The next night, Ethan awakes within his sarcophagus. The smell of old blood greets him, drifting down from the collecting receptacle cunningly embedded in the altar above him. He slides the top panel aside and arises within a dimly lit chamber graced by elegant sandstone pillars.
As he straightens his clothing, he glasses at his cell phone. A text message from Portor catches his eye. His ‘sibling’s’ message is quick and cryptic.
i’m sorry. they found me. gotto run
Concerned Ethan hurries to talk to his sire. He finds Professor Martock in his office, surrounded by shelves of books at every wall and spilling into the center of the tight chamber. He relays the text to the dusty scholar. Martock looks momentarily concerned and instructs Ethan to talk to a member of the Invictus: Rudolph Reichardt. He jots down the address for his childe and then returns to his studies.
As Ethan searches for a disciple to drive him there, he encounters a young woman named Stephanie. The nervous looking cultist hesitantly tells him about the disappearance of a ritual knife needed for tomorrow’s ceremony. It seems the disciple entrusted with this task, Harry Wyman, is also missing.
Ethan calls the cult together for an emergency meeting. He informs them of the disappearance of one of their own and asks them for what information they know. Despite the many murmurs, few new details emerge. A few people saw him with an unfamiliar homeless man. Stephanie saw him last, roughly a day ago.
Hearing this, Ethan turns his intense gaze at the young woman, entrancing her before the others and commanding her to take him to where she last saw him. The others draw back at this display of power, looking on as the pair leave.
Across town, Alex wakes within his basement safe room. He rises, checking that his dismembered sire remains secure, and heads upstairs. The cat meows as he reaches the ground floor, rubbing itself eagerly against his legs. He checks the mail, his answering machine and finally the grounds.
A folded piece of paper sits by his front door. Inside is a simple note from David. He asks Alex to meet him at the Exile at the old railway station this evening.
A quick internet search reveals the Exile is a record shop in the declining strip mall that now resides in the station house. The doctor drives over, arriving a half hour before they close for the evening.
He spots a very ashen and hungry looking Dave poring over the records, or trying to seem so. His old friend looks up and smiles as Alex approaches. He talks avidly of his recent experiences to the doctor who cannot help but notice something is terribly wrong with the youthful vampire.
As Dave discusses his new friends of smoke and darkness and the strange powers they have taught him, Alex clinically notes the signs of ravaged humanity and possible schizophrenia. He discards that later diagnosis when Dave cocks his head, as if to hear some invisible voice, and his eyes momentarily flash yellow.
Alex asks why he has been avoiding him but Dave claims that the earlier sighting was merely someone playing a trick on the doctor. He admits to working with the Witch, observing it perform blood sorcery.
Dave spies a young woman looking at a record and decides to demonstrate a power Rudolph never even hinted to them. He approaches her, catching her eye. As he uses the familiar power of Dominate, he leans in close and breathes in. A red glowing energy rises from her mouth into his, as if he was sucking the life from her.
Alex interrupts him before he harms her further. Dave explains this is but one of the powers he has learned. Yesterday, he walked in the sunlight for hours without harm. Bewildered, Alex agrees to meet up with Dave again later in the week.
Elsewhere Sybil rises and heads to the cemetery where she heard that the Witch had been. Though she scours the graves for hours, she only picks up traces of blood and death.
Nearby Ethan and Stephanie learn that Harry was seen near the cemetery last night. They give the helpful homeless man five dollars and pamphlet discussing the creed of Akamon.
Sybil spies the pair as they drive up. As she crouches behind some tombstones, Ethan and Stephanie notice her. Ethan instructs the mortal to remain in the car while he talks to the other vampire.
Warily Sybil approaches. Ethan introduces himself as the Heart of Akamon. They talk past each other as Sybil suspects Ethan of human sacrifice and Ethan misunderstands it as an attack on his religion. Sybil comes to the conclusion that he is confused before the situation escalates. The pair realize they are hunting a common problem: someone conducting blood rituals in the park.
Ethan sniffs around and with his heightened senses detects Harry’s scent tinged with blood and death.
Just then Alex phones Sybil. He is looking to awaken Rudolph and would like some help. He also mentions his run in with Dave. Sybil says she is with the Heart of Akamon and that he might also be interested. She convinces the cult leader to drive her to the doctor’s house.
A few minutes later the three vampire’s make introductions. This time Ethan gives his actual name. With his mortal disciple dismissed, the trio descend into the basement to resuscitate Rudolph. Alex drips blood into his sire’s shriveled throat.
As Alex’s puzzles over the failure, Ethan posits that only a vampire more potent blood could awaken the Ventrue. To his knowledge, only his sire or Rudolph’s sire might possess the necessary requirements. Professor Martock at least would know who to turn to.
Alex comments that even though Rudolph must be the Old Man’s eldest childe, the leader of the Invictus has designated another as his heir. There is bad blood between Rudolph and his sire, some secret he never shared with Alex.
With one option removed, the Kindred head for university, stuffing Rudolph into a duffle bag in the trunk.
Along the way, a rush of fear rushes through Ethan as he feels a consuming darkness surround his sire. Then suddenly it feels as if Martock has vanished from the face of the earth.
The Mekhet relates the premonition to the others. As they arrive at Martock’s office, they find it locked. Ethan picks lock, revealing a room covered in a mess of books and papers. Drops of Vitae decorate several surfaces but not enough to indicate significant harm to the elder vampire.
They search the room but everything has been locked from the inside. Despite signs of a struggle, the culprits and victim simply vanished.
