It begins with fire.
Specifically, it begins with the Great Fire.
London had a long, long history before that, of course. It was founded as Londinium by the ancient Roman Empire. But as far as most of its shadow denizens are concerned, the history that matters begins in 1666, with the Great Fire that destroyed the medieval city and cleared the way for the emergence of its present incarnation.
In 1666, London was in the grip of a corrupt and sadistic faction of the Lancea Sanctum, led by Archbishop Simon Mercadier, a twelfth-century Norman nobleman who'd been Embraced into Clan Gangrel in 1134. As far as the Sanctified were concerned, there were two types of supernatural power - their own, sanctioned by God, and all the others, which plainly must have been born of secret pacts with the Devil. Or so they claimed. Whether they truly believed their own propaganda, or were simply been trying to eliminate any competition, is hotly debated among the modern Kindred who care about the subject. What is not in dispute is that the Sanctified made a concerted effort, over the centuries of their rule, to purge London of Mages, Uratha, and any other supernatural beings they could discover. They were far less successful than they imagined, but the other groups do seem to have made a determined effort to keep a low profile throughout the middle ages. Surviving records kept by the Mages of the time, and a few Iron Masters of the Lodge of Scrolls, suggest that this was driven more by a fear of the mortal Church than its undead reflection, but the Sanctified either didn't realize this, or didn't care. The end result was what mattered to them. The Mages, finding London hostile territory, focused their power and attention on the University towns of Oxford and Cambridge, venturing into the capital only briefly and discreetly. The Uratha, always more numerous and powerful than Mercadier realized, kept their heads down and concentrated on protecting their Kinfolk, who were often members of London's emergent merchant class.
Many of the Lancea Sanctum's members - and strongest supporters - belonged to the Morbus bloodline of the Mekhet, who encouraged, and reveled in, the endemic diseases that infested the city. The degeneracy and perversion of Mercadier's regime alienated it from England's other Sanctified stronghold, the Archbishopric of York, and earned it the implacable enmity of the Eagle, an Invictus ancient who held the who of England's south coast as the "Prince of the Saxon Shore". But neither could muster enough force to dislodge Mercadier without exposing their existence to the kine and triggering a massive mortal witch-hunt.
There was, however, an underground resistance movement against Mercadier. In 1652, an Adamantine Arrow Mage named Harry Lynton arrived in London. Lynton had been a soldier in the Parliamentarian forces before resigning his commission in disgust in the wake of Pride's Purge. He, and his colleague and companion Elizabeth Hawthorne, believed that the Mages needed to become more assertive in mortal politics, but there was an obstacle to that goal - London, the seat of Parliament and government, lay in the hands of the bloodsuckers. Together, the two Mages began spying on the Kindred, gathering information on their strengths, weaknesses and numbers.
It was during this process that they encountered a young Kindred, Thomas Wyncham. The childe of Archbishop Mercadier himself, Wyncham had turned against his sire and was clandestinely working against him, protecting his victims and eliminating his servants wherever he could. Initially suspicious of each other, they swiftly formed an alliance - Lynton could hardly believe his own luck in securing the Archbishop's own childe as an intelligence asset. Shortly thereafter, their investigations of what they initially thought was a Morbus scheme to spread plague led them to the Beshilu and a group of Uratha who were hunting them. As luck would have it, the Uratha Alpha, Stephen Eswy, was a cousin of Wyncham's who had played with him when they were children, which helped to overcome the Uratha's ingrained antipathy towards the Kindred. Their conspiracy, which they named "the Temple" after their chosen meeting-spot in the shadow of the Temple Church, attracted covert support from several Kindred ancients - the Eagle and the Seer, both of whom sent their own childer to assist the plotters, and the Invictus of House Skade.
In September 1666, Christmas came early for the Temple. Kindred historians estimate that fully ninety percent of the city's vampire population perished in the Great Fire of London, although the more honest of them admit that this is largely guesswork, drawn from anecdotal evidence supplied by the very few elders who survived the conflagration. Most of the survivors were neonates and the disenfranchised; the Sanctified elders had mostly made their havens in churches which were destroyed in the blaze. Mercadier's regime had been wiped out in the face of a few nights; Mercadier himself was assassinated by his childe, Thomas Wyncham, with the aid of the Temple's Mages.
To the Kindred, it seemed to be a Pyrrhic victory at first. Mercadier was gone, and the plague had been brought under control, but half the city was in ruins and their mortal herd was much reduced. The Eagle's childe, Hugh Marlowe, became the new Prince, and began the slow task of rebuilding the vampires' fortunes. He swiftly purged the remaining elements of the old regime and established London as an Invictus domain.
For the Mages and Uratha, the end of Mercadier's regime was an unalloyed blessing. The Mages flooded into Restoration London, drawn by its vibrant cultural life and the intellectual Renaissance embodied by groups like the Royal Society. Meanwhile, the Uratha, especially the Iron Masters, prospered as the city's economy revived.
