Over some time, Colino has kept in contact with Kether who finally has arranged for the coterie to visit Bethlehem.
In preparation for the trip, Colino and Christophe send correspondence to Anton and Sabine respectively, telling them of the coterie's intension to travel through Jaffa and Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Colino and Aziz agree that gifts to the Imam - for giving them access to Damascus – and Bethlehem's Prince, Etheria - for when they arrive - would be appropriate. The Toreador aluminates a few apt hadith for Suleiman and copies a historical work for the Prince. Sir Thomas drafts a letter of introduction on behalf of the coterie for the Brujah Prince, of whom he has heard next to nothing.
Anton responds that they will not be allowed inside Jerusalem's walls, presumably due to the volatile situation. No word from Sabine is received before they leave.
Favourable winds have them dock at Jaffa three days after departure. Christophe instructs du Lac to continue down the coast to Alexandria to keep up trade. He is to return in two weeks time. Amand is not pleased to leave young Mercier's side.
The coterie opts to leave Jaffa the same night, not wanting to stir the ire of the Prince or give the impression that they have unreported business in the port. It is a three day journey inland to Bethlehem, skirting the walls of the Holy City.
Bethlehem is a city of barely a few thousand local residents. It does however have a steady influx of pilgrims come to see the birthplace of Christ and haggle for relics. There is a clear Knights Templar presence in the city, which main objective seems to be oversight and protection of the pilgrims. The city core is walled off, but much of its buildings are scattered outside over a large area. The characters are surprised to see a mosque still standing across from the Church of the Nativity renovations. Kether lives outside the walls in a humble home but has an immoderate workshop inside the city center. Accommodations have been arranged for the coterie in the same area as the workshop.
The Tremere brings the characters to a large villa to see the Prince. The Brujah receives them pleasantly and yet projects a persona that is clearly not to be meddled with. She explains that all are welcome in her domain as long as they don't upset the calm or interfere with the fragile relationship to Jerusalem. She seems pleased with her gift, if not already closely familiar with the author.
Aziz states his affairs and asks to be allowed to investigate and possibly approach the Order of Saint Addai. The Brujah claims to know little of the outsider sect and allows the examination as long as it is not too invasive. Colino humbly asks to converse with the Prince about Felix's dealings in the region, for his research. Etheria gives her consent.
Christophe requests to have a friend visit the domain, thinking of Sabine. The Prince retorts that if the person introduces herself and keeps to the rules it will not be problem.
Although Sven is along to guard them during the day, Aziz convinces one of the local vermin to keep an eye on the comings and goings in their temporary haven in exchange for food.
The next night they gather at Kether's workshop. The Tremere has quietly been acquiring information on the order. It keeps mostly to itself and has a compound a few miles out of town. Over the last decade since their arrival in Bethlehem they have preached their message of impending doom and penance only a handful of times in public. More recently they have erected a small monument in one of the outer graveyards to one of their members; Sufyan al-Iskafi.
This peaks Aziz's curiosity since Sufyan is one of the nishapurian students that joined the order a century ago and, if the testimony of a sole survivor of the order's time in Damascus is to be believed, was still a member when it fled to Bethlehem.
The characters visit the graveyard, Kether tagging along. The monument is in actuality a small mausoleum. It's modest entrance is bricked up. At closer inspection it is built upon an older foundation. Close to ground-level, partially concealed by grass, Kether is able to identify babylonian runes carved into the base, warning those that can interpret them to stay away. They discuss at length what this could mean. Is it possible that the cult has discovered a way to prolong life? Kether finds this unlikely. Those with such pursuits are long gone. Could the person inside – most likely Sufyan, or someone claiming to be him – be Kindred, staked by the order? Are there still vampires affecting their dealings? Is the other nishapurian student; Bishr al-Dayah, still a member of the sect and if not what has happened to him? It is decided to leave the tomb unopened for now, until they can find out more about the christian cult.
With the current findings, Kether is eager to report to his superior Priamos and possibly find out if their clan is somehow involved or influencing the Order of Saint Addai. There is after all only one other Kindred that is known to live in Bethlehem; Leopold, a clansman of Christophe’s. He peddles wares to the pilgrims and makes for an unlikely suspect. Mercier writes a letter of introduction to the Lasombra, asking if they could meet.
The following dusk at the workshop, Kether can report that clan Tremere has had little interest in the Order of Saint Addai uptil now and, should their investigation come up empty, see very little reason to do so in the future.
They discuss their next move. Their priority should be to rule out any Kindred meddling within the cult and possibly find Bishr if able. Both Colino and Kether claim to be able to read an individual’s aura, which could be a useful tool. A Kindred’s aspect pales compared to a living mortal and is easy to spot. This astounds and worries both Christophe and Aziz who are unaware of such abilities.
Aziz proposes that they should visit the compound. In Damascus there was clear evidence that the order dealt in scientific pursuits, among them astronomy. Both Sufyan and Bishr were dedicated astronomers and would not easily give up their research. When they gain entry, the Toreador and Tremere can subtly search for a Kindred presence.
It is a long walk to the order’s grounds. The compound bears a striking resemblance to the one in Damascus. It’s enclosed by a 7’ wall and it’s gates are closed. Undeterred Aziz rings the bell.
Members with guards dogs come to the gate to ask their business. Aziz introduces himself as Aziz Khorasani, a traveling scholar seeking knowledge exchange, having heard of the order's interest in the sciences while in Damascus. He asks to see the Order Master. The order is suspicious, but they are let in. It is soon apparent that most, if not all, members are of european decent. It is an awkward discussion with the master. The Gangrel claims that they arrived at the local inn, The Grey Cloak, rather late yet decided to come to the order at once, excusing the late hour. The order leader becomes very reserved when told that Aziz has heard of the order when in Damascus. Aziz tries to smooth this over offering some basic astronomy concepts, asking if any members with an scientific inkling would like to discuss them. A few younger members are enthusiastic and bring them to the order library. The coterie notices that there is a locked section of the library. While explaining these concepts, Aziz asks for any written work that the order might have created and to see a senior member that pursues this scientific subject. The request is a little too desperate and direct. The coterie is asked to leave.
Neither Colino nor Kether sensed a Kindred in the compound. Before retiring for the day, they order Sven to bribe the inn keeper at The Grey Cloak to claim that Aziz is staying there and to take messages.