By Azure Dragon ** Frank peered at the blue waters while his partner chatted with the witness. Another body in the water, he shook his head and gazed at his reflection. What was the city coming to? He went back to the edge of the dock where the witness had first said he saw the body. Scorch marks outlined the vague shape of a body followed by a broken chunk of the dock. The crime scene guys had said there were skin cells on the wood and hopefully they would match the body. Maybe they would give them a clue as to the motive or the cause of death. "Well Frank?" His partner strolled up and peered at the scorch marks. " The man says the body was already on fire when it 'leaped like a frog' into the water." Sonny flipped his notebook closed while he rolled his eyes. " What do you make of it?" "Looks like who ever did it, torched the victim and then tossed them into the water. Why would the guy say it jumped?" Sonny shrugged " Let's go see what the good doctor knows." Frank gazed at the black bag that held the partially burned corpse of a young woman. From the wallet she had on her, she lived in small town a few hours from here. Went by the name Ember Claremont and was 22 years old. Her picture had been a good one and she had been pretty before her face had been burnt. "So much for the continued boom of tourism." Frank muttered as he looked away from the bag. " What can you tell us doc?" He asked the resident Medical Examiner. She was a pretty woman with short dark hair and clear blue eyes. " Body shows signs of dehydration and starvation. Judging from the finger nails they were suffering from malnutrition and had some kind of blood poisoning. But I won't know the details until I do the autopsy." "Thanks." Frank went back to Sonny who was reviewing his notes. " The doc says she had some kind of blood poisoning." Sonny glanced at his partner, " Frank what if I said I knew what this was?" Frank leaned against his car, " I'd ask if this was Kindred related?" "If I said it was?" Sonny watched as they wheeled the body into to the waiting van. "Come with me for a second." Sonny pushed away from the car and began to walk down the boardwalk. His pace was slow and he looked to be searching for clues. Frank followed after a moment's hesitation. They walked until well out of earshot and eyesight of anyone around. "In the mid 1700's a radical group of Kindred decided to invent a more natural way to increase our numbers. They kidnapped twenty pregnant women from small towns, they were all at different stages when the testing began. The Kindred partially converted the women days before they were scheduled to give birth. Out of the twenty subjects only three had children that survived. In the late 1990's they escaped from their prison and scattered through out Europe and the United States. We found the two in Europe, they had gone insane and were killing too openly." Sonny paused and glanced at his partner. "So what?" Frank shrugged, " You think the one in the States is killing our tourists?" Sonny shook his head. " I think that body is our third." He pulled in a breath. " Under normal circumstances I wouldn't mention it. Except that Julian is very concerned about what this is doing to the Masquerade." "Why?" "Too many people are dying Frank. Just last night a gunman opened fire on Lilly's Haven. Julian's niece was nearly injured in the attack." Sonny studied the dock intently as he sighed. "I know you don't like us Frank, but you are a part of our world. There is a good chance that who ever is killing us will come after you." "You just said that the body we pulled out just now was our- I mean- your third escapee. How can I be in danger?" "The killer wasn't stopped Frank, as we were transporting the guy he woke up and escaped. Killing three of my clan in the process." Sonny paused as he stared at the rippling blue water. " Just be careful is all I am saying." "So you don't think this body is going to pop back to life?" Frank found it irritating that Sonny wouldn't look at him. "They were extremely resistant to normal means of...execution. It is possible that the girl will come back, but I wouldn't count on it. The sun got her pretty good Frank." Sonny finally met his partner's eyes. " I just wanted you to be aware of what was happening." ** Time had become a useless tool by which to judge the days. For once Sasha didn't have to worry about getting up in time for school or a job. There was nothing to do but lay around and doze. There were times when she compared herself to a lioness. Strong and beautiful, the real power in the pride, the one who did the work, but was always under the rule of a male. If not Eddie then it was Cameron, and if not him then someone close to him. Then there was uncle Julian to think about. No doubt that she was angry at him, she had every reason to be angry at him. Look what he had done to her! Sasha sat up and glared at her reflection in the mirror. Yes, she thought, look at what he has done. He's made you immortal, forever young and strong. If not for him then you would have aged by now. Pushing off the bed, she went to her door and opened it. Half expecting to hear Cash or one of her Brujah companions. But there was no one. She wasn't even in the city right now. Shrugging on her coat she left the room and ventured down the hall. The fine carpet had long since faded into gray and brown. Gilt wallpaper had given way to water stains and mold. Crystal