much a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” group.
The island disappeared at the beginning of the Second Era, and ESO is set early-ish in the Second Era, so it has disappeared within the lifetimes of the older elves. Future books of history say the island was gone for about 500 years; I believe I’ve seen references to it being gone for about 300 in the ESO world, so that’s the approximate time frame.
7. All the cool kids have studied with the Psijics on Artaeum.
Like, everyone. Over the course of the Psijic quest-line, you’ll get to see some familiar faces.
Vanus Galerion founded the Mage’s Guild, and in ESO he is still the current Guildmaster. He created the Mage’s Guild because he was a student at Artaeum and didn’t agree that magical training should be kept only for the few; he believed it should be available to all. Founding the Mage’s Guild did not win him big points with his former associates, and if you do the Summerset precursor quest, he’ll tell you he needs to stay hands-off because his involvement in the affairs of Summerset and Artaeum will not be welcomed.
Vanus also left the Order because of a fight with Mannimarco, the King of Worms, instigator of the main plot troubles in ESO. He was a friend of Vanus’ and a fellow student at the Psijic College, but Vanus argued that Mannimarco’s studies into necromancy were leading to a bad end, and he was correct.
Divayth Fyr has also studied on Artaeum, as has Sotha Sil. When Divayth says in the Clockwork City quest-line that he studied with Sil and they were colleagues, he is probably referring to Artaeum.
8. Then there’s the Sload. Ugh.
The Sload have had dealings with the Maormer (sea elves) of the Summerset region, but on the whole, the Sload hate everyone and are equally happy to kill any of the other races. They are described as being “slug-like”, so I’m ready to kill them right back. The younger Sload are larvae, and the older ones grow so large they cannot support their own weight out of water. Put some salt in your pockets when you head to Summerset.
(Would that work, since they’re sea creatures? Hm. Better also bring a flamethrower.)
The Sload hail from the Coral Kingdom, or Thras, which we have never heard much about, as this region of Nirn is unexplored in the solo games. Despite our relative ignorance of the Sload and Coral Kingdom, they have been a strong force in Tamriel’s history. Back in the First Era (1E2220), the Sload released a disease called the Thrassian Plague, which killed more than half the population of Tamriel. In response, the allied races took a navy to Thras, killed every Sload they could find, and sunk the Coral Kingdom under the waves.
It was thought at that time that the Sload were extinct, but it appears not – the kingdom has risen anew, much to the consternation of the Altmer.
It stands to reason, however, that at least part of Thras, if not most of it, is still underwater. The coral reefs surrounding Summerset are a major part of the Altmer navel defenses, as are the shipwrecks that additionally imperil navel travel, but since the Sload live in the water, they are not at all intimidated by any that. The Sload consider Summerset part of their territory, so they’ve been at war with the Altmer pretty much as long as there have been Altmer.
I mentioned the Towers before when I said Summerset Isle was the home of the Crystal Tower; the Sload also have a Tower, the Coral Tower, but it is currently inactive. Still, the creation and empowering of a Tower is a mighty feat, and the fact they succeeded at all tells us their magic is not to be taken lightly.
I have always gotten a decidedly Lovecraftian vibe off the Sload, which I’m sure is intentional. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
9. The Altmer are also in contention with the Maormer, or Sea Elves.
One of the new motifs in Summerset will be the Pyandonea motif; Pyandonea is the name of the land of the Moarmer, an island to the south of Summerset. (Motif pages will be available from fishing, and as random drops from Crown Crates.)
If you’ve completed the Aldmeri Dominion quest-line, you’ve met the Maomer and seen their magic, which focuses on the sea, weather, and snakes. While the Maomer are a derivation of the high elves, they did not come from Summerset – their separation happened before the Aldmeri arrival on Summerset, back in the original homeland of Aldmeris.
The Maormer were exiled from Aldmeris to Pyandonea instead of settling there by choice – it is described as marshy and insect-infested. They have thoroughly adapted, however. Only one account of the land exists, given by a single Altmer warship that survived a battle near the shores of Pyandonea. The account tells of a “sea jungle” – mazes of vegetation over valleys of oceans, kelp that grabs and strangles all but Maomer ships, sea monsters that attack on their own or are ridden as mounts.
One interesting note – legend has it that the original Maomer exiles were led by a powerful Aldmeri nobleman named Orgnum… and rumors say Orgnum has led them into every battle since, despite the many centuries that have passed. In fact, the stories say he seems younger than he was, not older.
The Maormer have continually harried and attacked the isle of Summerset, but have never managed to claim it from the Altmer. A couple of texts make such a point of this that it makes me suspect there’s an underlying reason for the continued failure.
10. The fate of Aldmeris is a mystery.
As hinted above, it is generally believed the Aldmer originally came to Auridon and Summerset from the land of Aldmeris, and that Aldmeris is therefore the homeland of all elves. So where is Aldmeris?
Answer: No one knows; Aldmeris is the Atlantis of Nirn.
What happened to Aldmeris, where it is now, whether any survivors remain, or if it even actually existed at all is all unknown. Some say it was destroyed by the gods, some say it – like Artaeum – simply left Nirn. Some say it is entirely a myth, a jumbled collection of confusing racial memories from the Dawn and Mythic Eras, too chaotic for mortal minds. Other legends say elves still live there, but none who have attempted to find it have succeeded.
Tapestries in the Crystal Tower show Aldmeris as an endless city, with layers and layers built on top of each other, and no life (flora or fauna) is depicted except the Aldmer themselves. Knowing that TES is a sci-fi/fantasy setting with multiple dimensions and planes of existence, I’m suddenly wondering if Pelinal (who can be described as a time-traveling Cyborg from the future) could be better described as a replicant, à la Bladerunner.
But we’ll save my crazy theories for another day.
Summerset has so many interesting, unrevealed story possibilities; I’m excited to plunge in and explore more thoroughly. And if you haven’t been to the island yet, I really cannot overstate how beautiful it is; the devs outdid themselves. Five days and counting… Yay!
And because I’m me, here’s some references:
The Psijic Order: https://www.imperial-library.info/content/guide-psijic-order (Fantastic page, highly recommended.)
The Towers: http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/The_Towers (Pretty sure only 4 other people in the world care about the Towers as much as I do, and they’re probably all the old-school TES devs, but… it’s seriously cool, go take a look.)
Veloth: http://en.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:Veloth (Doing the research for this post was worth it if for no other reason than to learn how the Dunmer came to venerate Daedra.)
And both of the following pages are good resources for learning more about the Maormer: