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Well, I was going to do a progress blog today, but then the site was down all morning. So I spent the time finishing this up instead. This is a general outline of the vague backstory I've had bobbing through my head as I've been creating all this cyborg stuff, written more or less from an in-universe perspective. Timeframe is intentionally left vague- prooobbbably sometime in the Fourth Era, but certainly well before the events of Skyrim when certain things apparently became common knowledge. Some terms are presented as obscure jargon because they're concepts the writer wouldn't have been familiar with. Is absolutely too long. No extra pictures ready, sorry.

 

 

A Commentary on the Solitude Letters 

(unsigned)


The Dwarves left many things behind when they vanished. Vast underground cities, incredible machines, unending mysteries. But it has become increasingly difficult to find their writings. The pressed fungal fiber sheets they used to create their paper proved to be the least durable remainders of their existence, and very few traces of it can be found left in their ruins in the modern era. We know that significant numbers of books and diagrams were looted immediately following the Dwarves' disappearance, but most of those original documents also succumbed to the passage of time and are now lost to us. We are left only with the results of contemporary scholarly studies of those documents, with conclusions that appear to be colored by those researchers' assumptions about the Dwemer and that cannot be verified without those original documents. The various chaotic periods in Tamriel's history have done their own additional damage. Much of the early research itself has been scattered and lost, or left behind and forgotten in odd corners when the scholars were called to more pressing concerns.

 

The latter appears to have happened to a particularly unique batch of documents found in a long-sealed chamber in Solitude, consisting of a set of letters received by some unknown Dwemer in the period shortly before the vanishing. The originals have been lost, but as they appeared to be in code a transcription was made onto what proved to be more durable sheets of parchment by a scribe who had taken it upon themselves to decipher them. They were unfortunately unsuccessful in this, as the coded passages switched freely between Dwarven, Aldmeri, Ayleid, Ancient Falmer, and an obscure Daedric script in apparent order of the sensitivity of the information contained within. The scribe was only able to translate the first three scripts, and had only gotten a third of the way through all of the documents when their work was inexplicably abandoned and locked away for centuries. It was rediscovered some years ago, but the translation was only recently able to be completed when the form of Daedric was identified. 

 

The letters provide a fascinating insight into Dwarven culture and technology at the end of their existence, but being only one half of a set of personal correspondence are also maddeningly incomplete. Many important details are taken by the author as a given and only generally alluded to, such as the names of the people involved and the location of the recipient. There are some passages that imply that the recipient was frequently visiting a Nord city, possibly even Solitude itself, which would serve to explain why the letters were found there. Their exact chronology is unclear, as no dates are given, but some of the topics discussed and the apparently abrupt cessation of the correspondence suggest that the letters run right up to the sudden extinction of the species. Their nature is also surprisingly gossipy, with the impression given that the more difficult codes were used to obscure complaints about particular persons more than to secure the technological secrets discussed. 

 

The implications of those technological secrets are surprising. Many of them concern the most enduring legacy of the Dwarves, their Automatons. But here we are hindered by the writer corresponding with a reader who already knew those secrets. Among the more enlightening elements are the many passages that refer to something called the 'Aetheric Body'. Taking all of the passages concerning this subject together it appears that the writer is referring to a semi-physical form of the soul that exists within living bodies but also, in some fashion which is never explained, simultaneously exists outside of the mortal plane. It is further implied that this Aetheric Body is the key to a physical body becoming animate, with one section written in response to a question posed by the recipient suggesting that a 'corrupted' form of it is responsible for most necromantic phenomena. The Dwarves appear to have found a way to harness this effect separate from the methods of the school of Conjuration, and to have even developed their understanding of the subject to the point where they could somehow create new Bodies from the inter-planar energies. A report on the progress of mass-production of the commonly known types of automatons, such as the Sphere and the Centurion, mentions this use of artificially created Aetheric Bodies to animate those constructs, but also contains an interesting aside on the limited adaptability and intelligence of these automatons compared to ones that use "live donors". The implications of this passage correlate in an interesting way with the rare reported sightings of unusual automatons that act in ways similar to known creatures, such as serpents or spriggans. Unfortunately the writer does not give more detail on the process involved in manipulating an Aetheric Body in this way, as it appears much of it was already known to the recipient. There are hints in one letter that the recipient was tasked with obtaining something important to the "treatment of the metal", possibly suggesting that the iconic Dwarven metal plays a key role, but too few references are made to the mechanics of the process to draw any conclusions.

