Heartland Orphans


The coterie drive north as far as they can before dawn. They park the two cars at a road side motel, put the do not disturb sign on the door and fall into day sleep.

While Sybil slumbers beneath the earth and Jane occupies herself watching the cars go by, Ethan twitches in his death-like state. As he dreams, a shadow crawls along the floor toward Portor.

The cult leader finds himself in a palace carved from a glacier. Light filters down from the red ice above. As he turns around to survey the elegantly appointed chamber, a tall black figure asks him for his answer. Ethan asks the Inverted Lord to repeat his deal. Then he declines. Angered, the Strix warns that he will destroy everything Ethan loves.

Night falls and the Kindred awaken. The wind whistles outside as a light rain starts. Ethan tells the others of his dream. Portor seems unsurprised at this turn of events and Sybil gives him a sideway glance. They decide to hurry back to Champaign. Portor takes the other car while Jane and the others drive in Alex’s vehicle.

On the way, Ethan calls his sire. As the professor looks over some research, the Mekhet explains he needs him to send his sister to Chicago. Martock agrees to arrange the tickets.

The rest of the ride is uncomfortable as the vampires silently consider their options to kill the remaining Strix while Jane smiles in the back seat. Eventually Ethan voices his hope that they can dissuade the Inverted Lord. He asks Jane if she knows a weakness they might use to do this. She eventually reveals he is susceptible to exorcisms, which they can use to force him from a body he is possessing. Ethan plans out a variation on the cult of Akamon’s rituals to attempt this.

Alex makes good time on the highway, arriving in Champaign before midnight. However he loses Portor along the way.

They arrive at the university and find Martock. They walk in as the professor carefully notes down a reading on a balance borrowed from the Chemistry department. A series of weights and times decorate a nearby chalk board.

Ethan asks about it and learns that the ashes put on different amounts of weight depending on whether they are fed blood or vitae. Even if left alone, the remains are slowly gaining mass.

Eager to talk more freely, the cult leader offers Jane a place to stay and sends her off to the temple.

Once the Strix leaves, the coterie discusses their options. Alex favors allowing the Inverted Lord to possess Big Eddie and then burning him alive. With that in mind, Sybil borrows the key to the Chemistry building to get some fire retardant clothing. While there she also grabs two jugs of alcohol and a lighter for a bunsen burner. Alex meanwhile heads for Big Eddie’s club to keep an eye out for the Strix.

He finds the strip club quiet. He watches some would be patrons bang on the door trying to get in. The doctor heads around back. The rear door swings open into the alleyway. Cautiously he enters the club.

Blood and gore decorate the walls and floor. The bodies of Big Eddie’s thugs and staff lie scattered around the room. Sweet Pea is sprawled on a table, drained of blood with vitae pooling in her throat. The vampire is missing.

Alex finds a large bouncer clinging to life. He staunches his wounds and the man revives for a moment. He babbles about Sweet Pea attacking the boss and Bid Eddie going crazy. Alex texts the others that things are bad at the club.

“What does it look like?” Sybil asks.

Alex sends a picture of the horror. Then he heads out to the parking lot. Big Eddie’s ride is also missing.

Back on campus, Ethan calls the temple for a favor from his disciples. Thomas answers but the call it interrupted by the sounds of someone breaking into the inner sanctum.

Ethan texts the coterie and rushes over. The cult leader finds a half dozen student hurrying away from the stone fraternity building. He quickly rallies them and leads them back inside.

They find two members bleeding and slumped against the walls. Stephanie lies on the ground, pale and not breathing. Some blood decorates her face.

“Jerry help the others,” Ethan orders as Sybil lumbers in carrying two jugs and dressed in mits and a thick apron. She slips past him and into the inner sanctum.

As she creeps inside she hears voices from a nearby room: three people talking and a fourth sobbing. Spying into an ante chamber Sybil sees a pale Thomas tapping his feet while Big Eddie growls at Jane to possess the girl in the corner. All of them register as vampires.

The Gangrel pulls a pair of tapestries from the wall and soaks them in alcohol. As she works, a dowel bangs loudly against the stone floor.

“Did you hear that?” Thomas says, interrupting the Inverted Lord’s attempts to cajole Jane. “They are here and they are making flammable tarps.”

Ethan leads his followers inside and directs them to arm themselves. Two help Sybil with the tapestries.

Outside Alex and Portor pull up at the same time.

“There’s trouble in there,” Alex warns him as he gets out of the car.

“I know,” Portor says, his eyes flashing yellow. The possessed vampire launches himself at Alex, knocking him against a wall.

A muffled bang separates them. Alex, his gun still smoking, retreats into the temple building.

Inside, Big Eddie moves into the inner sanctum. He opens his mouth and screeches.

Instantly one of the men holding the tapestry claps his hands to his ears and stumbles back. The other readies himself as Thomas emerges and glares at him with a strange intensity.

“Please don’t fight,” Jane shouts. The old man she’s animating turns his head from Big Eddie to the cultists and back.

“Disciples! Funnel them to the altar,” Ethan shouts before beginning to chant.

As his voice builds in intensity, Big Eddie shudders and cringes. Black smoke emerges from his orifices as the Inverted Lord is forced from the Kindred’s body.

As Big Eddie collapses on the ground, Sybil grabs one of the tapestries from the floor. She rushes into the room the Strix emerged from and tosses it over the still unpossessed vampire.

As the Strix leader attempts to recompose itself, Jane tells Thomas, “we should just leave.”

The possessed young man nods and moves to do so. But the cultists react with sudden violence. Two swing bats at the youth while another shoots him in the side. The fourth trips on the tapestry, plunging a knife blade into his leg.

Thomas rights himself, seemingly barely phased by the attacks.

“Stand down,” Ethan orders his minion as he considers how to deal with one true threat forming above their heads.

In the other room, Sybil carefully calms down the terrified woman.

Meanwhile, Alex races inside, narrowly avoiding another attack. He leads Portor toward the sound of the gunshot.

The smoke reforms into an owl. “I will return for my vengeance,” it snarls before flying away.

As Jane and the Thomas also vacate the sanctum, Alex stumbles in with Portor hot on his heels.

