The Red Death and the Bloodmoon
It started small — forty-two years ago, in the year 1827, a farmer deep in the frigid interior of the Empire discovered some of her swine looked a bit pale, with odd lumps around their bellies. She sought the counsel of the local witches. When their herbs and spells could not cure the animals, the coven had the herd killed and their flesh burned, uneaten, to prevent the spread of this strange disease. It proved a hard season without their meat, yet the farm hung on, helped by the good will of neighbors and a few blessings from the coven.
The village was unprepared for what came after storm season. There are many theories about the cause; perhaps some poorly burnt flesh was eaten by a passing creature, perhaps a swine escaped before the witches arrived. Some say there was nothing anyone could have done; a disease as tenacious and twisted as the Red Death was the artifice of some long-dead god bent upon vengeance. There are as many stories as there are yellowed gazettes throughout both Vencht, the Sundered Marches, and places elsewhere. Whatever the reason, the following spring showed similar paleness, growths, and lesions among the creatures of the forest nearby. The coven came back in concert, but it was too late. People within the village began to fall ill. Before long, the bulges in their flesh would rupture and bleed profusely, without end.
Magic and medicine could hold the disease at bay for a lucky few, but the infected were many and the resources scarce. A rare disease that affected the animus essences directly, any red-blooded creature was potentially infectable, the witches found, and the village was lost. A handful were saved, and the rest died in fire and lightning, a desperate attempt to control the infection. It would have worked... had some of the witches not fallen ill themselves, exhausted from their efforts.
Passed through the network of covens, the Red Death began to swallow the empire whole. Cities underwent incredible quarantine measures to prevent the spread of the disease. If a settlement was deemed lost, the Imperial Council did in haste as the witches had done in reluctance, condemning all who lived within to die by magefire.
This was still not enough.
As the number of corpses mounted ever-higher, the rate of death only seemed to accelerate. Trade networks and farmland alike fell apart, and the Empire turned to its colonies for relief. Food and coin had to keep changing hands no matter what. So while the Empire had previously been happy to simply collect mineral resources from Lanva and Glorin and levy tariffs everywhere else, they doubled, tripled, quadrupled the tariffs and stole food from lands with little to give. Unrest was answered with military action.
All this death began to make the heavens themselves bleed. In the year 1839, on the 14th day of the Fadelight moon, people across the entirety of the world saw something they had only heard about during legends of the World Before: a scarlet sky, illuminated by a red moon. Under the light of this new bloodmoon, the dead walked the earth once more.
Yet in a way, perhaps, this terror was its own kind of blessing. Horror rang from every house on the continent, and rival empires like Giralnia and Messona sent mages, priestesses, and shipfuls of food to their long-time enemy. No one truly knew what might happen to the celestial bureaucracy if the body count got much higher.
Under a unified banner of cooperation from the great powers — and continued extraction from their colonies — Duvencht managed to finally turn the tide. The year 1848 was the first year in two decades that no village, town, or city was condemned to death by fire to cordon off the Red Death. It took twenty years before the epidemic was over, a crimson scar burned through the glaciated heart of Vencht.
Much of the world is fortunate that the disease began in the heartland of Duvencht rather than the coasts; it could not spread quickly by sea, and mass air travel was still a closely monitored military development. But it came at the cost of the interior of the empire: entire provinces that had been farmland lay empty of woman or beast for dozens of miles.
And even that was not the end.
For the past thirty years, the world has seen the sky turn scarlet upon every full moon; no one knows when the bleeding in the heavens will stop. The tales of the witches say that when the moon turned red after the calamity, it took hundreds of years for it to recover. The inescapable truth is that the day of the full moon, the 14th day of every month, is now a terrible one. The dead wander with rage through the wilderness, and any mortal soul that breathes its last under the bloodmoon must be swiftly consecrated, or find themselves condemned to an endless vigil. People have learned to live with it, for they have no choice. But they are not used to it.
No one ever really could be.