The Orrery of Firsthold
It responded to the Last Song of the Dwemer with a countdown in years, leading to the year 5E911.
It saw nothing in the star.
<Jubal sits alone in his painted Provincial House, near the Waiting Door of his fallen allies. Jenua stands frozen, reaching for something unseen.
His eyes cannot open and this is all he sees. Everything is still, save the Door.
The Door which he did not paint stands cracked but a millimeter, the locks spinning as they attempt to close the door, before a strange man slams it shut, barring Jubal's passage>
"Friend of the Fourth Tourbillon and Lover, I greet you formally in this un-time".
"But I am dead and- holy guar shit you have no legs… I know that feeling".
"I have walked every path and every way," replied Sotha Sil, "and have left my legs on the threshold of every door so that others may walk on them."
"Well that seems… why?"
"Not because I wish to, because I have to. This happens because it must happen, a result of action and consequence".
"Makes perfect sense. Who are you?"
"The Mainspring, Ever-Wound. Names have no meaning, for words are but the wire and string props of logic that separate us. Self means nothing".
"Nice, why are we talking if I'm dead?"
"My motive is what it is, yet does not achieve. Your motive is what you are, and yet might achieve. Tell me, how did you die? …Perhaps it would help to show yourself more than to show me. Paint, young Lover, and find yourself, Redemption".
<Nymaril stands transfixed, looking at the Tower of Defiance.>
"I know what I need to do now. I am the Regret of Lorkhan, Jubal, I am his failure.. Do you know why Tamriel is called the Arena??? It was made for this existence, this suffering. We were made for disease, war, famine, and slaughter. WE were MADE to DIE… so that the strongest may live on".
"Nymaril… There is beauty in the world… A strange man helped me to find that my Love for the Mundus is what drives me-"
"This world has beauty now, in the image of The Lady herself, sacrificial dog on the throne of woes that is our existence. Yet do not mistake me, Jubal Moon-and-Star, I say all of this to praise the Void Ghost, for what is limit but free will? What is self without borders? …Do what I could not, and Redeem man's king. Be the Redemption I could not".
<He goes deep below the Tower, puts his hand to the wall, feeling the memories of all that have died, and then strengthens it. He pulls from a pouch the only trinket he carried from years long past, the Definite Acorn, and slowly dismantles his own bones to form of them a Mundus-machine that mirrored existence. His body dissolves as his soul looks to Jubal, the daedric tattoos gone and tears down his cheeks, before he is discorporated and the Tower explodes with perfect unity, the tower coated with shimmering golden lore of the Ayelids, their last memory, their story ended.>
Since the dawn of recorded history, the altmer have organized themselves into tribal factions known as "kinships". These are the massive extended families of the altmer, who can trace their relations back to the dawn era.
The concept of a Kinship is similar, but ultimately incompatible, with the Imperial concepts of aristocracy, nation-states, and familial clans. There's a definite hierarchy within a Kinship, but it's more familial than feudal. The fact that a fishermer can come from the same family as a wizard or warlord leads to a unique dynamic within the Kinships.
In general, an altmer king (or "Kinlord") will treat the smallfolk of his Kinship as younger siblings, children in need of guidance and enlightenment. While the imperial system of patronage is based on this idea, the altmer take it literally. When a kinlord is cruel, he is akin to a strict, abusive parent. When he's kind, he is a wise, loving grandfather. No matter the situation, a sleight against a member of the Kinship, be they a servant or a king, is seen as a sleight against the Kinship itself, and is met with swift, and often violent retribution. This led to serious misunderstandings In the early days of The Occupation.
The concept of family has an almost religious reverence in Altmeri culture. In fact, as altmer worship their ancestors, the two are inseperable. While altmer are far more secular than their dunmeri cousins, their obsession with family hasn't waned in the slightest. The altmer place little distinction between the nuclear family and that of the Kinship.
There are hundreds of kinships, each controlling an area of land centered around a palace known as a "Kinhouse". The Kinhouse can refer to the physical house itself, as well as the nearby land surrounding it. The total land controlled by a Kinship is a Kinhold. Most altmer are insular, and prefer to isolate themselves from other Kinships. If not for the Varlines providing instant transport, few would venture beyond their homesteads at all. The major city-states of the Altmer are merely the largest Kinholds, ruled over by whichever Kinship claims the land at the time.
