Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Chapter 5: Hannibal ad Portas

With the Roman garrisons no longer encroaching on Greek lands, the Achaean League was once again ready to push the offensive and begin making designs against their enemies. The newly returned Polybius had some information that could be put to good use against the Romans, but first he had some interesting information to share with the heroes about Sirius and his medallion.

    Sirius's medallion turned out to be an artifact of some power known as Zeus's Mark and had once belonged to the demigod Hercules during his mortal life. The artifact had diminished in power somewhat, but Polybius believed that by reenacting some of Hercules's feats, the magic might be reawakened, providing power for Sirius.

    Unfortunately, the existence of the artifact could not explain the mysterious strength that Sirius had acquired during times of great duress but Polybius reassured all that the mystery would likely work itself out given time.

    The historian then told the party of a rumor he had heard while researching in the Great Library in Alexandria. Polybius had been looking up tactics used by the great generals of the past and came upon an interesting account of Hannibal Barcas. The general had spent time in Syria before his death and attended a number of lectures from a Greek philosopher, who's son later became a famous general in his own right. Polybius had reason to believe that the philosopher had taken an account of a number of Hannibal's unused tactics, which would prove a wonderful boon against the Romans.

    So, the heroes sailed to Syria and the capital city of Damascus where they got an audience with the country's tyrant Alexander Balas, a Greek, who had been made ruler by Pharaoh Ptolemy VI Philometor of Egypt as a pawn to use against the Romans. Balas confessed to the group that he didn't know of the existence of any manual written by Hannibal as the city's library burned to the ground during his battle with Demetrius I Soter, Syria's previous ruler.

    Balas did tell the heroes that he suspected that the fire in the library had been deliberately set in an attempt to hide a crime. As he explained, a local cult of worshippers of Nergal, a demonic god of the sun and destruction, had been extremely active lately, murdering his guards and setting fire to government buildings.

    What worried Balas was that the attacks made by the Nergalites were extremely precise and professional. No ordinary citizen, cultist or not, had the training necessary to outwit the guard for so long, especially with the increased security.

    Balas told the party that if the manual did still exist, it was most likely in the hands of the cult and by finding them and destroying them, they would be doing both a service to Syria and to Greece.

    So Dain, Sirius, Eonus and Roginous set out into the streets of Damascus, looking for traces of the Nergal cult. The search did not fare well, as many in the city were deathly afraid of the Nergalites. It was during this search that Eonus suffered a small breakdown and was taken by the town guards to an asylum, until he was rescued by Balas' influence.

    Finally, the heroes noticed that the Nergalites were running a protection scheme on local merchants, taking money in exchange for passing by a business while setting buildings on fire. Roginous followed one such cultist back to a warehouse by the docks and quickly summoned the others.

    Before bursting in, Dain, listening to the doors heard the heavy panting of hunting dogs and using his magic, sent a rat inside the building to get a layout of what kind of creatures lay in wait for them. Confident that the main room was only guarded by dogs, they burst open the doors and stared in the soulless eyes of a pack of hell hounds.

    Dodging gouts of flame and sharp teeth, the heroes managed to dispatch the hounds and proceeded further into the building, only to be ambushed by a pair of guards composed entirely of living flame. The elementals quickly attacked and nearly killed Sirius and advanced upon the rest of the party. In the ensuing battle, Sirius was burned horribly, most of his possessions utterly destroyed by the intense heat.

    Finally the fire elementals were destroyed and the heroes proceeded to the loft of the warehouse and right into the middle of a Nergalite worshipping service. Enraged, the cultists threw themselves into battle against the heroes, slicing at them with sharp knives, but none of them had the training in battle that the adventurers had, and all but one of them were quickly slain.

    Eonus had the last cultist trussed up and planned to use him to find the rest of the cult, and hopefully the manual as well, but the Nergalite wriggled his way from Sirius's grip and threw himself down the stairs killing himself, but not before revealing that the entire city was about to be drowned in the unholy flames of Nergal. As the heroes walked out into the night, they saw the fires and heard the cries of agony and knew that the cultist was not bluffing. The city could very well be lost among the chaos.

    As they raced towards the palace, the heroes came across a hellish lion devouring a peasant man in front of a young Greek-looking woman. They instinctively attacked the unnatural beast, putting an end to it but were surprised when she attacked as well. She introduced herself as Apnea, a travelling witch from Thessaly. Without much else in the way of introduction, they allowed the young lady to join them, if only for protection.

    And protection was needed, as they made their way to the palace, the heroes were again and again beset by demons and cultists, in one instance, saving the shop of a grateful wizard, who gave them a brace of healing potions as reward. Finally, they got to the palace, defeated the devilish guards there and made their way inside.

    The palace itself was a nightmare of blood, bodies and fire. All heroes had their hands full trying to make their way further into the massive building. Finally, they found themselves in the throne room and face to face with the cult leader.

    The man tried to evangelize the heroes of the glorious chaos that his men were spreading throughout the city, but due to Eonus's incessant taunting, finally attacked, throwing both muscle and fiery magic at the party.

    With Sirius and Roginous keeping the cultist occupied in hand-to-hand combat and Apnea, Dain and Eonus firing arrow after arrow at him, the powerful acolyte of Nergal finally fell. A quickly cast invocation of healing from Eonus kept the foul man alive long enough for the heroes to learn the location of Hannibal's manual and for the newly arrived Alexander Balas and his guards to hang the dog.

    So, with the manual in hand and their eyes to the North, the heroes looked out towards the sea and their return to Corinth.

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