Through the Ages

Session 16
1166 AD: Bethlehem: Part 5

Through the fog, the coterie looks down at the order’s compound from a nearby hill. 

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Session 15
1166 AD: Bethlehem: Part 4

Colino and Aziz accompany Christophe to The Grey Cloak to see Sabine. Mercier's clansman has also arranged to see him this night by way of the inn. The coterie arrives early to give the Lasombra some time with his newly arrived friend before clan duty begins. They are surprised to find it unsurveiled by the order, at least from the outside. Inside it is as busy as ever, despite the recent alarming deaths in the city. Ordering light refreshments for Christophe and Sven, they sit at a table with a clear view of the door and scrutinize the patronage. Christophe recognizes Fatima, Sabine's servant, with some mercenaries in a booth further down the common room. Close to them, two civilian-clothed soldier-types keep tabs on the room, their body language giving them away. Aziz also spots the same man from a few nights ago in the same corner with another glass of long-lasting watered wine. In addition, the coterie notices a grey-robed man next to the door, keeping a very watchful eye on it. Christophe, ignoring most of this, goes over to Fatima and asks for Sabine. Soon, he is seen to her room.

The jerusalemite Toreador again greets Christophe warmly and yet not as lovingly as during their time together in the Holy City. As they catch up, the Lasombra asks if the soldiers downstairs are part of her party. Alarmed, Sabine sends Fatima down to warn the others. She converses with the mercenaries and comes over to Aziz and Colino, slipping them a note and throwing a quick look at the soldiers. The note states simply; "Templar." The Gangrel and Toreador settle in for an uncomfortable wait for the Lasombra's return.
Christophe recounts for Sabine their reason for travelling to Bethlehem and their run-in with the Order of Saint Addai, but omits what they found under Sufyan's mausoleum. Sabine tells Christophe of the worrisome situation in Jerusalem. Some voices say that the Prince's increasingly unsettled mind makes him unfit to rule, since the escalation of violence between the Ashirra and european Kindred began around fifteen years ago. Others agree that a domain cannot be run by a Seneschal alone. A growing number of resident Kindred call for an influence of faith to adjudicate the matter. Although she is reluctant to say so, it is clear to Sabine that Gilberti Grilati plots to overthrow the Prince and retake his former domain.
Christophe and Sabine spend a few hours together. When the Lasombra leaves, it is still unclear if the Toreador came to Bethlehem by invitation alone or if she has other business in the city.

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Not long after Christophe's return, the grey-robed man by the door rises and comes over to the coterie's table. Focusing his attentions on the young Lasombra, he states in hushed tones that his friend is ready to see him now. Bewildered, Christophe asks if this friend might be Leopold. The messenger confirms this, clearly uncomfortable with Christophe's level of voice. He goes on to explain that his master found it unbeneficial to meet at the inn this night. He beckons them to follow him.

They are taken to a plain house with a small wall-surrounded garden. The messenger knocks on a reinforced door leading out into the alleyway. The coterie can hear a hefty lock being unlocked and a crossbar removed. Inside, a sturdy no-nonsense ghoul lets the messenger and Christophe in. Aziz, Colino and Sven are left in the street. After a few moments they too are let in, after Christophe has pleaded with the house's patron to welcome his friends inside since the streets are not safe. The interior is sparse, but what few items it holds is of excellent ornamented quality. Leopold greets them in the same grey robes as his servant. His hair is cut into a tonsure, according to catholic monk tradition. 
Christophe introduces himself and the others formally as he has been taught. Leopold gives some credit to his younger clansman's lineage but seems unimpressed otherwise. The younger Lasombra tries to exchange pleasantries but finds Leopold too aloof to keep this up for long. The older Lasombra confirms that he indeed sees to the needs of the pilgrims come to see the birthplace of Christ. Pilgrimage is one's most holy duty is it not, he argues. Christophe goes on to say that he and his friends have come to Bethlehem in search of a scientific instrument which Aziz seeks. At the mention of their involvement with the Order of Saint Addai and the subsequent attack, Christophe catches a brief startled look on his clansman's face. Leopold advices to be careful in these uncertain times and sends them on their way.

