The Sickness in Reality
A lone ranger stood alone in the foggy wood. He was just a few steps from the furthest he's ever been from home. He took a timid step forward and took in the surrounding environment. The Black March was expanding again. Everywhere he saw the signs of sickness. Trees stood diseased and dying with black mold growing in black tendrils along the bark. The ground was soft, and the further he went, the more the solid dirt gave way to the wetland. He kept walking forward, moving into the fog. He carefully placed each step, listening to the sounds of the wildlife. That is when he noticed the silence. Not a sound rang out in the woods. He turned around and suddenly realized he didn't know where he was. It was like he lost track of time. It was sudden like not a second had passed. Had he moved in further than he thought?
The sound of a bird chirping rang out and he scaled a sigh of relief. He journeyed further until he saw the telltale signs of melancholia. The black ichor that pumped from the ground below, the haze that rose from it and drifted in the fog. He pulled a makeshift cloth from his pouch and it tied behind his neck to cover his nose and mouth.
Again he felt that sense of unease. How far had he traveled? His legs ached, his eyes heavy. He wondered if he'd make it home. He knelt down and took out the food in his satchel, A loaf of bread. He eyed it hungrily while his head filled with thoughts of home. He thought of his son's smile that would greet him when he burst through the door and he would smile back. He thought of being caught up in the passionate embrace of his wife. He broke off a piece of bread started to eat. He thought of his infant daughter and how she would see to hug him with the most infectious smile. He thought of how he would never see that anyone smile again. He would never see his family again and tears welled up in his eyes...wait. Why would he think that?
He looked down and shouted in fear at the black mold that had infested his meal. It seemed to crawl and squirm as he jumped and threw it to the ground, pushing himself back into the tree behind him. He felt the thick liquid slip through his fingers. He didn't want to look. Instead, he listened for the chirp of the bird. He heard it and at first, he felt hope. He turned his head saw the black oil on his hand. It seemed alive. It pulsed and writhed as he took a cloth and tried to wipe it clean. It was starting to burn.
The chirping continued, but it was wrong. It was the same sound, but it seemed different. It was deeper, more guttural and despite how close it seemed, it sounded distant like it was miles away. He tried to peer through the fog and only saw the outline of it. It was a bird once upon a time, but now it leaked the ichor over the ground and its beak was stained in blood. Its feathers were black and the way it started with blank white eyes left him paralyzed. Then something else emerged from the Mist. A man dressed in rags surrounded by animals that once called this place home. They were tainted and mutated things, these grotesque creatures, twisted by the ailment that stained this land. He wanted to scream but he couldn't. He just stared, wondering what they would do...if it would hurt. Would the long make due on his promise and take care of his family if he died here? Maybe they would be better off without him...
The body was found mere feet away from the border of the The Wailing Wood and the The Black March. He died of starvation and stared with unsettling focus. The blank white eyes, gazed into the distance while the ranger laid back against a tree with a fresh, perfectly healthy loaf of bread mere feet away.
What is a Universal MaladyUniversal malady is a term that refers to the strange and often disorderly effects present in a specific location. Each unique form of these effects have been given a name that is synonymous with some form of mental state or disorder, as it would seem that reality is suffering from some kind of sickness and oftentimes that sickness affects the organisms within its area of effect. An organism is part of reality and feels these effects universally.
Melancholia for example often causes symptoms that are in line with the disorder in the minds of those within its area of effect. These disorders haven't been around for long. It is estimated based on the rate of growth that these areas affected by Universal maladies started showing their symptoms somewhere between fifteen hundred and a thousand years ago. The effects vary based on the condition, but it usually involves both emotional changes to the observer and physical changes that can be perceived in the affected environment. Other elements have been reported as well. Apart from more dangerous creatures, things like acidic mist or paralytic water can be found in some of these dangerous locations.
Travelers who venture to the strange lands of Lartasia will notice that in the deeper wilds colors show more vibrantly, the saturated hues showing with almost neon brilliance. At night in these secluded places, the luminescence will reveal fauna with unnatural intelligence. Majestic stags who once were prey now hunt wolves who talk as if they were scholars. Lartasia is home to other more bizarre creatures. It is the home of dragons, who come in many forms granting wishes in the most curious of ways. The people of Lartasia are said to have the technology and skill to conquer the world but infighting and their lazy luxury brought on by this mania makes that dream impossible.
In the Freeholds your fears are made real. You wander in a land where every creature is a form of spider or a land where everything is uncomfortably close to one another. The civilized races find survival difficult outside of the cities as massive insects terrorize any and all they come across.
Reality is tearing at the seems in these troubled times, and the effects are varied and rarely pleasant. The longer the exposure, the faster the onset and more severe the symptoms.