“Portor’s possessed!” he shouts as his pursuer jumps on him and smashes him to the floor.

“Get the bells!” Ethan calls out. The cult leader extends his senses attempting to link to whatever lurks in Portor’s mind. The Beast within drives him off but not before he detects something strange: a set of untrigger posthypnotic suggestions lurking in Portor’s mind.

Sybil emerges from the antechamber and tosses the alcohol soaked tapestry over Portor.

The vampire turns on her, grabbing hold of her as Alex scurries away. She wrestles him to the altar as the doctor grabs a lit candle from one of the many alcoves. All around them bells ring, causing Portor to recoil in pain.

“Wait!” Ethan calls out to Alex as he peers deeper into the mind of his ‘sibling’. He sees the experiments the Ordo Dracul did on him: the drugs, the brainwashing, the chemicals put in his blood. All to make him a trap for the Strix. He decides to trip it with his own will.

The Beast within Portor screams as the occult trap springs, its voice growing smaller and smaller until it shrinks into a soundless squeak.

Portor blinks. “This rag stinks.”

He pulls it off. “How did I get here?”

The coterie quickly explain things.

“I need a shower,” he says.

“I’ll take care of Big Eddie,” Alex says with a sinister glee.

The cult begins to clean up. They find only some drops of blood where Stephanie’s body lay.

In the coming weeks, Alex solidifies his control over Champaign as well as Urbana. Jane and Thomas vanish for a time while the coterie discover a mysterious woman lurks on the edges of their territory seeking vengeance.

Pacts and Promises

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.

The others rise at dusk in the hotel. Alex gets the text and arranges to meet up in an hour. Martock calls the cult of Mammon to arrange transport. Then he heads out to find nourishment.

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.


Sybil waits with the Wolf at the ruined farm house as Alex drives Martock and Ethan over. Suddenly a wave of force washes over the Gangrel pulling at her blood. As she totters the Wolf grabs her. Distant chanting fills her mind.

Sybil tells him what she experienced. The Wolf suggests she might be the target of a blood sorcery ritual with the aim of manipulating her blood.

Fifteen minutes later the others arrive. They all push into the car and drive off into the night.

In the front passenger seat, Martock talks to Ethan about studying the remains of the Antediluvian. The Wolf voices Sybil’s thoughts that the two Dragons are foolhardy to deal with those bones. As they leave the city, Martock also suggests capturing the Elder. The Wolf growls and repeats that she needs to be destroyed. He hints that she can manipulate the minds of those around her.

Alex senses a deeper reason for the Wolf’s hatred. He asks why he has such venom in his voice. The Wolf explains he wanted to join the Circle of the Crone in Chicago but that she only allowed members a certain bloodline join. Meanwhile Ethan uses his powers to pry into the Wolf’s secrets. He senses a proud and ambitious beast thwarted in his aims and sent running.

Sybil listens to this from the back middle seat when the waves of force intensify. Her blood burns, evaporating from her veins. As she struggles to control her sudden hunger, a deer runs across the road.

Alex deftly swerves around the animal. The Wolf commands him to stop as Sybil shivers and shakes in the back.

The doctor pulls to the side of the road. After a long moment, Sybil calms down.

The Wolf gets out of the car to let Sybil chase after the deer.

The pair disappear for ten minutes. Just as the others begin to worry, a much less ravenous Sybil returns along with the Wolf.

The coterie and their allies continue on their way to the ruins of the Elder’s haven. As they turn off the main road, the Wolf and Sybil discuss what force might have caused the destruction of her Vitae. The Nosferatu decides that the Witch is the most likely culprit.

A half hour later, they find the farmhouse as Ethan and Alex left it. Sybil transforms into a bobcat and begins sniffing around.

With the Wolf’s help she finds two trails near the farmhouse escape tunnel. An older trail leads away through the fields while the other loops toward the charred wreckage. It moves through the debris, pausing near the remains of the other vampires and the cellar entrance. Then the scent trail leads to the road.

Sybil and the Wolf follow it while the others trail behind in the car. As Sybil wonders why this “vampire” smells of sweat and adrenaline, Alex notices a suspicious shadow moving between some trees behind them.

He decides to pull up to the Wolf. He asks the savage looking Kindred if he can see what is out there. The Wolf squints and points out a black owl. “We are being followed.”

Ethan turns and sees it.

“How can we stop it?” asks Alex.

The Wolf considers the Strix. “We need a small structure of some sort.”


“Because I don’t have much salt.”

For the rest of the long journey into Bloomington, Ethan keeps the silent threat in sight.

Sybil leads them past a series of stores before following the trail out into a large parking lot. The transformed vampire notes where the Elder left with a mortal in a car by scratching a gouge into the asphalt. Then the bobcat scampers off in search of a good ambush spot for the Strix.

A short while later, she leads the vampires to a small shed. The Wolf nods to her and instructs Ethan to unlock the shed while the others draw the Strix’s attention to that side of the structure. Invisibly, he then begins to lay down a trail of salt around the small building.

Martock throws himself into the task, commenting loudly on how the remains must lay within. As Ethan opens the lock, he instructs his childe to disappear while Alex, Sybil and he go inside.

“There she is!” he cries as he rushes in. The shadowy owl swiftly glides in behind them as the Wolf completes the trap.

Inside the Strix screeches angrily as it realizes the ruse. Alex pulls the Strix’s attention with his supernatural gifts while the others escape the shed.

The owl screeches at him in a voice Sybil knows all too well. As the Witch lunges for him, Alex knocks open the door and leaps over the line of salt. The Witch almost grabs him but Ethan throws a rock thrown at the last minute. With the Strix distracted, Alex escapes.

The Strix bounces off the mystical barrier. It flies in circles and screams at them, promising to curse all of them.

The Wolf warns it that the Strix should try to get loose before dawn when he intends to return with a can of gasoline.

They leave the Witch behind and continue to follow the trail. Sybil cuts quickly across town, swiftly homing in on the Elder’s current location.

As they arrive at an apartment complex, a car pulls out with two women in it. Sybil sniffs the Elder inside the car, even though neither has white hair. She jumps back into Alex’s car and resumes her normal form as they head off in pursuit.