Back on the street Christophe tells the others of Leopold reaction. Aziz hypothesizes that Leopold may support Grilati in his endeavors and could in fact be the Kindred connection they are looking for. They decide to keep an eye on Leopold's house while Colino seeks out the Prince to gain further information on the Lasombra's lineage.
Etheria tells the Toreador that Leopold settled in Bethlehem four decades ago. He claimed then that his sire met his Final Death when the crusaders took Jerusalem some seventy years past. There is no evidence that the Lasombra is in close lineage to Gilberti Grilati. None the less, Colino cannot help but inform the Prince of their current theory and that Leopold may very well be the one who ordered the Vessel to be moved to Jerusalem to disrupt the Holy City further. As the Toreador leaves, Etheria orders more light to be brought.

Meanwhile, Christophe and Aziz observe and follow Leopold’s servant back to The Grey Cloak. Here they witness him leaving a note with the inn keeper and again taking up his position by the door. The two vampires wait for Colino’s return to decide what to do. The coterie finds a spot outside from where they may watch the inn keeper at the counter and see whom the note is passed on to. It is a long wait. At closing time, only a few hours til dawn, two members of the Order of Saint Addai come to claim it. Their suspicions are confirmed. As the inn closes the patrons linger outside, among them the civilian-clothed templars and the mysterious man in the common room corner, The order members set off for the city gate. Eager not to be noticed by the templar, the coterie take parallel side streets to pursue the sect members. They reach the gates soon after the addaians have gone through and hound them in the dark along the open road. The order members take off at a run and make a desperate stand a few hundred yards from the road. Armed with knife and stake they put up a surprising fight. In the end, Sven splits one of them’s head open with his axe and the others manage to hold the other one down and tie him up. The note they were meant to deliver reads: ”Burn the documents. Keep clear of the instigators.”

The coterie buries the body and takes their captive to their temporary haven for questioning. The vampires are not particularly skilled at it, even with Dominate at hand. They tie the culprit to a chair and tell the guards to keep an eye on him.

The next night the order member is forced to talk. He divulges that they are routinely sent to The Grey Cloak for messages and that he only knows that the messages themselves are for the Order Master exclusively. He has a vague idea that the messages are from someone who has sway over the Order Master. He can also confirm that the master has papers for his eyes only securely locked in his quarters. The coterie gleans further information from their captive, such as; the total number of cult members and a general layout of the compound.

Later, the antiochians and Kether report to the Prince. Her main hall is thoroughly lit, eliminating all but the briefest hint of shadow. The neonates tell her of last night’s events and the message to the order. They also inform her that their captive is available for questioning should she wish to. Kether is ordered to see to it. Even though the evidence casts Leopold in a disfavourable light, she concludes that it will problematic to publicly accuse the Lasombra with a mere note from his household. Etheria asks the coterie to retrieve these documents that are mentioned and capture the Order Master alive, if able. She reminds them that only two nights remain until she is forced to take action herself. The coterie promises to act out her will to the best of their ability.

They gather their things quickly and argue how to best approach the compound unseen. Kether grins widely and promises them a thick fog this night.

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Session 14
1166 AD: Bethlehem: Part 3

On the way back from the outer graveyards, dawn drawing closer, the coterie decides to tell the Prince of this potential threat to her domain. Kether leaves a message for the Brujah that they wish to see her the next night and invites the antiochians to stay in his house outside the walls during the day. Aziz asks for further security and the Tremere obliges.

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The next night a youngster comes to retrieve them. He explains that he has very recently taken up service with Kether and that his new master wishes to see them in his workshop. 
While walking across Bethlehem’s main square, Aziz spots a member of the Order of Saint Addai observing them. He instructs the youngster to send an errand boy to Kether’s house to tell him that they’re being watched. It would be ill-adviced to let the order know the whereabouts of the Tremere’s haven. The coterie lingers at the square, browsing merchant wares and buying glaced apples for the youngster. Soon, the vampires can conclude that the order now waits for them on three sides of the square. After a while one of Kether’s ghouls comes to them to assess the situation. He guides them off the square along the only open route. 

