The coterie waited for several hours, locked in one of the chambers in Narses’ estate. Eventually, the Prince’s lieutenant, Guilelmo Aliprando, appeared. He greeted them more warmly than seemed reasonable, given the situation. Guilelmo explained that they had been charged with a violation of the Traditions of Caine by Lanzo von Sachsen, using the circumstantial evidence of their possession of bloodroot flowers.
Before they could react, Guilelmo told them not to worry. Lanzo’s case was a weak one, and unlikely to succeed. Three-quarters of the coterie were not Venetian, as outsiders they were convenient scapegoats for a most heinous crime. Nevertheless, Prince Narses couldn’t let the charge – no matter how frivolous – go unheard. He had agreed to hear the case against the coterie, if only to maintain the peace. Guilelmo added that this solution was the only equitable one, given the tense situation in the city. He then escorted the group to the prince’s audience chamber.
If anything, Narses’ audience chamber was even more opulent that those he had lent to the council. The mosaics covering the walls and floors were flecked with gold, and porphyry statues stood in alcoves. Narses himself sat upon an ornate episcopal throne made of walnut wood and decorated with inlays of ivory, mother-of-pearl, coloured wood and precious stones. The prince was dressed in red robes that looked like those of a Byzantine patriarch, including a gold crosier that rested by his side.
Speaking in his high, lilting voice, Narses asked that the accused be brought before him. As the coterie stood there, they could feel the eyes of the assembled Cainites upon them. Guilelmo moved to the centre of the chamber and asked that those who accused the coterie step forward. Lanzo did so, along with Tommaso Brexiano. There was a murmur in the chamber as the two long-time sparring partners both stated that the coterie had in their possession bloodroot flowers – the very same plants from which the poison that killed Roland du Rocher had been made.
From his throne, Narses asked the accusers if either had seen the group in possession of the flowers. Neither answered in the affirmative. The prince then asked on what basis they made such a charge against fellow Cainites. Lanzo then turned to Anna Sgorina, and she stepped forward reluctantly. She admitted to having seen the flowers in their possession, but she did not believe that they were guilty. Lanzo requested that the comment not be taken into consideration, but Narses disagreed. The prince then asked if any more substantial evidence could be brought forward.
The case wasn’t a good one, relying on the flowers, and opinions on the coterie containing an Assassin and a Usurper, two clans known for murdering other Cainites. The insubstantiality of Lanzo’s charge was apparent. The coterie found it odd that Lanzo and Tommaso both supported such a weak case. Rigotto wondered if Tommaso had been coerced in some way to join Lanzo in the accusations. The Artisan felt that was a convenient alliance for the Lasombra. Rigotto also noticed that Lucita of Aragon clearly didn’t share her master’s views on the matter. She frequently looked disgusted at the posturing of Tommaso – not to mention his unexpected alliance with Lanzo.
After several minutes of arguments, Narses rose from his throne and addressed the chamber. As Prince of Venice, he had to remain objective in matters such as this. He conceded that the murder of a Cainite without sanction was a grave matter. He likewise admitted that the perpetrators needed to be found and punished. Above all, though, justice needed to be done. Now was not the time for easy answers or quick solutions.
At these words, the chamber erupted into argument. Lanzo shouted at the prince, imploring him not to let the murderers of his clanmate escape unscathed. Guilelmo silenced the chamber, and Narses spoke again. He had no intention of letting the coterie go – at least not yet. Although the evidence against them was circumstantial at best, it was the only evidence available, and it did implicate them. However, he was a just prince, and he offered the coterie an opportunity to prove their innocence.
Narses would give them three nights in which to uncover evidence that exonerated them. The evidence needed to be clear and unequivocal. He did not require that they find the true murderer, but that would indeed constitute unequivocal evidence of their innocence. They would have total freedom to act as they wished during these three nights. However, any attempt to leave Venice would amount to an admission of guilt. Narses emphasized that he would tolerate no further deaths in his domain, be they mortal or Cainite. To disobey would incur his wrath.
Lanzo howled in protest, but Narses ignored him. Guilelmo stressed that the prince had spoken, and that the decision had been made. The coterie noticed that Tommaso did not seem at all displeased by this turn of events. Narses then dismissed all gathered in his chamber, reminding the coterie of the strictures of his judgment. They had three nights; no more, no less.
