No continuity is complete without bloodsuckers. In EC, a blood-drinking "race" of individuals called Returners fill the vampire role. Though termed a race, what they actually are is the victims of a highly unusual disease known as Jiangshi, named for the region in China where it was found. The record is incomplete with regard to exactly when and where the first case was reported. Though like any plague it could have been quarantined and contained, history records that a group of quasi-religious eccentrics, in congress with Dark Gods, looked upon the infection as a gift from their evil masters. They deliberately infected themselves, and sowed the seeds for a widespread epidemic that has slowly crawled across continents over the last 1000 years.
Jiangshi is an exceedingly rare immune disease, and as infectious agents go it is not very communicable. Only a large infusion of blood from an infected host to a clean recipient can cause full-on infection. Sexual transmission is possible, but is much less likely to infect than transfusion. A common, if somewhat ritualistic way to perform this is to create a small open wound inside the intended victim's mouth and having them drink large quantities of Returner blood. In this case, it's the blood flowing past the open sore, increasing the chance for infection that does the trick, and the actual drinking of the blood is symbolic at best.
Jiangshi attacks reproductive organs, and although does not eliminate the ability to copulate, invariably renders patients sterile.
Jiangshi damages the skin's ability to produce UV-filtering pigments, and in addition creates a photoallergic immune response to fur dander that can cause severe rashes and skin irritation symptoms. This renders a patient highly allergic to sunlight, with only a few moments of exposure necessary for severe discomfort.
Jiangshi creates mutations in the functioning of the body’s immune system. As the disease asserts itself in the early stages, most patients fall into a coma from system-wide stress. Their life signs become so faint that people tend to think them dead, and act accordingly.
Some furres possess genes that allow the manipulation of Magicke. If such a furre were to be infected by Jiangshi, they would find that their new genetic code would eliminate this ability. The chaos of this process often kills the intended host, so it is a risk few Magicke-adepts are unwilling to take. What does this mean? Returners cannot use Magicke.
The Many Ups
Jiangshi robs an individual of many normal characteristics. However, there are some truly bizarre and miraculous effects associated with this disease. As aforementioned, the disease reorders the immune system, by triggering the mutation of a new gland-like organ, attached directly to the heart, known as Chen’s Organ. This organ then connects directly with the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the brain. At the outset, Jiangshi’s new immune system seems vastly superior to the one possessed by most furre genetic code. It allows rapid healing of bone, flesh and organ tissue.
It triggers new dental growth, replacing incisors with more prominent fangs which are hollow inside with a direct connection to the bloodstream. This allows proteins and peptides from ingested blood to be absorbed directly as the blood passes to the stomach.
Like all infectious diseases, Jiangshi shares some genetic code with its original host, in China 1000 years ago. Nothing is known of this host, but his or her genetic characteristics are imprinted in the disease, and are introduced in some part by the disease’s new immune matrix. Some of these characteristics include a great deal of compact muscle definition that allows for considerable strength and speed. As a result, Returners are stronger and faster than a normal individual. This reacts differently in different infected individuals; some reap the full benefits of the original host’s physical prowess, and some observe only partial changes. In addition, Jiangshi is strongly competitive and virtually eliminates the risk of infection by other diseases. Returners do not get sick.
At least, not from any other diseases than the one they already have.
In addition to physical prowess, the original host appears also to have been Psionic-adept. This creates a probability close to 75% that an infected host will gain the ability to use Psionics. Please note that Psionics cannot be self-taught; an isolated Returner will not benefit from this effect, unless they find another Psi user or skilled Returner to teach them the techniques of its use.
Finally and most astonishingly, the radical new immune system fights the natural effects of aging in a sense. Returners will sustain injuries and cell degradation that the disease’s immune system will naturally correct. (For example, severe skin burns will be replaced by new skin matching the state and age of the patient at the time of their original infection.) This grants a sort of quasi-immortality. The effects of aging and natural death are prolonged (albeit often painfully) indefinitely.
In very rare cases, a furre will possess genetic code that allows immunity to the symptoms of the disease. These are termed Carriers; individuals who are fully capable of infecting another, or passing it onto offspring, without actually becoming fully infected Returners. Infinitely rarer still, should two of these uncommon individuals mate and produce a child, that child stands a chance of a bizarre new condition known as Damperism. This grants basically a perfected vision of the disease, arguably, since many of the positive effects like speed healing, physical prowess and Psionic abilities are granted without the sun allergy and need to ingest mortal blood.
