The official The Elder Scrolls Twitter account has tweeted something.
Is it a tease? Is it a clue? Is it a reference to another mobile game and/or Elder Scrolls Online expansion? Who can really say. Anybody who tells you they know for sure is probably lying, but that doesn't mean we can't have a bit of fun going down the rabbit hole, does it?
And we certainly wouldn't be the only ones, because what a rabbit hole this one's turned out to be.
Let's start at the beginning. The tweet in question is this, posted at 4pm on New Year's Eve:
Transcribe the past and map the future. 📖— The Elder Scrolls (@ElderScrolls) December 31, 2020
Here's to a Happy New Year!🕯 pic.twitter.com/bL44CzLDIE
It reads: Transcribe the past and map the future. [Book Emoji]. Here's to a Happy New Year! [Candle Emoji]. The image attached is a picture of the seemingly standard map of Skyrim, with three conspicuously-positioned candles, some wood, some rock, some fern branches, and a cluster of curious-looking coins on top of what appears to be a leather-bound book.
Cryptic! And, to most fans, a big old tease of what to expect from The Elder Scrolls 6. The vast majority of responses take it to mean one thing and one thing only: the next Elder Scrolls game will be set in Hammerfell.
If it wasn't clear before, it's pretty clear now.— Michael (@LegacyKillaHD) January 5, 2021
The Elder Scrolls VI will be set in Hammerfell.
Nice little tease from Bethesda. 👀 https://t.co/sBo5M5gltP
It certainly looks that way, on the surface. One of the three candles is plonked right under the word "Hammerfell", after all, and the Redguard homeland has been seen as the mostly likely setting for some time - we wrote about it extensively (and maybe just a tiny bit over-enthusiastically) back in 2018 after the initial teaser, concluding that Hammerfell is by far the most likely location for The Elder Scrolls 6 going by the available options, and all the info we have so far.
There's also more than just the candle pointing to it. As YouTuber Camelworks points out, the map is actually cropped here - parts of Skyrim, such as Riften, are out of shot entirely. Beyond that, the other surrounding provinces - High Rock to the west, Cyrodiil to the south-east, and Morrowind to the east - are all obscured. Compare it to the usual hand-drawn maps of Skyrim and notice how Hammerfell is conspicuous by its inclusion.
But is it that simple? Well, probably. But are we just going to leave it there? Like hell!
Some fans have had fun with more far-out ideas. There's an interesting, if slightly flawed theory here about the next location being Akavir, the separate, mysterious continent to the east which plays home to snake-vampire-people and another humanoid race they're assumed to have eaten. If you take the time to read the in-game books (who doesn't?!) you'll know that the Akavir have invaded the continent of Tamriel a couple of times, via Skyrim, in the past. So mysterious that even the in-game books about it is called Mysterious Akavir, it's long been a source of infatuation for fans who want to see something completely new in a main series Elder Scrolls.
The candle at the top is sitting on a box, which is over the ocean, like a boat. The coin next to it says 'The Wolf of Solitude'. Looking that up gets you a book which tells the story of the King of Solitude who fought off Akaviri invaders *from the sea* There's a candle right— 🌟Nyght🌟 (@Wolfofthenyght) January 5, 2021
The issue here though is, one, that the thing at the top is a book, rather than a block of wood symbolising a boat. Likewise, the mysterious coin dubbed "The Wolf of Solitude" does refer to High King Svargrim, and there is a book, found in the recent, Solitude-set Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor expansion, called The Wolf of Solitude that talks about him fighting off enemies. But he doesn't fight off the Akavir - the two Akavir invasions took place a couple of hundred years either side of the period when Svargrim was around, and the book itself just suggests that if they had attacked, they'd have probably run off at the sight of him.
If we're looking for clues pointing to Akavir, we'd do better taking a step back to the tweet, and looking at the picture as a whole. One thing that does point to Akavir in the image, for instance, is the compass, down at the bottom. That bottom candle isn't just beneath the word Hammerfell and in the Hammerfell region - it's also placed exactly at the tip of the compass arrow pointing due east. As in, to Akavir.
Let's go back to the wording of the tweet, too:
Transcribe the past and map the future [Book Emoji].
