Genshin Impact Lore: The Cataclysm, What Happened 500 Years Ago in Teyvat?
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The Cataclysm: What Happened 500 Years Ago in Teyvat
(Caution: spoilers for various quests)
500 years ago in Genshin Impact, on Teyvat, something happened that shook the world. Archons and gods died, the people died, and corruption grew rampant. It took a long time to get to the normalcy that exists currently, but players can still sense some of the influence of the cataclysm if they look carefully.
So let’s talk about the Cataclysm and its impact on Teyvat.
What We as Players are Told About It
There are two things we know about the Cataclysm for sure:
- It happened 500 years ago from the present of the game
- The Archons were somehow involved with it
Everything else comes from snippets of lore from various sources. Artifact descriptions, the book collectibles, and weapon and item descriptions. We also get some other tidbits from various dialogue from NPCs. NPCs fall into two categories, those that don’t know much about it and those that do but remain tight-lipped about them.
The thing about these descriptions is their vagueness and reliability. So far, item and artifact descriptions can mostly be trusted. Proof of this is theorists figuring out that the Crimson Witch of lore is La Signora, a harbinger of the Fatui. A new theory about the Dendro Archon is circulating around, coming from the Viridescent Venerer set and a bit of comparison with slimes. Time will tell if it is correct.
Unfortunately, they can also seem to contradict each other. One example is a book collectible placing a specific fight after a certain death, while a weapon description implied that both happened at the same time. It can be chalked up to realism, where a human/NPC writer can get things wrong. As a player, we get item descriptions from a slightly more reliable game system (though it begs the question of how strong the fourth wall is).
The following information may change depending on what’s revealed in the coming updates and new lore, but here’s everything on the Cataclysm so far.
The Catastrophe of the Cataclysm
This devastating event ruined one nation and spread corruption to several others. Archons had to rise up to protect their domains, and two actually perished in the event (one seems doubtful if some theories are to be believed).
The Traveler doesn’t know the true cause of this devastation (yet) but there are a few threads to follow.
Dainsleif says outright that Khaenri’ah (the epicenter of the event) was a godless nation. It was built upon the hard work of humans attempting to ‘strive forward’ and/or attempting to become gods through their own power. The problem with this as a reason for the destruction is that the kingdom has been godless for years and years already. If Celestia really opposed them being godless, then their destruction should’ve come earlier.
Other sources say that a ‘veil of sin’ was torn or that they had researched too far into something that spurred Celestia to action. This was done through researching Khemia, an ancient practice of alchemy that was said to even reach ‘the power of the gods’. Gold, the alchemist Rhinedottr, is one of the most celebrated practitioners of this art. She is the one who made the dragon Durin as well as Albedo.
From Albedo’s voice lines, he was created after the Cataclysm, as he has no memories of it or Khaenri’ah. He was also able to travel with his master for a bit, as he learned the art of Khemia. She disappeared soon after discovering something called the ‘Heart of Naberius’.
At any rate, her research into something (unclear what it really is) caused the Sustainer of Heavenly Principles to destroy the kingdom. Whatever it is, it caused her people to call her a ‘sinner’. Somewhat related to this is lore relating to Pierrot, the first of the Harbingers. He mentions some sages from his original nation tearing ‘the veil of sin’, which then resulted in untold calamities.
Another probable reason for the calamity is the arrival of the Travelers. Some of the lore (Sal Vindagnyr, that story about the three moons and seelies) all involve some outsider that somehow gets caught up in the destruction of a nation. The outsider would share a close relation to some sort of ruling figure, but something happens that ruins the civilization.
In one of the stories, an outsider fell in love with one of the seelies. They pledged their love, but the world fell into ruin soon after. In the chaos, they were separated and had their memories wiped. Meanwhile, the three moon sisters turned against one another. The conflict led to many, many deaths, and the people all turned into the seelies the Traveler sees in the present.
In Sal Vindagnyr, they were a prosperous people, but a device called the Skyfrost Nail turned the mountain into a wintry wasteland. An outsider called Imunlaukr was enjoying the people’s hospitality for a while before this, and he enjoyed a close relationship with the princess. He set out to find a solution to the freezing cold but returned too late.