Other Supernatural Races
The Essentials: You are allergic to sunlight, you can’t use Magicke, and you can’t have children. You are stronger and faster than most normal mortals. You will not die of natural causes, and you do not age. Depending on how old you are, you may know enough Psionics to be able to use limited mind control, or create illusions. You can't become a Returner if you're already some other "special" character, like fae, therianthropes/naguals, etc.
Jiangshi is not without its gifts. However, the mutations of the disease sometimes go too far. Reports of early patients of Jiangshi suggest that the individuals underwent miraculous changes at first, but as time went on, the changes became markedly more grisly. Often, the physicality of the patient would change. Large unsightly eyebrow ridges would protrude from the forehead. Ears would become deformed and enlarged. Gradually, the muscle definition would become less wiry and begin to expand in volume giving the patient a grotesque and “unfurre” appearance. The ability to rapidly heal wounds would begin to subside, and psychological reversion would occur. Effectively, the patient would be transformed into an unthinking savage monster, constantly in agonizing pain, and incapable of blending in with society.
Primitive logic eventually deduced that if infected blood was the problem, then clean blood might be the solution. Something in the newly-grown teeth allowed the blood to be ingested; transfusion was not necessary (which is handy, because blood transfusion wasn’t very scientific in 1st century.) And it worked. The infection could not be eliminated entirely, but the drinking of fresh, clean, oxygenated blood from a mortal host reduced the severity of the mutations, restored the gifts of the disease and curbed the more undesirable aspects of it. More, the disease seems to nullify the need for compatible blood types, and renders immune rejection a non-concern. As you may well imagine, despite this miraculous discovery, some somewhat unethical means of acquiring clean blood then followed.
The original cult that spread the infection willingly is said to have many scions in the modern world. There exist many underground organizations, sometimes called Covens, Clutches and Broods, that seek to educate and propitiate the furthering of Jiangshi infection. Often they cast judgment on those they deem unworthy of "The Blush".
Returners don’t need to open up their own veins to receive mortal blood. Their hollow fangs allow them to drink the blood and have its proteins directly absorbed, which “chase off” the Jiangshi disease briefly, along with some of its negative and positive effects.
The implication here is that the more mortal blood consumed, the more mortal the Returner, temporarily, becomes. A Returner who has just gorged on clean blood will be happy but not as powerful. His Jiangshi disease will be in a short remission stage, and if he drinks too much it will take time to get his powers back. It must be emphasized this is not a cure. The moment the Returner stops drinking is the moment his Jiangshi disease immediately starts reasserting itself. And thus, the countdown to the time when he must drink again, or else mutate horribly, begins.
The Essentials: It takes about 2 weeks without blood for the Returner to start getting ravaged by the disease and become plug ugly. It’s hard to get blood when you look like an ugly Star Trek alien, so you might not want to wait until the last minute. A few pints of blood will give you another 2 weeks. To keep your powers at a nice medium between weak-like-a-mortal and ugly-like-a-monster, it might be a good idea to have a sip every few days but not overdo it.
When the clean blood hits the Returner’s bloodstream, it creates an endorphine “high” that renders an individual happy, relaxed and occasionally euphoric. As you can imagine, this can create a bit of a dependency. Many Returners drink whether they really need to, or not. When you’re around for years and years, you stand a strong chance of not giving a shit about that someone has to be hurt or killed for you to get your fix.
To fight off Jiangshi, blood needs to be drawn from mortal, sentient beings only. Blood can be drawn from a dead victim, BUT – remember that blood loses its oxygen only a few moments after the heart stops beating, and without oxygen it can’t carry the proteins and antibodies to fight Jiangshi and reduce the disease’s ravages. This means you’ve got about a minute to drink from somebody who has just died. It is sometimes said that vampires also eat sentient flesh in addition to drinking blood. The same above rules apply. A depraved individual might cook it and eat it, for “kicks”, but unless it’s very very fresh it won’t make a difference with the craving.
Animal blood will not do. It doesn’t contain enough common genetic structure to be an effective combatant against the disease. It does provide a sort of inferior “high”, but it might just make you feel momentarily better without actually curbing Jiangshi mutations.
