Project Sunset (tentative title)
The Sealtan Malediction
The Sealtan Malediction is the name given to a cataclysmic event nearly 700 years ago in which the salinity of both the earth and most fresh water sources increased inexplicably in most parts of the known world, causing a blight and rendering most water undrinkable. It is known almost universally as the world’s single greatest catastrophe, and between the blight caused by the event itself and the resulting wars over limited resources, it ultimately resulted in the deaths of an estimated 70% of the world’s population over the course of a generation.
Beginning of the Malediction
While no single person, group or event has been proven to be the cause, it is most commonly believed to be the work of deities or other supernatural causes, primarily because of the scale of the damage done. The triggering event is widely believed to have taken place in the night as all recorded accounts tell of waking in the morning to find what appeared to be small patches of snow scattered across fields. Historians have concluded that whatever took place put salt directly into the earth as there have been no reports discovered claiming to have found it on paved roads or any manufactured structure. It has also been concluded that this has only happened near the surface, as surface water and higher stores of ground water have been tainted while the deepest wells remain viable to this day. No accounts of strange activity the night before were ever documented, and no trace of the actions of mortals has ever been attributed to the beginning of the malediction.
The first noted effect of the malediction was that the sources from which most people gathered their water had been tainted. Panic set in almost immediately as governments were flooded with complaints of water gathered from streams and lakes that tasted of seawater. Simultaneously, farmers went to their fields and discovered an accumulation of what appeared to be salt that had worked its way up through the soil. This proved disastrous as the salt leached water from the plants’ roots, causing them to wither. In a matter of days, entire crops failed, marking the beginning a famine that swept across the entire continent.
While most had enough to feed themselves for the immediate future and the deepest wells kept fresh water flowing, it was immediately apparent that this simply wasn’t enough for long-term survival. As food supplies began to dwindle and not even a tenth of what was needed to sustain the world’s population was coming in from the tainted fields, many governments turned their attention toward nations and settlements that appeared to be prospering. Smaller settlements under a nation’s rule that either escaped the malediction or managed to find alternative means of continuing their production suddenly found themselves taxed into bankruptcy or having their goods and property confiscated. As these meager resources were quickly consumed, it became necessary to turn their focus to larger settlements and even entire nations. At the same time, the rationing of food and water supplies became necessary, with many people being excluded entirely when there simply wasn’t enough for all. Desperation quickly took root in people’s minds as their thoughts turned to survival. After two years of battling, however, desperation gave way to rational thought when battle after battle resulted in prolonged stalemates and sieges. Open conflict had been avoided in the region for generations before this point primarily because most of the great nations of the region had become fairly evenly matched. Added to this was the fact that war is costly, and as no resource was as precious as food or water, any effort failing to yield tangible results was quickly determined to be futile. With both sides of every conflict resulting from the malediction realizing that both they and their enemies had expended most of their resources, survivors eventually began to withdraw into their own borders to focus on using what they had left at their disposal.
As armies returned to their homes, governments began taking stock of their remaining resources, most of which had been depleted over the previous two years of conflict. In many cases, governments also found themselves having lost stores to bandits taking advantage of preoccupied military forces and panicked survivors of the initial shortages that took what they could loot and fled the cities for the wilds.
In some nations, this resulted in further increased restrictions on rations, which inevitably killed as many as it saved. Peasants literally worked themselves to death in reconstruction efforts to earn food and water rations that weren’t enough to replenish what they’d lost. In these nations, currency all but completely lost its value as people had neither money nor energy to spare for anything other than acquiring enough provisions to survive another day. Several of these nations ultimately abandoned currency altogether among their own citizens, to this day only trading with outsiders with goods or services of equal value.
Many fled their homes in search of untainted land, and gradually adjusted to a nomadic lifestyle of hunting the few remaining animals in the wilderness while searching for viable land to settle or hospitable survivors. In their absence, entire cities fell as they were either completely abandoned or overrun in their weakened state by bandits or the now nomadic tribes wandering the countryside.
The most notable change resulting from adapting to this new world is an almost universally shared sense of xenophobia. In the aftermath of the resource wars, all surviving nations lived in an almost overwhelming fear of another invasion. None could afford to withstand another siege, and anyone desperate enough to attack at this point would not be likely to take prisoners. While several governments attempted to make what preparations they could for such an event, most eventually were forced to repurpose or outright disband their militaries as they lacked the reserve resources to maintain them. Defenselessness in addition to hopelessness led to a deeply ingrained mistrust of outsiders. To this day, many take little interest in matters beyond their own borders, if any, and it is not uncommon for outsiders to find themselves unwelcome in foreign lands.
Recovery and Reconstruction
With so many lost to famine and war after the first several generations after the malediction, populations were low enough to be much easier to manage to feed. In addition to this, the passing of time did much to undo the damage done to the land as rain continued to fall, dissolving much of the accumulated salt in many areas and flushing it deeper underground. While the problem persists to this day and vast stretches of land remain tainted, much of it has been reclaimed. Many nations have managed to begin public works projects to harvest seeds from grasses, trees and other plants and spread them to newly reclaimed land. Several nations seem to have found the means to accelerate this process within their own borders, but their secrets remain closely guarded. As crops began to grow in reclaimed areas, the meager populations began to thrive. While expansion was slow as it was limited to the reclamation of tainted land, it gave the world a sense of hope that had not been seen since the malediction.