Illusion Sickness Condition in The Overlap | World Anvil
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Illusion Sickness

Illusion Sickness, or Walking Sickness, depending on which magical community you're from, is when your brain becomes so overloaded by illusory signals that it fails to differentiate between reality and illusion. Though some magical communities, the Ghost Speakers in particular, purposely induce this for a short period of time, the term usually refers to an indefinite condition. Though it occurs in several magical communities, it most common among the Ghost Speakers.


Illusion Sickness is so called because it is brought on due to over-stimulation by illusory images. This can be caused by any mental overlay of the physical reality, including illusions such as those created by Illusionists , as well as premonitions experienced by Foxes and Seers and the "false death" undergone by Ghost Speaker initiates. There is no evidence, however, of any sort of non-magical images, such as a drug-induced hallucination, can cause the condition. It seems necessary for a person to be accessing magic while simultaneously experiencing multiple realities for the condition to occur.


People with Illusion Sickness seem to constantly experience a second reality. Though they are able to interact within the world they live in, they frequently comment on nonexistent aspects which they seer, hear, feel, smell, or even taste. At its mildest, a person experiences regular visual or auditory hallucinations. At its worst, a person experiences physical pain, of which there is no physical cause. Some people have even expressed that they feel as if they are dying, sometimes in several different ways at once. This is similar to the experience that Ghost Speakers have when they are initiated, except that the experience does not end as it is supposed to. People who have the condition generally develop an uncertainty that any object or person which they interact with is real.


A treatment was developed several centuries ago and is used by both Foxes and Illusionists. It is a magical-medical tincture which is designed  specifically counteract  magical hallucinations and reset the balance of magic within a person. Patients seem most likely to recover when provided with both the medicine and counseling, though some recover spontaneously. While the medicine bears a strong resemblance to other Fox medicines, it is actually used more frequently by Illusionists, indicating that they have some awareness of each other and have worked together in the past to develop this treatment. Non-magical treatments for hallucinations also have some effect, but have been known to affect a person's ability to perform magical workings, likely due to the lack of a magical component in the medicine.


When someone develops Illusion sickness, it usually comes on the tails of strong magic, such as the illusion battle during the second half of illusionist training or the walk through death experienced by Ghost Speakers and Deathwalkers. People who develop the condition will continue to react to illusions and premonitions long after they have faded. They will also interact with elements of the environment that are clearly not present and may describe pain or other physical sensations that there is no physical reason for (such as feeling a broken bone, though said bone is clearly not broken.) Though these illusions may shift and change, it seems that some part of the overlayed reality is almost always present. As a result, those who are not quickly treated may become paranoid or socially withdrawn because they are unsure of what parts of their experience is illusion. Though the condition by itself is not deadly (nor does it have any direct physical symptoms) those who develop it are at higher risk of suicide because they can find no other way to end the illusions. This is especially true for those who experience physical pain, and for those who go untreated.

Affected Groups

As Illusion Sickness is a magically manifested condition, it is usually seen along magical lines. The groups that are most frequently affected are the Seers (specifically the Deathwalkers), the Illusionists, the Ghost Speakers, and the Scavengers, likely because these groups are the most likely to be doing strong magic workings which involve some level of overlaid reality, such as illusion and premonition. It seems that some people are more susceptible than others (as most people in these communities do not develop the condition), but it is unclear what other factors increase the likelihood of developing Illusion Sickness. Foxes, who also work in scrying, also have some cases of it, though significantly less than the others. The fact that the Foxes have a treatment for the condition, but that treatment is only known by Foxes who specialize in healing (not part of the regular healing curriculum) leads me to believe that the condition used to be more common among Foxes, but has become more rare. It is possible that the Foxes also re-designed the way in which scrying is taught in order to prevent students from developing the condition. Among other magical communities, the condition is virtually nonexistant.