A few blocks away from the crowd, the order ambushes them in a side street. Some have brought guard dogs and most are equipped with stakes. The dogs make swift work of the youngster. Meanwhile the coterie makes a mediocre defensive stance, Kether’s ghoul assisting the Gangrel. The Lasombra and Toreador take a few gouging hits. Christophe flies into a frenzy, drinking one of the assailants dry and turning on another. Colino is nearly staked, twice. The dogs attack the Gangrel, only to flee the scene whimpering, having tasted Aziz’ foul blood. At the height of the battle, a group of three Knights Templar round the corner and orders the fighters to stand down. All involved try to flee. Aziz, dragging Kether’s ghoul - who is very badly wounded - slips and falls, hurt. The remaining addaians and Christophe lose the knights easily, running in different directions. Even so, one of the templar runs after them. Colino lingers, shouting obscenities in french at the remaining two knights. One of them loses his temper and runs after the Toreador. He is no match for a celerity-infused vampire. The last knight stands Aziz up and demands an explanation. The persian simply turns and bolts, getting away with some difficulty. 

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Nearly an hour later, they arrive at Kether’s workshop, unescorted and unfollowed. They are offered a change of clothes and a chance to wash off the blood and dirt from battle before they go see the ruler of the domain. Aziz somberly tells Kether the fate of his ghoul and new servant.

There is heightened tension in the city after the incident that left at least five people dead in the street. Both templar and city guards patrol the gloom, looking for culprits and restoring the calm. The Tremere guides the coterie along little used paths on their way to the Prince to avoid attention.

The four vampires collectively recount their experience in the tombs under the graveyard. Kether is none too pleased that the antiochians mention the sand guardians to Etheria. They make a point of showing the Brujah Sufyan’s confessions and that the Vessel and its protectors may pose a significant threat to the peace between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They also inform her that they were ambushed by the order this very night, killing some of them and regrettably causing the current uproar. Since the attackers were carrying stakes, it is obvious that the sect are aware of the Kindred and therefore a further threat. If the Tremere’s ghoul survived the onslaught it is likely that he has been taken to the city dungeon and is being made to talk. Kether promises to look into this loose end.

After telling about their investigation Prince Etheria asks them to find more information on the Vessel and Kindred involvement. She gives them three nights to do this before she has to deal with the Order of St: Addai as they pose a threat to her domain and Kindred in general. Almost as an afterthought, she tells Christophe that his friend Sabine has arrived in the domain.

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Session 13
1166 AD: Bethlehem: Part 2

The coterie decides to wait out another night and observe the order's reaction to their visit.

They approach The Grey Cloak by way of side streets, finding two order members surveilling its main entrance. There is no good way to circumvent them, so the characters simply walk in, as if coming back from an errand. Inside the innkeeper informs them that the order has indeed asked for and about Aziz Khorasani and his traveling companions. Further coin changes hands for the owner's (supposed) tightlippedness.
The Gangrel, Lasombra and Toreador order light refreshments and sit at a table close to a window where they can keep an eye on the observers. Aziz glances over the common room from time to time. It is filled with all manner of pilgrims, though most seem to have some wealth. After a while he spots a man that obviously is keeping tabs on the patrons, nursing his watered wine. The outside order members are persistent. After a few hours the coterie asks the innkeeper for an alternative exit. He invites them to view the wine cellars, where he casually opens a hidden doorway into an alleyway. More coins go into the man's hand.

Colino is overdue to a meeting discussing Felix von Bremen's dealings in the domain with the Prince and rushes through the streets. The Brujah is not pleased to have been kept waiting for her guest. The Toreador's obvious passion for his clansman's work and ambitions soon warms her to him however. They discuss Felix's visits in Bethlehem over the past two centuries for some hours. As a rare treat she shows him a compiled work Felix has gifted her describing his conclusions on Bethlehem's recent history.

Meanwhile, Aziz visits the closed mosque to nurture his faith. Christophe follows along out of cheer listlessness. The Gangrel finds a quiet spot for prayer along it's walls, away from the square and the Church of the Nativity that sets his teeth on edge.
The Lasombra is very soon bored out of his mind. Again, Mercier forces Aziz to explain the use of practicing religion. Yet again, Christophe is not convinced.

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Come another dusk, their small haven guardian tells Aziz that a crooked-snouted man has kept watch from under a close by acacia tree. Sven, who has kept indoors, has seen no one.
The coterie circles the property across the backyards. The man, clearly another member of the Order of Saint Addai, takes off running down the street when he spots Colino. They decide not to pursue him.

They inform Kether of the order's persistence and their compromised haven. The Tremere assures them that new accommodations can be arranged.
It is time to find some leverage on the order. They need to know what is hidden in the mausoleum. Kether brings a worker to carry tools so that they can gain entry.