The Temple had spent some decades working together against a common foe and with a shared risk of torture and death hanging over them. It probably took all its members by surprise to discover that somewhere along the way, a relationship that had begun as an uneasy and distrustful alliance of convenience had burgeoned into something approaching trust and friendship. Even with its original raison d'etre, the defeat of Mercadier, accomplished, the bond between the conspirators endured. And on a practical level, a forum in which supernatural conflict could be mediated proved too useful, on a purely pragmatic level, to dispense with, although the founders and their successors did attempt – with moderate success – to retain the sense of moral purpose which had originally drawn them together.
With the Lancea Sanctum gone, and the Kindred as a whole critically weakened, it was the mages who moved into the power vacuum. The shadow history of London from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century is essentially the history of mages. An alliance of the Silver Ladder and Adamantine Arrow, driven by an Enlightenment-era ideal of bettering the lot of humanity, steered the London Consilium through what is now regarded as its Golden Age. Through the semi-clandestine channel of the Temple, they were able to point the Uratha at threats that they were ill-equipped to deal with, turning them into the strong right arm of the Consilium.
Or at least, that was their take on the situation. As far as the Iron Masters and Storm Lords were concerned, the mages were a useful intelligence-gathering resource, provided they could be gently steered away from meddling with things they didn't understand. As far as the Bone Shadows were concerned, the Iron Masters and Storm Lords were welcome to handle politics as long as they were ready to jump when the Bone Shadows discovered something that needed to be killed. And the Blood Talons and Hunters in Darkness, the least numerous of the Tribes, watched all the maneuvering with detached amusement when they could be bothered to notice it at all.
In their arrogance, the mages failed to notice as the Kindred slowly regained their former strength. In the three hundred year period since the great fire, the Invictus gradually forged the vampire population into a more-or-less united force, ironically driven by the need to maintain a common front against the Mages and Uratha who constantly threatened to undercut Kindred influence and interests. The leading Invictus, including the Prince, Hugh Marlowe, and his Seneschal, Thomas Wyncham, carefully avoided the mistakes of the Sanctified tyranny. They ruled the city's Kindred more like the chief executives of a large corporation than feudal princelings. The Kindred prospered mightily during the glory days of the British Empire.
The first cracks in the facade came when the Ordo Dracul emerged as a Covenant in its own right, rather than a secret society. Many Kindred who had belonged to both the Ordo Dracul and one of the older Covevants were forced to choose between them, and Thomas Wyncham, the Prince's ablest lieutenant, chose to renounce his membership of the Invictus in favour of the Dragons. Several lower-ranking Invictus followed him, and the unified leadership which the Kindred had grown accustomed to began to splinter. In the past, the Dragons and Invictus might have found a way to overcome their differences, but now the Carthian Movement was starting to assert itself as a force in Kindred politics, ready to exploit and enlarge any rift in the ruling coalition.
Meanwhile, in the world of mages, the Nameless War and the formation of the Free Council resulted in the first serious challenge to the Silver Ladder/Adamantine Arrow alliance. The leaders of the Consilium, the Free Council alleged, had lost sight of the utopian goal of elevating humanity, instead becoming an entrenched Old Guard with no vision beyond clinging to its own power. The Free Council had become the hiers to their ideals.
The Uratha were unaware of the nuances of mage and Kindred politics, but they did notice that their former allies had become less active and less useful, and started to distance themselves from the Temple alliance in response.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the leadership of both the Mage and Kindred communities grew increasingly oppressive and intolerant of the growing calls for democracy in their own ranks. The Silver Ladder and Invictus might have very different perspectives, but they were united their analysis of democracy, which could be summed up in two words "morons vote". The Free Council and Carthian response - that morons were entitled to - understandably evoked very little sympathy from the critics. Complicating the problem, on the Kindred side, was that Hugh Marlowe's brilliant and subtle mind finally seemed to be succumbing to the Ventrue curse, making him increasingly vicious and paranoid.
Then came the Blitz. For the second time, Shadow London was reborn in fire.
Relatively few Kindred - and no known mages - were among the forty-three thousand estimated casualties of the German bombing campaign, but one of the Kindred who did perish - in the destruction of the Houses of Parliament - was Prince Hugh Marlowe. Most of the other prominent Invictus fled the city, driven by memories of the Great Fire. Freed from the restraining influence of the Invictus leadership, the Carthian Movement mounted a coup. By the time the German bombers had vanished from the skies, the Carthians essentially owned London.
Change among the Mages was more gradual, and the Free Council never achieved the decisive seizure of power made by the Carthians. But with more and more new mages drawn from a populace infused with the post-war spirit of hope and idealism which swept Churchill from office in favor of Attlee, the Libertines were the largest and most powerful Order in London by 1950.
The Uratha - those who hadn't been conscripted to fight in the war - were far too busy policing the turmoil in the spirit world to bother themselves with such petty concerns. The pain, suffering and death caused by the conflict had empowered one unpleasant spiritual manifestation after another, and with their mage and occasional Kindred allies seemingly preoccupied with introverted naval-gazing, the werewolves had to manage largely on their own.