lighting was now bare bulbs. The floorboards moaned as she walked lightly down the stairs to the once grand lobby. Here the floor was cracked and had weeds springing up, dust lay thick in the furniture. Even the desk that had once gleamed in the lights now sat dark and cold in the corner. Sasha paused as she crossed the lobby, keeping a weary eye on the dark interior of the dinning room. Crossing it without incident she stepped outside and paused at the face slapping effect of fresh air. Breathing in the warm scented air she made her way along the abandoned walkway. Dark shops with broken eyes sat glaring at her as she walked quickly. Dim streetlights flickered off and on sending chaotic light patterns across her path. Instinct made her huddle inside her coat as she walked toward the brighter parts of town. Setting foot on the real concrete and hearing the rush and noise of a busy tavern, jarred her back into reality. The darkness she had left was so quiet compared to this jingle-jangle of lights and sound. It was as if the people knew what could come out of the dark and tried to ward it off. Peering around the corner she saw the main 'fun stop' in town and the local store just down from that. Across from her was the barber shop, postal outlet, arcade and hardware. It truly was a small town from the Old West. Just like the people. In the city they spoke fast and loud with the understanding that you would not question them. Here it was slow, easy and comfortable. Too bad she was here on a personal mission. Or else she could have enjoyed the small town feel. Instead it was beginning to bother her, a lot. Stepping out Sasha hurried to the windows of the Tavern, chances were good her query wasn't there. Which they weren't. The people that came here weren't the type of people she had hung out with once upon a time. Turning away from the drinking and party, Sasha ran across the small Main Street, to the arcade. It was filled with young faces and would perhaps hold the one she was searching for. Peering in through the neon framed windows the vampire couldn't see a damn thing. Pulling in a breath, Sasha stepped into the arcade and steeled herself against the annoying space games, the pinball machine, the racing games and the overall noise of too many kids having a good time at once. Hunching up she charged her way through the masses and quickly searched faces. Going by the X-Men/ Spiderman crossover game, cutting by the Ultimate Dance Off with it's feet twisting patterns. It wasn't until she was near the entrance that she spotted the face. Serious and focused, their dark eyes narrowed as tension held their hands steady. Sasha felt herself smile as she took in the tiny frame that was deceptively strong and the mass of chestnut curls that framed a beautiful face. She had to shake her head a few times to clear it as he smiled and controlled the urge to cry out with joy. She had found her! It was then that Sasha caught the tail end of her query going out the door. Damn! She cursed and took off. Her ears followed the sounds of their steps as they retreated into the darkness around the too bright Main Street. Excitement and fear went through Sasha in a battle to control her. The beast in her wanted the hunt while the human had to remind her what was at stake here. Running back into the dark Sasha paused a moment to listen and couldn't hear anything but her own breathing. Exerting will she stopped and heard only silence. Frustration boiled in her blood as she stood there and tried to find her target. As she turned back to the main street there was a tingle for a second before she was knocked to the ground. Instinct and training rolled her back to her feet and into a fighting stance. The attacker was no where to be seen. Sasha searched the darkness with eyes that saw into the deepest of shadows. There was no one here. Cursing again she turned to head back to the light when the sensation came again. This time she followed it and jumped back just as a two-by-four came swinging for her head. Sasha followed the motion as her hands grabbed it and wrenched it from their hands. There was a cry of pain and the vampire tasted blood on the air. Tossing the wood aside Sasha scaled the wall with her toes and fingers, dropping onto the fire escape landing. Her prey was already running up the last few flights as Sasha took out after them. Amazingly the human stayed just ahead of her. As Sasha burst out onto the ceiling she stopped dead and blinked twice. "Hey there," Came a laughing voice tinted with the drawl they all had here. Sasha gaped at the grinning face of her former best friend and didn't understand entirely. "What the hell were you doing?" "What?" The girl asked with a shrug, " I didn't know who you were and this is a small town. Everyone knows everyone, so when a stranger turns up I get a little jumpy." Sasha tossed her curls, " Why is that?" The girl crossed her arms, " Never you mind. What are you doing here City Mouse?" The vampire grinned at the reference to her childhood name. "I need your help with something." "Really?" The girl arched a brow, " It must be big if you come all the way from your city to here." "It is." Sasha waved to the ground, " If it's not too much trouble this would be better discussed in my room." The girl gave a regal wave with her arms, "Why of course." ** Sasha pushed open the door of her hotel and didn't pause to look around. She went directly to