There is, of course, no disease more infamous than that Plague of Visions, Dancing Lights. Its early effects are benign, but they rapidly give way to tragedy, as the disease quite literally makes the world into a waking nightmare.
Transmission & Vectors
As a strictly magical illness, Dancing Lights does not have a conventional disease vector. It is primarily contracted through dreams. Mortal spirits belonging to those persons currently living contain trace amounts of the breath of Vassar, which draw them to other samples of Vassar's breath when the body is inactive, in sleep, where it can be exposed to very high concentrations of Vassar's breath. To whit, a person becomes vulnerable to it when their spirit crosses into one of a number of locations within the Dreaming with a sufficiently high concentration. An exhaustive list of these locations is impossible to compile, as the nature of the Dreaming is such that it is undergoing constant change, but it is known that what makes a region dangerous is when it is particularly thick with the breath of Vassar, and that the Garden of Stone is a permanent risk-area, and is the place from which the disease originates. Additionally, a creature or spirit which contains a some quantity of Vassar's breath can infect a waking person, a category which includes persons with Dancing Lights, but the risk of infection is very low unless the creature or spirit contains a very large quantity of Vassar's breath. A creature or spirit with particularly fine control over their spiritual essence can deliberately inflict a person with the disease with a much lower quantity.
When a mortal's spirit is exposed to a high concentration of the breath of Vassar, some of it will attach itself to said spirit. This strengthens the connection between the spirit and the Dreaming to the point that it breath and flesh from the Dreaming, which further strengthens the connection.
The First StageIn the first stage, the afflicted experiences visual hallucinations. Specifically, erratically moving, multicolored shapes, which distract and disorient the afflicted. Simultaneously, a less-visible consequence of the connection to the Dreaming is that more of Vassar's breath passes through the connection to the Dreaming. As this particular stage progresses, the hallucinations grow brighter and sharper, and their movements become more fluid, ultimately giving the disease its name. Additionally, the afflicted will be more likely to cross into regions of the Dreaming with an especially high concentration of Vassar's breath when they sleep, further accelerating the progression of the disease.
The Second StageThe capacity of the afflicted's spirit to interface with their body is disrupted, which manifests initially as slurred speech, impaired motor skills, and short-term memory loss. The hallucinations which characterize the disease also worsen, appearing to dive-bomb the afflicted, and are now accompanied by an auditory hallucination in the form of a low, barely-audible grumbling. In Advanced Second-Stage Dancing Lights, the motor-impairment becomes serious enough that the afflicted cannot walk, and they have serious difficulty with verbal communication. This isolates the afflicted, causing a great deal of psychological stress.
The Third StageThe beginning of the third stage is marked by growths appearing on and inside the body of the afflicted with the texture, color, and viscosity of oil, which nevertheless congeal into nodules and tumors. These are composed of the flesh of Vassar. The visual hallucinations experienced by the afflicted override their sense of sight. Additionally, the afflicted will attempt to converse with persons not physically present, suggesting their auditory hallucinations have developed into coherent speech.
The Fourth StageThe nodules and tumors obstruct the natural functions of the body of the afflicted, but they do not die. The afflicted will regain the physical capacity lost to the disease, however they will at most experience a brief period of lucidity before devolving losing their higher cognitive functions, and becoming extremely aggressive to persons who have not contracted Dancing Lights.
Manipulation of spiritual essence is difficult at the best of times. The presence of the breath of Vassar causes further difficulties, because its contrarian nature disregards many of the normal patterns and relationships of natural law. That having been said, the afflicted are not entirely without recourse. Slowing the progression of the disease is much simpler than curing it. Because the progression of the disease is accelerated when the afflicted Dream, inducing a dreamless sleep in the afflicted will dramatically slow the progression of the disease, and herbal mixtures which can produce this effect are relatively simple to make. The most simple method of curing Dancing Lights is bathing the afflicted in a constant stream of the breath of Kogrun, Mallat, and/or Pennak, which will eventually dislodge scour the breath of Vassar from the spirit of the afflicted. This can induce a number of somewhat unpleasant side-affects—including lethargy, melancholy, and delusions of grandeur, as the breath of gods the afflicted is being bathed in will cling to their spirit in a similar fashion to the breath of Vassar. However, these will dislodge themselves over time normally, and as such are no serious cause for concern. The more serious issue with this method of treatment is the scarcity of godsbreath; unless treatment begins very early in the disease's progression, actually acquiring enough to treat exclusively using this method is a dubious prospect. Furthermore, the ability to manipulate godsbreath is rare, and the services of someone who possesses the requisite knowledge and skill are more expensive than most people can afford. Beyond that, there are a number of arcane traditions which have methods of treating the disease. The Myul Vorun of the Nimean People, for example, can expose the afflicted to an intense fire, protecting the body, allowing the fir to burn away the breath of Vassar. This can cause damage to those portions to the spirit of the afflicted, which requires a long period of time to properly heal, but even this is preferable to the progression of Dancing Lights. The more serious complication is that the practice of Myul Vorun is suppressed violently in most of the world, and as such finding this treatment is difficult. Considerably more legal is the treatment on offer from the Ngo Lor practitioners of the Priesthood of the Sundered Green, which draws the afflicting breath out through a specially-prepared ritual involving the use of a specially-prepared root system, and the assistance of a Spirit of the Green. However, following the Sundering of Ngavar, The Priesthood is only found in the city of Kul Khalesi, which can only be reached either by long sea voyage or a arduous overland route through the dangerous Ashen Wastes. Of course, for those in the city, receiving treatment has no cost, as it is seen as a matter of public safety. All of this is moot, however, if the afflicted has progressed to the Third Stage. In the third stage, physical matter from the Dreaming has manifested in and on the body of the afflicted, and almost immediately become far to numerous and widespread the fully eradicate. At this point, even most methods of killing the afflicted will result in their spirit being dragged to the Dreaming, and the physical symptoms of the disease will continue to progress in the body. The only option is to burn the afflicted alive.