They did not forget.
Between the post-war years and the first decades of the twenty-first century, the Mages and Kindred both saw a slow erosion of the power and prominence of their respective leaderships. The Silver Ladder and the Adamantine Arrow, under new and chastened leaderships, did their best to regain their former pre-eminence, undercutting the Free Council wherever possible. As CCTV cameras spread out across the length and breadth of Britain, the Guardians of the Veil grew steadily more influential, as well. The Invictus began a slow and steady strategy of regaining the confidence and respect of their compatriots, often using their money or social connections as a means of accumulating favors. Uratha society remained much as it had for centuries, with the Iron Masters and Storm Lords as "political alphas", but deferring to the wisdom of the Bone Shadows when the latter chose to offer it, and the Blood Talons and Hunters in Darkness the smallest tribes. Paradoxically, it seemed that the Uratha, the most volatile of the three supernatural races, were the ones with the most stable and long-lasting social status quo.
In 2008, it all went to hell.
The year began with a seemingly routine issue for the Temple - someone was smuggling ancient Iraqi antiquities into London, antiquities that in many cases carried ancient, potentially deadly magical enchantments. The Temple's investigation into the matter led, quite quickly, to an organization that called itself "Asylum", a group of plotters that planned nothing less than to throw open the gates of Hell, using a bioengineered plague to enact a massive ritual sacrifice. In the course of their investigations, the Temple had its first encounter with a previously unsuspected Hunter Conspiracy named Wayland's Smithy.
No sooner had Asylum been defeated than the Temple uncovered evidence of another world, another reality, encroaching onto the London they knew. In this alternate time line, there had been no Great Fire of London and no World War Two, but instead, a massive conflict with Stalin's Soviet Union in the fifties. Eventually, the cause of the collision between realities was identified - an incredibly powerful Atlantean artifact designed to alter history, an artifact activated by the Temple Mage Stella Grey some ten years before, and still inhabited by a fragment of its creator's consciousness. When a group of Temple members accidentally crossed over into the alternate world, a strange, art-deco reflection of a London they knew, they got their first inkling that there was a fourth, hitherto unsuspected supernatural group in London - the Changelings.
With the realities safely separated, the Mages discovered a cancer in the heart of their own community. A group of Mages in the seventeenth century had summoned an Abyssal parasite, the Phobovore, as a weapon against Mercadier. The spirit, literally a "fear-eater", killed its victims by driving them insane with terror. Worse, it implanted dormant "eggs" in the minds of mortals it came into contact with. If it were ever killed, its death scream would cause the eggs would hatch, killing the mortals who had incubated them and unleashing a plague of terror on London. When the Consilium Council tried to move against this renegade Silver Ladder faction, they allied themselves with a Pylon of Seers of the Throne who had been building a base of power in London for decades - and who had, it transpired, been behind Prince Marlowe's descent into madness.
Uprooting the rebel Mages proved difficult, not least because they had infiltrated all three communities so thoroughly. Both the Kindred and Consilium Councils harbored traitors allied with them. A breakthrough came when the Temple discovered the Phobovore's Ban - it could not survive in a mind which knew of its existence and yet did not believe in it.
To exploit the Ban, the Temple enlisted the help of the Changelings, who created a massive movie, book, web, and interactive game experience around the Phobovore's story. The Phobovore and its spawn died unnoticed in thousands upon thousands of minds as the wave of publicity spread throughout the city. In the wake of this spectacular demonstration of its reach and power, the Changelings were granted a seat on the Temple.
The Dumas Revolt, as it came to be called after the shadow name of the Seers' leader, consolidated the Free Council's position as leaders of the Consilium, but severely undermined the Carthians. With one of their own Councillors implicated, and the Invictus taking a lead role in quelling the revolt, they were unable to resist a reorganization of the ruling Council to install a new, Invictus Prince.
The years after 2008 were a period of consolidation for London's supernatural communities. After the chaos and disruption of the Dumas Revolt, nobody wanted to rock the boat, and all three of the established powers were preoccupied with - gingerly - learning about the new players in the game, the Changelings.
In Cambridge, the Consilium had long guarded a powerful spirit entity that had been both the protector and predator of the aristocratic Hammond family since the middle ages, claiming the first-born son of each generation in exchange for ensuring the health and prosperity of the rest of the family. The Consilium had imprisoned it in a pocket realm in the spirit world, but in 2010, someone attacked its guardian, a Mage named Michael Sullivan, and a group of unsuspecting mortals were sucked into its otherworldly prison. The mortals eventually escaped, and one of them, Samantha Johansen, subsequently Awakened as a Mage and joined the London Guardians of the Veil, but the identity of Sullivan's attacker was never discovered. Suspicion fell on either the Hammond family itself or an illegitimate cadet branch, the Colinas, based in Brazil, but nothing was ever proved.
The year is now 2012, and the air has the uneasy, charged feeling of a thunderstorm about to break...