Alex attempts to trail them but the vampires are soon spotted. As their quarry accelerates onto the highway, Alex puts the pedal to the metal. As he pulls along side he tells Martock to dig his gun out of the glove box.

Martock fires haplessly at the fleeing car’s tires while Alex attempts to catch the curly haired driver’s eye. The shots and the speed of the vehicles do attract the attention of a police officer. As the sirens close in, the Wolf climbs out the window and on top of the car.

Alex holds the car steady next to their quarry as the Wolf leaps across. Then the driver slams into him, sending them sliding into a ditch.

Luckily everyone was wearing their seatbelts. As Alex attempts to get the car out of the ditch, Sybil transforms into a bat. While the doctor’s car slowly pulls back onto the road, she lands on top of the speeding police car as it follows the escaping vehicle.

Ahead the Wolf climbs into the car, causing the driver to lose control and collide with the concrete divider. As the police officer pulls up behind, Alex swerves around the vehicles and cuts off their escape.

The passenger in the damaged car stumbles out. Despite the hair dye and modern attire, they recognize the features and red eyes of the Elder. As Ethan exits the car, his sire points the gun at her and demands her surrender.

Sybil detaches herself from the police car and flies through the open window on the driver’s side. She latches onto the woman sweaty brown skin, biting deeply.

As the driver succumbs to the Kiss, the Wolf leaps from the interior and claws at the Elder. Surprisingly blood pours freely from her side.

Alex locks eyes with the cop. “You need to restrain the subject,” he commands. The cop rushes to the Wolf’s side to subdue the Elder.

The Elder leaps over the barricade and into oncoming traffic. Ethan runs to the police car and grabs a shotgun while Martock exits the car to join the chase.

As Sybil continues to feed, the Wolf and the officer pursue the Elder, attempting to grapple her.

Alex puts the car into gear and races down the road before shooting through a gap in the barricade to intercept the vampires. Surrounded the Elder runs up to his car pleading for him to save her.

Ethan and Martock leap the barrier and train their guns on her as she pounds on the door.

The Wolf leaps on her, bearing her to the ground and sinking his teeth into her neck. The officer still in a trance, grabs her arms and slides his cuffs on the desperate and dying woman.

As the Elder struggles in her cuffs, the Wolf feeds on her, drinking her blood down to the last drop. Martock fires into the beastly vampire but he barely flinches.

Alex gets out of the car and convinces the scholar and his childe to back off. The Elder snaps her cuffs but it is too little too late. The Wolf drains her dry and consumes her heart’s blood.

Back at the wreck, Sybil resume her human form. She tries to get some answers from the groggy ghoul but resorts to popping the trunk instead.

Ethan finds her there, picking up a leather satchel that clinks with the sound of ash and bones. He asks for it but she declines to give it up for now.

Nearby, the Wolf wipes the blood from his mouth as he stands. On the ground the Elder ages before their eyes before rotting away into a skeleton. Alex directs the officer to cover this up.

Their prize in hand, the vampires return to Bloomington and the shed where the Witch is trapped.

As they pull up, they hear the screams of the Strix and discover the line of salt intact. Alex helps the Wolf siphon gasoline from his tank and with Sybil’s help they douse the shed liberally.

It is only as the sky begins to lighten with the dawn that blaze begins in earnest. They watch as it crumbles down upon the Witch, crushing and consuming her. A high pitched keening cuts through the crackle of flames from somewhere to the south.

While the other are distracted. Sybil steps away, still clutching the bag containing the Antediluvian’s remains. She slides into the earth with them.

As the sirens begin to close in, the Wolf also disappears. The others drive away, dumping the car at the edge of town and finding a motel to crash in for the day.

The Nightmare Continues

The coterie discuss what they now know and what they need to learn. It becomes clear that they have few options if they want to learn more about the seven Strix or their enigmatic mother. They might visit the Elder but she is unlikely to give up the ashes or the secrets of her god. Their relationship with Jane is strained. Finally a trip to the mound where this all began would leave them exposed to the unknown and the threat of the sun.

Ethan decides to write to Martock’s contact in Chicago. He asks Kiril for information on Chicago and the Strix.

Meanwhile Alex calls Thomas Black to learn the latest news with the Invictus. The drug dealer tells him about rumors of farms being burned and hit teams sent out by the Old Man. Black isn’t sure who is being eliminated. Alex gets a list of locations.

Black also tells him about some local trouble he’s been having. It seems men in dark suits have been running off his dealers in Urbana. Alex tells him that he and his friends will help watch over a dealer tonight and see who is causing this trouble.

Before heading out, Ethan researches the sites. Correlating them with Martock’s notes, he tells the others that each fire corresponds to mystical location, one held by the Circle of the Crone.

The coterie locates the scrawny dealer on a street corner near a strip of ethnic restaurants. A muscular man in a red T-shirt leans against a nearby wall, watching out for the blond haired man. Alex and Ethan find a spot atop a building down the street and watch the scene through binoculars. Sybil waits in front of a nearby parking lot.

An hour into the stakeout, a scratched up car pulls into the lot. As the jittery engine stops two men in dark suits get out. Sybil notes their thin builds and closely shaved heads. Large dark glasses obscure their eyes. Something about them seems familiar however.

As the men approach the youth dealing drugs, Alex and Ethan abandon their position to drive over. As the dealer scrambles away, the man in the T-shirt leaps into action, intercepting the assailants. The tough fights with the skill of a practiced brawler but faced with two attackers he finds himself matched. He suffers as much as he belts out.

The attackers bruised and bloody chose to retreat from the fight. As they hurry to their car, Sybil sticks out her leg and trips one. As his nose smashes into the concrete, the other hurries to the car without even glancing back.

Meanwhile Alex drives past the brawler nursing a bruised arm and pulls up in front of the black car. He locks eyes with the man getting into the driver’s seat and asks him to stop.

As the Ventrue interrogates the driver, Ethan exits the car and approaches the man stumbling closer with a bloody nose. He finds this man also highly susceptible to the powers of Dominate.

Alex learns the men were working under orders from Big Eddie. It seems the vampire in charge of Champaign resents Alex’s new position. Alex tells the two minions to walk home. He then donates their car to Ethan’s cult.