Past midnight they again find themselves in the outer graveyard, chipping away the plaster on the monument's entrance and prying away bricks. To their surprise, an ancient steep stair leads down into further darkness inside. Some thirty feet down it levels out into catacombs for, judging by the decayed apparel, locals who led humble lives.

Further in, the tunnel widens into a circular room, a tunnel continuing on the other side. The room's floor is covered in deep sand. Footprints trace along its edges, going out into the middle and apparently stop. Suspicious, the coterie discuss what to do. Aziz spots something sticking up out of the sand and goes to retrieve it. He pulls out a bent sword. Suddenly four vaguely humanoid shapes rise out of the sand. An instant later they realize that it is not separate shapes at all but the the sand itself taking shape. The figures pick up disheveled weapons and attack, the closest one ripping the bent sword out of the startled Gangrel's hand.  A desperate fight breaks out. Common blades bite poorly on the flowing sandy shapes. The coterie takes several grievous wounds before becoming separated on either side of the room; Colino and Aziz on the far side, Kether and Christophe where they came in. The shapes do not stray out of their pit, but lash out at anyone who comes near.

The Gangrel and Toreador decide to explore further down the tunnel, while the Lasombra and Tremere consider what can be done about the adversaries. Some thirty feet further in they narrowly escape a fall trap and arrive in a domed room containing an ornamented stone casket. Its lid is inscribed: ”The Final Resting Place of Sufyan Al-Iskafi”. Something about the room stirs the Beast and makes it hard to focus.
Meanwhile Kether uses his power to stir the wind and beckons Christophe to fling their lantern at the humanoid shapes which shatters upon their sandy exteriors. The gust sets the lamp oil aflame and with inhuman howls the figures disintegrate. The coterie reunites in the innermost chamber. The new arrivals also find it hard to control their inner Beast. Colino, low on blood from the fight, returns to the surface to feed on the worker. The thirst is too strong and Kether’s laborer loses his life.
As Aziz investigates the casket, the others notice a hidden circular cover in the floor. They will need to smash it to reach what lies beneath. The Gangrel pulls out a wooden box from an hidden compartment in the casket’s base. The box holds a few scrolls; the last confessions and fears of Sufyan Al-Iskafi. 
In the text, the former order member explains that he has hidden this account from the others in the hope that someone righteous might find it. It reveals his suspicion that the Order of Saint Addai has divided motivations; on one hand to serve Christ, on the other to please more sinister masters. It mentions ”the Vessel”, that now has been taken from Bethlehem to Jerusalem with what seems as nefarious intent.

The coterie breaks open the cover in the floor. The domed cavity beneath is pitch black. Aziz and Colino, with their improved sight, lay down and peak into the hole. They catch a glimpse of human bones and a rusted three-legged stand for an urn or pot before they are both hit with an overwhelming urge to let loose their Beasts upon the world. The chamber air is saturated with the lingering essence of immensely powerful blood. As it seeps into the upper room, it is instantly apparent that they cannot stay here. They flee the catacombs, back up into the fresh night air.

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Session 12
1166 AD: Bethlehem: Part 1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fifth downtime
1161 - 1166 AD: Five more years pass in the Levant

Colino schools his new servant with the help of Conrad. He corresponds with Maria to verify Sabine's claims that the Jerusalem Kindred conflict is escalating. The Toreador also watches over his shop employee who has married and started a family.

Aziz offers the Prince to help with security at St Symeon, citing concerns with offshore Kindred movement through the port. He grows closer to Abraham, who welcomes muslim company, but will not as yet partake openly in what is clearly his continued religious persuasion.

Christophe continues to grow his shipping business, acquiring another ship. It is also an excellent way to keep clear of his sire for long periods of time.

The coterie's sires have traveled throughout the region during this time. Several envoys from Constantinople have visited Antioch to ensure that their task is continuing.

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Session 11
1161 AD: Servitude and rebirth

Christophe and Aziz discuss what to do about the note and how to handle Dos Santos's servants knowing about it. The Lasombra is blinded by the possibility of seeing Sabine again and simply does not care.
Aziz decides to come along to the tavern where "Big-Sister" can be contacted, while Colino stays in the accommodations.

