It's Monday morning and I've had too much coffee, not enough sleep, and for neither the first nor the last time, Bethesda may or may not have just teased something about The Elder Scrolls 6. Here we go again!
This time, the tease in question is especially small: overnight after Xbox's big E3 showcase, someone trawled through Bethesda's new Starfield trailer, frame-by-frame, and found a tiny shape etched onto the interior of the spaceship - which they think looks like the location of The Elder Scrolls 6. Here's the image, with credit to u/Huhwtfbleh on reddit, who discovered it:
The suggestion is this little scratch looks awfully similar in shape to that of High Rock, Hammerfell and the Iliac Bay. Here's an image of the region Huhwtfbleh provided as a comparison:
Pretty similar! In context, this is miniscule by the way. Here's the full trailer where you can view it.
And here's a picture of the actual frame for reference - the little etching is about the size of the protagonist's thumbnail.
And finally, here's an image from another user in the thread, which they claim to have "AI upscaled".
It does look a bit like it, doesn't it? Annoyingly like it - and annoyingly not exactly like it. Exactly enough to get people wondering and exactly not enough for people to be certain. The perfect tease! The thing is though, like any good, conspiratorial fan theory, all of this is based on assumptions, and all of it could amount to nothing.
Let's quickly go back to the beginning. Bethesda announced The Elder Scrolls 6 with that famous reveal trailer we've all watched a thousand times by now, and from that trailer people landed on Hammerfell, or maybe High Rock, or both, as the most probable location. That's what I settled on, at least: after thinking far too hard about it I concluded in this overlong and wildly assumptive article about possible Elder Scrolls 6 locations that, if the trailer was intentionally depicting the actual location of the game, and if it actually depicted that location accurately, then it is almost certainly - but not certainly! - telling us the game will be set in Hammerfell, or both Hammerfell, High Rock and the surrounding area.
Then, in January this year, we got another tease. The Elder Scrolls' official Twitter account posted this conspicuously-candlelit map:
A lot of people assumed that was another tease of The Elder Scrolls 6: Hammerfell Or Something Similar, mainly due to the light plonked in the region of Hammerfell on the map, right underneath the word "Hammerfell".
I took a closer look at that theory too, and concluded that it could be a Hammerfell tease, sure, but could also be a tease of the then-upcoming Oblivion expansion to The Elder Scrolls Online. Feel free to read more on that possible Elder Scrolls 6 tease if you, too, have too much spare time - but the point again is Hammerfell. Maybe.
There are some other reasons for it: fans voted most likely to suffer death by drowning in lore are also quick to point out that Hammerfell is the only region with a still functioning "magic tower", which sounds ridiculous but follow me, for a moment.
The going theory among one group of fans, which has only grown in the time since The Elder Scrolls 6's reveal, is that the Thalmor - the "elven supremacist" governing council of the Aldmeri Dominion, who serve as a kind of meta-baddie across the backgrounds of the recent Elder Scrolls games - are out to deactivate or destroy all of the eight magical towers in Nirn, the planet where The Elder Scrolls takes place.
Very broadly speaking, this is because the Thalmor's main goal is to bring about the end of the age of humans and replace it with a return to another age of elves (a Merithic Era, if we're being precise) - and it's suggested somewhere deep in Elder Scrolls lore that deactivating the towers in question is what brings that about. At this point, fans then point to the fact that by the fourth era, the one when the most recent Elder Scrolls games take place, most of the towers are listed as deactivated or destroyed in the lore, while the remaining ones - the White-Gold tower of Cyrodiil and Throat of the World in Skyrim - seem to be inactive around the time of The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim's events respectively. That means that there's just one left, Ada-Mantia, or the Adamantine Tower, and that's located - you guessed it! - slap bang in the middle of the Iliac Bay.
The conclusion, then, is that this theory about the Thalmor's anti-tower plans all points to The Elder Scrolls 6 taking place around that bay, which sits between the land masses of High Rock and Hammerfell. The Adamantine Tower is the first and original tower, the one where it all began, and the consequences of the Thalmor's plans are the biggest and most climactic of all - where better to tie up their big, multi-game story?
But, there's a problem: the theory isn't actually sourced from official lore at all. In fact, as one fantastic thread by u/NientedeNada on hardcore Elder Scrolls lore subreddit, r/teslore, explains, the theory's popularity and momentum seems to have largely come from an unsourced Elder Scrolls Wiki page. The reality is that page - which has since been corrected - cited an unlicensed book by Michael Kirkbride, a former Elder Scrolls writer at Bethesda, as its source for the Thalmor-and-towers theory.
The text in question is The Altmeri Commentary on Talos - and that doesn't mention the towers at all, NientedeNada explains. Only things like removing "Man not just from the world, but from the Pattern of Possibility" - which is more of a "general goal" kind of thing that's then been inferred as a reference to destroying the towers. (If all this wiki-historian drama has piqued your interest then please do take a look at the enjoyable, semi-tongue-in-cheek villainy of that original wiki author's "and I'd do it all again!" post made in response).
Anyway! Back to that little fingernail-sized scratch in the Starfield trailer. Does it look like the Iliac bay of Hammerfell and High Rock? Well, if you assumed the trailer was showing Hammerfell and/or High Rock, which helped to let you assume the tweet was pointing to Hammerfell, and that the lore of Nirn's Towers is indeed pointing to a big Thalmor climax at Iliac Bay, then this probably does look like a little drawing of that bay. In fact it looks almost exactly like it.
But this is the problem. The original trailer might be a very good clue pointing to the region, or it might be a mockup made without that much thought. The tweet might be a clue, or it might be pointing to something completely different in The Elder Scrolls Online. And the fan theory about the towers might be spot on, or it might be just a fan theory and nothing more. The more you accept one possibility as fact, the more likely the others seem.
Personally, though: that little scratch does look an awful lot like Iliac Bay.