Afterwards, Alex calls Black and informs him of the situation. The Nosferatu thanks them for information. But he also wishes Alex and Big Eddie just work it out between them and leave his men out of it.

Just before hanging up, Black mentions that his men noticed that the lights were on at Rudolph’s house. Alex thanks him. The Ventrue and Ethan head over.

They find Rudolph’s car in the driveway and both the first and second stories lit up. They ring the bell. The elder vampire answers the door in a bathrobe. He reeks of gasoline and smoke. Rudolph explains he just returned from doing the Old Man’s work. While he doesn’t elaborate, he does question them about their own findings about the Strix.

As they excuse themselves, Ethan notes an odd scar on the elderly man’s arm. The chemical burns strangely resemble the pattern of blood splatter. He mentions it to Alex as well as pointing out the mud on the wheels of Rudolph’s car. They decide Rudolph must have just returned from destroying another coven of the Circle.

With a potential lead at risk, the pair decide to check on the Elder and her allies. They call Sybil but she opts to stay in Urbana.

The Gangrel instead patrols the town’s parks, slowly making her way toward the southwest end of town. Along the way she encounters Karen Capra as she tries to encourage some of the local homeless to move out of what will be the County Fairgrounds in a couple weeks. Sybil learns that the shelters can’t house them all.

Some of the people left in the cold have made a small camp in a park along a stream on the southwest end of Urbana. Sybil helps a few move their belongings. As they set up makeshift tents, the wind picks up and a gentle rain begins to fall.

Sybil takes cover under the trees as a summer thunderstorm blows in. The winds knock down a few tents and the vampire helps the beleaguered people to safety. The storm dies down before dawn. Sybil watches a half formed twister float away in the early morning light.

Far away, Alex drives through the storm toward the Elder’s farmhouse. His windshield wipers struggle to move the waves of rain.

Ethan’s sharp eyes pick out a large box truck crashed into a ditch on the side of the road. The back doors hang wide open, revealing stacks of empty cardboard boxes.

They pull over. Ethan checks the back while Alex investigates the driver. He find the man out cold. Curbing his hunger, the vampire checks the driver for a life threatening wounds. Suspecting a concussion, he calls the local hospital and returns to the car.

Ethan joins him after making a circuit of the vehicle. He explains nothing was odd about the back but it looks like the driver swerved to avoid a large creature. They decide to push on.

An hour before dawn, the two vampires arrive at the location of the farmhouse. Only a gentle drizzle remains of the storm, enough to obscure the scent of ashes. Charred beams and a few crumbling bones seem to be all that remains of the Circle.

Undeterred they search, uncovering signs of the earthen pit where the Antediluvian was kept. Nothing remains there. Ethan suggests that the bones outside might belong to one or two vampires at most. digging deeper they find the mostly intact remains of the root cellar they took refuge in several days ago. Inside they discover a secret tunnel leading out of the cellar and into a nearby corn field. Fresh tracks race along the escape route.

With day fast approaching they wall themselves within the cellar and sleep.

Sybil dreams of a dark wood overgrown with vines. Pale blue lights flicker in the distance, obscured by the dense undergrowth.

She transformed into a bat, fluttering upward in search of the sky. Instead she finds a denser network of branches and vines. Rather than struggle on, she flies through the nightmare realm. Near a congregation of floating blue flames, she spots a darkly cloaked figure muttering to herself and turning over faded Tarot cards.

“The Wheel of Fortune turns against the Fool. The Lovers conspire while the Devil aides both sides. The Hermit meets the Tower. The Crow foretells of doom to come,” the woman intones. She looks up directly at Sybil with a face composed of shadows.

The Witch demands to know who Sybil is, what connection she has to the Mother and where she is now. Sybil remains quiet as the Strix claims that the creator of the Strix drank of Sybil’s blood. She demands to know where that happened. Sybil again gives no answer.

The Witch threatens to curse her. Then she turns into a flock of birds and flies at Sybil. The vampire flees, choosing to avoid some ancient ruins and instead descend into a long dark tunnel.

Alex and Ethan find themselves within a darkened farmhouse. Something rustles outside the wooden walls. The many sharp and rusty tools hanging from the ceiling rock violently. Alex moves toward a mound of hay bales as the wooden floor groans beneath him. Turning around they spot a locked door on the opposite wall.

Ethan pulls on the door and discovers it chained shut from the outside. He grabs an ax from the wall. As the sharp tools swing along it, he narrowly avoids losing his fingers. He smashes the door open with the ax, revealing a dark hallway of cyclopean stone, guttering torches and large blackened mirrors.

Traversing the now familiar maze, the vampires hear the weak cries of Martock.The men follow the sound. Ethan leads the charge but becomes lost at an intersection. Alex picks the right path and they press on. Elsewhere in the labyrinth, Sybil’s bat-like hearing also picks up the captive vampire as well as the movements of her comrades and some distant sighs. She choses to seek out Martock.

As the vampires follow Martock’s calls for help, the rough stones transition to cinder block and the torches are replaced with flickering fluorescent lights. In one strobe of the light, Ethan thinks he spots a towering figure in black.

Heading up some white stairs, they find themselves inside an old hospital. Faded red and yellow stains mar the walls while murmurs and screams emanate from the many locked doors. Unseen Sybil flutters behind them.

Ethan takes careful note of the signs and papers strewn about the halls. He comes to the realization that the hospital is composed of many different medical facilities, all sites of great crimes or tragedies.

Ethan makes the argument to the others that this place was once part of the real world but now consists purely of nightmare.

A towering figure speaks up and corrects him. Instantly they know this is the Inverted Lord. The living shadow tells Ethan that this mixture of nightmare and reality was caused by humanity. The hospital exists in both dreams and the real world at once.

He continues confidently, offering Ethan his help in exchange for the use of his body for a single night. As evidence of his ‘good will’ he tells the Beast, who was lurking behind them, to leave them alone.

The scholar refuses to agree without knowledge of what the Strix will do. The Inverted Lord explains that he believes that Ethan will back out if he is fully aware of his actions or that at least his friends will convince him to do so.