The tavern is located in the central part of the city closest to the harbour. It is a three-story stone building with large terraces where wealthy european merchants and the nobles come to drink their troubles away. Christophe asks the guards at the front for Sabine, Aziz playing the servant. They are perplexed to have such a request from a child at two in the morning, but go to check. Soon Fatima, whom Christophe recognizes as Sabine's servant from Jerusalem, comes to let them in and guides them up the stairs to the top floor.
Here the young Lasombra has a less passionate reunion than he had hoped; Sabine treating him more like a long lost friend than a lover. Still, they reminisce and again seek each other's comfort in their shared loathing of their sires. Sabine tells him of trouble brewing in Jerusalem and its escalating Kindred conflict. Abdullah has forced her to seduce many a mortal to let him gain favor and protection with the Knights Templar. She also tells of new business ties at Jaffa, where Christophe too could profit if he would let her. Over the coming nights they come to terms regarding this.
While the reunion is going on Aziz catches one of Dos Santos servants outside spying and sends him on his way, intimidating him when he hesitates.

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When they get back Abraham tells the coterie that the prospected ghouls need to be made aware of what tomorrow night's ritual will mean.

Aziz decides to tell Hisham as much of the truth as he can handle. The persian wants to save the labourer from certain death by sharing with him God's Gift, as he himself was saved. By the analogy of drinking the blood of Christ at communion, Aziz is able to convince Hisham to literally do the same with his. 

Colino tells Sven that he has been chosen into a brotherhood of blood, also basing his argument somewhat on christian dogma. The norse is suspicious but agrees to at least come along when he is reassured that it is not witchcraft.

Christophe slowly convinces Amad that he will be part of an initiation rite of a secret society which controls those that govern, playing on the captain's greed and lust for power. The franc is overjoyed to be part of it.

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When they arrive at the Prince’s villa the next night, several other parties are waiting in the gardens at Ahmed’s leisure. Dos Santos commands Christophe to go over to a particularly loud group of nobles – who are complaining that it is beneath their standing to wait – to quiet them. The young men are amused to be told off by a child at first. However, when Colino introduces Christophe as a nobleman(child?) of the Mercier line, the men immediately demand to know the meaning of this confrontation. They too are Merciers. Colino hastily explains that the child is the second cousin of Christophe Mercier who disappeared on his way to Tripoli. He claims that they seek Christophe and his father. The young nobles are clearly troubled by this news and boldly state that they will seek the truth of this. Out of earshot, Aziz sarcastically congratulates Dos Santos for a game well played. 

The antiochians are eventually ushered in to see Ahmed. The hall is empty apart from the Prince, Abraham and a few trusted servants.
With formal ritual Colino and Sven step forward. A servant pierces Colinos forearm and pours some of his vitae into a chalice. The Norse drinks with some predepidation, but the power of the vitae surges through his vains and leaves him elated.
The effect encourages Amand to follow along when Christophes vitae is poured. He too is overwhelmed by the rush of power in his blood.
As Aziz and Hisham step forward it is soon apparent that something is awry. The Gangrel’s vitae reeks like rotten sewage, making the servants gag. Even so, Hisham desperately tries to imbibe the liquid. It is impossible to hold down. He vomits the foul stuff onto the hall floor and collapses. The frightened and bewildered servants turn to their master. The Assamite sternly confronts Aziz, anticipating some sort of plan to shame the Prince. The Gangrel, as bewildered as any one present, panickstrickenly drops to his knees and pleads with the Prince to save the labourer; if the Prophet will not grant Hisham servitude perhaps the Anointed One will show such mercy. Let it be a sign of the power of Christ, he argues.
A fervant assent gleams in the Assamite's eyes as he strides down to the dying Hisham and gives him the Embrace. All present stand back stunned. As Abraham tends to a spent Ahmed the group quietly take their leave. 

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Over the next few nights it becomes apparent that the Prince will have nothing more to do with them. Nor, it seems, will the Merciers. Christophe says his goodbyes to Sabine and they arrange voyage back to Antioch. 

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Session 10
1161 AD: Sea voyage and arrival in Tripoli

Christophe's sire has him arrange travel with one of Amand du Lac's ships down the coast to Tripoli. The Lasombra arrives with a cadre of servants and matching luggage. He promptly installs himself in the largest cabin onboard.
The characters on the other hand travel light and share two of the smaller cabins. Amand, Hisham and Sven are of course brought along. To everyone's surprise Abraham also joins them.

