Heartland Orphans

Blood Magic

Alex exits the dank confines of Fresh Catch to search for Ethan. As he glances around a text from his friend arrives. Ethan came to his senses a few blocks away, near a bus stop. He hurries to his car and drives over.

As a bus rolls up to the shelter, the maddened vampire tries to shake the disturbing whispers from his head. A young woman exits the vehicle.

Feed, the voice urges.

Ethan recognizes his sister Caroline. He ignores the voice and calls out to her. As she approaches she rubs her head and asks how he is. As they catch up, Ethan learns she is studying for her finals and that his parents are still well. Her headache grows worse the longer they talk. As Alex arrives, Ethan introduces him. His sister complains about her recent migraines and the late hour. Ethan lets her go and heads off with Alex.

Back at Fresh Catch, Sybil and her Carthian friends search the abandoned shop, finding a third corpse. The identification on the badly decayed body tells them this was Harry Wyman. From her experience with the homeless population, Sybil recognizes the lack of wounds and obvious track marks. Harry probably died of an overdose.

Dan points out a chalk circle on the floor as well as sigils written in dried blood. They appear to be a few days old, much more recent than Harry’s death.

Then something sloshes in the tank at the front of the shop. Everyone looks as the reddish liquid moves under some unseen force. Sylvia jokingly hands Dan a flashlight to examine what is in there.

In the end, Sybil steps forward and presses a hand to the glass. Using her inhuman senses she scans the tank of diluted blood. Despite the signs of movement, she detects nothing inside except more liquid.

Alex and Ethan pull up in front of the shop. As Sybil fills them in, Alex examines the corpse. He decides that he’ll need a full autopsy to learn more. He moves the body to his trunk as Ethan looks over the occult symbols on the floor. Meanwhile Sybil realizes the sloshing water continues to move in the same direction: roughly north west. Sylvia says it must be tied to the magic circle.

Ethan explains that the circle and blood is from a ritual designed to increase sympathetic connections from the practitioner to something else. The tub of diluted blood must be a receptacle for that magic. Sybil tells Sylvia that she was right.

With their work done here, the Carthians and the locals exit to go their separate ways. Alex texts Tara and the Old Man of their success as Sybil relays her own findings on the Wolf and his probable location. Dan and Sylvia arrange to meet Sybil at a late night Starbucks tomorrow.

Then with three hours left in the night, Alex, Ethan and Sybil seek out the Wolf.

It takes a half hour of driving along country roads before they find what they are looking for. In a patch of woods sits a suspicious ruined barn at just the right location. As they approach they notice further signs: bells hanging from red ribbons and a shallow ditch lined with salt.

Then they hear a twig snap loudly behind them.

They turn slowly as in a dream. A dark hairy man looms behind them, his eyes glowing with violence.

Run, hisses a voice in Ethan’s heart. The academic bolts.

Sybil and Alex struggle to suppress similar, weaker instincts. Alex stammers out their reasons for seeking the inhuman vampire out. The Wolf’s eyes bore into him.

Nervously Sybil speaks up. The Wolf glares at her as she points out that the Strix threaten him too. Something in her plea breaks through. His face softens and he invites them into the ruined barn.

The stars shine down through the rotten roof. The Wolf settles down on the only visible seat, a fallen beam. Alex cautiously asks why they call him the Wolf. He replies it is because he learned the secrets of the Gangrel, nodding to Sybil.

The older vampire talks, first in simple answers to their questions but gradually in a constrained rant. It becomes clear that he hates the Elder for her role in banishing him from Chicago. He refers to daywalkers, her jealous protection of the secrets of blood sorcery, and a god that her Circle worshipped. He claims that this vampire god ended the Chicago vampires.

He also tells them about the Strix: ancient monsters who have haunted the Kindred since the days of Rome. They can possess corpses and Kindred alike. Their few common weakness are fire and sunlight. Chillingly there are no sure ways of removing them from a host. His charms work against some of their more uncommon banes.

As to their motives, the Wolf claims that despite a general hatred of vampires, they share no common agenda. But bad luck follows them so he intends to keep his head down until they pass. He does express the opinion that if they set a guard on something, like David and the magic circle, then it must be important to their goals.

The sky begins to lighten and Alex leaves to find Ethan, texting ahead. Sybil, without fear of being caught out in the open, opts to stay and learn more from the Wolf.

Ethan meanwhile comes to his senses in the middle of a cornfield. From the glow, he quickly determines the way to town. He also spots a tower with a tornado siren nearby and decides to climb it to find the road. As he struggles up the metal structure, a voice comes from above. It is a Strix.

Ethan slips and crashes to the earth. Scrambling to his feet he runs for the lights of the town.

His phone buzzes and he spots Alex’s text. He coordinates with the doctor to meet up along the way. The pair race home before the coming dawn.

Dusk arrives. Alex and Ethan climb up from the basement. Elsewhere Sybil and the Wolf emerge from the earth and continue their conversation.

The Wolf questions her closely while hinting at some of what he could teach her. After an hour, she excuses herself and heads into town. Along the way, she realizes that his gruffness is a mask for a much more human Kindred than she expected.

Alex meanwhile focuses on his autopsy. Harry continues to rot away but based on the degradation of the toxins in his system, the doctor pegs the time of death at roughly two weeks. Something unnatural preserved the corpse but that decay has returned with a vengeance. The toxins correspond to Flashblood.