Ethan assures him that he is his own man. The Strix reveals that he seeks to destroy the Old Man and become the dominant monster of the area. To make this project easier he needs vessels, vampiric bodies, for himself and his siblings. He intends to raise seven revenants. The Strix offers that if Ethan creates these beings for him then the monster will aid him in anything that does not go against himself or his direct aims. The Inverted Lord gives him three nights to consider the offer. He also warns Ethan that he will receive no protection should he decline.

The figure disappears and the vampires head down the hall. Unseen Sybil flies after them, having heard everything.

Ethan hears his sire’s sobs behind a door at the end of the hall. He pulls it open.

Beyond lies a black void. Several corroded cages hang above this abyss. In one of them, an ashen faced Martock clings to unlife.

Sybil flies past the men and into the darkness. Elsewhere owls composed of shadow fly down in front of Ethan. These yellow eyed monsters demand the jewel.

Martock whimpers that he gave up all of his secrets. Ethan calls out that he says only told them where it was, hinting that he knows where it lies now. The owls demand the jewel again, claiming they will kill his sire if they don’t get it. He tries to confuse them but they ignore his feeble attempts to claim ignorance. They tell him bring it tonight to a building off Neil Street or Martock dies. Then they grimly explain that they will grab him next.

Meanwhile in the void, Sybil’s bat senses detect a key shaped object where one of the owls had been perching. She flies over and retrieves it. Dropping the key into Martock’s hand, she then flies to safety.

The ravenous vampire unlocks the cage and makes a jump for it. Powered by fear and hunger, he leaps through the darkness.

He doesn’t make it.

Alex throws himself to the edge and grabs hold of the professor’s hands. He pulls the Mekhet up as the Twins screech in rage.

“Get me out of here!” Martock cries, grabbing hold of Ethan and racing down the hall at inhuman speeds. Figures in hospital gowns and scrubs emerge from every door, swinging scalpels and other sharp objects.

Several stab into Alex, pinning him to the wall. Meanwhile Sybil flies above the fray and heads for a fire hose station at the intersection.

As he dangles from his sire’s arm, Ethan tries to convince Martock to go back for Alex while dodging knife blades. As the near frenzying monster finds all exits blocked, Ethan explains he’ll only lead him out if they bring Ethan. Martock spins around and sprints back.

As they reach Alex, Sybil resumes human form and turns on the hose. Water blasts the crowd of attackers, thinning them for the moment.

Martock’s hand blurs as it pulls five blades from Alex’s body, freeing him from the wall. Then together the three vampires race through the path Sybil created and escape through a hidden fire exit with the Gangrel close behind.

As Ethan and Alex rise from the floor of the ruined cellar they find themselves joined by a starving Martock.

Ethan’s phone chimes with a text. “Did Martock escape with you?”

He calls her back and fills her in on the situation as well as the recent happenings.

As the men go hunting, Sybil seeks out the Wolf. She finds the feral Nosferatu packing up his meager belongings. He explains that the recent reports of fires have him on edge. Sybil tells him the Invictus is burning out their rivals. The unaligned vampire suggests that perhaps now is the best time for him to strike at the Elder and get his revenge. If she survived the attack she no longer has any allies. Between the two of them, they should be best placed to track the Elder down. Sybil agrees to help him.

Alex takes Ethan and Martock to a movie theater just as a film concludes. While the neonates attract weak willed if unwilling prey, Martock invisibly sneaks up on a patron and drains him almost dry. Somehow the old monster manages to keep his Beast in check and leaves the mortal for the cleaning crew to discover.

As they leave, Ethan and Alex discuss the current situation with Martock: the Strix, their weaknesses, their goals, and their ties to the Antediluvian. They see two options: return to the mound where Portor found the jewel or chase down the Elder. Martock points out that the mound isn’t going anywhere.

Alex texts Sybil as to their plans to find the Elder. She asks them if they intend to hide the jewel and thus avoiding bringing the heart’s blood of the Antediluvian and her remains to the same place. Ethan hands it to Alex to hide.

Sybil asks the Wolf if they should team up with the others. He agrees as long as he gets to deal with the Elder.

As the Mekhets prepare, Alex puts the jewel inside some boxes which he then has added to his safe deposit box at the local bank.

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.

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.”

Dark Dreams

After talking to the coven of blood sorcerers, the three vampires were led to a earthen root cellar beneath the barn. Sybil slid into the earth while the others slept upon rough beds of straw.

Hours later they awake to find themselves standing on the earthen floor of a labyrinth of cyclopean stone. Blackened mirrors hang at irregular intervals, some reaching the ceiling twelve feet above them.

Ethan jerks his head as he hears the scream of his sire. Distantly Martock calls for help. The Mekhet hurries through the maze, leading them closer and closer to the cries.

Suddenly they come upon a set of rusty iron bars blocking their route. Sybil attempts to dig under them, exposing the rough stone a half foot beneath the moist soil. Feeling in the grime, she determines the bars are part of a portcullis. The men attempt to aid her as she begins to pull the heavy barrier up. With a mighty heavy, she lifts it over her head, dangling Ethan off the ground for a moment.

Flush with renewed confidence, Sybil leads the others past the obstacle and into the darkened halls.

As another of Martock’s screams echoes away, the vampires find themselves at a strange intersection. Several tunnels open up into a circular chamber. Between each gap hang large irregular mirrors. But most disconcerting is the sandstone altar at the center of the chamber and the gutted man lying atop it.

Ethan recognizes the blood splattered replica of the Heart of Akamon’s sanctum as well as the homeless man atop it. He recalls the night he killed this innocent to cement his leadership of the cult. Sybil also recognizes the man as the one she found dumped in the park. As she glances around she spots a bloody knife in Ethan’s hand. He looks down surprised but manages to hide his recognition at the sight and dagger.

The cult leader scrutinizes the dagger looking for a sign that this is not the same one Harry fled with. As Sybil attempts to question him, he concludes it is a clever replica. The heft is off and the hieroglyphs distorted.

As the Gangrel accuses him of killing the man, Ethan explains this is a dream. She sardonically comments that she already figured that out.

A tittering laugh issues from the mirrors. Inside the tarnished silver, a yellow eyed corpse mocks them. Alex watches as the rotting woman lurches forward from within the reflection. A worn hide dress covers her sagging form as she fingers a seashell necklace hanging loosely around her neck.