A few nights out of port, anchored for the night, Aziz hears sounds of intruders climbing aboard and goes to warn the Assamite. Before he rapps on the door he swears he can make out Shahada being proclaimed in a low voice. The Gangrel and Abraham reach the deck, soon followed by Christophe, Colino and eventually Sven, to repel the pirate boarders. The pirates on the deck, who have already killed the night watchman, are cut down to a man.
Christophe and Aziz hear further assailants in a boat tied to the aft of the ship and jump into it, disabling the remaining two pirates for questioning. As their former friends are unceremoniously dumped into the ocean, the pirates are interrogated. It seems they are a band of brigands who have attacked ships seen from land along this stretch for some time. They seem quite ignorant of the Kindred world and appear to have no other master or benefactor. Dos Santos orders the younger of the two be brought below to him, while the other is worked over by the crew and dropped unconscious into the water, a fate far better.

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By the fourth night the ship has reached Tripoli. It is a large vibrant city influenced considerably by european interests, both religious and commercial. Abraham sees to the accommodations and the servants and prospect ghouls are sent on their way to it.

The five Kindred are invited to an impressive villa at the heart of town. Its surrounding garden is well guarded. On its second floor Ahmed, Prince of Tripoli, is holding court, of a sort. Dancers and musicians are entertaining the guests. The characters are introduced to the Prince by Dos Santos who relishes in this moment to shine. Ahmed welcomes them to his domain with what can only be described as genuine pleasure. Even Aziz is welcomed without a hint of reproach. There is however a slight moment of displeasure at seeing Abraham. The coterie will later speculate on why this was. Perhaps it is the now public failure of not being able to solve this task for his Sire and Saccarias having to resort to mere neonates no less.

Colino is enticed to recite the story of how the valued gift to the northern Prince was rescued and returned – the revised version of course, not a little embellished for the occasion. For his efforts a dignitary from Constantinople; Myca Vykos, later on the balcony calls him a teller of fairy tales, which flares the Toreador's rage. In the game of social insults however, Colino is no match. Vykos calmly smooths the situation over, still letting the stinging words linger.

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The characters soon take their leave of the Prince when the interest wanes, leaving Dos Santos to bask in the sycophancy of a Prince's court.
When they return to the lodgings a gift is waiting for Christophe. It is a bowl of ripe peaches. Its card says: "For little-brother, From big-sister. S" The Lasombra's heart jumps. Could it truly be Sabine?

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Fourth downtime and Session 10 prep
1158 - 1161 AD: New business and new servants

A few months after the characters leave Damascus, Kadir and Sir Thomas return to Antioch; the Gangrel brooding but the Toreador elated. Later, in private, Kadir explains to his childe. 
They were summoned to a cave in the northern parts of Khorasan, east of the Caspian Sea, by a Gangrel clan elder. The ancient one demanded their help after drinking too greedily from the Lupines – as well as, Kadir suspects, from the Kindred - and having his considerable Protean proficiency run amuck on him. What the two Sires were tasked with to alleviate this terrible breach of Kindred power, Aziz is not told, nor how successful they were. 
In return for their efforts however, the ancient one shares with them the story of Ennonia, the founder of the Gangrel clan according to tradition. In ages past and in lands to the east, Ennonia was an influential priestess of nature, who caught the attention of an immensely powerful being. This being gave her immortality and the ability to shape nature. She wandered the earth, settling and mating for a time with some tribes, giving offspring that were mortal, wolven shapeshifters, even Kindred. Thus started the Gangrel line.
When sir Thomas pressed the ancient one to tell them the identity of Ennonia’s maker, they were forcefully removed from the cave.
Sir Thomas of Cornwall is now engrossed in scouring any and all written material for this entity, enlisting anyone (Kindred) who will listen.

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Over the next couple of years the coterie sets up an import of goods through the mediterranean traders in St Symeon. It is carefully double checked with Caspar that none of the Prince’s interests are tread upon. Colino’s local business knowledge is a great help. Aziz’ connections with the trade caravans grant them a competent sea-to-land transportation administrator in Uthman al-Zul, now a grown man and eager to expand on his father’s meager dreams. Christophe learns a great deal about the financial and judicial parts of shipping and earns a pretty penny. Supply of the Damascus Maristan is coming along nicely.

Aziz plans to use this expansion of trade as a staging ground for reaching Abraham with concerns of unchecked seabound Kindred through the port of St Symeon.

