Disclaimer: I do not own Vampire: the Masquerade. All characters belong to their respective creators.

I want to acknowledge my role-playing group for this story, although they don't know that I am posting this. So a big thank-you for this goes out to the guys: JL, TS, GB, BE, ME, JW. Most especially, this is for those who made the 'sneakiest tree in the woods' possible.

Welcome to the World of Darkness.


"Shadows in the Night"

Prologue

(February 4, 1992)

Amy Reese Cooper watched the Mardi Gras celebrations from atop the roof of The Club. The Club was named as such because the Prince could not be bothered to think of something better while its new building was being constructed, farther away from the prying eyes of the mortal world. Amy did not mind the current name. Its innocuousness was protective.

Amy was a Malkavian, and contrary to popular belief, she knew much about the value of protection. Masquerading as human was all that kept their kind from destruction from the far more numerous kine, the humans they fed upon. Minding one's elders was all that kept young Kindred from being murdered in their sleep. Obedience to one's sire was all that kept a newly-made vampire from being turned loose in a dark and terrible world, where all the rules and all the odds were against them. This, she understood.

"It's a good thing, then, that my sire is half a world away," she spoke into the wind.

"This is New Orleans," said the young man standing behind her. "Everything is half a world away."

"Only because you're used to London," she replied.

The young man came up beside her and grinned. "Everything pales next to London."

Amy glanced over at him. He stood out against the bright skyline, his hair black and his skin nearly white. He could have passed for a teen who spent too much time playing video games during his summer vacation. For that matter, so could she. But she knew better. After all, he was just as old as she was. He was also a clanmate. She smiled back. "There are mists in the bayou, too, and the song is just as sweet," she told him.

"I know," he said easily, and he leaned over the lip of the building. "Just thinking about it makes me hungry. It was so much easier back then, do you remember?"

Amy sighed wistfully. "I do. I do. Have you spoken with Dominick yet?"

The young man blinked. "I didn't know he was back in town. Did Mariel come with him?"

"I don't think so. She said something about hunting back home."

He sighed, louder than Amy had a moment ago. "I miss her. It's a shame she followed Dominick away. This place was nicer to us than London was, those last few weeks."

Amy gave him a pointed glare. "This place is nicer to us because it is more forgiving of those who aren't quite right in the head. You, my dearest Aram, are a perfect example of that."

Aram glared right back at her. "I am too normal. More normal than the Gangrel we left behind and far more normal than the Tremere."

The Tremere. That damned Tremere. The reason Amy was in New Orleans. Had she still been mortal, her gut would have clenched. However, since her brief acquaintance with Death many long years before, she had learned that there were other symptoms of fear that she could manifest. One, which she felt now, was the chilling of her blood. She suppressed a shudder and looked away.

Aram knew what she tried to keep hidden, though. He always did. He always had. Potentially, it was a side-effect that arose from the two of them being Embraced by the same sire, at the same time. They were closer than mere Kindred siblings, though, much closer than anyone had ever been able to guess. "He can't find you here," he murmured.

"But he suspects."

"So dye your hair blond. He'd never expect you to give up that brown-red color."

"Auburn."

"Is that what they call it these days? Oh, well. It doesn't matter. Dye it and find one of the fishies to make it stick."

Amy tore her attention away from the street, where her gaze had settled on the crowd of party-goers. She could just make out the Keeper's shadow in the club's entrance. "There aren't many of those on our side, though, and you know how our Prince gets when she catches people snooping for the fishies," she said after a moment.

"Linden would know how to find one, and she would let him."

"Linden isn't here." Amy felt uncomfortable after saying it. She and Aram had tried not to speak of it since their Gangrel… companion… had disappeared years ago, under some rather mysterious circumstances. Once upon a time, she, Aram, and Linden had been known as the Unholy Trinity, for they balanced each other as few coteries ever could. Being more than a little crazy himself, the Gangrel fit himself in with the two Malkavians remarkably well. Between the three of them, there was little they could not do.

"Of course he's not," Aram snapped. "If he was, the sneaks never would have gotten to his amulet. We never should've – "

"Can it," Amy interrupted angrily. "Hindsight is 15-20, and there's nothing we can do about it now. We'll wait for the Prince's group to come in, and then we'll get it back. Simple as that."

"Simple? They tore through the Sheriff like he was butter!"

"And he's still undead!"

Aram shook his head, unfortunately tangling some of his curls. He squawked upon discovering this and frantically finger-combed his hair back into place before speaking again. "Isn't he lucky?" he said sarcastically. "He's been in bed forever now, trying to recover. Do you want matching scars? Because I guarantee that's what will happen if you go after that amulet now. People are bringing him breakfast in bed. In bed!"

