Even the great hall was dark. That was highly unusual, thought Zirka to herself, as she gripped her lantern tighter. All the tunnels of this dwarven colony were found empty by her scouting party but there were no signs of a fight. What happened here? Tensely, she edged into the great hall were dwarves usually dance, work and celebrate. The dark figures in the centre - bodies. The people must have come here to die. She pulled the blanket of one dwarf back.
The lantern shattered on the ground. "Blessed be Maned, protect me from this evil!" she muttered. The image burned in the darkness before her eyes: The skin of the dead dwarf was permeated by discoloured blue veins.
The blue taint, the Steel Plague, the Smith's Curse. Many names have been given to a disease, that lurks in what dwarves admire most - metal. The wrong piece of steel, the slightest careless touch and a strong and healthy dwarven smith can be dead within the day or horribly disfigured, never to be working in a smithery ever again.
Being caused by magical amoebea in a certain type of Iron ore, any steel made of this iron will infect any Dwarf
that comes into direct contact with it. Since the steel is in no way discernable from untainted steel and so far there haven't been found a way to remove the taint, the danger of catching the desease is ever present. In fact, most dwarves are very hesistant to ever touch any unknown piece of metal or metal alloy with their bare skin, even though the effect can only appear in dwarven steel.
An infected dwarf will suffer from cramps, dark blue discolouring of the bloodvessels and skin, nausea and weakness ultimately leading to death through total organ failure within 24 hours. The visible taint spreads from the point of contact on throughout the whole body.
If a dwarf somehow survives the first thirty hours of sickness they will recover within a few days. However, unless healed through magical means they will be overly sensitive to heat and light - even more than Humans
- effectively ending any carreer in metalworking.
A sharp pain started in her hand and Zirka knew, that her veins were turning blue right this moment. She was doomed - and so was everybody around her.
Transmission & Vectors
The agent is only ever transmitted via touch. Once a dwarf touches a tainted piece of metal, the taint will spread through their whole body from the point of contact on. Any other dwarf that touches the victim's skin with their bare skin will be infected as well - though the chance is not full certainty, if a not yet visibly affected area is touched. Make contact with the blue taint itself however, and the desease will certainly spread.
There is no incubation period, a dwarf is instantaneously sick and can transmit the desease.
A deceased dwarf is still infecteous months after death. Burning the body does prevent this.
The desease was initially caused by an infected vein of iron ore found deep within the montains of Maned's Crown
. After the magical process dwarves use to create alloys, the resulting steel was actively tainted.
It was theorized in the last decades that magical amoebeas resided in the ore, possibly as the aftermath of some magical build-up or catastrophe. The processing of the ore using magic woke or activated these amoebeas. There is also the theory that the magic of the dwarves primed them to their race, thus explaining only dwarves being ever affected. It was not until 1665 AR that the existence of these amoebeas had been proven.
Interestingly, the taint can spread. As the convicted mad dwarven alchemist Jungar Grippond
found in his condemned experiments around 1120BR, if a small chunk of steel is processed together with other, ordinary steel, the whole metal will be tainted. Depending on the ratio between tainted and untainted steel there seems to be some diminishing effect at first. After a few years the whole item is fully tainted though.
This effect does only occur if the metals are fully melted together , however. A steel weapon touching a tainted weapon will as far as is known so far, not become tainted as well.
The first and most obvious symptom of the Blue Steel Taint are a discolouring of the veins to a glowing dark blue, creeping from the first point of contact all over the body within a few hours. Eventually all the skin will turn blue. This is almost always accompanied by total hairloss.
After two to three hours the dwarf will become feverish and start hallucinating. Many dwarves develop strong cases of paranoia and aggression, attacking other people around them with their bare fists - ultimately spreading the disease even more. In rare cases, the symptoms never develop past this stage, with the fever suddenly breaking and the hallucinations and paranoia slowly going away over the course of a few days.
After around eight hours but at the latest after twelve hours the dwarf will slip into a feverish coma. They will be too weak to get up and dehydrate quickly. The blue veins will feel hard to the touch and their heartbeat will slow down extremely.
Roughly four hours after this last stage, the dwarf will be shaken by cramps as his organs shut down one by one. Within a few minutes, the dwarf will be deceased.
For the longest time, the only known treatment was rest, many fluids and a cooled room to give the dwarf the ability and strength to fight the disease by himself. The survival rate was less then 1% at this time.
After the discovery of the healing effect of White Swordlilly
in 512AR by Geronis Greenhammer
treatment of a dwarf included at first a White Draught
, to be taken every hour, later came inhalation of steamed Whitelilly Tonic
and compresses drenched in Swordlilly Extract
. This increased the survival rate to almost 60%, but always included all lasting effects.
One remote dwarven clan blessed by Maned
discovered early magical treatments of the disease in cooperation with the Ethari
, before unfortunately being almost wiped out. Nevertheless this knowledge eventually was rediscovered and many orders devoted to Maned now are capable of healing a dwarf through divine magic - if they get to him fast enough.
The spell Blessing of Steel
can avoid lasting effects like disfigurement, heat sensitivity or light sensitivity. The later the spell is applied, the fewer effects it is able to prevent. Normal healing spells are capable of slowing the course of the disease and improve the fighting chance of a dwarf but can never heal it completely.