 

The main topic of several of the letters appears to identify the writer as a member of a certain Dwarven clan concerned with automaton development, and connects this clan to an even rarer type of automaton. In them the writer discusses the progress of "the hybrid designs", which are stated to be something truly disturbing- a combination of automaton and flesh. The writer is in fact quite enthusiastic about the subject, commenting on how a "sustained restoration cantrip" kept the flesh in much better condition than previous attempts using methods that sound like a form of necromancy, and how the 'mind/body schism' allowed them to salvage subjects who proved to be difficult. The 'subjects' discussed consist of experiments on both dead and living bodies. Positive results are reported for both, although live subjects are stated to "take less prep work". The results of the experiments are dubbed 'cyborgs', for unknown reasons, and are stated to work by using the subject's Aetheric Body to animate construct limbs that replace the subject's natural limbs. The Aetheric Body is said to exist in its complete form regardless of the state of the physical body, and these cyborgs take advantage of this by placing an 'interface' between the physical body and the new limb which channels the Aetherial energies into the construct. The writer also states that the method of integrating the parts varies between experiments; in some cases the limb is physically removed and replaced, while in others it is 'phased' out. This apparently means that it is somehow transferred into the non-mortal plane that the Aetheric Body exists in, allowing the construct limb to be removed at will without permanent loss of the original limb. 

 

The writer shows particular interest in this second method, stating that it could easily be adapted to provide temporary replacements for Dwemer engaging in particularly dangerous work or even for those who have already sustained a limb injury, provided that it can be shown that injuries heal normally while phased. They also express interest in its possible use as a "novel form of restraints" for slaves and captives, mentioning that when the interface was placed onto a subject by itself the limb was effectively amputated; without the construct limb for the Aetheric Body to interact with the limb no longer had any existence within the mortal plane. 

 

The mind/body schism is mentioned again here, with the writer stating that the 'engrams', which appears to be Dwarven jargon for the memories and personality contained within the soul, were more difficult to remove from subjects whose heads had only been phased. There is a particularly obscure discussion about these engrams over the course of many letters, with references to 'biological matrices' and 'crystalline matrices' and the "wasteful methods" of something called "the Ideal Masters", the summation of which appears to be that the Dwarves also developed a way to separate these engrams from the Aetheric Body and then effectively swap them around between their experiments. Biological matrices appears to refer to the heads or sometimes simply the brains of the experimental subjects, removed from their bodies and somehow preserved, while crystalline matrices clearly refers to soul gems and the like, which the engrams are transferred or apparently copied over to. This latter suggestion is quite startling, but the writer does state in one passage that all they needed was "one good, dependable mind and an army of solid bodies" to fulfill the original goal of the experiments. 

 

The nature of that goal is a bit clouded in references to internal Dwarven issues that have been fogged by time, and judging by the writer's complaints had become even more clouded by the actions of the clan's Head. Piecing together the narrative, it appears that the clan was somewhat of an aberration in Dwemer culture. The Clan Head and most of their immediate family were professed devotees of the 'Spirit of Aesthetics', as the Dwemer sometimes referred to the Aedric Goddess Dibella, but like many modern Dibellans focused their attentions on a more physical appreciation of beauty. However, unlike most modern Dibellans (one hopes), this was paired with the Dwarves' unrestrained amorality and disregard for other races. They had apparently spent some time dabbling in research on the most rare type of automaton: the so-called 'sexbot', a mimicry of the female form created for carnal purposes. Legends and barely-credible reports of sightings of these creatures have persisted in Skyrim for centuries; sometimes a fully-mechanical 'doll', sometimes an automaton with some kind of artificial flesh, sometimes even the kind of human/automaton cyborg described in these letters. While the occasional suspected fake has been presented to scholars by various disreputable adventurers, a genuine and preferably living research sample has never been reported. Which isn't to say that none have ever been obtained; it's entirely within the realm of the possible that several have been over the years, and that the people who've acquired them have kept it to themselves. Sadly this is an entirely too frequent occurrence in Tamrielic scholarship, particularly in subjects such as this. Regardless, these letters are the first clear evidence that they did, in fact exist. In them the writer states that they were not initially created by their clan, but rather by three earlier developers referred to only as V--, E--, and N--, and that their Clan Head took up the research later on after developing an interest in the idea and started to combine that earlier work into one "coherent production method". This development would have continued in the obvious direction, had not a war started.

