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To this day, the Dwemer, or “Deep-Elves”, are the most technologically sophisticated race of mortals to ever grace Tamriel. Their ingenious inventions and deep understanding of the world around them, made the other races of Men and Mer look like primitive apes in comparison. At the height of their evolution the Dwemer occupied laboratories and strongholds stretching the continent, from High Rock to Hammerfell, from Skyrim to their home in Morrowind. Dwemer were one of the most wide-spread races in Tamriel, yet they were hard to come by. Theirs was empire that did not need Ruby Thrones or White Gold Towers. Instead, they toiled away in the bowels of Nirn, researching, crafting, and defining themselves by their works, not their gods.
Religion & Technology
While the other races Men and Elves slaughtered each other above ground, proclaiming the power of this god and that, the Dwemer abstained from such irrational thinking. They mocked the Daedra, the Aedra and their so-called “Divines”. The Deep-Elves believed that if they equipped themselves with reason and logic, then they could acquire powers that could equal, and even rival the gods.
In their underground cities, the Dwemer studied alchemy and perfected the art metalworking. Forget what you know about the skill of the Orcish blacksmith, or the sturdiness of Nordic steel. Centuries before Man and Beast knew proper smithing, Dwemer engineers had already cracked the code. To this day the modern races of Tamriel still have not uncovered the secret behind their metal. Sure, the Dwemer make a good suit of armor, but their true technological genius lies elsewhere.
In the lava of Red Mountain, the Dwemer learned to harvest the power fire itself. Their mastery of steam power allowed them to create airships, sentient machines, and mechanical observatories. Even today, few adventurers dare brave the ancient Dwemer ruins because they are, quite literally, crawling with Dwemer security. Dwemer spiders, mechanical spheres, and mighty centurions still patrol the corridors of Dwemer cities, even though it has been millena since their master’s disappearance. Build to last, indeed.
You see, the Dwemer were somewhat comforted by their ability to animate lifeless metal into sentient machines. The mere act of breathing life into an inorganic object defied the gods, and their power over life and death. You can think of Dwemer creations as a sort of living testimony to their belief and culture. It was this culture of logic and reason that allowed their technological capabilities to accelerate well ahead of any other race.
Appearance & Architecture
When comparing the Dwemer to the other races of Tamriel, don’t let common misconceptions cloud your judgement. Men call the Dwemer by their western name, “Dwarves”. This has led to the false belief that a Dwemer has the height appearance of a child. Simply by looking at a Dwemer suit of armor you will see that this is not in fact the case. These “Dwarves” were no shorter than the other humanoid races.
Biologically, the thing that really sets these Deep-Elves apart from everyone else is their ability to telepathically communicate with each other. The other race on Tamriel known to possess a similar ability are the Hists of Black Marsh. This mental communication benefited the race greatly seeing as it worked even across vast distances in their underground environment.
A Brief History
Like all Tamrielic elves, the story of the Dwemer starts when the Aldmer allegedly left Aldmeris to settle in the Summerset Isles. Unlike the Dark Elves, we don’t really know how the Dwemer ended up splitting off from their fellow elves; however we assume the division happened quite early on considering Dwemer society bares few correlations with the Altmer. Although they are a race of Elves, the Dwemer ended up very different from their other elven cousins.
What we do know is that the Dwemer would soon find themselves on the coasts of Morrowind, where they founded the city of Dwemereth- a city to call their home. Their newfound isolation wouldn’t last forever. The Dwemer people soon found themselves looking at familiar faces, when the Chimer Elves came to occupy their already occupied territory. The Chimer were a newly formed splinter group of the Altmer, who wished to freely worship their Daedric gods. Naturally the Dwemer scorned and mocked them. Over the coming centuries the Dwemer would clash with the Chimer in disputes over land, resources, and of course- religion.
