Heartland Orphans

Bargaining Chips

Alex excuses himself from the drawing room of Rudolph’s house to text his sire. “Where are you?”

Rudolph’s response is terse: “On business for the Old Man.”

While Alex calls Tara to confirm his sire’s story, Ethan pokes around the house for clues to Rudolph’s past. Jane drifts behind him poking at models and fingering books. Sybil keeps a careful eye on the Strix or at least the deceased old woman she inhabits.

From the photos and heirlooms, Ethan deduces that Rudolph lived in New York City for some time. He guesses the elderly man was Embraced there, perhaps in the 1910s. In his pictures he seems ageless. He probably was the Old Man’s ghoul, he tells the others.

Sybil quietly texts Ethan and Alex not to give out information with the Strix in the room.

Reminded of their visitor, the cult leader turns to Jane. He attempts to convince her to tell them more about the jewel the Twins want so badly. However she is reluctant to reveal more. Ethan turns talk to the powers of the Strix, how they seem to be made of smoke, able to slip through cracks and small spaces.

Alex returns and listens in. He notes the name on old woman’s wrist tag: Mildred Kerry. Curious he calls the local hospital and confirms she is missing. The police are looking for her, she’s deathly ill and hasn’t visitors all day.

As Ethan begins to increase the pressure, Jane says she just wants to be friends with them. Ethan points out that she is withholding information from her ‘friends’. Also she was present when Rudolph was hacked up. Agitated, she claims she didn’t want to do it but the others forced her to help. Her siblings share a special bond and they must work together. The Inverted Lord wanted Rudolph out of the way since it hates competition from other monsters.

Feeling hemmed in, she babbles about her other siblings and their quests. The Witch wants to find their mother. The Twins want to recover their mother’s heart’s blood. Feeling used, she glances at Ethan and Sybil before opening a window. She lifts her head and escapes out into the night. Mildred’s corpse collapses in Rudolph’s drawing room.

As they consider their next step, Sybil verifies that her parks will remain off limits to the Invictus, at least those that now belong to Alex.

The coterie next heads to University to search for the jewel. Returning to Martock’s office, they search through his records and turn up hints that he might have hidden it in the library.

At the library, they question Ms. Spencer, one of the evening librarians. They ask where Martock has been frequenting recently. One odd place she recalls seeing him was in the dissertation stacks a month ago. They spend a few hours searching there but the sheer volume of books defeats them. While several Martocks have graduated from the school, none are the professor.

They return to the office. Alex hunts for secret compartments while Ethan pores over Martock’s notes for any clues. In a vent Alex uncovers older correspondence. Interestingly, in these letters Martock uses the name John Dassy. Ethan finds a younger and still mortal Dassy in a 1927 yearbook. Dassy was Martock’s name before his Embrace. He also uncovers more recent letters, letters from Chicago in the past decade. Pocketing the papers, the two men return to the library.

In the dissertation stacks next to Da Silva’s 2012 dissertation on canine decomposition they discover a dusty tome by John Dassy, class of 1928. Within the battered book is a dark red jewel the size of a grape.

Ethan rolls it in his hand, realizing it is actually crystallized blood.

Elsewhere Sybil spends her time constructing some defenses against the Strix: a bell on a red ribbon, a vial containing salt, and a few molotov cocktails. As dawn approaches she finds a mugger to feed from before returning to her apartment.

Alex also hunts, finding a cab driver he can lull into a false sense of security. Ethan merely visits his cult and takes his tithe. Then he slips into his alter/sarcophagus.

The next night, Alex contacts his old employee Alan Brannon. The younger man is happy to hear from him. The doctor asks him to run a blood sample for him while gently dodging questions about what he has been up to. For the most part Alan seems satisfied that his old boss hasn’t slipped into depression or suffered some other calamity. He takes the shaving from the jewel back to the Alex’s old practice.

As Sybil makes her rounds at the park, she catches the scent of blood in the air. Searching, she soon finds a man, ripped open and splayed like a warning. The corpse belongs to one of her regulars and appears gnawed on by human teeth. Fresh blood leads away from the kill site.

Carefully she follows the trail through the streets and through empty lots to a cemetery. She quickly circles the location. Assured that her quarry must lay within, she texts Ethan and Alex to join her.

Fifteen minutes later the men roll up. Together they advance into the graveyard.

Sybil’s sharp eyes pick out a figure creeping between headstones to their left. Ethan scrutinizes the walking corpse. He detects a bestial presence like that within every vampire.

The creature rises and stalks towards them. Peeling back its lips in a horrid grin, it mocks how they cling to humanity and their weakness. Sybil keeps low but defiant while Alex shrinks back. Ethan draws its attention by arguing that he has leashed his Beast. They soon realize from this Beast’s banter that it possessed David and blames them for his death.

Irritated with Ethan, it growls darkly. Ethan feels the Beast’s inhuman monstrosity pressing down on him and rallies his own inner monster. The experience leaves him unsettled as his instincts begin to take over.

As the shadows grow around them, the coterie realize the time for talk has ended. Sybil flicks open a lighter and ignites a Molotov cocktail. Alex puts some distance between himself and the others.

Everyone finds themselves cloaked in illusion, each appearing like the rotten blood stained corpse the Beast inhabits. Ethan sees through the illusion however and points out the real version. As he does, the tinkling of bells fills his mind.

Sybil hurls the flask but it clips a stone cross and splashes across the ground. Alex pulls his gun as the Beast rushes around the flame toward Sybil.

As the pair scuffle, Alex lines up a shot and puts a round through its chest. Elsewhere Ethan scrambles for a weapon only to be snagged by some skeletal hands. He keeps himself from freaking out as he pulls away.

Deciding to focus on a ‘real’ threat, the Beast turns on Alex. As they grapple, Alex gives it an unexpected push and both of them tumble into the burning grass. Sybil pulls out another Molotov cocktail while Ethan has a new idea. He scrambles for his phone as the Ventrue occupies the burning corpse.

Pained and scared, the Beast pushes both itself and Alex out of flames. Sybil decides to drop her incendiary and instead grows claws. Suddenly Ethan’s phone begins playing “Hell’s Bells”. The Strix’s distraction only lasts for a moment. It seems that only the real thing will harm it. The scholar looks around and heads in the direction of where the church was.

Realizing its weakness, Sybil pulls out the bell hanging around her neck. The Beast and Alex pulls apart while Ethan pushes past the edge of the cemetery. But instead of a church he finds himself in a dark hedge maze.

The Beast lunges at Sybil, reaching for the bell. Instead the ringing brings blood from its ears as the Gangrel cracks one of its arms. Alex fires at the melee but misses both combatants.

Elsewhere Ethan backtracks with difficulty, emerging back in the cemetery.

Broken and bloody, the corpse raises its head as the Beast emerges as a bird of smoke and ash. The bell rings loudly causing it to shiver in pain. As Ethan arms himself with a broken bottle, the Strix flees.

The shadows retreat. The church fades back into view. Safe the coterie retreat back to their territory.

The next night, Alan gives Alex his report. He found the blood sample disturbing, mixing hundreds of different sources from over a century ago. Alex seems unconcerned and passes it off as part of an archaeological dig he is consulting on.

Ethan meanwhile finishes reviewing Martock’s correspondence. The name of his contact in Chicago is Kyril. Ethan now has his P.O. Box.

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