Side quests in Skyrim are pretty hit or miss. The vast majority of them are underwritten, underwhelming, repetitive, or just straight up uninteresting and boring. Bethesda clearly learned from its mistakes when developing Skyrim’s DLC, though, as both Dawnguard and Dragonborn have great, unique sidequests that contain quite a bit of interesting lore.
That’s the case with the Aetherium Forge. Not only does the quest to access it take you to several locations all over Skyrim, but the lore and history behind it is incredible, being both interesting and succinct in equal measure. It’s a highlight of the Dawnguard DLC and one of TES V’s best sidequests.
That’s why I’ve put together this Aetherium Forge guide. I’m going to walk you through the forge’s story, the quest you need to follow to access it, as well as the three possible rewards you can get from it.
Key Details Up Front
- Location: Arkngthamz/Deep Folk Crossing/Mzulft/Raldbthar/Ruins of Bthalft.
- Related Quest: Lost to the Ages.
- Loot: Aetherial Shield/Aetherial Staff/Aetherial Crown.
Aetherium Forge Lore
According to The Aetherium Wars, the collapse of the Dwemer presence in Skyrim was just as much about infighting as it was about the Nordic conquest. The various Dwemer societies of Skyrim had fended off Nord aggression for hundreds of years before falling victim to King Gellir in an instant.
While most scholars believe this was due to the blessing of Shor and Gellir’s battle tactics, The Aetherium Wars argues that a lack of unity between the Dwemer cities was the true cause.
Prior to their downfall, the Dwemer put together an alliance led by Arkngthamz to mine and study Aetherium, a material brimming with magic but otherwise mysterious. It was this alliance that led to the construction of the Aetherium Forge, a forge designed to smelt and work Aetherium.
The results of the forge were artifacts of immense magical power. So much power, in fact, that the alliance broke down as each Dwarven city began trying to claim the Aetherium Forge for itself. The decades of conflict that followed that alliances breaking is what weakened the Dwemer, allowing King Gellir to easily overcome their defenses. Since then, the forge has been lost to time.
Aetherium Forge and Items
While Lost to the Ages sees you explore a variety of Dwemer ruins, the key feature of the quest is obviously the Aetherium Forge located at the end of the quest. The forge is the only one of its kind and is capable of working with Aetherium. However, you only have enough Aetherium to craft one of three possible items:
- The Aetherial Staff.
- The Aetherial Shield.
- The Aetherial Crown.
Lost to the Ages
The only way to access the Aetherium Forge is by following the Lost to the Ages quest. The quest is expansive and will take you to every corner of Skyrim, however, the forge is totally inaccessible without completing it.
Read The Aetherium Wars
There are two different ways to start Lost to the Ages. The first is to head straight to Arkngthamz to speak with an NPC called Katria. However, the proper start to the quest involves reading a book called The Aetherium Wars.
The Aetherium Wars will spawn in a variety of places once you have Dawnguard installed. However, the easiest places to find the book are Castle Volkihar, Fort Dawnguard, or the College of Winterhold. Either read the book from one of those three locations, or elsewhere out in the wilds, and you’ll be given a miscellaneous objective to head to the Dwemer ruins of Arkngthamz.
For those interested in the lore, the book mentions a bitter rivalry that rocked the Dwemer of Skyrim over a place called the Aetherium Forge. It mentions that Arkngthamz was the city that led a Dwemer alliance on Aetherium prior to the construction of the forge, so that’s where you need to start your journey.
Arkngthamz is located in the mountains just South East of Markarth. If you follow your quest marker, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it.
When you first enter Arkngthamz, you’ll hear the disembodied voice of an adventure called Katria. If you actually read The Aetherium Wars, you’ll remember that the author of the book dedicated it to her. She advises that the Dragonborn turns back, but you’re obviously not going to listen.
Continue on and you’ll eventually discover Katria’s corpse. You need to make a point of reading Katria’s journal that’s on her body. It’ll give you a little bit of backstory into who she is, as well as the locations you’ll need to complete Lost to the Ages.
Once you’ve finished going through her diary, the woman herself will show up for a chit-chat. After a bit of lore and conversation, the two of you will buddy up to continue on her quest to discover the resting place of the Aetherium Forge.