While the Chimer and Dwemer squabbled over Morrowind, the Falmer of Skyrim, also known as Snow Elves, were losing a bloody battle with human settlers who would later call themselves the Nords. Facing extinction, the remaining Falmer turned to the Dwemer for help. Some believed that the Dwemer would help the Snow Elves fight off the Atmorans to avenge their fallen and help reclaim their land. This would not be so, and when the Snow Elves came to the Dwemer for help, the Dwemer made a deal with the Snow Elves for their protection, but it was trap; the Dwemer blinded them by giving them a toxic fungi native to Blackreach. A generation later the Dwemer had their very own slaves.
Back in Morrowind, clashes with the Chimer continued. The cultural differences between the Dwemer and the Chimer proved too great to ignore. Dwarven culture was agnostic and preferred reason over faith, while on the other hand, the Chimer were staunch Daedra-worshippers. It seemed all out war was inevitable, but the Dwemer and Chimer would soon find themselves in an unlikely alliance. When Nordic warriors invaded Morrowind in the 1st Era, the elves set aside their differences to face their common enemy united. The result, was the formation of the First Council- a governing group that comprized of both Chimer and Dwemer.
The First Council succeeded in repelling the Nordic invaders, and the Elves drove the race of Men out of Morrowind. After 16 years of war, the Chimer and Dwemer found peace which brought an unprecedented prosperity for both groups. A Golden Age, but not for everyone.
A clan of rebellious Dwemer refused to join the First Council. They did not trust the Daedra loving Chimer, and instead chose exile. According to legend their leader hurled the great hammer Volendrung towards the setting sun and vowed to settle wherever it landed. The Dwemer named the land “Volenfell,” which later was translated to “Hammerfell”.
Meanwhile, below the snow-covered landscape of Skyrim, the Falmer were instigating a rebellion of their own. After generations of enslavement, the Snow Elves sought to put their Dwemer masters to the sword. It is the ultimate fate of all slaves and their masters. The War of the Crag was a tireless conflict that was waged in the deep Dwarven cities. The Nords living on the surface above carried on with their lives completely oblivious of the blood being spilled beneath them. This war would last decades, until one day when the Falmer would charge the front lines only to find empty suits of armor. The race of the Dwemer was no more. Gone for reasons unknown.
At that same time, in the neighboring province of Morrowind, the Dwemer and Chimer were spilling each others blood at the Battle of Red Mountain. The First Council, who had brought the elves peace and prosperity for so many centuries, was broken. At this time, the High Engineer of the Dwemer was a brilliant mind named Kagrenac. Kagrenac sought to harness the power of the gods themselves by using the fabled Heart of Lorkhan, which the Dwemer had discovered buried in Red Mountain. With the Heart, Kagrenac believed the Dwemer were ready to ascend to godhood in the form of Numidium.
Numidium was the brass god of the Dwemer. A gigantic golem of incredible power. It is thought that Kagrenac wished to use the Heart of Lorkhan to aid his people in ascension, making the Dwemer one with their greatest creation. A union of life-energy and steel, the strengths of both, the weakness of neither.
When the Chimer found out about Kagrenac’s plan, they considered his aim blasphemous and sought to stop the Dwemer.
What happened next has left Tamriel without answers. In an instant, the Dwemer race- with all it’s rich culture and brilliance, was gone. An entire people wiped from the tapestry of existence. We may never know what really happened on that fateful day, but some scholars say they might have answers. Dwemer ruins found in Mournhold help shed some light on the subject. Piles of weapons and armor scatter the floors of the once great Dwemer stronghold, and in them lie piles of ashes, thus suggesting the Deep-Elves were turned to ash at the moment of their disappearance.
In Skyrim, researcher at the College of Winterhold attempted to recreate the circumstances of the Dwemer’s disappearance after obtaining one of Kagrenac’s Tools, but vanished suddenly in the process, thus strengthening the theory that Kagrenac caused of the disappearance of his race.
Regardless of how it happened, the fact remains, the time of the Dwemer had passed- and while the Falmer still exist in Skyrim, they too are but a shadow of their former selves. In their place, a race of Men will rise. Their people strong, their resolve- unwavering. The Elves had banished them from Tamriel once before, but they were managing a comeback. Soon, their Empire would stretch from east to west. But that, is a story for another day.