Heartland Orphans

Finale

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.

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