her suitcase and settled it on the bed. Zipping it open she pulled out the false bottom and tossed the package to the girl. "Read it and tell me what you think." Sasha ordered as she quickly began to pack her things. With the query found she didn't need to stay here any longer. The girl sat on the edge of the bed and looked through the photos and pages. Occasionally she would pause and then continue with a solemn look on her face. She finished and tossed the package into Sasha's suitcase. The Brujah looked up and eyed her friend for a long time. "Well?" She asked finally. "That is some serious trouble you got there. That being said I don't know how I can help you." Sasha frowned, " Ember, you are the best." "Correction I was the best, I quit years ago Sasha and no offence, but I am not keen on helping you, period." "Why the hell not!?!" Sasha knew the answer but wanted to hear her say it. "You know why." Ember stood up and moved to the door. "Sorry you wasted your time City Mouse." The sharp snap of the door as it closed sounded all too familiar to her. Too much of the past and too much of the present. People kept leaving her, they kept walking away from her. Sasha stuffed the last of her clothes into the case and headed down to the back of the hotel. Her bike sat unmolested on the street corner. Swinging on she glared at the instrument panel and up at the hotel. Now came the tricky part; explaining her prolonged absence to Uncle Julian. Chapter 2 Sasha marched up to the ornate wooden door and felt her courage falter a moment. She may appear to be strong, but there were times when she was cold with fear. This was one of those times. Her hand was half raised to knock when the door swung open and she stared into pale blue eyes. Cash stood directly in front her within touching distance. Once upon a time she would have thrown herself into his arms and kissed him, now it took effort not to rip him apart. "I have to speak to Julian." She said plainly. Her voice was cold and hard deceiving her lover once again. There was no waiting for a reply, Sasha pushed by him, her body warmed by the touch they shared for a few seconds. " Julian." Her uncle sat at his desk with papers about and a dark look on his handsome face. He stood as she entered, echoing back to a time long since dead. " Sasha, where have you been?" She bit her tongue and forced her tone to remain cold. " Haven't you got bigger things to worry about?" It hurt to see the pain in his eyes as he waved her to a seat. He sat after she had and waved Cash out of the room. " What brings you here?" Sasha went into the load of bullshit she had been working on for the past ten hours. Never in a million years would she tell him the truth. Never ever, would he ever know why she appeared spontaneously and disappeared just as fast. The truth be told, she just wanted to sit with him and talk, but that wasn't allowed anymore. "I see." Julian said carefully and sighed. " Have you spoken to Cameron about this?" Sasha shook her head, " I wanted to pass it by you first." There was a ghost of a smile, " Sasha, he is your Primogen, all decisions pertaining to the Clan are his to make." Anger washed through her, " So you really don't give a damn!" Coming to her feet she turned to the door and stopped coldly. " I will do what I please, regardless of what you or Cameron decide!" She slammed the door shut and ran to her bike. The growl of the engine drowned out the sound of her sobs as she bolted toward downtown. ** "What the hell am I doing here?" Ember snarled to herself as she glared out at the San Francisco skyline. Stars gleamed like diamond eyes that stared down at a throbbing city full of life. Turning away from her vista, Ember shut the patio door and stalked to the phone. Tossing the local directory down, she flipped it open to the correct page and dialed. She frowned at the overly happy woman on the other end. "I am looking for a Sasha Luna," Ember twined the cord around her hands, " That's right, yes, she lives with her uncle." Hanging up she flopped back against the bed and found sleep was impossible. She had been a real bitch toward Sasha only hours before and now she was laying awake in a city hotel. Sitting up she pulled on her sweater pulled back her hair and stepped out. Despite the gleaming gold and polished marble of the hotel, Ember felt sick and wanted out. The only trouble was, there was no out, not in the city. It was like a huge mouse trap and everywhere you looked there was cheese. She ran along the crowded too bright streets until she found a patch of shadow. Sinking back against the wall she closed her eyes a moment. The smells were putrid and made her head ache. The sounds were constant and brash, there was no stopping them. Pushing away from the wall she took a deep breath and forced her self to carry on. Finding Sasha was what she came here for, not to become bogged down. Surprisingly everyone she asked had heard of Julian Luna, but no one knew where to find him. They recommended she try some of his enterprises; the newspaper, the docks and a night club not far from here. Judging the time of night she opted for the nightclub. It wasn't hard to find all she had to do was follow the migration of limousines and there she was; standing a few meters from the doors of The Haven. Jazz/Blues music floated out like a seductive invitation to enter. Ember eyed the leather clad bunch that hovered around entrance, their