 

It is not entirely clear what war the writer is referring to. The time period of the letters can be pinned down by their references to "the Mad Architect of the East" and his "Hybrid God", clear allusions to Lord Kagrenac, the Chief Tonal Architect of the Dwarves at Red Mountain, and placing them during the development of the god-construct Numidium. In fact the writer at one point disparages this "Mad Architect" for effectively duplicating their work on combining automatons and natural bodies, which honestly seems like a bit of a stretch on their part. However while it's known that the Central Dwarven clans of Skyrim had little involvement in that final battle, it has not been known if they intentionally failed to participate, or if they were distracted by other matters. These letters lend weight to the latter theory, with the writer stating that a group they call the 'Blind Slaves' had risen in revolt throughout the Dwemer cities of Skyrim, and that the Dwarves had been having an unexpectedly difficult time in driving them back. The letters never explicitly state who or what these Blind Slaves are, but the passages about them do correlate with and possibly confirm the connection between two enduring mysteries in Skyrim: the fate of the Snow Elves, and the nature of the 'sightless goblins' that have been increasingly reported in Dwarven ruins in recent years.

 

The histories state that the last of the Snow Elves were 'driven out' of Skyrim circa 1E 221, but a legend has persisted that they fled into the cities of the Dwarves. These letters make no specific references to that event, but they do note that the Blind Slaves had been "taken in" centuries before after they "failed on the surface". They also suggest that these people were initially neither blind nor slaves, but were mutilated and forced into servitude by "short-sighted fools who wanted to hide their secrets". The writer does not bemoan this group's fate out of compassion, however. They complain instead about the loss of "perfectly good materials" and how the process used to blind this group in its entirety had caused a progressive degradation in subsequent generations that was turning them into "scrawny, clammy cannibals whose engrams couldn't fill a half-sized crystal", a description which would seem to align them with the creatures that have been sighted in the modern day. It does not conclusively connect the two, but it is a compelling avenue for investigation.

 

Regardless of their origin, the revolt of these slaves changed the nature of the sexbot project. The Dwarves gained an enemy in the heart of their works and lost a huge percentage of their workforce all at the same time. The cyborgs were thought to be a potential solution to both problems; captured Blind Slaves could serve as raw materials for loyal cyborg soldiers and workers. Increased support was given to the project's development, but it immediately stumbled over the problem of the slaves' degradation. The nature of their souls and Aetheric Bodies had changed to the extent that they were no longer 'compatible' with the equipment and 'dependable engrams' that had been developed, and too few of the un-degraded generations remained to form any kind of fighting force out of. The Dwarves were left to look for new sources of materials, and they turned to the surface. The writer states that many of their experimental subjects were bandits, villagers, and wanderers who "went missing" from the surface during this period, including many Nords, some Alessians up from the south, a handful of presumed Bretons out of the Reach, and a scattering of the other Elven races, including one "Aldmeri orphan" described as the Clan Head's favorite. Plans are even mentioned for making use of the beast races, although it's not stated if any were ever acquired. It's also made clear that one of the recipient's duties was to scout out the Nordic cities as further sources of new bodies, and that if the "production line issues" were ever resolved the Dwarves intended to conduct an open raid to obtain them. 

 

Fortunately for the Nords of Skyrim those plans were delayed for years by the Clan Head's predilections. The clan had made relatively little use of the Blind Slaves once they started becoming aesthetically unpleasant, and the few that were within their territory were quickly subdued by the existing experimental cyborgs shortly after the start of the revolt, which was the event that attracted the attention of the other clans and transformed their interest in the project. The Clan Head, however, never really changed their outlook. Their stronghold was in a relatively isolated area with no Blind Slave activity around it, so they felt little of the urgency of those who were bearing the brunt of the fighting. They were happy to take the additional resources provided by the other clans and expand the project, but they still continued to basically treat all of the experimental subjects as their own playthings. And worst of all, in the eyes of the writer, they dragged their feet on expanding the project. From the writer's telling, since the project evolved from the earlier sexbot automatons, the 'production line' and all of the developed constructs were only tuned to handle "female or sufficiently compatible" Aetheric Bodies. The Aetheric Body of the average male was different enough to cause 'destructive interference' when equipped with the existing constructs, requiring whole new sets to be made for them... and the Clan Head, with their personal interpretation of the Spirit of Aesthetics, had little interest in doing so. 