Outside Narses’ chambers, Rigotto approached Guilelmo. He wanted to learn more about the murder, and hoped the lieutenant would have the information they needed. Guilelmo directed the coterie to a small warehouse near the water’s edge. It belonged to family of Byzantine expatriates by the name of Mouzakios. According to Guilelmo, Roland was found by several of Narses’ ghouls while making their usual rounds on the dock. Thanking the lieutenant for his help, Rigotto wondered if it would be possible to speak to the ghouls. Guilelmo excused himself so he could set up a meeting.
The coterie discussed their options. Balthazar wanted to use his thaumaturgy to hopefully witness the murder. The trouble was, they didn’t know exactly when Roland was killed. They hoped Narses’ ghouls would be able to narrow the timeline down so that Balthazar knew when to observe the past. They waited nearly an hour for the ghouls to arrive. They weren’t able to provide much additional insight, except to say that their master had kept the warehouse under surveillance because he believed it was being used as a meeting place by Cainites. Based on their patrol route, the coterie was able to get a rough idea of when the murder occurred.
Having a lead now, the coterie decided to split up. Rigotto would talk to the various delegates to see what they knew, Salah and Balthazar would head to the crime scene to investigate it, and Conall would speak to his contacts on the street to see if anyone noticed anything. Before they split up, however, they decided to examine Roland’s corpse one more time.
Guilelmo gave permission to examine the remains on the condition they did so under guard. Roland’s body had degenerated further since the earlier viewing. His flesh had taken on a dark brown colour, while the underlying muscle was withered, leaving him almost mummified in appearance. There were still large quantities of black dust in his mouth and other orifices. They noticed there were no signs of struggle, which suggested that Roland was surprised. As well, his body was missing his leather belt and scabbard, items that he always wore in their presence.
Conall left the estate and headed to the island of San Michele. One of the city’s Nosferatu, Nicolo, was an ally of Conall’s and made his haven on the cemetery island. Nicolo confirmed that Narses’ ghouls made regular sweeps through the city. They were relentless in their pursuit of anyone or anything out of the ordinary, ensuring that the prince was always well informed about happenings in the city. Although he did not see Roland killed, Nicolo did see something unusual at the Mouzakios warehouse: a mortal entered and left the building. The Nosferatu didn’t know who the mortal was, but he had seen him on several occasions wandering the streets at night. Nicolo provided a description of the mortal, explaining that he didn’t seem to be a crusader. Conall’s ally also pointed out that he had seen at least one Saracen Cainite besides those in Khadijah’s entourage. He had seen the Saracen at several locales – all of them near the water.
Following the ghoul’s information, Salah and Balthazar entered the Mouzakios warehouse. The body was found in a pile of sawdust towards the back of the warehouse. The pile was still mixed with some of the black dust that had poured out of Roland’s body. Looking carefully on the floor, they could see several sets of footprints in the sawdust. Some clearly belonged to the ghouls. Another set belonged to Roland. However, another set were visible as well. This set lead to a window, suggesting that someone entered the warehouse by that method. It looked like light traveling boots had made this third set of footprints.
Approaching the water, Balthazar used his blood magic to view the past. From this vantage point he was only able to see an unknown person enter the warehouse, and a few minutes later leave, clutching something in his hands. The thaumaturge memorized the man’s features, so that he could direct his spies to look for him.
Rigotto spoke first to Lucita of Aragon. She agreed to speak to him, as long as it was just the two of them. She couldn’t help the coterie directly, and she would never act against the Lasombra, but she told him that bloodroot poison was very rare. It was deadly to handle, and only a skilled assassin would dare use it. The true murderers were likely not simple thugs, but trained killers with remarkable abilities, possibly Assamites. She had seen their handiwork in Spain, and it was possible they were in Venice.
Next, the Toreador spoke to Tommaso. Despite sponsoring the accusations against them, Tommaso gladly spoke with Rigotto. He smiled insouciantly, explaining that something had to be done to distract Lanzo. Tommaso admitted that he didn’t believe the charges against the coterie, and that he agreed to speak against them only to keep his opponent off-balance. Rigotto understood the politics at work.
Suspecting Lanzo wouldn’t agree to speak with him, Rigotto had a member of the household staff deliver a message to Aimery de Versey, hoping the Ventrue aid would be willing to talk. Aimery agreed to the meeting, providing it was out of Lanzo’s earshot. Unlike his master, Aimery did not dislike the coterie. He wished to see Roland’s murderers brought to justice. Aimery hadn’t seen Roland since the council meeting the night of his death. They were supposed to meet later to discuss strategy, but never did. He grew concerned, but Lanzo told him not to worry. When he did not return to his resting place, Aimery knew that something had happened. Beyond that, he knew little. He suggested, however, that Rigotto speak with Anna Sgorina. After all, Roland was found murdered in a Byzantine warehouse. Moreover, she was the one who connected the bloodroot flower with them. Perhaps she had some insight into the matter.