scruffy nature didn't bother her, it was the look in their eyes. Shivers that could set off the Richter scale went through her. If that wasn't bad enough, a limousine pulled up beside her and she went numb. After a moment's pause out stepped a drop dead gorgeous man who was completely comfortable with his place in the world. He was dressed in a tailored suit and looked about like a King over his land. The aura around him was a physical weight that pulled you along with him as he walked into the club. Ember shook herself and backed away from the glamorous place. The last time she had been effected like that, her life had been the price. Turning she ran into the darkness and decided to try somewhere else for her friend. ** Sasha pulled up in front of The Haven and stared at the Gangrel across from her. There had been a time when she would have walked up and said hi. Now she glared at them and wanted to knock their heads off. Swinging off her bike Sasha spotted Cameron as he stepped out and felt something rush through her. It could have been his looks or the aura around him. But chances were good it was the blood in her veins. It recognized what she refused to accept, that he was master and she was his to rule over. Tossing her head she marched passed the line and moved to enter the club. Her hand froze on the door as a sharp tingle went through her. It was a warning. Her head turned as her body threw itself to the ground while the echo of shots sent the crowd into chaos. More shots and screaming followed. Sasha felt someone grab her and was shocked for find Cash hauling her out of the stampede. He and the his people were crouched behind Cameron's limousine. The arrogant Brujah was not stupid, and the bullet proof exterior was clearly a wise idea. "We can't stay her all night!" One of Cameron's men shouted. "Then you go out there and get shot!" One of the Gangrel retorted. Bickering followed as the two clans renewed their age old quarrel. Sasha looked over at her Primogen and found he was busy trying to find a way out of here. Cash was whispering to him as the two of them were plotting to get free. Lifting her head slightly Sasha gazed at the shooter in solid black and felt a prickle go up her spine. As the shooter paused to reload their clip there came a motion of black against the night. Sasha looked to the left and gasped. Moving up behind them was Ember. She moved with a silent grace that was inhuman and struck with a bone breaking strength. The shoot went to their knees with a grunt while Ember planted more viscous blows. The combat that followed was astounding and Sasha could only watch as her friend battled with the strength of Kindred. "Who the hell is that?" Cameron asked as he stood up to join the gawking crowd. Sasha grinned as her friend struck the winning blow and the shooter dropped to the ground. When they didn't move she ran out from behind the car. " I knew you would do it." Ember lifted her head, " No Sasha." She stopped and frowned, " What do you call what you just did?" "A mistake." Ember kicked at the body with a glare and snatched up the gun. Expert hands dismantled the thing and tossed the pieces into the street. She turned and Sasha grabbed her arm. "Ember please!" Sasha kept hold as her friend took two steps. " Just talk to him!" "Why!?!" Her friend turned and snarled with enough anger that her eyes blazed for a second. " Why should I do this? When you can't even sit in the same room as him?" Not long ago Sasha would have backed down and started crying but not now. " Because you don't have a choice! I won't let you leave until you settle this!" "Look who is giving me advice." Ember snarled and shoved Sasha hard enough that it would leave a bruise. " Leave me the fuck alone Sasha, I bloody well mean it!" Ember turned away and all together disappeared before Sasha's eyes. Cash came jogging up behind her, "Who was that?" "A friend." Sasha rubbed the spot where Ember had touched her. It was burning and she felt tired. " No one you should worry about." Crossing her arms she felt her head spin and the world blacked out as she tumbled into her own misery and fell away. Chapter 3 Ember collapsed to the ground as her limbs refused to carry her any further. Warped, water-worn wood bit into her skin and would leave slivers. Her face hit the ground and she felt her mind snap back to functioning. Turning her head, she stared at the fading stars, the dim city lights and the sloshing dark gray water. Pain seared through every cell in her body as she sucked in useless air. Agony burned through her mind making thought impossible. Her eyes focused on the water not far from where she lay nearly unconscious. On her back she could feel the first caress of daylight like fire ants along her skin. At first she tried to crawl her way to the water but her body refused. The fire increased as panic built in her, she had to reach the water. Her hands wouldn't move nor would her legs, she was paralyzed. NO! She screamed as the fire turned to flame and her skin began to blacken. I won't die like this! It wasn't a jump as much as a full body leap toward the water. Her face hit the cold liquid as she felt her legs smashed against the edge of the dock. Black oblivion reached up from the watery depths to swirl around her and claim another soul. Ember sank into the water, barely aware of brushing the sandy floor of the ocean as she fell into complete unconsciousness.