Nervous and wary of something hunting them, Alex decides to take Rudolph to the Old Man despite the consequences. He calls Tara King, the covenant’s underboss and heir to the Old Man. She agrees to see them at the group’s headquarters in Bloomington.
The three of them then drive out of town with a torpored vampire still in the trunk. The lights of town recede and they begin to blaze along the highway towards Bloomington. Along the roadside, they spy a black bird sitting upon the road marker. Its eyes flash yellow in the headlights.
A mile later they see it again, perched atop the next marker.
The vampires begin to discuss the growing strangeness. Five miles out, a bursting tire cuts off the group’s conversation. Alex struggles to control the car. He pulls the vehicle over as sparks fly from the back wheel.
The vampires get out and Alex retrieves the spare. But even as he picks it up, he can tell it is flat. They debate calling Triple A for help but in the end resort to calling Ethan’s cult. A disciple named Thomas agrees to come pick them up.
While the others wait Sybil walks through the darkness to the nearest mile marker. As she approaches a bird made of smoke and shadows drifts silently down and lands on top of it. She addresses it and it responds in an almost telepathic voice. She asks about its goals and its ‘siblings’, especially the one that called herself Jane. It claims to be personally uninterested in their affairs and is waiting for something. It does however find Jane’s actions amusing and confirms that the Twins seek some object from the vampires in the area. As she leaves, it warns her that if she really wants to save “them”, she should keep her ears open. Then it vanishes before she can clarify who “they” are.
Thomas arrives in an ancient station wagon. They load the duffle bag into it and head for Bloomington. The next half hour passes uneventfully as the beat up car devours the miles.
As the glow of Bloomington rises in the distance, they spot a pair of teenagers burst out of the brush lining the road. The young man runs out into the road trying to flag them down. After a moment’s hesitation Ethan instructs Thomas to stop. The youth pulls his companion, a badly bleeding girl, into the car.
The terrified couple tell them a tale of being hunted in the cornfields nearby by a beast that stands like a man. They claim its eyes blazed red and one ear was a shredded mess. The last detail reminds Sybil of her final days of a mortal when a similar creature wiped out the hiking expedition she led.
Sybil watches the woman as Alex patches her up, nervously noting the claw and bite marks.
Thomas drives them to the local hospital. After some paperwork, they leave the pair in the care of the ER but not before Sybil learns the woman’s name: Suzy Griffin.
With that entanglement out of the way, Alex directs Thomas to an old manor house on the south end of the city. They pass through the well protected gates. A woman in leathers meets them as they pull up at the front door.
A cold smile crosses Tara’s face as Alex pulls a weighty duffle bag from the back of the car. Her bemusement falters only slightly as the vampires tell their story. She invites them inside, leading them past the armed men at the door and into a parlor. Tara tells them to stay there and then enters an inner chamber. Minutes later she invites them inside.
A long dinner table fills the great room, terminating at an empty fireplace. A middle aged man with a long handlebar mustache sits at the end along with several of his ghouls. Alex recognizes Jim, also known as the Old Man, has is grandsire. Alex and Ethan again relate their story of Rudolph’s maiming and Martock’s disappearance. The Old Man seems alternatively bored and bemused. He reveals a hint of surprise and recognition when they mention the shadowy birds. His clearest reaction is when Ethan reveals that both Portor and Martock is missing. His sudden smile never reaches his eyes.
The Old Man says that blood sorcerers must be responsible. Or at least that they know something. He suggests they go check a nearby coven, one that they can reach before dawn. He explains with a grin that he will talk to Rudolph.
They meekly do as he requests and drive out back into the cornfields, leaving the main road for dirt tracks until their headlights become the only source of illumination.
As they grind along, a deep growl causes them to glance to the right. Glowing red eyes swell in size as a powerful hairy beast charges the car. Thomas hits the gas, somehow avoiding the wolf-like creature.
The werewolf skids to stop and then chases after them. With one mighty leap it grabs holds of the back of the car, nearly lifting it off the ground.
Sybil crawls over the pile of junk in the back and violently opens the back window into its lower jaw. As hot blood splatters on the glass from its wounded tongue, Ethan pulls a baseball bat from the mess in the station wagon.
Angered the hulking creature tears off the back door. The back wheels make contact with the ground and Thomas drives away. Alex stares back attempting to meet the beast’s red eyes and force his will upon it. But the creature shakes off his influence.
As the werewolf readies for a third charge, Sybil prepares herself to dodge its strike. Ethan focuses his gaze and gently commands it to run away from here. Surprised, it stops and bounds off into the brush.
As they catch their breath, Thomas spots a series of flaming stakes in a nearby field, surrounding an old farm house. Ethan tells him to take them there. As the car slides to a halt, three vampires emerge from the structure: a filthy dark skinned woman, a man with jutting teeth and yellow skin and robed woman with pale skin and red eyes. This final figure offers them sanctuary from the werewolves. She explains the creatures have become maddened in recent months. The price for safety is a tithe of blood. Each agrees to donate some of their vitae. The yellow man collects it in a clay receptacle.
They follow these blood sorcerers into the barn. Inside a smaller thatch hut sits. Within the darkened confines of that secret place they find an earthen bowl on the ground holding ashes and bone fragments. The vitae is poured onto the remains which absorbs it until the dust resumes its bleached appearance.
The price paid, the woman then asks why they came. After they sputter their story, she reveals that she has heard of these birds of smoke and shadow but only by rumor. They never before ventured into this region, perhaps because they feared something, something now gone. As she says this she stares into the ashes. She alludes to Chicago in her musings and how once she held power there. She tells them to stay the day before venturing out again.