Older Returners are rare. People generally find reasons to want to kill them, and they also tend to find reasons to kill themselves. On the off chance a Returner gets old, they generally have drunk blood so many times that their body begins to “get the picture”. The need for blood goes down, the mutations decrease, the sunlight allergy disappears, and given that they have centuries to learn, they often gain great prowess with their Psionic talent. For example, some powerful real-world vampire like Dracula, in our continuity would have to have A) been very lucky to lie, cheat, connive, and escape death in order to be old in the first place B) taken the time to do his Psionic homework… centuries, even.
Dampers, the children of two Carriers, possess the gifts of an older vampire (except for Psionic prowess) right from birth.
Chen’s Organ is a miraculous little thing. It is a growth situated right on top of a Returner’s heart. In addition to radically reorganizing the immune system and causing nasty mutations, it also acts as a sort of battery-backup for the heart. If the Returner experiences mortal death, such as damage to a fatal organ, blood loss, or brain death, Chen’s Organ and the heart keep each other going for a short period of time. Chen’s Organ then releases a strange chemical that effectively reanimates necrotized flesh. It can revive and rebuild virtually any organ in the body in a relatively short period of time.
In the case of brain death, some memory loss may result, depending on the speed of Chen’s in reviving the Returner’s body functions. Given speed, even limbs can be reattached. Older Returners are said to be able to use a reptilian-like ability to regrow some lost limbs over long periods of time.
Since Chen’s Organ is situated on-top of the heart, (finish my sentence you clever thing). The objective is to incapacitate the Organ long enough for the body to become too far-gone in death. A good thrust of a sword or thick stake straight through both Chen’s AND the heart is wisest. This will render Chen’s regenerative effects temporarily offline. Removing the head is wiser still. That oughtta do it.
Some groups of mortal furres, usually young adults, create their own "Covens" where they covet the power of the gift and try and make contact with real, actual Returners. They typically dress in dark clothing and profess their wish to be infected openly. They are known for writing prolific poetry on the subject.
There are no mortals that the Returners despise more than these, who they call "Cutters". Though Returners take mortal slaves or "Familiars", they avoid taking willing Cutters as their thralls. There have been a few cases where Returners destroy these "Cutter Covens" and kill all their members. In all of these cases, the public outcry was virtually nonexistent.
The pain and loss felt by Returners when their disease takes too strong a hold is dire and considerable. For this reason, it is true to say that Returners need blood. A natural, psychologically dependency tends to result from the repeated experience with hungry suffering and satisfied euphoria. In addition, being such an outcast can have dire psychological consequences for an individual. Some view their immortality as an elevation above normal furres who become their inferiors; nothing more than cattle for their taking. Some gain superstitious beliefs that they are wretched, punished and doomed to eternity of torment. All these tend to create a high probability that a Returner will be a selfish, murdering prick.
Being a medical condition, there is no "evil" gene inserted to the infected. But this may go beyond the understanding of 16th century people, both Returner and mortal. It's not unheard of to find a noble Returner, devoted to ethical means of blood-drinking, but that individual would have to have a naturally sunny outlook of life, a general optimism, and a truly exemplary level of patience to remain so for centuries.
Some new infected Returners are persecuted by mortals that know about them, and murdered. When they gain power and other Returners to guide them, sometimes they come to desire spite or revenge against normal furres.
Finally, and most importantly, Psionics
Psionics is ultimately the disease’s best friend. Cults and societies of Returners have developed the ability to reign in the powerful abilities of their condition, and of Chen’s Organs. Through Psionic techniques, older Returners can regulate body functions, regenerate lost limbs, resist poison and death, and use their Organ to regenerate from almost –any- injury.
Psionic abilities aid Returners in stalking their prey and in defense. They can create elaborate illusions through the specialized Returner Psionics school, whose secrets no mortals are allowed to know.
Further, they can assert mental control of weak-willed individuals. Sometimes they can use power psychological condition to make mortals their loyal slaves. With all the age and time one could ask for, Returners have much more opportunity to study Psionics. There are rumours that tell of terribly old and frightening Returners who possess the most powerful Psionic abilities in the world.
Most Returners at first feel guilt for the taking of innocent life. Some try and target only those they deem wicked when choosing their prey. Others eventually disregard the sentiment. This will be entirely up to the player, but it should be noted there are many different Societies and Covens of Returners of many differing philosophies. Some embrace compassion for mortals, and some do not, and often enforce their views through membership requirements.