The Leech

LEECHES

“Look, it’s – I don’t have time to explain. Just give me your hand.”

Having clawed its way up a ladder of stolen lifeblood, the soul of a Leech refuses to allow its body to die, holding the Pattern of the mage that hosts it in a state of full, vital animation. It’s a precarious existence, though, one which can only be sustained through predation.

The first Leech was an accident. Elias Drescher, a Mystagogue who had let slip more than a few secrets that he shouldn’t have, feared that the Guardians of the Veil might strike at him at any moment. He draped himself in protective spells, using the Death and Life Arcana to suppress his biological functions entirely and animate his body with magic alone. Safeguarded against blood loss or poison and free of the need to breathe or rest, Elias Drescher imagined himself safe against a hypothetical assassination attempt, but only grew more unhinged as his days of sleepless undeath wore on. He obsessively recast and reinforced the spells that held his body in suspended animation, turning the evocation of a complex Imago into a repeating nervous tic.

Things came to a head when, while negotiating for asylum with the vampires to whom he’d first furnished occult secrets, Drescher unthinkingly refreshed his animating magic and triggered a catastrophic paradox in the process. The spells he’d been relying on twisted out of his control, releasing their hold on his body and reaching hungrily outwards. The vampires in attendance were unaffected, but had no intention of sitting back and watching while the mage’s mistake blighted their lair and enervated their servants. When killing Drescher didn’t work, they tried turning him. Buffered with stolen life force of a much more refined sort, Drescher’s body and soul stabilized enough to allow the paradox anchored in them to dissipate. When Elias Drescher next awoke, he was to all appearances alive and healthy, but both he and his saviors could feel the change that had taken place. Unfortunately for Drescher, the city’s vampires weren’t interested in competition.

The transformed Drescher had little luck reintegrating into Awakened society. Rather than relinquish his collected relics and submit to analysis, he fled the Mysterium. Friends, cabal mates, and rebels against the established order sought the necromancer out beyond city reaches, looking to lend support or simply learn precisely what had happened. It wasn’t long before the assembled mages determined what was going on, or before some of those present decided that Drescher’s affliction had its benefits.

The Leech condition has proven to spread as a Legacy does. More a deformity of the soul than a refinement, it can take root in any mage exposed to the Legacy’s powers, though it can’t seem to overwrite an actual Legacy and it rarely manifests without deliberate cultivation. The condition is a liability to many mages, but to others it offers plentiful Mana, robust health, and, most importantly, a stab at immortality.

Parent Path: None – any mage without a Legacy can become a Leech. Moros and Thyrsus, however, are most likely to be able to take advantage of the Legacy’s powers.

Nickname: The Legacy is young enough that “Leeches” is both its formal and informal name, although some have bandied about “Ghouls” and “Vampires” as alternative, if potentially confusing, nicknames.

Appearance: Leeches normally avoid announcing their condition and so do their best to look like normal mages, whatever that may mean. Paleness and emaciation are common features of Leeches that fail to see to their appetites, and increasingly powerful Leeches become increasingly corpselike.

Background: Most first- and second-generation Leeches were drawn from the fringes of Awakened society, but variety in the Legacy’s membership has increased with time. Any mage fed upon by a Leech can contract the condition, and so a member of the Legacy might hail from any walk of life.

Organization: Leeches are a recent occurrence and as yet are very rare; most are only two or three “generations” from the Legacy’s founder, and a good fraction of those were infected by accident rather than inducted by choice. Many are drifters and apostates who hide their condition by avoiding contact with other mages. Such Leeches have no real support networks beyond their kin, and often find themselves competing for prey not only with each other but with vampires and other supernatural predators.

Other Leeches have carved out niches for themselves within Awakened society, usually thanks to supportive cabals and trusting superiors. Powerful and established mages are usually too canny to allow the onset of the Legacy to catch them by surprise, but might embrace it by choice. Such Leeches usually go to great lengths to hide their condition and work to drive away other members of the Legacy in order to avoid both suspicion and possible competition.

Leeches aren’t generally known to exist by either the Pentacle or the Ministries, but concerned cabal mates or prying superiors can’t be kept guessing forever. Leeches are members of a left-handed Legacy by most lights, but theirs is a gradual, piecemeal evil in comparison to dramatic crimes like soul theft or abyssal summoning. Though Leeches engender distrust and disgust by default, it can be argued that the feeding methods the Leech legacy provides are in fact a benign and sustainable alternative to the blood sacrifice all mages have the capacity to practice. Some Consilia might therefore allow Leeches to operate in the open without formal censure—especially if respected and influential decision makers turn out themselves to be Leeches.

Overall, members of the Legacy prefer to keep their true nature hidden. It’s good practice not to give others cause to wonder whether one should be allowed to live.

Oblations: This Legacy wounds the soul, rendering Oblations of any kind impossible.

Concepts: cannibal in denial, luminary with a dark secret, kindred rights advocate, optimistic transhumanist, patient zero, self-serving vampire hunter, wandering penitent, would-be curse breaker

Joining: All it takes to become a Leech is to be fed on by another Leech. The Willpower expenditures involved in joining the Legacy might represent a deliberate gift, an accidental infection, or an unwanted imposition. Whether a mage character actually becomes a Leech is, nevertheless, always the decision of that character’s player.