Similarly, the Travelers came to Teyvat a little while before the cataclysm. The twin you didn’t pick woke up earlier and was able to travel with Dainsleif for a time. When they returned it was during the thick of the catastrophe. They woke up their sibling and rushed to get away, only to be blocked by the Sustainer.
Lastly, Dain warns the Traveler not to try overthrowing the gods of Celestia. Though he does not even like those gods, he doesn’t want the mistakes of his people to be repeated. This implies that the people of Khaenri’ah decided to rebel and overthrow the gods.
In summary, the possible causes for this calamity are:
- The existence of a ‘godless’ nation
- The practice of Khemia (that somehow can match a god’s power)
- The act of the ‘sages’ that tore that veil
- The presence of an outlander/outsider
- A possible rebellion against the gods
The one with the outlanders could be a coincidence, actually. It was never the fault of the outlander, but they got caught up in these world-shattering events. Still, it’s a common thread that can’t be ignored.
After the destruction of Khaenri’ah, monsters like Teyvat has never seen before burst out into the other nations. It’s implied that these ones, dripping and spreading corruption, were the creations of Gold. Most notable is Durin, who ‘attacked’ Mondsadt (though in his defense he thought he was doing something else). His remains still lie in Wyrmrest Valley in Dragonspine.
Other lore describes the Crimson Witch and the Bloodstained Knight fighting against these creatures. The former burned them away into ashes, while the latter’s pristine armor slowly got dyed in the creatures’ black blood. There’s also Viridescent who hunted these creatures by request of a boy she saved.
Another consequence of this is that the Knights of Favonius went on an expedition to rid the source. It failed, unfortunately, with Rostam dying. Arundolyn, the Grand Master at the time, beat a hasty retreat and resigned soon after, greatly grieving his lost friend. The Crimson Witch too, started her crusade with the death of her lover, that same knight.
Two Archons also lost their lives during this cataclysm. One was the God of Wood, the former Dendro Archon (though some theories say that they survived). Viridescent experienced this as nature turning silent when it usually told her of many things that helped her in hunts. The other was Raiden Makoto, the former Electro Archon. This likely helped Ei’s decision to cut off ties with Celestia and not keep her Gnosis close.
The cataclysm also somewhat helped the creation of the Fatui. Pierro, as the first Harbinger, is implied to be someone from Khaenri’ah. He and the Tsaritsa joined hands, likely soon after the calamity. It helps that many theories say that the Tsaritsa is against Celestia for some unknown reason.
Lastly, the people were placed under a curse. That’s what the Bloodstained Knight found out as he lay dying(?) in what could be the Abyss. It’s unknown what the curse entails, as Dain seems to have a different one from the rest of the people. Kaeya, someone we know is from Khaenri’ah, doesn’t seem to be under one. However, he keeps many secrets so we don’t really know. Mona’s voice line about him also hints at a big decision he has to make soon.
Khaenri’ah and the Abyss
It’s easy to theorize that the Abyss is made up of the remaining and cursed people of Khaenri’ah. For one thing, its people lived underground. Ajax fell into the Abyss through a hole/crack in the ground and spent three months there. In that time, ‘he witnessed the endless possibilities of another ancient world’. 500 years can be counted as ancient.
It’s also possible that the people’s curse turned them all into hilichurls. One specific tribe of hilichurls worship the ‘eclipse’ and that is the name of the dynasty that ruled Khaenri’ah when the calamity fell. However, it doesn’t explain the other hilichurl tribes, unless you subscribe to the theory where other past civilizations were also turned.
Another proof of this is Kaeya’s Windblume poem, where he writes in the hilichurl language. The poem mentioned a phrase that he said meant ‘I love you’, but an event afterward revealed that it can also mean ‘I triumph (over) you’. Whether this double meaning was intended or not, the point is that Kaeya can speak the language.
Plus, the Abyss is good at engineering, as well as having control over Ruin Guards. Ruin machinery comes from Khaenri’ah, as stated by Dain. As for the engineering, they attempted to make a ‘mechanical god’ using a Statue of the Seven, some corrupting Abyss energy, and the remnants of Osial.
It makes a lot of sense, but nothing is confirmed yet. Some points may be right on the money but others could be wrong, especially in trying to figure out the cause of the calamity. We’ll know more as the game updates.
That’s all we know about 500 years ago in Teyvat. Let’s watch out for further developments!