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In 1161 AD the characters receive a message from the Prince of Tripoli. For the excellent service of retrieving his gift for his Childe he is granting them each a servant. Saccarias agrees to let the neonates become Domitors.
In a month’s time they are to present their future ghoul for approval before Ahmed ibn Fayyat in Tripoli.

Christophe desperately dodges his Sire’s demand that he pick his own father - who now resides in Tripoli - as a servant and chooses a former sea captain and trader; Amand du Lac, who has taught the young Lasombra the basics of shipping. The man has leadership qualities but a cold heart. Mercier has trouble persuading du Lac and needs to resort to dominating him, twice.

Aziz acknowledges the futility in bringing a muslim before the Prince and chooses a tenacious labourer; Hisham, who has full-blown consumption, wanting to save the man from death as he himself was saved. Hisham is slow to react – some might say even a little dim-witted – and a fiercely devote christian. The labourer knows full well that he is on his last legs and needs little convincing when told that there might be a cure in Tripoli.
Unbeknownst to the Gangrel, he will not be able to make this man his servant.

Colino asks Conrad for help in finding him a suitable candidate to be a bodyguard. They settle on a scandinavian sellsword; Sven Harvaldsson. The norse knows how to wield a blade and when to hold his tongue, but has serious qualms about hurting the innocent. He is simply hired to come along for the trip.

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Session 9
1158 AD: Dubious dealings in Damascus: Part 3

They all meet at the carriage and head home as the morning is upon them. The air is thick with conflict and raw emotions and as the evening comes again. Colino and Aziz refuse to speak to each other leaving young Christophe in an awkward position. Instead they both pour themselves into the books with Colino trying to write his poem to Omar as payment for the sword he is crafting for his Sire.

The night passes in silence and even the servants can sense something is wrong. On the second night Colino, with the help of Christophe, cracks the cipher in the letters and starts to translate them. They tell of a contingent of the cult who have fled to Bethlehem and how to contact them. While Colino and Aziz are both busy with academic work Christophe go to work on the map and finds the location of the final three markings.

While the two adults still wont speak to each other they at least agree to set out to investigate the final locations. The locations are all marked with a fish and the first one is a house with several families living in side. Aziz manages to wake the neighborhood with a spectacular stealth fail so the three flee head over heels into the night. 

The second location is a bakery and Christophe climbs the facade with ease gaining entry by the roof. He find a stack of emergency blankets in the attic in case someone needed to sleep there. They haven't been used in a long while. 

The third marking is outside the city and seems to also be a safe haven in case the cult needs it. They returned home again without much more to go on.

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The characters again try to glean information about Lazlo from Laurence, but he knows precious little. The franc is carted off to the southern harbours of Antioch at St Symeon for departure back to France.

Over the next week Colino's poem takes shape, gaining a proper balance of reverence and flattery. The characters suggest to Omar that it be read at a gathering, in his honor. The smith is pleased. Again, the neonates ask Salah to arrange it.
Colino and Christophe argue about who should perform the work. They eventually decide that it might be perceived as presumptuous to have the author read it to its recipient. Christophe works intently the following few nights to commit it to memory and satisfyingly enact its essence.

In a private courtyard the Lasombra gives the performance of his unlife, thus far. Most of the Kindred population of Damascus is in attendance. Omar is radiant with pride. Some reflect on the boldness of having a child recite such a powerful text.
To their surprise, Lazlo is also at the gathering. He greets them with a strained but somehow reassured smile, commenting on the coincidences of the Lord's making.

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Their suspicions against Lazlo are renewed after seeing him. It is becoming more and more likely that the former trader gained his place amongst the Kindred by acting as an agent for the forces that set upon the caravan all those years ago. It is also likely that he is the one who pushed Muhammed from the Maristan's roof.

Before leaving Damascus, Aziz seeks out Musah to make a deal. He wants the Nosferatu to investigate Lazlo's lineage and activities – subtly insinuating that the Malkavian was involved in Muhammed's death -  in exchange for supplies for the Maristan from throughout the Mediterranean. Musah counters that Aziz be owed a favour to him and the Nosferatu clan. Head clouded from the possibility of revenge, the Gangrel accepts this addition and much larger boon.

Colino writes a letter to Kether in Bethlehem asking for information on the cult and the possibility to access the domain.

The coterie returns to Antioch, sir Thomas' new exquisite blade safely tucked away among their belongings.

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