Ethan attempts to talk to her, inquiring what she is after. She jokes that they don’t even know what they seek. The woman’s eyes flash as she hobbles about ignoring them. She talks to some unseen presence about some jewel they seek. The Dragon tells the others that she must be one of these “birds” and comments that they are arrogant monsters seeking to confuse them. He tries to lock eyes with the woman as Alex scans the room. Sybil focuses on her body language, avoiding the eyes.

Sybil notices something off in the woman’s movements. She turns her head and spots an identical creature about to pounce on Ethan.

“Duck”, Sybil shouts as she swings at the zombie. The scholar dodges out of the way as she knocks the creature back.

The woman snaps at Sybil, her rotten teeth biting hard on her leg. Sybil grabs her arms and forces them behind the monster’s back, restraining her.

As the monster attempts to twist its head around to bite her, the voice from the mirror mocks them again. As the image distracts them from her “sister” the corpse rots away in Sybil’s hands. The image, clearly one of the Twins Jane referred to, offers to let Martock go for the jewel.

As Martock screams not to let them have it, they awaken from their dream.

Sybil rises from the ground while the men stand up and dust off the straw. Ascending from the cellar they find a nervous looking Thomas waiting for them.

Ethan commands the mortal to bleed into a bowl for him. As the Thomas cuts himself, the others wrestle with their beasts. The Mekhet drinks deeply and feels his hunger ebb slightly.

Ethan quizzes his disciple about the day. Thomas complains that it was spooky being almost alone but gets cut off before he can say much more.

From the inner hut, the three members of the Circle emerge. As before the albino woman does most of the talking. She’s considered their questions and needs from the previous night. Unfortunately she knows little about these creatures except their name and their hatred of vampires. The Strix it seems have been a threat since the days of ancient Rome.

The neonates relate their dream encounter and ask if the barn was warded against spiritual intrusion. The Elder admits the defenses were keyed against the werewolves but hints she could protect against such things. She offers to help them defeat the Strix if they help her first. A Kindred called the Wolf knows the secrets of the Strix and also wishes to destroy her. If they remove him as a threat, she promises to contribute her considerable power to their cause.

They thank her and drive back to Bloomington. After dropping the damaged station wagon at a garage, they arrange to meet up the next night.

Sybil heads off on her own, attempting to hunt down what the Red Eye is. She finds her answer as she heads towards the highway to feed. A blazing red neon eye announces the location of a 24 hour trucker’s bar. She scouts the smoke filled building and quizzes the bar tender. She spots Carthian sigils scattered about with one hanging above the entrance of the kitchen. After trying to sneak in, she learns from the hairless cook that “her kind” are not here tonight but should be meeting in two days.

Before she leaves, she crafts a cryptic message and posts it to the local bulletin board. It informs the reader that she lives in Champaign and warns them of the presence of the Strix.

Ignoring the third call from Ethan that night, she heads for a park, looking for someone to punish. After an hour she spots a pair of teens throwing rocks at a homeless man. As they leave the park, she trails the larger one. Silently she slips up behind him and bites down on his neck.

She leaves the drained but alive kid near a busy road. To top herself off, she hunts down a large dog. She leaves it weakened but alive as well. Finally she finds a patch of earth near the meet location and sinks into the earth for the night.

Elsewhere Alex rents a car while Ethan deals with Thomas. Ethan takes the still rattled mortal to a motel and uses his vampiric powers to mesmerize him. Slowly he erases much of Thomas’s memories of the previous day. As he drifts off, the mortal mutters something about seeing the Elder during the day.

After checking that his car was successfully towed back to Champaign, Alex picks up Ethan and the pair drive over to the haven of the Old Man. After being ushered in by the armed guards, they relay the previous night’s events to the older Kindred. Ethan in particular ingratiates himself to the elder. The Old Man mentions that Rudolph has awakened but is still a bit ‘stumpy’. From his testimony he has decided to call a Blood Hunt on David.

After excusing themselves, Alex sups from some of the covenant’s blood dolls before joining Ethan in socializing with the assembled Ventrue and other members of the Invictus.

As they trade small talk and rumors, the pair learn that the Old Man intends to make a move on the Ordo Dracul and the University. Indeed the tone is that the covenant is taking out all of its rivals and possible threats.

Ethan in particular is warned not to make a fuss. “Perhaps he will give you some of your territory back if he likes you,” they tell him.

Later that evening, they try contacting Sybil again. She doesn’t pick up and they instead search for another good feeding.

They eventually find themselves near the highway and the Red Eye. Alex spots an extremely large and beefy trucker. While he distracts him, Ethan quietly feeds on him. They cloud his memory of the event and help him into the bar for a drink.

As dawn approaches the pair find an abandoned office building to go to ground in. Ethan picks the lock and they find a dark corner to rest out the day.

Shortly after nightfall, the three Kindred meetup again. Ethan and Alex relay their experiences. As they head over to the Old Man’s haven, Sybil expresses her disgust over the Blood Hunt. She does not intend to take part.

At the mansion they find Rudolph up and about, his left arm strangely withered and raw. Even so he easily crushes a metal cup as he expresses his outrage at David. It was David who visited him that night, who turned his powers against him, leaving him crippled and nearly dead.

The Kindred join the caravan to Champaign, heading for the Invictus strip club on the edge of town. Sybil splits off while the others join the gathering for the Blood Hunt.

The club stands deserted, cleared out by its owner, Big Eddie, for the event. In addition to the Old Man and Big Eddie, they see Rudolph, Tara King, Thomas Black and a few other members of the Invictus. A pair of Carthians are also in attendance.

Ethan and Alex approach the outsiders. The short stocky man introduces himself as Dan and explains the thin quiet woman beside him is called Silvia. They were curious about the Blood Hunt. The event also provided them an excuse to check on a Carthian that they heard was in town. Alex and Ethan explain their relation to Sybil and get Dan’s number to pass on to her.

Finally the Old Man announces the Blood Hunt. As the vampires disperse, he calls Big Eddie back and sends him on some secret chore.

Elsewhere Sybil visits her friend Karen Capra at the homeless shelter. She finds her sitting somewhat disturbed in her office, researching zombies and near death experiences. It seems that two nights ago she also encountered “Jane”. Sybil comforts her with her shared experience and says she’s looking into it.