Altmer have often been accused of materialism, and nowhere is this better displayed than within a Kinhouse. Herein lies the collected glories of an entire ethnic group. Priceless artifacts, animated paintings, and jewel-encrusted pottery abound. The altmer freely flaunt their own extravagence, almost daring their rivals to strike against them. Regardless of a kinlord's personal taste in finery, he will make sure his people's house is adorned with the best, even if it means raiding rival houses.
Imperial scholars confuse this decadent behavior for selfishness and greed, but to an altmer, it is Honorable to compete against another house, and brazen displays of wealth and material are a form of passive-aggressive warfare. In better times, lords would often send their retainers on adventures to gather rare and priceless items, often in the posession of rival lords. With the Empire on the brink of collapse, however, most lords have little time for such frivolities.
Outlanders, and altmer from different kinships, are generally unwelcome within the Kinhouse-proper. Altmer, as a general rule, look down on other races of mer, view non-mer as intelligent animals, and view other kinships as rivals. Entering another clan's home is met with suspicion at best, and violence at worst. In contrast to the palatial estates of breton and imperial nobility, the Kinhouse is seen as a collective home for the Kinship. The lower levels are often used as lodging for the kin, and kin visiting, or living on their homstead are expected to use them. A portion of a kin's wealth is donated to the Kinhouse treasury, which is then distributed among the people based on their needs.
Technically these aren't taxes. They're not mandatory and there's no rule on how much a mer should give. However, it is Honorable to provide for your kin, and each altmer is expected to give what they can based on their income. Anything less is shameful, and many a mer has been ousted for avarice, their property seized and given to the clan.
As a result, the concept of begging is virtually unheard of in altmeri society, save for the contemptable ousters who stalk the streets of Imperial cities and charter towns. Every mer has a basic standard of living, a place to sleep, and food to eat. At the same time, a true altmer would never shame himself or his clan by asking for something he hasn't earned. If an altmer has lived an Honorable life and falls ill or lame, then it's Honorable and Expected to accept aid, living within the Kinhouse and working only as much as she can.
If a mer, for whatever reason, feels they have not earned the right to ask for aid, they would rather starve themselves or die of exposure. In the snowy mountains surrounding Eton Nir, it's not uncommon to find the frozen husks of mer, kneeling in a meditative pose as they allow themselves to return to the Dreamsleeve.
This concept of Honorable Etiquette pervades altmeri culture. There are Expectations placed upon you by your Kinship, and they take priority over everything else.
Kinhouses are almost always built around major nodes of the Varlines: magical lines of power that circumpenetrate the land. Made of meteoric glass and embedded in the earth itself, the Varlines provide power, communication, and transportation for the entire nation. Altmeri society is inseperably linked to the Varlines, and their entire way of life is dependent on them.
Thanks to the Varlines, the altmer need not concern themselves with petty labor and peasant work. Strange, possibly daedric, creatures are enthralled by the Varlines to obey their altmer masters. Aquiferi keep the land fertile by controlling the groundwater, and discarnates construct buildings and monuments according to the altmers' exacting specifications. It's possible this decadence led the prophet Veloth to lead his people out of Summerset, to test themselves in the lands beyond. The smallfolk of the altmer do not till the land, nor do they sweat in the sun's warmth. They typically work as clerks, servants, or tradsmer, while others directly supervise and attend to the discarnates and aquiferi. This reliance on the Varlines is both the altmer's greatest strength and greatest weakness.
Most permanent settlements are built around a major or minor node of the Varlines, affectionately called a "Starwell". These wells take the form of cylindric cores of meteoric glass embedded unfathomably deep within the earth. They're typically surrounded by circular structures of marble, malachite, and meteoric iron. These structures are designed to extract excess magicka from the lines, "giving it back" to Aetherius as a symbolic gesture. When one breathes deeply into a Starwell, she becomes energized, and mentally invigorated.
In Cyrodiil, the Starwells function differently, drawing magicka directly from the stars, and can only be used once per day. In Summerset, the magic is self-sustaining, and the community "bathes" in its Light throughout the day. However, overuse of a Starwell can lead to out-of-body experiences, hallucinations, and unintentional astral-projection, so the natives have learned to use them in moderation.