What could "Transcribe the past" be referring to? Well, transcribe means "to put into writing", there's a book emoji, and there's a book in the image, underneath some coins. And what are those coins, anyway?
For anyone wondering about the coins: pic.twitter.com/FUzY460iJM— Lukas📯 (@LukasDoubleD) January 3, 2021
Well, they're actually part of the Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor collectors edition, and they each represent four regions featured as Elder Scrolls Online chapters so far: Greymoor/Skyrim, Vvardenfell, Elsweyr, and Summerset. So, maybe The Elder Scrolls Online, which takes place hundreds of years before anything else in main-series Elder Scrolls games and represented by old coins and a book, is the "transcribe the past" bit. Maybe the candle plonked next to Solitude, the capital of Skyrim and with Skyrim the latest, timeline-wise, of all Elder Scrolls games, is the present. And maybe the map's compass, pointing east, is the future - to Akavir!
Bit of a stretch. Is Skyrim, released in 2011, really the present these days? Wouldn't the ongoing Elder Scrolls Online be more present than Skyrim? And is a hint at an easterly direction enough to suggest Akavir? Probably not.
Let's start again. Transcribe the past. Map the future. Book. Candles. Picture of this map.
How about starting with the three candles, seeing as they're the things that most immediately draw the eye. We know the first is outside Skyrim's borders in Hammerfell, either signifying Hammerfell or the direction east.
The second candle, towards the top of the map, is positioned at the estuary of the Karth and Hjarl Rivers, where they meet the northerly Sea of Ghosts just to the side of the fortified city, Solitude. The third is nearby, next to those coins on top of the book that's also been laid over the Sea of Ghosts.
This third one is where we can have some fun. Going back to the original tweet - "transcribe the past... [Book Emoji]" - it seems that "transcribe" might not just mean 'interpret', but actually transcribe a book from the past or about the past, so "transcribe" as in translate or convert to written text.
At first I though it might just be a sign to look for a history book of some kind. I searched through a summary of all the books in every Elder Scrolls game and found one in particular, called Solitude: A Charred Journal, which is specifically described as a "transcription" of someone's old Nan's strange journal, where she seemed to travel to the past as a ghost in her sleep. It's a book, it's set in Solitude, it's a literal transcription of the past, and it does stand out - but nothing in it referred to anything else on the map. No hint at the future, no relation to that third candle. Dead end.
Then, I wondered if the answer might lie beneath the candle on that mysterious book on the map. Directly under the candle on the book is a place called Hela's Folly, a shipwreck where you'll find a scavenger called Deekus - but also, sometimes, a very strange book that has a chance to spawn in a chest there, called N'Gasta! Kvata! Kvakis!
The book is strange because inside it is... gibberish. It's a long-running mystery of the series, with the nonsensical book appearing not just in Skyrim but also earlier entries Morrowind and Oblivion. Digging into it a bit, you'll find it's written in something called Sload, the language of The Elder Scrolls' largely unseen slug people, which sound completely ridiculous but no more so than the cat-people Khajiit and lizard-people Argonians that we all know and love, so, onwards.
But how to transcribe the nonsensical text? Well, not to worry, because as it so happens, in 2003, shortly after it first appeared in The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, someone called 'Paul' managed to do exactly that, translating the book and posting the transcription on an Elder Scrolls fan forum called the Imperial Library. It's just a couple of paragraphs long, and you can read the original text here.
The language of the Sload people, as this mysterious Paul explains, is actually extremely similar to a constructed, real-world language called Esperanto, which Wikipedia kindly tells me was created by Polish ophthalmologist L. L. Zamenhof in 1887 in the hope of fostering universal communication and world peace.
Anyway, the text doesn't translate perfectly - a few things have been changed around a little with a brief spot of codebreaking, but both our friend Paul and indeed another Esperanto speaker have attempted to solve the problem. The best translation we could find actually came from a 2012 blog from an enthusiast, Tia Marie. Here is the full text, as translated by them:
"The Croak is the newsletter (or something similar) of the small frogs. It is sent to paying members and other individuals who, in some way, are involved in the small frogs activities. In it there firstly is information about the locations of the monthly meetings, but of course also concerning the latest activities of the club. Sometimes it also includes other educating or entertaining material.