Though none of the communities in which Illusion Sickness is common have active prevention programs, the condition occurs less among Illusionists and Deathwalkers than it does among Ghost Speakers, meaning that it is likely the preparation which Illusionists and Deathwalkers undergo before the possible trigger incident is a form of prevention. Furthermore, of the three groups, the condition is least common among Deathwalkers, who have eighteen years of preparation before their first death walk, as opposed to Illusionists, who may only have a couple of months to prepare for the second half of Illusionist training, which further supports this hypothesis.

Cultural Reception

The magical communities where Illusion sickness is most likely to be found view the condition differently. The term Illusion Sickness was developed by the Illusionists to describe initiates who develop the condition during the second part of Illusionist training. Foxes also use this name--further evidence that the Foxes and Illusionists co-operated in the past to develop a treatment of the condition. Among Seers and Ghost Speakers it is usually called Walking Sickness. Oddly enough, this term seems to have developed independently in the two groups, but in both cases refer to the experience of walking through death. Among Ghost Speakers, this refers to initiation, and among Seers, the final test of the Deathwalkers. In both cases, the participant is invited to induce the feeling of death and Walking Sickness sets in when that feeling does not later go away. Scavengers refer to it by either name, depending on which communities they are more familiar with.   When Illusion Sickness occurs in Scavenger communities, those who develop the condition are usually Scavengers who try to complete illusion magic or something which allows them to see into the future. Scavengers recognize it as a condition, but because of their loose "family" connections, those who develop it are usually left on their own and avoided by other Scavengers, and without assistance, they often end up killing themselves in order to end the symptoms. A lucky Scavenger might be cared for by friends, though their lack of expertise in the condition would make such care difficult. On very rare occasions, a Scavenger will seek assistance from one of the other magical communities, but this is unlikely, as most members of other magical communities detest Scavengers.   Seers also have little treatment for the illness. In the Seer community, Walking Sickness usually occurs in Deathwalkers, experiencing their first death walk. Because Deathwalkers are not allowed any form of help until they return to the Deathwalker school, severe cases of Walking Sickness are left to die in the wilderness. If someone does return with it, or if another Seer develops it, Seers try to treat the problem medically, with limited success. A person usually receives medication to stop hallucinations, but it is not as effective as the magical-medical treatment developed by the Foxes. Furthermore, treatment is often abandoned by those who have it, claiming that it interferes with their sight abilities. Non-Deathwalker Seers may kill themselves to end the symptoms, though this is less common among Deathwalkers, who have accepted their deaths at a fixed point in the future. Thus, those with the condition in the Seer community usually walk a fine line between maintaining their understanding of reality and maintaining their magical abilities.   The condition is most common among Ghost Speakers, and develops during the initiation process. This is one reason Ghost Speakers warn potential initiates to carefully consider their choice of becoming a Ghost Speaker, and sometimes invite potential initiates to witness an initiation before undergoing their own. Ghost Speakers have also developed homes to care for those who develop Walking Sickness. Though they do not have the medial-magical treatment which Illusionists and Foxes have developed, these homes are run by people who are trained in helping people differentiate their reality from the illusion, as well as to help maintain physical comfort, as the sensation of death is common among ghost speakers who develop the condition. Under this care, some people do manage to recover completely though most do not. The treatment does raise the quality of life with the condition, however, and many are able to manage it.    Illusionists view the Illusion sickness as a normal risk of going through Illusion training, and usually expect a couple of people to develop it during training. They have facilities designed for caring for these people, and those who develop the condition are brought to care at the first sign of it. The Illusionists use the magical-medical treatment developed, alongside counseling to help people who have developed the condition, and many recover fully. Many others who do not recover fully are able after a few months to return to their normal lives, with regular check-ins from an Illusionist doctor. Though Foxes have the same treatment for it that Illusionists do, there is less expertise within the Fox community, as the condition is significantly less common.
Chronic, Acquired

Cover image: The Thirteen Magics of Svene by Molly Marjorie


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