Anna apologized profusely for having inadvertently fingered the coterie for Roland’s murder. It was not her intention. She had asked Lanzo to withdraw the charges, but to no avail.
“We both know I didn’t do this,” he said to the Byzantine. “When this is all resolved, I‘d like to find a way to expand my business opportunities. The Byzantine region is one of my favourites, and I have some ins there already. I feel we have an opportunity to do business together.”
When questioned about the Mouzakios family and their warehouse, Anna’s demeanor darkened, and she became more evasive with her answers. Eventually, she admitted the Mouzakios were her ghouls. She admitted that sharing blood with mortals without the prince’s permission was a breach of tradition, but she defended her actions as a necessity. She was on a quest to find lost books of the Library of the Forgotten in Venice.
“I assume you asked your ghouls what Roland was doing there,” Rigotto said.
Anna admitted she didn’t know why Roland was in the warehouse, unless he knew about them looking for books. Someone who wasn’t from Constantinople and wasn’t connected to the Library should have had no interest in what they were doing.
“I would like your help in attempting to clear my name. I am perfectly willing to keep your secrets. We need to find out why Roland was in your warehouse in the first place. I have some associates working to see what happened there. Someone must have given him some information that brought him there. If you could, ask around to try and get more information,” Rigotto said.
Anna agreed, promising to be discrete.
The coterie gathered at Narses’ estate once more, sharing their findings. Conall was concerned there was another sorcerer like Balthazar, using the water to spy on the past. Dawn was approaching, so the coterie returned to their havens, planning to continue their search the next evening.
Balthazar’s spies reported that they had found the mortal from the warehouse. His name was Rodrigue de Navarre, and he was staying at a boarding house near the docks. The coterie felt it best they handle this together. Salah used his obfuscate to appear as Roland du Rocher, wanting to judge Rodrigue’s reaction to seeing the dead man, walking. Finding the boarding house, they split up to cover the area. Conall approached the bar, ordering a drink, but keeping an eye on Salah. Rigotto picked up a couple women, conversing with them at a table, but also keeping an eye on Salah. The dwarf, Balthazar, stuck with Salah. Owing to his small frame, it was easy for him to appear unnoticed.
Salah, posing as Roland, knocked on Rodrigue’s door. It was opened by someone who didn’t match the picture Balthazar had drawn of the man. “Good evening. My name is Roland du Rocher, and I would like to speak to your master.”
The man, Aignen le Librairie, excused himself, returning with Rodrigue. Salah looked for recognition in Rodrigue’s eyes, but saw nothing.
“Do you have time for a couple of questions?” Salah asked.
“What about?” Rodrigue asked, wisely suspicious.
“If you’ll allow me in, I’ll gladly explain,” Salah answered. Rodrigue cast a worried glance to his companions, but allowed “Roland” in.
“There has been a murder in the city, and I’ve been asked to investigate. Someone saw a man matching your description near the crime scene,” Salah explained. “Do you have any information that might be useful to the investigation?”
“My companions and I are in Venice seeking entrance to the Monastery of St. Pantaleimon. I believe that dark forces are at work there, forces that seek to turn the crusade to their evil will,” Rodrigue said. Salah had been to St. Pantaleimon. He knew of its connection to the Cainite Heresy. A human asking questions about the Heresy could be problematic.
“I explore the city at night, looking for signs of darkness. On the night you’re asking about, I heard an unusual sound – a dull thud – coming from a warehouse. When I went to investigate, I saw a man doubled over in pain. I thought I saw another figure moving away quickly in the shadows. I didn’t pursue this other figure because I was concerned about the wounded man.”
Rodrigue paused, obviously troubled by what he had seen. “The man in pain was no man at all, but a creature of night. I know this because black ash poured from the creature’s orifices. Once it was dead, I approached it and examined the body.”
Walking over to a night stand, Rodrigue picked up an ornate leather belt and scabbard, identical to the one missing from the true Roland. From the scabbard, he removed a strangely curved dagger. Salah asked to see the dagger, seeing unusual markings on the blade. He didn’t recognize the marks, but suspected Balthazar might. The fake Roland asked to take the evidence, assuring Rodrigue they would be used to solve the mystery of this “creature”.