From here, you’ll trigger Lost to the Ages and be tasked with reaching the summit of Arkngthamz with Katria. If you look up right now, you’ll see a log sticking out of the ruins. The best bow in the entire game, Zephyr, is sitting up on that log, so make sure you’re looking out for it as you make your way up the ruins. Katria will comment on it once you’re able to loot it, so keep your listening ears on.
As you make your way towards the summit, Katria will be yapping away about the enemies you encounter, as well as any possible traps. When she mentions the spot where she fell to her death, you’ll know you’re in the area to grab Zephyr. Not only is this, in my opinion, the best bow in the game, but you’ll need a ranged attack for a puzzle later on in the dungeon. So, if you don’t have any range, make sure you pick it up.
Open the Tonal Lock
After looting Zephyr, you’ll enter a massive room full of Falmer corpses, skeletons, and Dwarven machines shot with Dwemer arrows. This is an obvious environmental design to let you know that this whole place is rigged to pump you full of holes if you do something wrong.
That something wrong is related to five spinning locks located on the wall above the door. If you’ve ever seen an anemometer before, they look exactly like that.
There are two on the top row, and three on the bottom, and you need to shoot them all in the correct order. Katria has correctly identified the first two locks in the sequences, and a note found on a dead body in the room will reveal the third. It’s up to you to figure out number four and five. At worst, it’s a 50/50 guess. You’re reading this, though! So you don’t have to guess. The correct combination for the lock is as follows:
- Bottom left.
- Bottom right.
- Top left.
- Top right.
Hit the locks in this order, either with an arrow or ranged spell, and make sure that each one spins and lights up before moving on to the next. After all five are active, the door will open.
Obtain the Shard From Arkngthamz
After you obtain the Aetherium Shard from the next room, Katria will tell you that she’s going to go off in search of the other three. She then tells you to read her journal for the locations of these shards.
From here, things get a little bit tricky. There are three locations across Skyrim you’ll need to travel to. If you’ve already discovered these locations, they will be marked on your map and you’ll have an objective marker pointing you towards them. If you haven’t discovered them, they won’t be marked at all, meaning you’ll have to use the journal, or this guide, to find them.
Obtain the Shard From Deep Folk Crossing
The order in which you obtain the shards doesn’t matter and will depend on which locations you have discovered. So, feel free to mess around with the order I’m outlining here, it won’t make a difference in the long run. The first of the three shards I advise you to look for is the one in Deep Folk Crossing. This is arguably the quickest and easiest of the three to obtain because you don’t actually need to go exploring any Dwemer ruins to obtain it.
You’re looking for a Dwarven bridge located Northeast of Markarth. It’s almost directly North of Arkngthamz, all the way at the top of the map. Once you reach the bridge, go across it facing North and you’ll eventually walk up a slope and be met with a large Dwemer pedestal. The pedestal has some Dwemer goodies on it, including the Aetherium Shard for this location.
Obtain the Shard From Raldbthar
Next up on this list is Raldbthar. This might sound similar for some of you because it’s the Dwemer ruins that your first Dark Brotherhood target is found in during Mourning Never Comes. If you’ve completed that quest, the start of these ruins should be free of enemies, making it a little easier to navigate. Although, it doesn’t make too much of a difference either way.
The ruins are located in the mountains west of Windhelm, but I’m going to wager that most of you have already discovered them.
The first section of Raldbthar is no different from any other Dwemer ruins in the game. Just fight your way down until you reach the Raldbthar Deep Market. There, you’ll find a room with your progress blocked by a metal gate, and a set of four buttons. Hit the third button from the left, and the gate will open.
In the next section, you’ll find a room partially submerged in water. There are a handful of enemies here that need to be eliminated before you can continue.
Once you clear the room out, you’ll need to remove Dwemer scraps and bones from various gears around the room. Just go through them one by one interacting with the blockages, and don’t forget about the one gear that is located under the water.
Once the blockages are removed, hit the button in the center of the room to drop a bridge, as well as a surprise Centurion boss fight! Take care of the Centurion, walk across the bridge, and fight your way forward to eventually reach the next Aetherium Shard.
Obtain the Shard From Mzulft
Thankfully, Raldbthar is the last Dwemer ruin you’ll need to explore to locate the Aetherium Forge. Rather than delving into Mzulft, you’re just going to grab the shard from a storeroom next to its entrance.