New Trait: Vitae
A Leech gains no Mana from Oblations. However, any point of Mana a Leech gains by inflicting harm on a living person (such as by performing a sacrifice or casting “Devouring the Slain”) becomes a point of Vitae. A Leech can also obtain Vitae from vampires, but suffers the same consequences that another vampire would.

Leeches store Vitae in their Mana pools, and can hold maximum Vitae up to the sum of their ratings in the Death and Life arcana. Acquired Vitae over this maximum becomes normal Mana. Leeches can spend Vitae place of Mana or metabolize it directly.

Each turn, a Leech can metabolize one point of Vitae per Attainment possessed. One point of metabolized Vitae heals two bashing wounds or one lethal wound. Once every day, a Leech can metabolize five total Vitae to heal an aggravated wound. Metabolized Vitae counts against the Gnosis-based limit of points of Mana spent per turn.

Each sunset, a Leech loses a point of Vitae. If they have no Vitae to lose, they instead age an extra day and suffer a Resistant lethal wound. Only one such wound can be downgraded or healed for every two days that pass, whether by natural or supernatural means.

Attainments: Leeches gain Death as a ruling Arcanum, or Life if they already favor Death. Leech Attainments manifest as soon as their prerequisites are met, requiring no tutelage. Since the Legacy is young, most Leeches have no idea what will happen as their powers increase, and none have yet developed the third Attainment.

1st: ABSORPTION
Prerequisites: Death ••, Life ••
Once per turn, through skin-to-skin contact with a living person, the Leech can reflexively inflict a lethal wound and gain a point of Vitae. This causes no pain or visible damage, just creeping exhaustion. Supernatural victims can detect the enervation with a Wits + Gnosis roll. Absorption can be activated as part of an appropriate combat action; the drain replaces the first two points of damage the Leech would have caused.

Wounds this power causes each take two days to heal naturally, regardless of normal healing times. Supernatural healing is effective, but always costs a minimum of one Mana or equivalent resource per wound.

Leeches and vampires take no damage from Absorption, but lose a point of Vitae and notice immediately. Such creatures can instinctively recognize a mage with this Attainment as a competing predator.

Drawback: Whenever a Leech with two Vitae or fewer touches potential prey, roll the Leech’s Resolve + Composure minus the Leech’s own Gnosis. This roll takes a –2 penalty if the Leech has no Vitae at all, and a cumulative –2 penalty if the Leech has any Resistant wounds. On a failure, the Leech involuntarily uses Absorption on whoever triggered the roll.

2nd: FIXATION
Prerequisites: Death •••, Life •••
No longer is precious life force frittered away on the myriad processes required to keep a human body functioning. This Attainment permanently transforms the Leech into an undead creature.

The undead Leech no longer needs to eat, breathe, or sleep, and cannot be sickened, fatigued, or poisoned. Conventional weapons inflict bashing rather than lethal damage and extremes of temperature or pressure barely register. A wounded Leech feels pain, but can’t be knocked unconscious by bashing damage or caused to bleed to death by lethal damage. Only deterioration from hunger causes the Leech to age. When the Leech metabolizes Vitae to heal, it can cure even Resistant wounds.

The Leech can see to its needs even when insensate. For each full day of unconsciousness, it can metabolize one point of Vitae and can also activate Absorption once.

Drawback: The Leech no longer heals naturally. Close examination identifies the Leech as dead unless some disguise, magical or otherwise, is in place.

Absorption’s drawback now triggers when the Leech has four points of Vitae or fewer.

3rd: DISCARNATION
Prerequisites: Death ••••, Life ••••
The Leech’s soul escapes into the world, leaving a desiccated corpse behind. A diffuse mass of stolen breath, the creature exists naturally in Twilight but manifests in the physical world as a cold fog. To those who can scrutinize souls, it’s a roiling mass of bizarre feeding appendages that stretch hungrily towards life and warmth.

The Leech can hear normally and see through total darkness, but lacks other human senses. It is tangible to vampires and other Leeches and can be burned by fire, but is otherwise incorporeal. It can drift at its Speed in any direction and flow past any Twilight obstacle that isn’t airtight. It can no longer meaningfully age.

Magic becomes the Leech’s primary means of predation. Whenever its spells or spell-driven minions wound suitable prey, the Leech can replace the first point of damage dealt with the effects of Absorption, potentially draining multiple victims simultaneously.

Drawback: Still undead, the Leech retains Fixation’s drawbacks. In its natural state, it can’t exert physical force or even speak, whether in Twilight or the physical world. If it obtains a body, such as by casting spells to animate and possess a corpse, it can use its Physical Attributes normally. A bodiless Leech needs an hour of contact to use Absorption directly rather than through a damaging spell.

When the Leech has four Vitae or fewer, Absorption’s drawback triggers the first time in any scene that the Leech perceives potential prey. Upon succumbing, the Leech loses control of its own magic, using its Instant Action each round to lash out at prey with hostile spells. This frenzy continues until the Leech has obtained as much Vitae as it can hold.

The Leech

The Act of Hubris Ferrinus