Convinced of “Roland’s” sincerity, Rodrigue handed over the scabbard and dagger. Salah thanked Rodrigue for his help, and then excused himself, closing the door behind him. He showed the dagger to Balthazar, who was waiting out in the hall. The Tremere recognized the markings, identifying the dagger as a ritual dagger honouring Set. That suggested that Roland du Rocher was a Follower of Set. The coterie weren’t sure what to make of that possibility.
Knowing that Lanzo wouldn’t speak to them, they decided to speak to Aimery, hoping he might know something about Roland being a Setite. They returned to Narses’ estate, heading for the guest quarters. As they stood outside Aimery’s quarters, they could hear the sounds of battle within. They burst through the door just in time to see Aimery jump out the window. A cloaked figure moved to follow, but Balthazar used his thaumaturgy to create a prison of water, forming shackles of water that bound the figure. Salah leapt out the window, using his celerity to quickly close the ground between him and the fleeing Aimery. Conall decided to take the long way around, heading downstairs. The cloaked figure tried to break free of the aquatic prison.
Salah effortlessly caught up with Aimery. The Ventrue begged him not to kill him. Salah assured Aimery he had no intention of killing him and was there to protect him.
Rigotto attempted to read the cloaked figure’s aura, but could tell nothing but that they were dealing with a fellow Cainite.
“Give me your blood!” Balthazar commanded, using his thaumaturgy to dehydrate the cloaked figure. “Move, and I’ll do it again.”
The figure swore in Arabic as his blood was forcibly removed from his body. He tried again to free himself, and was successful this time, diving out the window, away from the German sorcerer.
The assassin confronted Salah and Aimery. “It appears Ishaq was wrong. He said it would be simple to frame you and your infidel companions for the Serpent’s murder. I’m impressed. You’re not the disappointment I was led to believe you were.”
The Assamite attacked Aimery, the Ventrue defending himself.
Conall created the illusion of a squad of guardsmen coming to attack, surrounding the group. Seeing the fight below, Balthazar used his magic again, draining more blood from the assassin. It was clear he was weakened. Salah used the opportunity to knock the Assamite out. He considered killing the assassin, but remembered the Prince’s instructions. While the coterie considered their next move, Conall stole an Islamic amulet off the assassin’s body.
The group decided their best option was taking the assassin straight to Narses. The council was quickly gathered, so the coterie could prove their innocence. Aimery vouched for them, telling Lanzo that they were innocent. Both Ventrue were shocked by the revelation that Roland was a Setite. Rigotto suggested that the Ventrue needed to close ranks to find out how they were infiltrated. Aimery agreed.
Salah was concerned that his sire, Ishaq, had found him. He considered the possibility of changing his face, his house, and leaving Venice forever.
The evidence of Setites and Assamites threw the council into an uproar, but Guilelmo silenced the assembly. Narses pronounced that the coterie were innocent of the charges against them. They were now free to go. After Narses pronounced his verdict, Lanzo von Sachen approached them. As a man of honour, he apologized for his error in judgment. He hoped that, despite everything that had transpired, they would still support the Ventrue’s position to attack Egypt. Tommaso Brexiano overheard this apology and mocked Lanzo. He asked how anyone could still consider Egypt a fitting destination for the crusade. To do so played into the hands of the Setites. Hadn’t Lanzo learned anything? The bickering of previous nights began anew.
Guilelmo approached the coterie, asking them to follow him. He ushered them into a small side room, where Narses sat in a simple wooden chair. He smiled at the group while Guilelmo closed the door.
The arguments outside didn’t matter. The mortals had already decided the crusade’s destination: Dalmatia. The crusaders could not pay their debts to the Venetians, so they agreed to settle “a small problem” for them, as a way to set matters right. If the Cainites wished to have any influence in this crusade, they would need to follow in the mortals’ wake, not the other way.
Times were troubled. The old ways were crumbling, and a new world was waiting to be born. If Cainites were not to be swept away by it, they must be prepared. Narses offered the coterie the opportunity to follow the crusade as his eyes and ears. If they preferred to stay in Venice, Narses asked that they would do what they felt was best for the city.
The coterie was dismissed, and free to return to their havens. Before they left, Lucita of Aragon stopped Rigotto. “You’ve made a number of enemies in a short amount of time. Perhaps I can offer you a friend. You’ve crossed paths with the Venetori. My master seeks the eradication of heresy within the Church. Were you to strike against the Venetori, you would gain a powerful friend.”
Rigotto thanked her for the offer. Perhaps they’d take her up on it.
End Session 5.