Magical storms are the source of many woes in Iouran, but one of the most feared is the infection commonly called the laughing pins, amber creep, or the Vagabond's tears. While it is only moderately contagious, the one hundred percent fatality rate means that those who exhibit symptoms are generally thrust from their communities with heartless speed.
Transmission & Vectors
The seeds of an epidemic are most often sown by an arcane storm, but once infection has taken root victims may spread it to others. It is believed that only direct contact can result in transmission, but there have been anecdotal cases which belie that supposition. Killing the infected at short range seems to produce a very high possibility of infection for those involved, though no one knows why. In very rare cases, non-sapient species have contracted the disease, and one such incident is believed to have resulted in an entire village succumbing, because the symptoms were not noticed in time for the usual measures to be taken.
While there are many recorded types of magical storm, only one has been proven to carry the amber creep with it: red blizzards. It is unknown why some people catch the disease while others seem immune.
Onset: Infected people initially only complain of mild headache. They exhibit an increase in energy, which only later becomes clearly manic, but may also lapse into trance-like states for a few minutes at a time, staring into the distance and looking lost in thought. Second Stage: The infected begin to exhibit uncontrollable twitches -- which rather look like someone has stabbed them with a pin -- accompanied outbursts of unprovoked laughter. Victims develop severe jaundice in their skin and eyes. The trances get progressively longer, presaged by piercing headaches. Eventually, individuals begin to walk jerkily during the trance state, and all infected head in the same direction. Outside of the trances, victims are still completely aware. Final Stage: Less is known about the final stages of the disease, because almost all victims are by this point ejected from their communities or killed. (Believed by many to be merciful killings, these are usually accomplished at the longest range possible.) Victims begin seeping thick orange-yellow fluid from all orifices. The trance state takes over completely and victims shamble with apparent purpose toward a single location two or three miles from point of origin. It is unknown why or how the location is chosen or how all victims of an outbreak know to go to the same place. Once there, dripping the golden sap-like substance, they pile on each other, creating a mound of people glued together by the fluid, which begins to solidify. Additional victims climb to the top as much as possible before collapsing. In large or extended outbreaks, the result is a lumpy tower of what looks like amber or melting glass with victims suspended within. If there is already an amber tower near the community, victims of fresh outbreaks will head there.
There is no known cure for the laughing pins. Even divine magic cannot reverse the infection once it has taken hold. Of course, in every community where an outbreak occurs, there are unscrupulous opportunists who sell various treatments guaranteed to cure the disease.
One hundred percent mortality.
There seems to be no limit on age or gender. One sorrowful Gherau ballad tells the tale of a mother who takes her infected infant to the amber tower and then waits at the base for the disease to take her while she watches friends and family from her community shamble toward her. Only Borrowers seem to be immune.
Priests and physicians both offer a number of theories for prevention, from amulets imbued with divine protection to steam baths with the oil of rare flora. None have been proven effective. The most reliable method remains simply being as far away as possible from the infected. Again, there are always snake oil sellers promising protection to the unwary and uneducated.
There are two record fragments from ancient Vessun that clearly indicate that red blizzards have been bringing amber creep to communities for all known history. Amber towers, or towers of the damned, dot the landscape, and the age can be determined by historians bold enough to examine the victims trapped in the base.
Victims are exiled from most communities as soon as it becomes clear they have contracted the disease. In the wake of a red blizzard, it is best not to laugh at all, in case one mistakenly be taken for infected. Eswe consider it a terrible fate to end up trapped in an amber tower. Victims are exiled to walk toward their doom, but then shot from a distance. Priests then carefully collect the body and bury it at sea. Most believe it to be very ill luck to stumble upon an amber tower, and people steer clear of known towers, barring a few children who indulge in dangerous dares.