Sybil then goes looking for the Wolf. From her own experiences she knows that this disturbing vampire lurks somewhere in the south west end of Urbana. She decides to quiz the local homeless.

After a couple hours and many conversations, she narrows the field a small area along the southern edge of Urbana. Oddly throughout this area, she finds caches of salt in old bottles and bells hung on strings. She takes a picture of one and sends it to Ethan.

Elsewhere Ethan and Alex have almost given up trailing Rudolph. The elderly man has visited all of David’s old haunts and found nothing. Ethan receives sybil’s text. He looks at the picture but draws a blank. He texts back his befuddlement and includes the number they picked up from the Carthians.

Sybil thanks him and decides to map the locations of the salt bottles. The pattern that emerges indicates a central location perhaps a mile outside of town.

Ethan gets a call during the search from one of the cultists of Akamon. They sputter something about someone breaking into Martock’s office. ethan says that he is aware of it and ignores them.

Sybil decides to call the Carthians. Dan picks up. After some introductions, she warns them to avoid the Blood Hunt as David may be more dangerous than he seems. He explains they were about to give up when they noticed something strange: a skinless corpse lurching about by the train tracks. The zombie headed into an abandoned store a couple blocks away: Fresh Catch.

Sybil recognizes the sketchy fish store and warns them to stay at a safe distance. She contacts the others and then heads for the site.

Ethan and Alex just finished exploring the cemetery when the text reaches them. They drop their fruitless search and head over.

As everyone arrive, they easily spot Dan’s semitruck parked two blocks north of the train tracks and the decaying Fresh Catch building. In addition to Sylvia and Dan, a burly man and woman stand by the truck. The ghouls don’t say anything but keep their eyes on the strangers.

Dan takes a swig from a flask and explains that they haven’t seen any motion since the phone call. He offers some of his beverage to Sybil. “Pigs blood,” he explains.

Alex and Ethan decide to investigate on their own. Sybil and the others watch from the safety of the truck.

Ethan opens the door and peers inside. The darkened interior has been stripped of almost all decoration. A tank of liquid sits near the door and at the far end a figure crouches upon a counter top.

The man looks up and Alex recognizes David’s smile. He greets them. As Alex presses in, Ethan pokes his head outside and calls to the others. He then vanishes inside.

Sybil looks to the others. The ghouls pull out bats while Sylvia draws her gun. “I know a back way in,” Sybil says, leading them to the shop.

Inside Alex approaches David, trying to talk some sense into him. The odor of rotten fish and something else overwhelms their senses. Ethan decides to stop breathing and concentrates on David. David for his part, pay no notice to the Mekhet or the stech and simply tries to deflect Alex’s worries.

David seems to realize that the other Kindred are closing in on him and tries to force Alex to come with him. He intensifies his gaze and forces his will on Alex. The Ventrue fights him off, leaving David frustrated.

Alex notices a pile of junk move just in time as the rotting corpse of a dog leaps out. He grabs the sole chair in the room and tries to fend it off.

Ethan turns his own gaze on him, ordering him to drop to the ground. As the Mekhet’s will overwhelmed his, he begins to bend down.

Then David stops. His eyes flash yellow as an evil grin crosses his face. Suddenly Ethan feels the whole room shift around him.

He looks down and sees snakes slithering up his limbs. Demons crawl out of the dark corners. He tries to convince himself that this is just a hallucination. As he attempts to calm himself, something whispers horrors into his ear.

Ethan runs screaming from the building.

Hearing the conflict, Sybil leads the charge from the back of the fish shop. She rushes “David” and grabs hold him. She forcefully positions him to give Dan a clear shot.

The stout Daeva slams a stake into David’s heart. The piece of wood cracks ribs and ruptures out the back. But David continues to struggle. While Alex tries to fend off the dog, the ghouls beat it down with baseball bats.

At the back of the room, Silvia lines up a shot with her pistol. She pulls the trigger.

As the echoes of the gunshot fade, David’s shattered head slumps over. His skin molders before their eyes and his corpse collapses to the floor. A black smoke rises from the remains. Twin points of yellow light glare from the dark mist at Sybil as it forms into the shape of a bird and flies away.

Red Words

As night comes to a close, Alex and Sybil load Rudolph’s lightened form into the truck. The doctor drops Sybil along the way back to his place. Putting his sire in a safe place, he rests for the day.

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.

They wait.

Nothing happens.

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.

And again.

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.

Shadows Gather

Sybil towels off after using the shelter’s showers. In the hall she hears Karen Capra talking with Rhonda, one of the new volunteers. The director complains about the damage done by a new drug hitting the street. This “Flashblood” is causing a rash of overdoses among the local homeless population. One of her regulars just died at the other shelter she runs.

Sybil steps out into the hall and asks Capra about the drug. She explains it’s an opiate, supposedly created from the blood of people who overdosed on heroine. The Gangrel says she’ll look into it for her and hurries off.

A half hour later she reaches the other clinic. A van from the morgue is already loading up the woman’s body. As the technicians fill out some final paperwork, Sybil slips up next to the corpse and quickly cuts the body.

Quickly walking away, she sniffs the blood on her knife using supernaturally enhanced senses. Heroine suffuses the blood as does something else foreign: Vitae from another vampire!

Meanwhile Alex rises and begins his evening routine: checking his messages, dressing, and puttering around his large empty house. As he gathers his mail, he discovers crippled tabby mewling weakly on his porch. Matted with blood, its front left leg ends in a gory stump.

Alex glances around but nothing moves in the shadows that surround his property. No trail of blood leads to his door. The doctor grabs a blanket and carefully moves the maimed animal into his house. The cat cries quietly. Grabbing his old medical bag, he cleans up the blood and stitches up the wound as best he can. The savage and brutish bites seem less canine than human as if someone tried to chew this cat to death. Not for the first time he thinks of David.

Alex places the cat on the ground next to a dish of water. Then he heads outside.

He scans the large dark yard. A few crickets chirp under the distant glow of the street lights. He sniffs but no blood decorates his elegant stone path. A chill creeps into the late spring night.