The reverence given to a starwell cannot be overstated. They're often adorned with petrified insect wings or sea-shells, draped with sea-silk, and decorated by children with flamboyant, swirling graffiti. The altmer view their Starwell with warmth and affection, somewhere between an abstract god and a beloved pet. Most festivals, markets and local events are centered around the local Starwell, and children often feel compelled to dance around it playfully.
Starwells are both jealously guarded and openly shared between Kinships. It's common knowledge that altmer from different clans distrust one another, but individuals are welcome to bathe in a Starwell's Sacred Light. No altmer would dare cause harm to a Starwell, but skirmishes are often fought between kinships over their posession. The largest Starwells are surrounded by a Kinhouse, and form the foundation core of the palace.
Over many eons, the altmer have developed a physiological link to the Varlines and by extension, each other. It is Honorable and Expected for young altmer to commune with a Starwell when they come of age. This ritual is poorly understood, but the altmer believe they link themselves to the land, the Varlines, and the United Altmer Nation through this holy communion.
Altmer are known to become extremely irrational at even the slightest sign of malfunction within the Varlines. It is unknown if this response is entirely cultural, or if there's some biological component, but many altmer grow ill, delirious, and even violent when they feel the Varlines are threatened.
The Prime-Node of the Varlines is Crystal-Like-Law. Also known as the "Crystal Tower", this impossibly tall structure gathers Light from the stars. The Varlines themselves were created much later, to spread this Light to the four corners of the land.
The Varline's Affect On Religion
The Varlines are often blamed for an evolution in altmer religious thought. While altmeri society began deeply religious, their reliance on high magic like the Varlines has made them much more secular. Where once one's personal ancestors were abandoned for the greater spirits of Syrabane, Trinimac, and Auri-El, many altmer have gone back to a simple, dispassionate form of ancestor-worship, focused more on the glories of one's kinfolk than any deep religious conviction. In general, they place their faith in their magic and engineering.
This image of the secular altmer has led many mer, particularly the dunmer, to view them as godless and materialistic. While this is certainly the case for many, a great deal of altmer consider themselves deeply religious, and continue to worship their greatest ancestors in massive, baroque cathedrals.
In altmeri culture, age is as much a state of mind as a measure of years passed. In the parlours and cantinas, political debate usually comes down to a divide between the old and the young. This divide defines altmeri political life, arguably moreso than the Kinships. It's worth noting that these mindsets are not absolute, nor are they uniform. Mer of the same Kinship may differ in their political affiliation, and many find themselves taking a moderate stance between the two.
The old guard of ancient aldmeri culture, The Elders are the perfect elven stereotypes. They're insular, xenophobic, culturally conservative, and generally want to be left alone. They harbor no desire for conquest, nor do they see the need to deal with the outside world unless it directly affects their home. The wizard-lords, the rural kinfolk, and most of the Kinlords have an Elder mindset.
Some of the elders were alive during the Reman Dynasty, and they believe they will be alive when the Septim Dynasty falls. They choose to accept the Empire by ignoring it. The follies of man are a passing thing, barely worth mention. A whale doesn't notice the barnacles on its back, nor the fish that clean its teeth. Still, both can be useful in their own way. The Elders recognize the Imperial Navy's role in keeping the maormer at bay, as well the redguards who once stalked their waters. While an Altmer marine is superior to an Imperial sailor, it's foolish to waste good mer on bad men. This simple fact is one of the few things keeping the peace within Summerset. If the Empire grows too weak to protect the Isle's waters, the situation could quickly change.
The Elder's see taxes as bribes to keep the Legions contained within their shoddy forts, and are content to pay them, so long as they can fullfill their Honorable Expectations.
Make no mistake, however: the Elders despise the Empire, perhaps more than the Youth. On principal alone, the concept of an animal claiming ownership of aldmeri land is nonsense. It's a paradox unto itself. In the Elder mindset, it didn't happen. The Empire has no legitimacy because it simply can't. But altmer are naturally intelligent, and they're well aware that an open revolt would decimate their home, with or without the Numidium at the Emperor's disposal.
The Elders, more than any other altmer, are driven by Honorable Expectations. Things like the law (imperial or the laws of other clans) can be ignored, but one's Honorable Etiquette must always be maintained. The most ancient Altmeri rituals and beliefs are incompatible with the modern world, both at home and abroad, but they're followed nontheless.