The First StageIn the first stage, the connection to the dreaming disrupts afflicted individual's perception of reality in the form of visual hallucinations. Simultaneously, a less-visible consequence of the connection to the Dreaming is that more of Vassar's breath passes through the connection, which is what causes the disease to advance. Additionally, the afflicted will be more likely to cross into regions of the Dreaming with an especially high concentration of Vassar's breath when they sleep, further accelerating the progression of the disease.
The Second StageThe afflicted enter the second stage when Vassar's breath becomes plentiful enough to disrupt the spirit's capacity to interface with the body, manifesting its early symptoms. Additionally, the odds of contracting Dancing Lights from someone who has already been afflicted become statistically significant when they enter the Second Stage, and grows more severe as the stage progresses.
The Third StageThe connection with the Dreaming grows so strong that actual, physical material is able to cross over—and essentially all physical material is the flesh of Vassar. It becomes difficult to determine whether the afflicted are awake or asleep. In the third stage, contracting the disease through exposure becomes a very serious risk.
The Fourth StageEventually, the continued apparition of the flesh of Vassar will begin to obstruct the vital bodily functions of the afflicted, but they will not die. In this Fourth-Stage, the dream-like unreality imposed by the essence of Vassar—its flesh and breath—is significant enough that it can impede natural processes, namely the death of the afflicted. Eventually, this unreality will make it so that, despite the fact that the afflicted should not be able to do anything, the afflicted will still be able to stand and walk and speak. But they will not be the same person they were when they originally contracted the disease. Their original spirit will have been overwhelmed by the breath of Vassar, and upon waking their mind will very rapidly degenerate into something bestial, and they will seek out and attack non-afflicted. If they manage to wound the non-afflicted without killing them, they will stop any bleeding by filling wounds with the flesh of Vassar, and spend time in the vicinity of the wounded until they contract the disease, before seeking out new victims.
One can avoid contracting Dancing Lights by avoiding crossing into the Dreaming entirely through use of herbal tinctures which induce dreamless sleep. Additionally, if one only interacts with spirits and creatures which contain a high concentration of Vassar's breath while under bombardment by a high volume of Kogrun's, Mallat's, and Pennak's breath, contracting the disease through exposure is also preventable.
Outbreaks of Dancing Lights are relatively easy to prevent if the first one or two cases are identified and their progression stopped before they can reach the Fourth Stage. However, once one case progresses to the fourth stage, the disease can very easily develop into an epidemic, as each fourth-stage case actively seeks out healthy persons to afflict with the disease. Furthermore, the longer a fourth stage case is active, the more virulent it becomes, as their connection to the Dreaming grows stronger, and draws yet more of Vassar's breath and flesh.
Dancing Lights did not exist prior to the War of Shadow, as Vassar existed entirely outside the world, and mortals did not dream when they slept. But when the Enthroned Shadow was destroyed, Vassar's mind was shredded in the Maelstrom, and its body was shaped into the early Dreaming, Dancing Lights became inevitable. As spirits created in the Maelstrom now contained very small quantities of Vassar's breath, and those spirits dream as a consequence, every person is susceptible to the disease. Outbreaks were more common immediately following the end of the War of Shadow, when newly-made souls were born into infant bodies, and the first afflicted were incapable of describing what they were experiencing. Fourth stage cases were able to develop unhindered, and though they were not able to do much damage, they infected the parents of the former children. And when those parents progressed to the fourth stage, they were much more dangerous. Response to these early outbreaks was slow, and as such they progressed to the point where fourth-stage afflicted roamed the countryside. If they had operated with anything resembling a degree of intelligence, the consequences would have been even more dire than it already was. Eventually, it was found that these monsters were highly susceptible to fire, which destroyed scattered both Vassar's flesh and its breath such as to be harmless. When the fourth-stage was eventually connected to its predecessors, the response was swift, and people were burned alive at the first sign of symptoms. Eventually, as the new generation grew older, the afflicted were able to describe their symptoms, and research was done into the disease. Progress in developing a method of curing it was slow, however, as the afflicted continued to be burned before much research could be done. As the years dragged on, it was eventually discovered that the disease always showed up first in those persons who dreamed—which, at this point, was most of the living population. As more time passed, and governments remained vigilant for sign of the disease, the disease was slowly researched, the world came to grips with its causes, and treatments were developed.
Though people are able to push it out of their minds most of the time, incidents of Dancing Lights inspire a great deal of fear. Stories of the consequences of advanced stages of the disease are exaggerated by myth and rumor, and most places to not have ready access to treatment. It is still not uncommon for mass hysteria to cause villagers to burn one of their own to death when they become infected. Occasionally, persons suffering from different diseases with superficially similar symptoms will be burned to death as well.
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