Wracking his brain of who to consult on this strange happening he comes up with nothing. He goes back inside. The cat has lapsed into a fragile slumber but some of the water has vanished as well. The doctor grabs his keys and drives to the local store to get it some food.

At the supermarket, Alex surveys the wide selection of food options before grabbing a can featuring a sleek tabby off the upper shelf. A man interrupts him, inquiring if he has a cat. The stranger seems oddly friendly and Alex senses something familiar about this pale man. Guessing he is faced with another of his kind Alex asks who he is.

After a moment’s hesitation the man says his name is Jim. He also reveals he knows David. Alex asks if he’s seen him around.. “Tell him to call me if you see him again,” Alex tells Jim.

Alex pays for the cat food and returns home. He puts the food on a dish and feeds the weakened animal. Then he cuts himself and drips some his precious blood into the cat’s eager mouth. Looking notably healthier the beast slips back to sleep.

Across town, Sybil uses one of the university computers to surf the internet. On the school’s forums she discovers that Flashblood is becoming one of the hot new drugs to try. She leans back and considers who might be pushing the stuff. After tossing out an idea that the Ordo Dracul are solidifying their control of the university, she decides to interrogate a low level pusher for one of the Invictus’s gangs.

She finds Tommy at his usual spot on the street corner. The bottom rung dealer for the Street Rats finishes selling some pills to a nervous looking man as she dons her ski mask and makes her move. As Tommy counts his money, Sybil grabs him and slams him against a fence.

She demands to know about the Flashblood but he only knows that it’s the new thing they are selling. He fumbles for a piece but she disarms him and twists his arm behind his back. Pocketing the revolver, she tells him to let his gang know to stop dealing in the parks. Cowed he agrees and bites off a reflexive retort.

She lets him go and slips off to a nearby pawn shop. Flush with enough money for a trip to Starbucks, she starts to leave before noticing some weird graffiti on the side of the shop. Seven black silhouettes stand there, reminding her of similar displays elsewhere in town she’s seen recently.

Back at the house, Alex decides to look around some more for signs of where this cat came from. While wandering in his large yard, he spies something move in front of the lights on the distant street. He hurries over as a light flickers and dies. As it comes back on, he spies David standing there. He call him over but his friend just stands there and motions him over.

Alex looks around the street for anyone else nearby and when he looks back David is gone. The wet ground where he stood shows no trace of print of his presence. Realizing he needs help, Alex calls his sire Rudolph.

The old man listens to his story but doesn’t offer much help except to say he will deal with David if he sees him. The tone suggests a finality to his promise.

As he hangs up, Alex’s phone rings. Sybil orders him to warn his people to stay off her turf. Confused, Alex asks for an explanation. She tells him about the drugs and the deaths. He says he’ll look into it and arranges to meet her at a coffee shop in an hour.

After considering calling the local head, Big Eddie, Alex opts to call his soldier and gang runner Mr. Black. The Nosferatu picks up quickly and quickly warms to the doctor. Black invites him over to discuss getting involved in the drug trade, explaining he sees possibilities for a man with a licence to prescribe drugs. Alex agrees to see him later.

Alex and Sybil meet up at a late night Starbucks on campus and discuss their various interesting happenings. As they do so they both become aware of a woman watching them intently. Sybil recognizes her as the corpse she cut earlier in the night.

Alex waves the woman over. She smiles and thanks him by name. She explains she saw David at the cemetery and gave him the message Alex told her. David didn’t have a phone she says sadly. He was busy helping the Witch with some blood sorcery, she explains. She apologizes to Alex for the delay in delivering the message, saying she had to change.

As Alex tries to work out how he knows this strange woman, Sybil stares at her attempting to figure out where this seeming vampire came from. She asks the woman, who calls herself Jane, about her family and past. Jane alludes to siblings and how they came to Champaign-Urbana to retrieve something of theirs. When Sybil asks how she did find them, she says she was just lucky.

Sybil presses her on her creator, trying to determine the nature of this vampire’s sire. Jane becomes a bit tearful, explaining that she is gone. “The Twins say she is dead but the Witch doesn’t believe them.”

Alex tries to get to open up about what her siblings are seeking. Jane clams up and he feels a rush of power wash over him for a moment.

At an impasse, they decide to meet with Black and deal with the drug problem. Along the way they drive past the cemetery. From the car they don’t see anything.

They find Black at an abandoned office building in downtown Champaign. The muscle at the door shows them in. Despite his dark gray skin and sharp white teeth, Black manages to put on a comforting smile for them. He particularly tries to convince Alex to help him in his operation. The doctor seems agreeable but has questions about this new drug. Black reveals that he has been putting his own blood into the mixture but only for its addictive properties. He also tries convince them not to tell anyone else about this project.

Meanwhile Sybil keeps an eye on Jane. The dead woman seems entranced by the pair of men and disinterested in everything else.

Black takes Alex into the back and introduces him to his chemist Kevin. Alex ignores the man’s poor hygiene and noxious smell and begins to work out how to make the drug less deadly. Black meanwhile strokes his bushy beard and smiles.

Then Sybil hears high pitched cry, well out of range of hearing for normal humans. Jane perks up, staring in the direction of the sound. She excuses herself and leaves. Sybil follows her as she follows the screeches east to a busy road. Unable to cross quickly, Jane lifts her head to the sky and a liquid black thing escapes through her mouth. It flies on, leaving a lifeless body behind.

Sybil checks the body, now just a corpse and already rotting.

She heads back intercepting Alex as he leaves Black’s hideout. Suddenly he sways as sensations of pain and confusion roll over him. He feels Rudolph, his sire, cry out for what seems like a final time.

Alex and Sybil head to Rudolph’s house on the east edge of town. The building is locked up but a few lights remain on inside. Alex lets them in and they search for the elder monster.

They discover Rudolph scattered across the living room floor. Three limbs lie crumbled to ash on the carpet while a hacksaw sits lodged halfway through his neck. His remaining arm still grips the handle.

Alex examines the wounds, which are clearly self inflicted. Rudolph lies in torpor, inches from death. Sybil checks the windows and doors. All remain locked, though the chimney flue is open. With more questions than answers, they place Rudolph in the trunk of Alex’s car and drive off.


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