Sybil’s sleep is disturbed by strange wordless dreams. She finds herself standing in a pit walled with skulls and bones. Blood drips down from inky blackness. Her feet sink into damp red earth. A subsonic growl comes from all directions, more felt than heard.
She wakes feeling strangely stronger. The Gangrel texts the others.
Alex and Ethan also go hunting. The doctor sips lightly from a taxi driver while Ethan uses his powers of invisibility to drink from an amorous pair at a nearby nightclub.
Sybil stalks a drug dealer for an hour but finds no good openings. She get a call from the Wolf who mumbles something about needing to figure out some new abilities. He says he’ll call her soon.
The coterie gathers at the hotel. Thomas drives up in a University van. He takes all of them back to Champaign-Urbana. Martock leads them to the temple to study the remains of the Antediluvian.
There they are surprised by the appearance of Portor. The Mekhet has few answers to his absence. He explains that he fled when he realized that the Strix had located him, a fact that Martock points out he should have notified them about. He is hazy on why he decided to return.
Martock ignores that part and focuses on his research. He lays the bones out on a table with Ethan’s help.
While the professor examines the remains, Ethan peers into the ashes seeking answers.
The student sees a shadow of the Antediluvian’s creator, a being great power and terrifying age: the Mother of Monsters. He also sees its connection to the Strix, an image of its calcified heart being cracked and smoky birds emerges from the broken chips. As he wonders how they might take advantage of these remains he senses great danger and potential.
Ethan urges his sire to try to peer into the creature’s past with his advance skills. Alex offers the heart’s blood jewel to Martock, suggesting it might help. Sybil points out the terrible danger of that idea. Martock waves it off and focuses on the ashen bones.
The professor shivers and shakes for a long moment. As he emerges from his trance he explains that he’s seen its vast history. As Ethan rapidly makes notes on the laptop, he recounts the tale of the first vampire, a prehuman thing and daughter to the Crone. For thousands of years it lurked in the Americas until humanity finally crossed the land bridge. Down through the ice age, it rose again and again to slaughter those peoples who dwelled too near to it. Four centuries ago it destroyed the mound builders along the Mississippi. The vampire slows in his tale, his sentences becoming disconnected as his memory fades. All he can recall of the last awakening is that something went very very wrong.
Martock questions them again of their findings: how the elder fed it Vitae, how that blood was absorbed but had no other effect, and how the Strix obsess over it.
Portor opinions that they should destroy it and the jewel. Ethan asks how do you kill ashes.
A cultist arrives with a bulky envelope for Ethan. It is from Kiril and includes more information on the Strix including a paper by Zhang, et al. “Behaviors, signs, and precautions pertaining to umbral avians.” They learn a few new details on their foes such as their gradations of power and how that corresponds to an increased number of banes.
There are also notes on Chicago. The city now lies under the authority of the local wizards and warlocks. The few vampires remaining (along with most other supernatural beings) keep a low profile. Troublemakers are dealt with harshly by a strike force of militant mages. Kiril explains this was imposed after an ancient vampire woke up in the city and the wizards had to put it down at great personal cost.
Talk turns to the Strix. It is clear they have different goals. Jane wants to be friends, the Twins seek the jewel, the Inverted Lord seeks to kill the Old Man. The last of those will be a problem soon. Sensing a strategy, Martock suggests they give Twins what they want and befriend Jane. With the death of the Witch that will mean four Strix will be out of the way. Reducing the number of threats seems the most logical course he explains.
Martock takes sample of the ashes for mundane testing and shoos the neonates away to start dealing with the Strix.
The coterie decides that making a deal with the Twins would be a good idea. They decide to secure the Antediluvian’s remains then seek out Jane to set up an exchange.
An hour later, the vampires pat the earth flat in Alex’s backyard. The bones sit in an iron safe under four feet of moist earth.
An old man stumbles across the yard toward them. Alex intercept him.
The man asks if he was involved in the Witch’s death. The vampire skillfully lies to Jane and explains he wasn’t there. The Strix relaxes and peers over his shoulder.
Jane greets Portor, happy to see a familiar face. She apologizes for helping her siblings kill his friend in the mound.
“They were very hungry,” she says.
Portor and the others question her about how the Strix arrived here. She describes that they left once they realized he took the jewel. After slaughtering a nearby diner of people, they slowly tracked him to this location.
