Desolation

It doesn't matter. There's little left for me now; food has lost its taste, music no longer touches my soul, and I can't see the joy in any of this.  
— Jharl'n, former Seeker
  Desolation is a mystical disease that begins with darkness and ends with the destruction of the self. A mix of madness and possession, Desolation strikes those who find themselves lost in the underground alone, then turn them against themselves. The self and identity begin to dissolve, and things in the darkness seep in to fill the void.   Like a rot from within their soul, they are doomed to lose not only their lives but their very identity.    

Cause

  The exact mechanics of how Desolation takes root is poorly understood. Isolation, gloom, and despair seem to play a part in how it worms its way into the mind. Most are infected during a prolonged time alone in the darkness of the caves, and the deeper one goes, the more likely infection becomes.   Infection is unpredictable. Some spend years in isolation without contracting the disease, while others succumb quickly. On average, it takes many months for the sickness to take root.  
As the cities grow in size and individual lives cease to have meaning, Desolation has begun to creep into even the heart of civilization. Those souls who are lost and alone with no one to turn to and nowhere to go succumb to Desolation.   These cases are still rare, but those so infected are truly unfortunate; alone even when surrounded by teeming masses of humanity.
  Desolation is not infectious, though that does little to protect the afflicted from ostracization, imprisonment, and further isolation from their peers through fear and superstition.      

Symptoms

  At the first stages of infection, the afflicted will begin to hear wordless whispers in the darkness or see things move just out of the corner of their eye. As the disease progresses, the afflicted's perception warps, and they begin to see the shadows between worlds. Spirits, phantoms, and living shadows all start to form in front of the afflicted's eyes, and they see her in turn.  
Spirits   Alien and immortal, the spirits of Araea are primordial things. While not all are hostile, almost all are too strange for humanity to effectively communicate with, not even sharing basic concepts like time or space.   Ethereal and bound to the world beyond the veil, Spirits are only rarely seen manifest in physical form, and it is always an ill omen.   Read more about Spirits
  Eventually, the afflicted's sense of self starts to slip away. The whispers become harder to distinguish from their own thoughts, and they begin to act on impulses not entirely their own. Worse, they remain aware of their own dissolution, even as reality becomes harder and harder to grasp. The deeper into the dark they slip, they begin to lose memories, and their personality begins to change. Darkness fills the void left behind, and the phantoms become part of the afflicted.   The physical changes begin at the same time. Black eyes or blood are common symptoms, as are unnatural scarring, branding, or disfigurement. While it is possible to halt the sickness at this step and survive, those so altered are forever scarred and changed. Past this point, the afflicted's physical and mental state deteriorates.   In the final stages of the disease, the afflicted has been hollowed out. They are no longer able to tell where they end, and the alien minds that scream in their heads begin. The body gradually wastes away or mutates until the victim's body collapses under the weight of its corruption. The person that was is gone and what is left is a tainted mass of flesh and bone.  
As the disease warps the body and soul, the afflicted are frequently plagued with other ailments. Warped flesh is susceptible to other infections and illnesses, while the mind can become plagued by paranoia, phobias, or compulsion.
  The exact time between infection and utter degeneration varies on the afflicted but is typically measured in months, if not years. Death by suicide or by superstitious mobs often claims the infected before the void becomes large enough to swallow them.  

Desolation 3

   

Treatment

  There is no cure for the Desolation, but it can be stalled. By avoiding isolation and darkness, the sufferer can stave off dissolution, though the symptoms of the disease make it difficult. Not only do the symptoms make interaction with society difficult, but once the condition is plainly visible, the afflicted are frequently shunned.   The further the disease progresses, the more difficult (and unlikely) halting it becomes. They become isolated, abandoned by friends and family, with only the whispers as company.    

An advanced stage of Desolation.
   