"But it can't stay with them!" Amy whined. "If they figure out what it does, we'll hit Armageddon long before Gehenna even comes!"

"It won't be that bad."

"It will! You've never had that thing chasing you down, with its breath on the back of your neck, and hell, its tongue! Saliva! Ack! No! I don't taste good, I swear!"

Aram waited for the young woman to calm back down before he said anything. He didn't want her working herself into a crazy-frenzy, after all. He rather liked this Elysium spot. He liked being able to gather peaceably and meet up with the other local Kindred in a club in the middle of the city rather than an art museum somewhere in the next town over. Well, he could always do something about it, being Malkavian and all, but the last time he did she had gotten so mad

After several minutes, Aram asked, "If you would like, we can think this over and decide what to do later. The Prince might be willing to let us go along with them as long as we promise to behave ourselves."

"Behave ourselves?" Amy cried in a shrill voice. "Behave? When have I not behaved myself while out on business? I'm a woman on a mission, damn it!"

"I seem to recall something about London Bridge."

"That one is the Tremere's fault! He flings fire, remember? Do you blame me for getting out of his way?"

Aram smiled. "Yes, yes, I do. But still, we have to be quiet about this, what with him still looking for you and all." At Amy's protest, he raised a hand. "I know he's not supposed to be able to find you here. He's not allowed here. He's not allowed anywhere on the East Coast. That doesn't mean that he doesn't have spies here or hasn't devised some magical means of scrying you out. I'm just saying that we have to be careful. We've done too much to hide ourselves to risk outing ourselves now. Even for Linden."

Amy nodded reluctantly. "Linden would agree," she said after a minute. "But he would also make certain the group wasn't part of that supposed spy network. Be a dear and go check it out, would you? I have some conferring to do."

Aram's gaze slipped to the small purse she carried, which her hands were both wrapped tightly around. The cloth was faded in places, the darker, natural color outlining what looked suspiciously like handprints. Conferring, indeed, he thought. He knew what she hid in that purse, of course, and he knew that if she was bringing it out of hiding, she thought she was facing a very serious decision.

"I will," he promised. "But do try to enjoy the festivities tonight. Mardi Gras season comes but once a year."

She nodded and smiled, and then she headed for the fire escape.

"And don't light up anything you don't need to!" he called after her.

Her laughter trailed up the fire escape. She was gone.

Aram's attention returned to the people below the building. The Keeper of Elysium, a Brujah who called himself Wrench, was standing in the doorway of The Club. No doubt he would be within arm's reach when the Prince met with her chosen group. He was an effective bouncer and an even more effective Keeper, and his presence might quell any dissention that would arise. The locals knew his reputation. Hell, even the Malkavians knew better than to harass him while he was on the job. However, he was no bully. The man had an appreciation for the finer things in unlife that could rival any Toreador.

As Wrench nodded to a passing Brujah, Aram mentally reviewed the five Kindred the Prince had summoned to the task. Three of them were locals. One was from the good old city. One was from up north. One was a verifiable elder. The rest were young but of potent blood, and thank the gods of chance for that. They would be better able to weather the winds of fate that way.

Aram had heard of the three local boys: Efren, Sebastian, and Jonathan. Efren was a 'Toreador', and he kept company with the Elysium harpies, the other 'artistes'. He was a popular trance DJ in a nightclub near Canal Street. Jonathan was a Brujah, although he did not know anything more about him. Sebastian, he knew. He was one of the few resident Malkavians in New Orleans, although at least a dozen were present during the festival season. Ah, the festival season, when so many transient Kindred passed through the city. Who could blame them? New Orleans was a hotspot of activity around this time of year. It was something to see. It was also how the group was going to avoid detection by mortal eyes.

The vampire coming in from the north was an Assamite, an assassin. He hailed from Syracuse, New York, although it was doubtful that that city was his birthplace. He was a mercenary. Aram did not like that one bit. The thought that the only things that would keep him from sating his bloodlust in the city were the Prince's money and his clan's inability to drink Kindred blood left a foul taste in his mouth. He would have to keep a close eye on him.

The last of the Kindred hailed from London. He was an elder Brujah who had run into a spot of trouble as a neonate and had been in torpor until a few decades ago. He would be arriving with the Justicar in a week or so.

"What a mess this will be," Aram said aloud, pondering the crowd below him. "Let's just hope there's something left of the city when they're done with it."


Feel free to ask questions about this chapter in a review. That way, I will know what needs to be explained better, although some things are deliberately left vague. Thanks for reading!

~Dreamwraith