The internet-based Croak (e-mail and web versions) are on the one hand another distribution channel for the contents of the paper version. But on the other hand, not surprisingly, the contents of the different versions can't and even must not always be 100 per cent the same. For instance, in little circulating paper versions you can publish illustrations that for copyright reasons can't be used on the internet. Yet on the other hand the low costs of the internet version lift the space limits and allow more content, not to mention being always to date.
These circumstances influence the web-based Croak, which will also serve as the general homepage of the small frogs."
So, translated as if it were Esperanto, we come to the discovery that this in-game book is actually... an obscure and really quite mundane extract about the differences between online and paper-based versions of something called 'The Croak', taken, according to Paul, from a real-world Swedish website that no longer seems to exist. Right.
Well, the "Kva! Kvak!" - The Croak - is actually the name of a newsletter from "Le Ranetoj" - or translated to English, 'the small frogs' or simply 'the frogs'. This is, according to Paul, the nickname of the Stockholm Esperanto Society and seemingly exactly the kind of bizarre, early-noughties internet easter egg that you might find in a fantasy game from 2002.
Coming back to our little quest for location clues, then, is there anything tying this obscure extract to a hint at future locations of The Elder Scrolls? Maybe the ending is a clue:
These circumstances influence the web-based Kvako [the Croak newsletter], which will also serve as the general homepage of the 'La Ranetoj' [the small frogs].
We're way, way out into the wilderness here, but let's see it through. Could "the general homepage of the [small] frogs" be a hint at the homeland of the Sload?
Well, if you'll bear with me once more, one thing that might back that up is what you find from taking another look at the book's title: N'Gasta! Kvata! Kvakis! - N'Gasta is actually its author.
Who's this N'Gasta fella then? A Sload! Specifically a Sload character from The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard, a 1998 spinoff that came between The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall and The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind. Redguards are the predominant race of, you guessed it, Hammerfell, and Redguard the game was set on the small adjacent island and partial Sload homeland of Stros M'Kai.
That still leaves us with two more things that stick out though: the second candle, by Solitude, and the coins on the book. Dead end? Not yet.
One possibility for the second candle is that it's not actually referring to Solitude, which it's next to, but the location directly underneath the candle, which seems to be The Kataria. That's a ship predominantly known for the special, unique sword you can find stuck into its bowsprit: a scimitar called Windshear, with the scimitar being the main weapon of... the Redguards! From Hammerfell! But are we being really ridiculous now? Probably. And crucially, we're still left with the coins.
Another dead end then. And there's one last option for a solution here, too, which might actually be the most likely and might not be the most popular. For one last time - promise - let's start with the clues.
Transcribe the past and map the future [Book]
Here's to a happy new year [Candle].
- A book with Elder Scrolls Online coins and a candle on it
- A map of Skyrim with a candle by Solitude.
- A candle outside Skyrim, in Hammerfell.
Look a bit closer...
The Elder Scrolls Online coins represent four regions, for the four chapters released so far: Elsweyr, Summerset, Vvardenfell, and then most prominently, the one depicting The Wolf of Skyrim, which represents Greymoor - or, more accurately, West Skyrim.
The middle candle is on the cropped map of West Skyrim by Solitude, the capital of West Skyrim, where that West Skyrim Greymoor expansion that features The Wolf of Solitude, depicted by the coin, is predominantly set.
The third candle is set in Hammerfell, but it's also directly on the tip of the arrow, pointing east.
Transcribe the past: a book, plus the past Elder Scrolls Online expansions. Map the future: West Skyrim, plus a compass arrow pointing east.
Looks like the future is... an Elder Scrolls Online expansion set in East Skyrim?
That would be a letdown. But better yet, it could well just be a tease of the Elder Scrolls Online expansion set in Oblivion, which was only just announced in December and due a full reveal on 21st January. That's Oblivion as in, "transcribe the past" is the past Elder Scrolls Online locations; "map the future" is head east of Hammerfell to Cyrodiil, where The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion was set.
Sorry! We do still think The Elder Scrolls 6 is set in Hammerfell though, if it makes you feel better - but maybe the real message here is that it's still much further away than you might've hoped.