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Thorn Explains: The Whispers

Thorn Explains: The Whispers published on 5 Comments on Thorn Explains: The Whispers

Although Rowan doesn’t show up in this info page, he’s the only character who’s canonically had the Whispers — as recounted back in Time and Tides.

The longer name is “Spiritually Transmitted Acute Dysphoria,” or STAD.

Leif: Thorn, what’s “The “Whispers”? And should I be scared?

Thorn: Well, it’s a magical disease, and — The key symptom is an acute, usually paralyzing sense of hopelessness. So it’s pretty scary, yeah.

It has a longer scientific name, but it’s mostly called “the Whispers” because you catch it from infected spirits that “whisper” in your ears. Certain non-magical treatments can make it harder to catch — but the only cure is a magical girl with special healing powers.

It isn’t contagious between humans! Only spirits can transmit it. And even then, mostly between other spirits from the same domain. So if you’re in a region of Northern magic, you’re safe — they can’t get in.

But if a human is already infected . . . just relocating to a region of Northern magic won’t cure them. Neither will therapy, or chemical antidepressants. You need a magical girl.

Leif: So I could catch this, any time I leave the Embassy grounds? You could catch it all the time?!

Thorn: Only when there are infected spirits around to catch it from! This is the kind of thing we have health departments for.

Our spirit-based utilities (plumbing with water spirits, heat and lighting with fire spirits, waste disposal with nature spirits) all have filters. And national safety regulations. Any sign of infection can be isolated, then health officials can show up to sanitize it.

As for contagion from wild spirits . . . At least in Ceannis, “catching those early” is one of the Department of Prophecy’s top priorities.

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How vulnerable is the average person to The Whispers?

I’m wondering about the civilizational/worldbuilding implications – is it the kind of thing that could wipe out a small town, historically, if they weren’t big/lucky enough to have the right kind of magical girl on hand?

Based on what was said about it in Time and Tides (it’s linked in the comic desc), I’d say yes, it could totally wipe out a small town.

The biggest difficulties seem to be identifying an outbreak before too many people are affected, and locating/dealing with the infected spirits before they spread to other areas. People with the Whispers historically can’t recognize and report that they’ve been infected, so it’s up to other people around them who haven’t been infected to identify the signs and have the resources to take action against it.

That, plus it sounded like, while having a healthy mental and emotional state makes it *take longer* to be infected than someone who already has, for example, acute or chronic depression, it doesn’t make them less able to be infected or more resistant to the effects of the infection. So while a particularly vulnerable person might be infected within a couple hours, a healthy person might take a couple days – maybe longer, the story didn’t give a timeline on that. Which means multiple people could probably be in the process of being infected at once. The spread there is probably mostly dictated by how fast the infection is spreading through the local spirit population.

So if you got a small town that’s not familiar with the Whispers that gets an infected spirit who starts spreading it around, by the time people start showing symptoms, you could easily have a case where half the town has it. And once you get that large a fraction incapacitated, it’d get even harder to deal with it or tell anyone else.

I don’t think this offers any major new lore, but it sure makes me have all sorts of questions!

Do infected spirits eventually fight off the infection naturally, or is a whispers pandemic prevented due to something else like the infection killing of spirits at equilibrium rates?

Would it be accurate to call the whispers a spiritual equivalent of a virus, not alive but with complex self replicating properties when given the correct environment, or more like a prion disease, where a single malformed molecule causes a chain reaction in the victim’s spirit until death or extensive repair by the magical girl?

What about non humans, and non sophonts? Any long runners due from the whispers, then return? If so, did they have a case of it when they were born or awoke?

What does the historical record for the malady look like? Ancient? Less then a century old with origin conspiracies amok? A relatively minor mutation of a much worse variant that burned itself out?

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