The story of Genshin Impact revolves heavily around events that happened long before the game even begins. The fall of the nation of Khaenri’ah is central to the mysteries of the game as well as the overall antagonist- the Heavenly Principles. But what exactly happened in Khaenri’ah 500 years ago? It’s time to find out.
WARNING: Heavy spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!
A Nation Without an Archon
While Teyvat is now made up of seven nations ruled by their respective Archons (sort of), this wasn’t always the case. Before the beginning of the game, there was an eighth nation in Teyvat. Khaenri’ah was not only one of the strongest nations in Teyvat, but it had become that way without the help of any god.
This godless nation was an incredibly technologically advanced civilization and had a very long history, predating even the Archon War which had ended about 2000 years prior to the game’s events.
Prior to its destruction, it was well known that Khaenri’ah’s goal was to live independently from the gods. They believed that the gods, Celestia, and the Heavenly Principles weren’t from Teyvat and had usurped the natural rulers. As such they planned to rebel and reclaim the power taken from the world’s original denizens.
“The Pride of Humanity”
Unlike other nations who have “lost” their god, Khaenri’ah never had one to begin with. Which is exactly why Dainsleif calls it the “pride of humanity”. Every achievement the nation ever made was due solely to the power of humans. Which makes what happened in Khaenri’ah 500 years ago all the more tragic.
Khaenri’ah’s strength mostly stemmed from technological advancement. The nation was leagues and bounds ahead of every other nation. So much so that even after 500 years, the remnants of such technology is still a mystery.
The lost nation’s weapons of war can be seen across Teyvat in the form of Ruin Machines. Ruin Guards, Ruin Hunters, Ruin Graders, etc. were all created in Khaenri’ah at least 500 years ago then migrated to other nations after the disaster.
While many have tried to study them, it doesn’t seem as if much progress has been made. As far as we know, no other nation has unlocked the secrets of Azosite, which provide power to the Ruin Machines and allow them to self-repair and function for centuries without human intervention.
Even after Khaenri’ah’s apparent fall, it is still currently somewhat active. Dainsleif describes it as one of the “hidden corners where the gods’ gaze does not fall,” and that its people “dream of dreaming”. Contrasting Khaenri’ahns to the rest of Teyvat who are “content to live, and not to dream.”
Where is Khaenri’ah?
Khaenri’ah’s exact location is currently unknown. According to Kaeya, it seems to be somewhere deep underground near Sumeru.
Theories speculate that the Gate of Zulqarnain beneath the Girdle of Sands in Sumeru may be an entrance to the lost nation.
The etymology behind “Zulqarnain” may support this theory. It could refer to a character in the Quran who created a barrier between a group of defenseless people and those who “do great mischief”, possibly mirroring the need for a barrier between the rest of the world and Khaenri’ah, who was meddling with powers outside of their control.
Despite the catastrophe which occurred though, there are still people who live in Khaenri’ah according to Dainsleif. Although, how well they are living is unknown. Especially since so much of their technology has spilled out across Teyvat and not been recalled.
The Cataclysm of 500 Years Ago
They say “pride cometh before the fall” and it seems unlikely that there was a more prideful nation than Khaenri’ah.
The event which happened 500 years ago goes by many names. Usually it is referred to as a “disaster”, “catastrophe” or the “cataclysm”. But what exactly happened in Khaenri’ah 500 years ago though? We’ve seen a few cutscenes and flashbacks throughout the game, but concrete information about what happened has been pretty lacking for such an influential event.
Unless of course, you go looking for it.
The broad strokes of what happened are pretty simple though. Khaenri’ah tapped into Abyssal power, which began to spread throughout Teyvat. The Archons became involved in fighting off this power and Celestia/the Heavenly Principles eventually destroyed the whole nation, cursing all of its citizens after deeming them sinners.
Despite the horrific consequences of Khaenri’ah’s attempted rebellion, the cataclysm only inspired more rebellion. Both the Abyss Order and the Fatui were created as direct results of the cataclysm, both with the goal to overthrow the Heavenly Principles.
The Art of Khemia
The beginning of the end for Khaenri’ah was brought about by the exact thing that had allowed it to prosper for over a thousand years.
As a barren nation located deep underground, the godless nation needed something incredible in order to not only survive but prosper as it did for millennia. This power came in the form of the Art of Khemia.
The Art of Khemia is a form of alchemy that focuses on the creation of life. It helped Khaenri’ah overcome their lacking natural resources and was practiced safely for a very long time. Unfortunately, the Art of Khemia also played a significant role in the disaster that befell the nation.
The “Veil of Sin”
From the “Mocking Mask” circlet piece of the Pale Flame artifact set, we’re told that the sages of Khaenri’ah convinced their reigning monarch to allow them to “tear away the veil of sin”. Doing so ushered “in a tide of divine wrath, destruction, and foolishness,” which presumably refers to causing the cataclysm and destroying the nation.
What the “veil of sin” refers to exactly is unknown. It is possible though that it refers to crossing an unspoken rule of alchemy/the Art of Khemia – likely one about utilizing Forbidden Knowledge and Abyssal power. We know already from the Sumeru Archon quests just how corrupt and deadly Forbidden Knowledge is, and it could explain why Khaenri’ah’s creations suddenly began running amok.