 

In the later letters the writer complains about the project languishing in this state. They state that the main 'female production line' is basically functional and could begin turning out soldiers at a decent enough pace, but they fear that the other clans would begin withdrawing their support if they concluded that the clan head had turned the war into an opportunity to build a harem. But they also note that they're not alone in their frustration, and that one of the Clan Head's heirs had taken an interest in pursuing a slightly different path. During the development of the cyborg bodies a small side-line of fully mechanical automaton bodies that could mount a preserved humanoid head were created, alongside the replacement heads for the humanoid bodies containing a mind within a crystal matrix. There was a thought, according to the writer, that this could serve as a "force multiplier" by effectively doubling the number of soldiers/workers they could get out of one humanoid, but it faced issues with the difficulties in getting dependable engrams out of random abductees, along with the Clan Head's general disinterest in projects with that little "usable flesh".

 

The Heir, however, saw the potential for getting some genuine warriors out of it. They had been concerned about the potential for the planned raids to simply open the Dwarves up to a multi-front war, turning all of the Nords and Nedes against them even as the conflict with the Chimer was brewing in the east and the Blind Slaves were chewing at the edges of their cities. But they could not deny that a properly raised cyborg was an effective soldier; every bit as flexible and adaptive as the humans they used to be, without the limited attack patterns of the traditional Dwarven automatons which the Blind Slaves had long since learned to overcome even with their primitive weapons. What the Heir realized, according to the writer, was that with the successes they'd had in duplicating humanoid Atheric Bodies and mental engrams they didn't actually need to capture masses of raw materials anymore. They could simply take the most dependable ones, or even less dependable ones given the development of proper "control methods", and duplicate them "until the patterns run thin" to build an army. So the Heir and many who thought like him split from the main clan, taking along the biological matrices of several of the Heir's favorites- dubbed the "War Maidens" by the writer- along with plans for the Aetheric duplicators and what are stated to be a new array of 'modular' automaton bodies, although the term is never explained. 

 

In what is likely the final letter the writer states that the Heir's group had very quickly established a 'production facility' and had begun finalizing their designs and readying them for the field. The designs are stated to all still be female, because the Heir is "still a Dibellan at heart". The Clan Head still hadn't done much to advance the state of the original project, but they had 'licensed' the design of the existing 'production line' out to some other clans who'd decided to risk making some raids for materials, and that there might be some effects on the recipient's travels due to that at some point in the future. "If we can wait for the future," the writer remarks, "given what's going on out in the East." Their concern turned out to be justified, but probably not in the way they were expecting.

 

In the 700th year of the First Era, following the Battle of Red Mountain, every Dwemer on the face of Nirn disappeared. Every trace of their flesh vanished. Not even the bones of their dead have been left behind. Only the stray ghost- an Aetheric Body cloaked in ectoplasm, if the theories stated in these letters are to be believed- wanders the halls of their ruins, and almost all of those are found in the East. Their ruins in Skyrim see only those 'sightless goblins' -presumably the Blind Slaves, who found their war surprisingly easily won- and the seemingly endless supply of their automatons, still functioning thousands of years later as if their masters just left yesterday. But what happened to their cyborgs? What happened to their new human-like automatons? Few to no sightings that would seem to correspond with what is described in these letters have been reported. The locations of these 'production facilities' are never stated in the letters and remain unknown to us. They are only vaguely alluded to in the last letter, which states only that they are "operating behind the Nords' backs and under their noses", which could mean nearly anything. Are they in some ruin that has yet to be found? Behind one of the solidly-shut brass doors that dot the landscape? Buried in the collapsed sections of some known and well-explored ruin? Are some of these 'experimental subjects' perhaps still running around in some deep cavern with the minds of human and elven women thousands of years old stuck inside of them? What even happens to a mind that's been forced to endure that? Or have they by some mercy- perhaps from the Goddess who inspired their creation- been sleeping all this time, waiting for the right chance to wake up? 

 

What will we do if we find these answers?
 

 

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I read the title and honestly expected a dwemer cannon instead of the pc's head. 

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