Alone in the World

  Most who become infected are doomed to rot away in quarantine or killed by fearful mobs. Others face a slow, inexorable decline. It is possible to survive the disease to a remarkable degree as long as it does not reach its final stage. But Desolation is ever-present, the voices and press of darkness always there. Even the strongest wills are eventually be worn down, with no escape, no cure.   Shrouded in superstition and fear, Desolation is poorly understood, and its suffered shunned. In more enlightened city-states, they may be sequestered away from the public in monasteries and asylums. More commonly, and particularly if the sufferer is poor or of low social status, they are quarantined in squalor. Friends and family form the most basic and common unit of support for the afflicted. Sometimes, a tight-knit community will rally to support their sickened kin.   Such support is never sure, as fears about the disease spreading rise or manic episodes from the sufferer erode goodwill. Ignorance doom as many as malice does.       This lack of understanding extends to those who suffer from the disease. While Desolation is known and feared, it can be damnably difficult for the infected to correctly identify their malady in the early stages. Only when their blood turn black or visions become too nightmarish to ignore do most realize the true nature of their misery.   For this reason, most hide their affliction from the world for as long as possible. Before any physical change, it is relatively easy, as the afflicted seem more unhinged or odd than seriously ill. Some manage to hide their suffering even after their bodies begin to warp, wearing thick goggles to conceal blackened eyes or heavy clothing to obscure mutating flesh.   Unfortunately, this adds a gnawing fear of discovery and a sense of shame. This worry adds another voice to an already terrible chorus to strain the will and sanity of the afflicted.  
Cult of the Singing Dark   Not everyone fears the deep darkness. Some see salvation in its gloomy depths or hear the voice of gods as wing screams through honeycomb tunnels.   The Cult of the Singing Dark is centered around the presence of two suffering at the advanced stages of Desolation. At this point, they do little more than wail, and the cults wail with them. They consider it a hymn to the gods of the dark caverns, a hymn that must never end, and so cult-members take turns to sit at the feet of the afflicted and wail with them. Others sit nearby and listen intently, hoping to record any words of wisdom or prophecy. Every scribble is revered as gospel and believed to hold significant meaning. In the few moments of lucidity, when the two afflicted speak clearly, the entire cult gathers to listen with bated breath.   Recently, one of the afflicted has lost his voice, his throat and lower face beginning to swell and mutate grotesquely. The cult is split; will their prophet ascend to become something great, or has his time come? Will they have to seek out another that has been so blessed, or drown one of their numbers in darkness alone to seek it out? Time will tell.

Desolate or Divine?

To some, Desolation is sacred. A price to be paid to commune with the divine. Cults and churches treat advanced stages of the sickness as a gateway of sorts, a conduit to greater powers.   The whispers are recorded and treated as prophecy or gospel, while others see them as sacrificial lambs - doorways to the beyond, made of flesh. Those in the late stages of the disease often exhibit powers both strange and terrible but are often too mad at that stage to do anything with them.  
 

Living in Despair

Every day's a struggle. But what else is new?
  Those who live with Desolation face two main obstacles: themselves and others. Even the strongest will is eventually worn down when left in isolation, and often the diseased will try to be part of their communities. These attempts tend to follow a cyclical pattern; a flurry of activity and interactions, a down period afterward, and then often followed by self-imposed isolation where the afflicted imprison themselves with brooding and self-doubt.   Eventually, they never break out of that last state on their own. The disease turns them against themselves.  
Desolation 4
  When they are among others, the Desolate usually goes to great lengths to hide the symptoms of the disease for as long as they can. They wear long sleeves and gloves, goggles or masks, or blame other afflictions for their appearance. The further the disease progresses, the more difficult it becomes to hide it, and the more elaborate or desperate the attempts become.   Often, the same drive to hide their affliction means the Desolate become unable or unwilling to seek the help they need.  

The Atma on Desolation

The Medikari of Atma believe that the root of Desolation lies in a severe spiritual imbalance. The most frequent attempts at a cure resolve around attempting to correct it by exposing the afflicted to light for days on end or trapping them in crowds. If isolation and darkness created it, perhaps light and exposure will banish it. While some of these experiments have yielded promising results, none have offered a cure.   The most radical attempts at treatment have included exposing the Desolate to Blight with the theory that it might work as a sort of antithesis to darkness. These experiments have invariably been fatal.   Atma - the Science of the Balanced Body  
Despite being relatively rare, the competition is intense between the Atma and Deva about who will be the first to cure the dreaded disease. More than just prestige is on the line, and some throw themselves into the search for a cure to prove their way to be the one correct school of medicine.   The competing schools of medical thought have almost diametrically opposed views on what such a cure might look like. Very little is shared between doctors, and little help is afforded to those suffering from the disease.
 

The Deva on Desolation

Most theories among the Deva about the cause of Desolation tend to be very esoteric. Corrupted meridian or invisible organs not yet understood are sometimes put at the center of what causes the disease. As such, the Deva's way of treating the disease are widely varied but generally ineffective - something the Atma-schooled Medikari never let them forget. Everything from healing crystals to acupuncture to exile to the Surface has been tried, with countless more theories spawned from every failure.   Deva - the Art of Healing  

Cures and Quackery

Although no cure has yet to be found for Desolation, there is no lack of those who promise otherwise.   Others seek to profit from the misery, offering miracle remedies and expensive treatments that they say will do everything from stall the disease to cure it completely. Charms and token to ward off the dreaded Desolation are sold at almost every town and market that sees explorers and travelers, each promising false protection.   Some infected cling to the hope offered by these cures, and that hope does go some way to keep the worst symptoms at bay. But when hope inevitably turns to disappointment then despair, the effects can be crushing.  
Desolation is still a rare condition. For every man or woman who gets lost in the caverns, the disease comes only to a few.   No one is sure why some are spared and others not, but there are as many theories as there are victims.
 