While the specifics around these maladies are vague and often difficult to understand even to those who have dedicated their lives to studying them there are a couple of specific pieces of information that they have been able to find both through their own efforts and through the efforts of the Gods.
- Areas affected are circular and spread outward evenly, indicated that there is a "ground zero" at the center of every area affected. No one has ever verified this but it assumed to be accurate.
- There is a physical source of the condition in every area affected. This was confirmed by the gods shortly after they all but disappeared. Something actively causes the condition and as such, one can infer, removing that source will cure the area or at least stop its spread.
- Some of these maladies, namely vertigo and disquiet may not have an epicenter or a direct source but instead appear as a direct result of other maladies or cataclysmic events. The Estoyan Pathfinders have proven this as vertigo can be cured if a pathfinder gets involved.
the secrets of ground zero
There is a ground zero for most areas affected by a universal Melody and this place is often where the effects are most severe if exposed. The closer one gets to the epicenter the quicker the effects of exposure. Usually, the source of a universal malady can be found within the epicenter and it is always a collector. The collector actively spreads the condition and must be destroyed in order for the area affected to return to normal. The process can take anywhere from a couple of days too many many years depending on the size of the area affected and the particular malady in question. The maladies are the result of different organizations referred to as void courts, of whom the collector is a part of.
The Gods have Abandoned UsWhile the divine answer prayers and make their presence known quite often, they have been unusually silent the past several centuries. They no longer show up to greet their followers. They no longer appear when summoned, and they no longer share the information they have gleaned from studying the maladies and the void. It seems to many that the gods have abandoned this broken world, paying only enough attention to ensure mortals know they are still present. Many deny the idea that the gods have abandoned the world, often using the massive influx of The Oathbound and Scions as evidence.
The gods did discover the source of universal maladies. The void is foreign, like most Outsiders but instead of joining this existence, it seeks to consume it. In reality, the gods did not abandon the mortals to their fate. Once the void was discovered to be the source of all Universal maladies the gods took up arms and decided to fight it head-on. This massive battle for the fate of reality is taking place in The Weirlands and leads to further maladies as the gods die. This place is the endgame for players. Its where the story of the expedition ends.
ResponseEstoya leads the way for "curing" reality. Its expeditions have been seeking the cure since the world went askew. The Estoyan Pathfinders have made the biggest impact. Their ability to literally reverse the effects of Vertigo.
Apart from this, most people are not well traveled enough to know that these conditions exist. They usually chalk it up to magic and hyperbole. The high races are fairly indifferent about the state of existence. The Alfen (Elves), The Tablin, and The Dwarves are the only races who either remember the times where vertigo plagued the land, or deal with the various maladies on a day to day basis. This contact has leaves them comfortable in the more favorable conditions of the present day. The same can be said of many other nations as well. The freeholds are no strangers to Phobia, where the malady is ever present and the Lartasians seem content with their exposure to Mania.
This indifference doesn't seem to all, however. Many members of the high races joined Expedition Demeter, and there are even some who stayed behind that recognize the instability of reality. The Nocturna are by far the most jaded. They sit in their city-state of Arkysalem and simply wait for the end to finally render their race extinct.
Silver LiningThe world of Expedition Demeter is inherently broken. Its fundamental laws are unraveling and with each passing year...it gets worse. This fact leads many to believe that the universe is "sick" and many are desperately trying to find a cure.
In the time of Expedition Demeter, traveling through the unknown is a perilous venture. One will wander into The Black March and slowly they begin to notice the world...changing. It starts subtle as the colors around you begin to dull little by little. Noises sound distant or are distorted completely. a stillness settles in the air making it stale. You have entered melancholia. The good news is, not all the maladies are inherently dangerous. Mania has caused numerous issues in Lartasia but it has also caused a massive boom in invention and art. The creatures of mania are said to be sparkling conversationalists. Vertigo is the sole reason Estoya hasn't succumbed to the ravages of melancholia to the north.
The ProblemThe real problem in studying these anomalies is that they are seemingly random. The location, severity, and areas affected have little to no common factors between them. Melancholia is only seen in The Black March, but reports of it in Dis have risen from time to time. The only exception is The Weirlands. Reality ailments are never as unpredictable or as perilous as Existential Anxiety. The Weirlands are the only region to experience it, and not one person has been able to study it fully before being lost in time and space. However, Its effect has been experienced by the world long before its afflictions. Therefore Disquiet does have a known cause: The death of gods
The vast majority of scientific study in the world is dedicated to understanding both the symptoms and the cause of these universal maladies. The gods themselves spent centuries studying it and attempting to fix it. The gods were fairly transparent with their findings, sharing information and offering insight into what their worshipers find. This fact was always considered strange and led many to worry, just how bad could this be if the gods seek the council of mortals?
Regardless, it seemed the gods found their answer as they have not directly involved themselves in years.