The entrance to Mzulft, and the storeroom, is located Southeast of Windhelm. You’ll need to pick two Apprentice level locks to get access to the shard, so make sure you bring Lockpicks.
Once the fourth Aetherium Shard is in your possession, Katria will tell you that you now need to find the Aetherium Forge.
Clear the Aetherium Forge
Just like how you located the shards, you’ll be consulting Katria’s Journal to discover the location of the forge. Unlike the shards, however, her directions are a little bit off. It’s located South, and slightly East, of Ivarstead. You’ll find it in the hills between the lake and the mountains.
In reality, the forge is actually the Ruins of Bthalft, with the entrance hidden without the Aetherium Shards in one’s possession. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by a welcoming committee of Bandits. Return their hospitality and Katria will point out a peculiar Dwemer globe decorating the ruins.
Walk up to the globe, and you’ll be able to put your Aetherium Shards into it. After depositing all four, they’ll fuse with a gear, and you’ll be able to take out the completed mechanism.
You’ll then experience a minor earthquake. Step back away from the globe, and the platform it’s on will shoot up into the sky revealing a lift. It’s a deceptively cool setpiece and the type of thing I wish we got to experience in more Dwemer dungeons.
After entering the lift, you’ll be brought down into the Aetherium Forge. It’s incredibly dramatic down here, with lamps lighting up as you pass them on your way down. Eventually, you’ll reach a locked door with two more spinny locks. Shoot them in whatever order you want and the door will open.
Defeat the Forgemaster
You’ll now be in the forge itself, and I wish I could tell you that the hard part was over. In fact, the hardest part of Lost to the Ages is just about to start. The boss fight that this quest culminates in is among the hardest I’ve experienced in Skyrim, so do with that information what you will.
You’ll be instructed to turn off the steam in the room using two valves located on platforms on either side of the forge. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have to deal with a wave of Dwarven Spiders. Kill them, and the steam will turn on again, as even harder Dwemer enemies will spawn. Turn off the steam for a second time, and clear this wave to trigger the final boss.
The two waves of enemies that spawn upon turning off the forge’s steam are tough, but they’re nothing compared to the Forgemaster. The Forgemaster is a massive Master-level Dwemer Centurion that spits fire instead of steam. It actually enters the fight by walking out of the lava at the back of the forge like some sort of high-fantasy Terminator.
This is a painfully difficult fight. The Forgemaster is the strongest Centurion in the game, so do not take this fight lightly on any difficulty. Use the platforms with the valves to control the Forgemaster’s pathing, and don’t be afraid to let your companion and Katria pull aggro so you can heal and attack from range.
Forge an Aetherial Item
If you manage to make it through that fight alive, congratulations! All that’s left to do is use the Aetherium Forge to craft one of three different unique items. I’ve gone through each one, and their abilities below, so you can decide for yourself which you prefer. You only get access to one of them, so choose wisely.
Personally, the Aetherium Crown is easily my go-to pick on any playthrough. Not only is its ability incredibly powerful, even compared to the other two items, but it looks unique, making it a great display piece. If you’ve read any of my other guides, then you know I’m a sucker for showing off my trophy room.
Either way, forge an item, say your goodbyes to Katria, and Lost to the Ages will be completed.
Summon a Dwarven Spider or Sphere
The unique ability of the Aetherial Staff is to summon a Dwarven Spider or Sphere at the cast location for 60 seconds. That’s it. Compared to the other two Aetherialm items, this is pretty underwhelming. The summons don’t do a particularly large amount of damage, and it doesn’t take too much to destroy them, plus the staff looks kind of bare-bones.
I don’t see any particular build making more use of this than the other two Aetherium Forge options, but you might have more use for it than I do.
Turn Enemies Ethereal
The Aetherial Shield, while not my go-to Aetherium item, is pretty interesting and unique. Visually, it just looks like a fancy Dwarven shield. Nothing to write home about. However, its ability is fascinating. When you bash someone with it, it turns them ethereal for 15 seconds and casts fear on them. This effect works on more or less anything in the game except dragons.
For those unaware of what that effect means, when you hit someone with the shield, it will make them incapable of taking or receiving damage for 15 seconds, as well as run away from you. There is no level limit to this effect. You don’t need me to tell you why this is powerful. It makes the Aetherial Shield one of the best shields in the game. It’s just a shame that the last Aetherial item is arguably the best item in the game, full stop.