From an Imperial perspective, the rule of law is both fluid and convoluted in Elder lands. Imperial law is based on corruptions of altmer legal practices, further muddied by the draconian philosophy of Marukh. In traditional altmeri society, the law is entirely based around Honorable Expectations, and the Kinlord has final say in the interpretation of the law. In Imperial lands, actions that would be considered theft, vandalism, or even murder may be accepted in traditional altmer law based on seemingly irrelevant details and the judgement of the Kinlord.
Codes of conduct can very based on the time of day, the color of a rival's clothing, or even the angle at which the sun reflects off a nearby pond. Guards in Elder lands are required to arrest those who break the laws of man, but they are intentionally lax in their enforcement. In accordance with the Crystal Concordat (the treaty that ended the brief war with the Empire), a mer is sovereign within the physical walls of his Kinhouse, and imperial law has no power there. Technically, the physical Kinhouse is a state unto itself, and the Elders use this to their advantage.
In general, the Elder ways make sense in small communities that surround Kinhouses and wizard towers, but come into conflict with a globalized, modern world. This is the core conflict for the Elders. They think they can simply ignore the outside world, but the world is changing without them, and they may not be able to keep up.
Brash, ambitious, and often loutish, The Youth see themselves as revolutionaries, the engineers of a coming altmeri rennaisance. They believe the old ways failed them, that their rulers were unable to adapt to the world, and that this folly led to the collapse of their civilization. The very fact that Man could conquer Mer is evidence of the stagnation and decadence of their people, and The Youth seek a major course correction. The urban city-folk, the revered Artists, and even a few Kinlords are known to have a Youthful mindset.
At best, they seek to forge new bonds with other races, to make their people relevant once more, to place themselves in positions of power in anticipation of the Third Empire's collapse. At worst, they're violent terrorists, actively hostile to both the Empire and what they see as old, outdtated institutions.
The Youth are curious by nature.They're by far the most common altmer seen outside the Isles, and they spend decades as adventurers, nightblades, or mercenary-wizards, eager to learn from other cultures. They don't necessarily have any loyalty or admiration for the lesser races, but seek to understand what makes other cultures successful, and how to incorporate these aspects into their own.
Unlike The Elders, The Youth are driven by active measures to improve their relevence in the world. Altmeri culture is waning, their race no longer serves any vital purpose. The Youth simply can't reconcile this notion with their sense of self-worth, and are obsessed with proving themselves to the world. Their biggest issue, however, is how exactly they should achieve this. Many collaborate with the Empire, working as beaurocrats, agents, and even legionnaires. The Empire is based on altmeri culture,and is evidence of its worth to the world. These altmer seek to take back what's theirs, placing themselves in positions of power. Many Youth see Ocato as the defacto leader of their movement, but it's unclear if he shares their ideals. Their ultimate goal is to turn the Empire into a puppet-state for their ambitions, a platform to spread their light to the world. In their own way, they're loyal to the Empire as an insitution, if not the people who run it.
By contrast, many Youth seek to dismantle the Empire in its entirety. They're often militant and expansionistic, seeking to create a new Dominion or Ayleid Empire to protect their people. In the Niben heartland, many mer meet in secret, forming fraternities or tongs with the ultimate goal of reviving the Ayleid States. More often than not, these groups are less than serious, young folk arguing and boasting and making plans but never following through. Others are far more serious, and amidst the unrest in Cyrodiil, several riots have been violently quelled, as altmer demand one of their own be placed on the Ruby Throne. An especially violent sub-faction of The Youth, known as "The Beautiful", are disorganized cells of magical terrorists. By day, they're part of the Artistic Elite: creators of esoteric, magical, and often bizarre forms of art ill-understood by imperial scholars. By night, they turn these abstract creatons onto their enemies, liquifying beaurocrats with solid sound, using resonant spheres to topple monuments, and even creating golems in mockery of Numidium to smash charter towns. While the exact number of Beautiful operatives is unknown, many are members of a legitimate (if fringe) political tong known as The Thalmor. Whether this is a coincidence, or if one group is fronting the other, is unknown, but an alarming, increasing number of Youth are known to associate with this tong.