The coterie confirms that each Strix has its own cause. Jane, also called the Friend, just likes being around Kindred. The Witch sought Mother with her blood magics, never believing she had died. The Bird of Ill-Omen is waiting for something, something that will happen soon. The Beast seeks to free vampires from the shackles of humanity. Jane mentions he is still upset that they killed David. The Strix felt he had helped “free” him. The Inverted Lord feels the need to be the most influential monster in the region. He intends to kill the Old Man. The Twins meanwhile merely want the Jewel.
Portor asks about that. Jane explains it was created when the Starbeast broke off part of Mother’s soul to create her and her siblings. The vampire suggests that perhaps she and her siblings might reflect their mother’s, the Antediluvian’s, identity. Perhaps they are the key to waking her up.
Jane considers that an interesting idea then remarks that the Beast left, bored by their actions.
While Sybil makes molotov cocktails inside, Jane outlines the history of the Antediluvian: how she was bound by ancient mages to guard something, driven to wake up when humanity grew too organized or close, and then destroy them. Four centuries ago, they were created before she arose. Their mother made the mound Portor found them in. She commanded the survivors of her wrath to heap earth upon earth until they died, burying the fallen. Then the Antediluvian went north to slumber. Jane felt her wake once more but she never came for them. Instead, it felt like she died. Her siblings remain divided on whether she is dead or even could die.
“What is a Starbeast?” Portor asks.
“It’s a Starbeast,” she says. She explains it looks like nothing and came from the stars.
Jane and Portor also talk about the gaps in his own memories. He recalls a sign proclaiming “Leaving Peoria”. Portor remembers waking up with a bright light over head and something gleaming near his eye. Ethan mentions that the Ordo Dracul has a chapter house near Peoria. They are rumored to do unethical experiments.
The coterie conclude by convincing Jane to talk to the Twins on their behalf. They wish to return the jewel to them tomorrow night at the mound in exchange for information. Jane goes off to find them.
In the remaining hours of the night, Sybil searches the parks for criminals. She spots a burglar fleeing a house. After subduing the man, she relieves him of his ill gotten goods and leaves him for the authorities to find. She goes to ground near a pawn shop that asks few questions.
The next evening as Sybil dusts the dirt from her clothing, the Wolf calls her. He explains he is still working things out but thinks he should leave soon. He asks for her to join him. She tells him of the plan to make a deal with the Strix. He warns her stay safe and informs her he will be hiding outside of the towns for now. He’ll call her in a day or two.
Sybil joins the guys. They all drive south arriving in the vicinity of the mound a few hours before dawn. As they hit the end of the road, the headlights illuminate another vehicle abandoned there. Alex puts his hand to the cold hood while Portor pops the trunk. Sybil ignores it and pushes through the underbrush toward the mound. While Ethan looks in the glove compartment, he spots yellow eyes in the rearview mirror. A familiar mocking voice asks him if he brought the jewel. The eyes narrows as the Twin realizes he carries it. She bids him to meet them at the mound. At the back of the car, Portor hears his “sibling” talking to himself and shakes his head.
The vampires follow a rough trail to the mound. A large hole opens about five feet up the slope, partially collapsed from two years of rain and snow. Standing in front of the gap is the old man they met in Alex’s yard.
Jane greets them and explains the Twins wish to meet inside. Sybil points out that was not the deal. Once it is clear they don’t intend to enter Jane goes inside to convince her sisters.
She returns with a shadowy owl on her shoulder. The Twin demands the jewel. The vampire asks for help against the Inverted Lord in exchange for it. The Strix offers not to interfere with them instead.
Ethan points out that was what the Twins were going to do anyway. He ask what the Inverted Lord’s weaknesses are.
“Those would be useless to you.”
“Let us be the judge of that.”
She offers that animals don’t like him. He is called Inverted because unlike those of the Ventrue clan he cannot command beasts. She asks for the jewel but they ask for more. So she offers to divulge the Inverted Lord’s plans if given the jewel.
They agree and hand over the item.
Portor then demands that they return his friend as well.
The Strix laughs and the decayed remains of his partner emerge from the mound. It moans that he still blames Portor for his death. It lurches closer to him. Portor shrinks back and asks if they can bring him to something approximating life. The Twins say only the Bird of ill-Omen possesses that level of power. The zombified remains topple into Portor’s arms as the other Twin vacates it.
Together the Twins divulge the plan. The Inverted Lord knows Ethan will back out. He has located a broken soul to dominate, strong enough to bludgeon Big Eddie into a torpor. He will then take over his body and use it to create his vampire strike force. After having some revenge, he will then lead the rest of their siblings to the Old Man’s haven and destroy him.
The Twins then retire to the mound and Jane joins the vampires as they contemplate the ride home.