Hold Two Standing Stones
The effect of the Aetherial Crown is simple. It allows you to take on the effect of two Standing Stones instead of one. This is a min-maxer’s dream. Not only does it let you create a ton of powerful combos, but it’s the best way to level up fast in the entire game.
If you take the Lover’s Stone along with the Stone belonging to your class, you’ll have a flat permanent +35% XP to skills of your class type. That’s strong enough to warrant always taking the crown by default, but the main reason a lot of players choose it over the other options is that it’s bugged to high hell.
On certain patches of Skyrim, it’s possible to take more than two Standing Stone effects using the Aetherial Crown. It’s also possible to stack Lover’s Embrace with the Lover’s Stone and your class Stone by exploiting the crown, giving you +50% XP. This is basically game-breaking, although you do have to perform exploits to pull it off.
How to Find The Aetherium Forge
To find the Aetherium Forge, you need to play through the Lost to the Ages questline. This is the only way to access the forge. Luckily for you, I’ve outlined how to complete Lost to the Ages as a part of this Aetherial Forge guide.
To start that quest, you have two options. You can either head straight to Arkngthamz and speak with Katria, or you can read a copy of The Aetherium Wars. This book spawns all over the place once you install Dawnguard, but the three easiest locations to find it are:
- Castle Volkihar
- Dawnguard Keep
- Winterhold Arcanaeum
Once you’ve read the book and played through Lost to the Ages, you’ll eventually be sent to the Ruins of Bthalft south of Ivarstead. Upon interacting with the ruins while in possession of four Aetherium Shards, the Aetherium Forge will open.
Unique NPCs & Items
Katria is the NPC that gives you Lost to the Ages, the quest needed to access the Aetherium Forge. She was the mentor to Taron Dreth, the man that wrote The Aetherium Wars. According to her, Dreth stole her research and used it to write the book, passing her work off as his own. She ventured into Arkngthamz in search of one of the Aetherium Shards. It was her hope to find the forge and use it to craft an item, therefore proving that Dreth stole from her.
She met her end when she fell from a cliff in Arkngthamz but assisted the Dragonborn with finding the forge in the afterlife. Interestingly, you can actually encounter Dreth randomly out in the world while you have one of the Aetherial items in your inventory. He will inquire as to how you obtained it before attacking you.
The Aetherial Shield is one of the three possible rewards you get for completing Lost to the Ages. When you bash someone with it, it renders them ethereal and inflicts them with fear. This prevents them from dealing or receiving damage for 15 seconds and causes them to run away. This works on any enemy regardless of level except for dragons.
The Aetherial Crown is the second of the three possible rewards you get for finishing Lost to the Ages. With it equipped, you can maintain the effects of two Standing Stones at the same time.
The Aetherial Staff is the last item you can forge in the Aetherial Forge at the end of Lost to the Ages. When you cast it, it will summon a Dwarven Spider or Sphere at your location for 60 seconds.
Zephyr is a unique Dwarven bow belonging to Katria before her death. It can be obtained in Arkngthamz as a part of Lost to the Ages. It has an innate ability that gives it +30% draw time, making it the highest DPS bow in the entirety of Skyrim.
Question: What is the best item to create in the Aetherium Forge?
Answer: The best item to create in the Aetherium Forge is the Aetherial Crown. Not only does the crown look great, but its ability to possess two Standing Stones means it can be used in every single build in the game regardless of skill or weapon choice.
Question: Where is the Aetherium Forge?
Answer: The Aetherium Forge is located in the Ruins of Bthalft. It’s only accessible through a hidden elevator, and that elevator is only accessible if you have all four Aetherium Shards in your possession.
Question: Can you only use the Aetherium Forge once?
Answer: Yes, you can only use the Aetherium Forge once. There are only four Aetherium Shards in all of Skyrim, meaning you can only collect enough to make one of the three possible items at the Aetherium Forge.
Aetherium Forge Guide: Conclusion
That’s it for my Aetherial Forge guide. As far as side quests go, this one is pretty great. It’s rare that we get a quest that takes us to the far reaches of multiple locations in Skyrim, and even rarer that one deals with the lore of the Dwemer. Plus, the rewards you get from it are pretty cool.
It’s one of the highlights of the Dawnguard DLC. It might take you a long time to complete it, but it’s more than worth seeing it through to the end. Hopefully, this guide helps you do just that.