Desolation

It doesn't matter. There's no point to any of this. I couldn't save them then. No one can save me now.  
— Jharl'n, former Seeker
  Desolation is a mystical disease that begins with darkness and ends with the destruction of the self. Something like a cross between madness and possession, Desolation strikes those who find themselves lost in the underground and alone, then turn them against themselves. The self the unfortunates afflicted begin to dissolve and things in the darkness seep in to fill the void.   Parents scare their children not to go alone in the dark and explorers dread to find themselves alone and lost, 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 part as gateways that let the disease into the mind. It infects those who spend 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 machines replace men and women, afflictions of Desolation have begun to creep into even the heart of civilization. Those 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 begin 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 simply too strange for humanity to effectively communicate with, not even sharing even basic concepts like time or space. Ethereal and bound to their own domain, Spirits are only rarely seen manifest in physical form and it is always an ill omen.   Read more about Spirits
    Eventually, the afflicted will begin to feel their sense of self slipping away. The whispers become harder to distinguish from the afflicted's own thoughts and as such, they begin to act on impulses they cannot judge as having been their own. The deeper into the dark they slip, they begin to lose memories and their personality begins to change. As parts of the afflicted's self begin to dissolve, spirits and stranger things ooze into the void left behind.   The physical changes begin at the same time, though they vary in nature. Black eyes or blood are common symptoms, as are unnatural scarring, branding or disfigurement. While it is possible to stop 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 begin and the alien minds that scream in their heads end. The body begins to waste away or mutate until the sufferer becomes unable to sustain their own existence. 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 mind, the afflicted are frequently plagued with other ailments. Warped flesh is susceptible to other infections and illness, while the mind can become plagued by paranoia, phobias or compulsion.
  The exact time between infection and total 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, though its progress can be stalled. By avoiding isolation and darkness, the sufferer can avoid the final fate, though the symptoms of the disease can make this difficult. Not only do the symptoms make interaction with society difficult but once the disease is plainly visible, the afflicted are frequently shunned.   The further the disease progresses, the more difficult (and unlikely) halting it becomes. Through no fault of their own, those who suffer the disease are pushed away and left to stand on their own with only the whispers as company.    

Desolation 1

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 the Desolation is ever-present, the voices and press of dark 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 damn as many who suffer the illness as malice does.    

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    This lack of understanding extends to those who suffer from the disease. While Desolation is known and feared, in the early stages can be damnable difficult for the infected to correctly identify their malady. Only when their blood turn black or visions become too nightmarish to ignore do most realize the true nature of their affliction.   For this reason, many who suffer hide their affliction from the world for as long as possible. At the early stages and before any physical change, this 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 hide blackened eyes or heavy clothing to obscure mutating flesh.   Unfortunately, this adds a gnawing fear of discovery and a sense of suffering alone against something unknown that no one understands, adding another voice to an already terrible chorus to strain the afflicted's will.    
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 numbera 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 they hear 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.    
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Living in Despair

 
Everyday'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 afterwards 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 out among others, the Desolate usually go to great lengths to hide the symptoms of the disease for as long as they can. Long sleeves and gloves to hide blackened veins and twisting flesh while goggles obscure eyes that turn black. The further the disease progresses, the more difficult it becomes to hide it and the more elaborate or desperate the attempts become.   Unfortunately, the same drive to hide their affliction often mean 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 extended period of time 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.   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. Considerable prestige is on the line and some invest themselves in the search of a cure as a way to prove their way to be the one correct way of medicine.   The competing school of medical thought have almost diametrically opposed views on what such a cure might look like, so very little is shared to help those who are actually 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 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 have been tried, with countless more theories spawned from every failure.   Deva - the Art of Healing    

Cures and Quackery

  While no cure has yet to be found for Desolation, many still search for it. But with little understanding of the inner workings of the disease, progress is slow.   Others seek to make a profit from the misery, offering miracle cures and expensive treatments that they say will do everything from stall the progress of 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 either real or fraud and that hope does go some way to keep the worst symptoms at bay. But when hope turns to disappointment then despair, the effects can be crushing.    
Desolation is still a rare condition. For every man or woman who get 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 use 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.


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?

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

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!

9 Jul, 2018 15:01

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

9 Jul, 2018 15:09

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

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! :)

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!

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!

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!

24 Nov, 2018 13:22

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