Channeling Darkness

  Those suffering from Desolation are cursed with vision beyond the mortal plane: to see the Spirits in their true form. Some few learn to turn this sight in a strange, instinctive form of Thaumaturgy. Instead of scarring their bodies with channeling symbols, the Desolate uses the wounds on their souls to bleed reality-warping ichor into the world.   The spells of the Desolate tend to be rougher and less controlled than Thaumaturgy, like a wild current rather than a trickling stream. More than the Theurg, the Desolate's dissolving self warp the manifestation of their spells in unexpected ways: crystals sprouting from conjured stone or manipulated mushroom all weeping blood.

 
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Comments

Author's Notes

Changelog: 2018-07-12: Added more images.   2019-08-05: Grammar/Typos, end header image added.


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8 Jul, 2018 19:26

This is just messed up in a good way. Very scary how it is just untreatable. Is it possible to mask the symptoms for those infected?


Check out my worldbuilding in the Ethnis Universe!
8 Jul, 2018 19:31

Yeah; before any physical change happens, most of the afflicted just seem to be losing their mind. Of course, they're losing more then that...   At the later stages of the infection... Potentially! Wear goggles, and no one can see your eyes. Heavy clothes to hide deformations beneath. One of the potential character types of the setting could very well be someone suffering from Desolation, using their conduit to the Other to explain their powers and mysterious magic... At a price.   And thanks; sounds like I hit the right notes. :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
9 Jul, 2018 08:18

Hey Barron,   Your comment gave me some ideas, so I expanded upon the question you had in a bit under Cultural Reception. I added some how's, why's and consequences. Hope you like it, and thanks for the question, it lead down some interesting thoughts!


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
9 Jul, 2018 15:01

Glad I could get some ideas flowing friend! I like the changes, even if they are pretty darned sad


Check out my worldbuilding in the Ethnis Universe!
9 Jul, 2018 15:09

They definitely need to be careful to not let their picks break, that's for sure


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
8 Jul, 2018 20:33

Well this is just terrifying. A sort of loneliness fueled depression condition that manifests physically eventually? Especially as the victims seem somewhat random. Excellent article!

9 Jul, 2018 08:23

And evil spirits, lets not forget those!   Thanks for the comment, I appriciate them greatly! :)


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
mashley310
mashley310
8 Jul, 2018 21:37

This is super interesting! It's really sad that society pushes those suffering away, which makes the symptoms worse and turns the disease into a death spiral. Are there any organizations or anything that help people who have this disease?   I feel like it would be super fun to put something like this in an rpg and force your adventuring party to somehow deal with it.

9 Jul, 2018 08:22

Thanks for the comment! I always appriciate hearing them! :D   To answer your question: yes and on. At large, these are societies that still consider blood-letting and the four humors to be the height of medical technique, so a complicated part-psychological part-spiritual possesion disease is a little bit out of their league. But I thought it was a very interesting question worth expanding upon, so I added some detail about that in the Cultural Reception bit at the bottom. I included an example organization, through "help" might not exactly be correct with what they do. :)   As the RPG: Yeah, I kinda imagined it could be a potential adventurer background, or class. A very twisted take on the shaman or warlock class, where you get your powers from parts of your Self dissolving and getting filled in by dark, alien terrors from the deep.   Thanks again!


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
LaughingProphet
Laughing Prophet
13 Jul, 2018 09:29

As someone who went several years past the point I should have been diagnosed with Clinical Depression, this is pretty much an accurate representation of beliefs about mental health and how it gets treated in far too many places to be okay. Issues with treatment also seems fairly accurate given modern medicine being at its best inconsistent person to person with the issue.   On the bright side I still seem to have all of my skin, so I've got that going for me. Good read.

13 Jul, 2018 09:37

Depression and isolation were very much the fundamental inspirations (if you can call it that) for Desolation, especially in how it is often treated or viewed. But at least we do still have all our skin!   Hopefully, you are doing better too!


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
24 Nov, 2018 13:09

Great world building as always Qurilion! This was such a good read, your idea is fantastic and the layout is on point as usual!

Grab your hammer and go worldbuild! :3
24 Nov, 2018 13:22

Thank you! :D It was a fun article to come back to and edit


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
28 Dec, 2019 20:49

I know this is in no way a constructive comment but I have to express my awe. This is brilliant and I love it !

28 Dec, 2019 22:45

Haha, thank you very much! I appreciate hearing it and I am very glad you enjoyed the read :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
24 Jun, 2020 18:05

I like what you did here. Very convincing and just the right mix of relatable experience and fantasy.

24 Jun, 2020 18:46

Thanks :) Yeah, it definitely hits a bit close to home, sometimes!


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
14 Jul, 2020 08:51

Ugh this is awful, those poor people. It's so sad that isolation exacerbates the affliction but the afflicted are shunned by society. :(   The image of the Cult wailing along with their prophets is also terrifying.

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
14 Jul, 2020 12:15

Definitely not as fun as Megacorpolis. And very relatable to many of us.   It's definitely one of the things that'll be a plot point in various Araea things, so stay tuned for more of that... :)   Thank so much for reading and commenting <3


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
2 Oct, 2022 23:08

This one made me sad :((

3 Nov, 2022 08:41

It's not a very happy one, I'm afraid. :(


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.