As he notes that, Black calls him. The drug dealer informs him that the Old Man is holding a big meeting at Eddie’s club. He intends to parcel out some newly claimed territory. Black says he will back Alex’s play. The doctor agrees to be there.

At roughly the same time, Ethan gets a call from Madison, one of his senior cult members. It seems Stephanie was grabbed by the Street Rats, one of Black’s gangs. He joins Alex, hoping to retrieve his disciple.

Sybil finds Dan and Sylvia at the coffee shop as planned. The pale woman blends in, pretending to slowly sip an expensive drink. Dan lurks nearby, occasionally drinking from his silver flash and glaring at the staff.

The three begin to trade stories. Unfortunately the Carthians’ news is all dire: werewolves in cornfields, a blood hunt on Carthians in Indianapolis, and how no one has returned from Chicago in four years. Worse the Old Man intends to crush any opposition to his power in the area starting with the Ordo Dracul. Martock and someone called Argentum made the Dragons a force to be reckoned with. But word is out that the professor is missing and the Old Man has claimed his territory. Argentum has a fortress in Peoria but it can’t be long before he demands her fealty.

Alex and Ethan find Big Eddie’s club empty for a second night. Only a few strippers watch as they enter. They spot the Old Man talking to Black. The Nosferatu explains that the girl he grabbed will give up the goods on the cult soon.

The Old Man congratulates everyone on the hunt and the successful of the expansion of their territory. Then he gets to the matter of deciding who to will administer Urbana and the University.

Alex speaks up and argues that he can handle it. After all he has a good rapport with the Kindred there. With Ethan’s help he should easily determine what the Dragons know that can help them. Ethan adds his support though his arrogant tone puts off many. Big Eddie’s counters that he can handle it and that he already has most of Professor Martock’s books.

The Old Man ignores the large Kindred and instead he awards the territory to Alex. He tells Alex he needs to bring cult to heel and keep the product flowing into the University.

After the meeting Black brings Stephanie to Alex. As the doctor calms her down, one of the strippers effortlessly carries over two large boxes of books and drops them at Ethan’s feet.

The two grab the books and after calling Sybil meet up at Martock’s office.

They find the room in even more disarray than last time. Police tape crisscrosses the doorway. The door, broken in half, lies just inside. Ethan slips inside and grabs some of the papers that Eddie’s goons left behind.

As Ethan investigates the research, Alex and Sybil discuss what they know so far. They establish the Strix’s known weaknesses, what they’ve learned from David and Jane and what their other encounters have taught them. Sybil also makes sure that Alex will respect her claim to the parks of Urbana. To secure all of her territory she will need to work with Big Eddie as well.

Ethan relates his findings. It seems Martock was obsessed with ancient vampires and how they might have overcome the limitations of their condition. In his research he uncovered tales of a pre-Columbian vampire who might still exist in the area. Combing local folklore, he uncovered tales of seven kings or shadows who tormented the tribes in the area after the “days of blood.” These shadows wore human faces but came from the darkness itself. Supposedly the secret of the seven was entombed in a hidden mound in southern Illinois.

Comparing maps of the location, Ethan determines the site aligns with the trip Martock’s other child, Portor, took a couple years ago. Moreover the professor’s notes detail a ruby-like gem that Portor recovered.

Sybil then tries to count off the seven, matching them to the Strix they have met or heard about. Two for the Twins, Jane mentioned. Jane herself. The crow they encountered on the road. The Witch. If the Strix who possessed David was not one they heard of elsewhere, then that makes six. Soone more is out there.

Then she takes a map and marks a rough cone in the direction the blood in Fresh Catch indicated. The nearest thing of interest is the Elder’s camp.

The coterie decide to visit Rudolph’s to check in on him. They find the house dark and his car absent. Alex lets them in. As they stroll about the old dusty building, Alex spots a figure in a hospital gown on the side lawn.

The elderly woman smiles at him. He opens the side door and walks up her. She greets him and they talk. Eventually he works out that it is Jane again. He learns she is a little upset about David’s death and that the Witch has been hunting for their creator somewhere northwest of the town.

The others join him and he convinces Jane to tell them more about her mother. She stumbles initially, searching for a proper start point. Her mother was called the Nameless One, child of the Crone, born before the age of ice, before the Sundering. Her brothers and sisters had been lost in time and space, trapped in other worlds or passed beyond the veils of Death. Jane emphasizes that her mother was always alone.

Then, long after the sundering, she was taken by the Fallen and bound in alien magics to a star beast. They bound her to be the guardian of this land. They left her alone. Only the star beast kept her company, echoing the void in her heart.

Jane explained that the beast would collect people for her as she dreamed but the curse placed upon her forced her to destroy her companions, again and again.

Finally it created Jane and her siblings from a living nightmare and shards of their mother’s soul. It entrusted them with a sacred task, to watch the jewel that the Twins spoke of. Unfortunately when their mother next awoke, she was struck down somehow, orphaning them.

The pieces begin to fall into place. Ethan suddenly realizes the importance of the ashes that the Elder had been feeding blood to. It drank up vitae like it was alive, like it was still alive. The god that the Wolf mentioned, the deity that the Circle worshipped, the ashes, the mother of the Strix. They were all the same being, an ancient pre-human monster that somehow survived Final Death.

He recalls some lines from a paper in his sire’s office: “the Circle worship…which may be a primordial vampire. They call it the Antediluvian.”

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