Thus far, no power has been able to truly control Forbidden Knowledge. It does seem likely however, that Forbidden Knowledge is related to Abyssal power since we know that both powers were at play during the cataclysm.
An outbreak of Forbidden Knowledge at the time of the cataclysm also caused the untimely demise of Greater Lord Rukkhadevata. This was the reason she sacrificed herself and led to Nahida’s birth. It was all to stave off Irminsul’s infection which could only be cured when the next Dendro Archon purged it 500 years later.
Rhinedottir and Her Creations
The exact timeline of what happened in Khaenri’ah 500 years ago has yet to be explicitly stated. What we do know though is that monsters with powers of the Abyss poured out of Khaenri’ah and invaded Teyvat.
These monsters seem to have been created by the alchemist Rhinedottir (aka “Gold”). The creation of these monsters, as well as the research Khaenri’ah was undertaking, was likely part of Khaenri’ah’s plans to rebel against Celestia.
Regardless of their intended purpose though, the monsters seemed to reach every nation of Teyvat and caused an untold amount of destruction. Many people lost their lives defending themselves from the havoc. From what we know, it seems like there was no corner of Teyvat that remained untouched by the monsters’ destruction.
What happened in Khaenri’ah 500 years ago is also what corrupted the dragon Durin. While it was eventually slain by Dvalin at Venti’s request, Durin’s poisoned blood continued wreaking havoc by corrupting Dvalin. Only the Traveler’s intervention was able to eventually purge the lingering blood.
Despite being the creator behind the monsters though, Rhinedottir herself managed to come out unscathed. At least enough to continue her research and experiments. She would eventually continue working with the Art of Khemia to create Albedo (along with his doppelganger).
As for where Rhinedottir is now, or whether she’s alive or dead, is unknown. She simply vanished one day after discovering an item known as the Heart of Naberius and tasked Albedo with discovering “the truth and meaning of this world”.
While it is unclear whether disaster struck before or after Celestia became involved, what is clear is that the punishment Celestia dealt Khaenri’ah was not a popular one.
Despite the Archons being granted power by Celestia in the form of gnosis, they don’t seem to have favorable opinions of it, and this may be due to Celestia destroying Khaenri’ah.
Multiple Archons have quotes implying their distrust in Celestia. Venti, Ei, and of course the Tsaritsa all seem to detest Celestia. Though only one Archon is going so far as to attempt rebelling after what happened to Khaenri’ah.
Aether and Lumine’s Involvement
Whichever twin you (as the player) didn’t pick to play as seems to have spent a lot of time in Khaenri’ah prior to the Cataclysm. They had their own journey across Teyvat separate from their twin and made personal connections with many of its inhabitants at the time. Including more than a few from the doomed nation of Khaenri’ah.
Dainsleif is the first character who may come to mind, but it seems likely that the Traveler’s twin also crossed paths with Pierro. The Pierro, the one who would eventually become the first executive member of the Fatui and its director. It is more than possible we will meet more characters who crossed paths with the Traveler’s sibling but only time will tell.
Regardless of how many people they met during their journey, the Traveler’s sibling still prioritized their twin above all else. So when the disaster occurred, the Traveler’s sibling seems to have awoken them from their slumber and attempted to flee Teyvat entirely. Unfortunately, they were stopped by the Sustainer of Heavenly Principles and separated once more.
The Khaenri’ahns Curse
Perhaps the most horrifying part of what happened in Khaenri’ah 500 years ago, and overall in Genshin Impact in general, is the curse which befell countless Khaenri’ahns.
The Curse of Immortality
The “pure-blooded” Khaenri’ahns were cursed with immortality. Initially that might not sound so bad, but their immortality only preserved them externally.
Internally, they were still susceptible to the effects of erosion. Without an extremely strong will, time would slowly erode their sense of self and even their sanity. The most prominent example we’ve met so far has been Dainsleif.
The Curse of Wilderness
The Khaenri’ahns who were of mixed blood were afflicted with something much worse though. They were given the “curse of wilderness” and transformed into creatures of the Abyss. Namely, they became hilichurls.
The Khaenri’ahns with this curse immediately lost their sense of self. Tragically, they were able to retain enough sanity to instinctively hate their own appearances. They donned masks in order to hide their deformed faces, wanting to avoid even seeing their own reflections in water.
Hilichurls do seem to retain at least some traces of humanity though. They are able to communicate with each other and even have their own communities and social structures.
Just how many of the hilichurls in the game are former citizens of Khaenri’ah is unclear. Knowledge of hilichurls pre-dates the cataclysm by centuries, meaning that not every hilichurl is a victim from Khaenri’ah. It is possible the other hilichurls are remnants of previously lost civilizations. At least ones who ended up on the bad side of Celestia as well but again, only time will tell.
We do know that at least the ones who are from Khaenri’ah also suffer from immortality and mental erosion. The older they get, the more they lose any traces of their humanity and eventually lose the will to live or even move. They choose to simply give up and give into an agonizing stillness akin to death.
Join the High Ground!
And that’s what happened in Khaenri’ah 500 years ago in Genshin Impact (that we at least know of as of Version 4.1). Do you have something to add? Drop it in the comments below!
For more articles on Genshin Impact lore, be sure to check out our theories on who or what Paimon is. Let us know if there are any other pieces of lore you’d like us to cover!
Until next time, ad astra abyssosque and happy gaming!