The Blue Steel Taint is in most cases fatal within a day. In rare cases (less than one in threehundred) a dwarf can be strong enough to survive the disease on their own, but they will be disfigured by blue discolored veins all over their body, a permanent sensitivity to light and heat and sometimes a heavily reduced vision.
The application of White Draught
, Whitelilly Tonic
, or Swordlilly Extract
can increase the survival rate up to one in twelve dwarves, but all the above aftereffects will still remain.
Healing through magic will almost certainly cure the dwarf. Depending on how far they were along, the showing symptoms can be reduced or even completely avoided. If a dwarf had already fully developed the symptoms however, even healing through magic can not nescessarily remove all of these permanent conditions.
Today, roughly three in seventy dwarves succumb to this disease. About one in fifty dwarves will not ever work in a smithery again.
Any dwarf that survived the desease will be forever immune to it.
Hosts & Carriers
The disease is only carried by a very specific vein of iron ore. Within this ore tiny, magical amoebea live, apperently consuming ambient magical energy to produce the high grade iron ore.
When processed in a specific way utilizing dwarven magic, the amoebeas become active and stay active forever. From this point on, the amoebeas can get transferred via touch to a dwarf.
Any infected dwarf is again a carrier of the amoebea and can infect other dwarves. No other race is a carrier of the disease or can be afflicted by it. Deceased dwarves can still infect other dwarves for months after death. Burning a body drastically decreases this period to a few minutes - however it has happend that a dwarf got infected from inhaling the ash during the burning process.
When melting two batches of steel together, without the use of any specific technique, the infection of amoebeas will spread throughout the whole material over time.
"Come little dwarf, and join our fight" said the Orc and handed a shiny, polished dagger to Buredal. The dwarf hesitated to reach out, shooting a side look to Larnesh. "Do you, maybe, have any protective gloves?" Larnesh scoffed "Do you think our metal is inferior? This dagger is made from best dwarven steel, so why should you complain?"
"Acually, do you have something made from any other steel, maybe?"
Before it was known that metal transmitted the desease, many dwarves saw this as a punishment for too greedy behavior. Priests of Maned taught a livestyle of mindfulness and content with little.
After learning about the transmission via metal, it was thought that any metal can have the possible negative effect of transimitting the taint. Workshops made leather gloves while handling the metal mandatory for all worksteps, even if working with cooled ingots or readymade tools.
Weapongrips were carefully crafted out of wood and hardened leather, to prevent direct contact with the metal to the wielder. Metal armor was thoroughly padded form the inside. The dwarves were the first to invent a way, to put on or rather enter an armor out of metal with an apparatus that then thorougly encloses the warrior. 
Many merchants make an extra profit with their merchandize if they can provide prove of the metal being not tainted - many items of dwarven artifaction have a carving with a stylized Manedcoin
on it, to show the item to not be harmful.
If a colony or a group suddenly is plagued by an outbreak, this was usually seen as a prove of careless livestyle. Where it first was thought the dwarves were unpius, greedy or in other ways not following the ways of Maned, later it was seen as dangerously lax conditions in a workshop. Over time either the workers, the overseeres or the owners of a workshop got blaimed for the outbreak.
Having survived the Blue Steel Taint was rare and left the victim with no ability to ever work in a smithery again. However, many of them got recruited into the Bluebound
, learning divine magic capable of healing the Blue Steel Taint. This was usually seen as a way of redemption by other dwarves and acolytes of this order were usually lookd upon with high respect
- and always with dread when seeing the blue, twisted face of the terrible disease.
Fraud and Recklessness
Merchants who would proclaim their items to be free of taint had to offer sufficient prove of this. Wrongfully facilitating a seal of the Manedcoin was punishable by death up until ca. 1500 AR. In the wake of the horrifying experiments by Jungar Grippond
merchants were hasty to prove items were not "tested" purposely on living dwarves. This led to an inquisition against merchants who purposely lied in this regard.
Mark of quality
Initially being a sign of untainted steel, the marking of the Manedcoin developed into a general seal of quality over time. Since the engraving of a Manedcoin on untested metal was punishable by death however, this directly led to the slightly changed Manedseal
, that is given out by the Council of Quality
since 1552 AR.
The Order of Bluebound underwent several changes in attitude over the centuries. They initially gained a lot of followers by preaching about and saving people rom the Blue Steel Taint. When the outbreaks got more uncommon they gradually lost influence in the tenth century. Thus, they were in no position to stop the dwarven colonists to reclaim the condemned colonies - ultimately leading to the biggest outbreak of the Blue Steel Taint.
In subsequent centuries, the Order heavily influenced many decisions concerning trade and expansion, even leading an inquistion after the experiments of Jungar Grippond
were uncovered. In the decades after, a growing chisma between the order's believes and technological progress grew, leading to a second inquisition.
Parts of the Order went rogue and tried to gain control over the dwarven council and way of life. They purposely infected dwarves with the Taint to recruit them into the Order after they healed them
. After this ultimately failed attempt to grasp for control, the significance of the Order an religious orders in general greately diminished all over Aliretar