Chapter #975

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2009 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "The only sure way not to do anything wrong is not to do anything."   +
+                                            - Mike Purdy, U.S. Navy SEAL +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                   CMLXXV.  The Seven Sleepers





THE LOST ISLAND OF PANAGAEA, 22 MONTHS AGO

  The able carried the wounded or unconscious to the well, and then
into its unknown depths - a tremendous risk, but it had to be taken.
It was a hectic process, as rock and dust were falling everywhere,
the floor was shaking, water was now flooding into the chamber, and
foes were everywhere.  Yet, one by one, running or limping or being
dragged, each and every member of the party made it to the well.

  Mongo sounded his horn, initiating a tremendous earthquake which,
in this underground and undersea dungeon, had dire repercussions.
The entire chamber - no, the entire ISLAND - shook violently, and
huge cracks opened in the domed chamber's walls, floor, and ceiling.
Falling rock pelted everyone; Belphanior was sure that he saw one or
two of Chargrim's party go down beneath big chunks of broken stone.
He was also sure that he saw one or two of the unstoppable beings
slowly approaching his people, affected by neither the huge chunks
of stone nor the raging torrents of water shooting into the chamber.

Mongo:  (pushes Ys' prone form the rest of the way into the well, and
  gets ready to grab Jutokai and toss him in)  Okay, let's go!
Belphanior:  You first - I've got to stay and close the portal!
Mongo:  But how will you follow us?
Belphanior:  Wasn't planning on it - once it's closed, the way to
  wherever it was opened to is lost...gone forever!  And someone's
  got to make sure we're not followed.
Mongo:  Fuck that!  (he whirls about angrily)  There's got to be a
  better way-
Belphanior:  (as Mongo's back is turned, he reaches out and pushes
  the dwarf hard, knocking him into the well)
Mongo:  What-  (he vanishes from sight)
Belphanior:  No more sacrifices for my sake-
Jutokai:  (still lying on the floor, he suddenly kicks out with both
  feet, pushing Belphanior into the well)
Belphanior:  Hey-  (he also vanishes from sight)
Jutokai:  Two can play that game, and I learned from the best.

  The archer was gravely wounded, badly burned by Chargrim's fireball.
He could barely see, as one of his eyes had burst and the other was
hazy at best.  His right arm had been reduced to little more than a
burnt stick, his blackened skin split open in numerous places.  Though
unconscious for the entire battle to this point, he had been revived -
barely - while being dragged over to the well.  He'd heard enough of
Belphanior and Mongo's conversation to know what was going on...and
to act.

  He lifted his head as high as he could and looked around.  It was
impossible to make out much of either the Crimson Blades or the
occupants of the fifth, sixth, and seventh coffins, though one dark
form was vaguely visible near the pedestal, as was something else that
defied description.  The latter, whatever it was, was moving toward
Jutokai and the well, a palpable aura of menace preceding it.

Jutokai:  (summoning the last of his fading strength, he desperately
  reaches out with his good arm and grabs the well's edge, pulling it
  and closing the portal, in the process raking his open wounds over
  the rough stone)  AAARGH!

  The item was now just a piece of cloth, and the exact destination
of Belphanior and the rest was lost forever, eliminating any chance
of pursuit - or escape.

Jutokai:  (coughing blood and gasping for breath)  Ugh...

  The archer's last thought as the horrifying apparition approached
was that he'd really done all that he wanted to do in his life, and
had ended it in the best possible way for any warrior:  on his own
terms.

Jutokai:  (nearly blind, in terrible pain, and dying)  I win.

  And then, the entire tomb came crashing down, burying everyone and
everything within.





THE SUNKEN PANAGAEA SITE, WITHIN THE SOLNOR OCEAN, 21 MONTHS AGO

  Far, far beneath the surface, amidst the utter darkness of the deep,
something stirred on the ocean floor.  No light reached these depths,
and little could survive here.
  The rubble field was widespread, the remnant of a great battle which
had caused much destruction.  The fabled island, sustained for countless
ages by magical forces, would never rise to the surface again.  And yet,
something stirred beneath the undersea ruins.  A small pebble, dislodged
by some slight, imperceptible motion beneath, fell from the top of a heap
of rocks.  Moments later, another slightly larger rock rolled suddenly
to one side.  Thick muck rose from the disturbed area as more rocks were
pushed aside by some great and sinister force beneath the rubble.  A
passing deep-sea fish, long and thick-scaled and utterly alien in shape
and appearance, instinctively altered its course to avoid the field of
rubble, its heightened senses and survival instinct warning it of some
impending danger.
  Suddenly, an armored fist punched through the loose rocks, dislodging
rubble and mud and churning the water as it broke free!





THE BOTTOM OF THE SOLNOR OCEAN, 20 MONTHS AGO

  The seven forms moved through the ocean, walking along the floor.  The
passage of time had no meaning for them; neither the rigors of the depths
nor the hazards of its dwellers had any effect on them.  Smaller sea life
either got out of their way or perished.  Larger sea life typically just
perished.  The travelers were sustained by ancient, eldritch forces that
were more than proof against the pressure, cold, or flora of the ocean
floor.  Sometimes they marched along a solid, rocky surface; other times
they plodded through soft mud and silt.  Regardless, nothing stopped them.





THE BOTTOM OF THE SOLNOR OCEAN, 18 MONTHS AGO

  The beings from Panagaea approached a gigantic chasm in the ocean's
floor.  The drop-off was extreme, the rock beneath their feet simply
ending, the edge of a great underwater valley.  This obstacle did not
daunt them in the least; they simply entered the chasm, dropping into
the greater depths of the icy blackness.





THE BOTTOM OF THE SOLNOR OCEAN, 16 MONTHS AGO

  The gigantic, tentacled beast cut through the ocean deeps like a bolt,
headed toward the disturbance it had sensed in its domain.  Incredibly
huge and ancient, the kraken was the undisputed master of this dark reach
of the ocean floor, and had been for a long, long time.  Intelligent and
evil, it was compelled to investigate intruders - especially ones that
had frightened away the lesser sea creatures over which the kraken held
sway.
  The black depths here were no deterrent to the monster's senses, and so
it was aware of the prey - multiple, powerful prey - as it neared them.
These were no ocean dwellers...no, they appeared to be surface folk, who
were simply _walking_ along the bottom of the ocean floor.  This affront
was simply not tolerable, and the kraken moved toward the strange beings
with menacing intent, its many thick tentacles flexing in anticipation.
Those tentacles had crushed great warships, torn apart whales, and defied
the fanged jaws of great sharks.  It never occurred to the sea monster
that it was about to face something far more dangerous than any of those.
  In a matter of minutes, the great kraken was no more, its body savaged
and mangled, left behind as food for all the ocean creatures over which
it had ruled until today.
  And the seven beings from Panagaea continued their slow but inexorable
march westward.





THE BOTTOM OF THE SOLNOR OCEAN, 13 MONTHS AGO

  At the far (west) side of the colossal underwater chasm, the silt was
disturbed suddenly as seven forms emerged from the great crevasse.  There
was no pause, no delay of any kind; they simply continued their tireless
march westward, toward the faraway shores of Aerdy.





THE BOTTOM OF THE SOLNOR OCEAN, 9 MONTHS AGO

  In the undersea travelers' path was a huge, derelict hulk - a sunken
treasure galleon of great size and immense weight.  More than two hundred
years ago, the ship had been rolled, breached, and sunk by a terrible
storm.  All hands had been lost, along with dozens of chests of gold and
silver coins on the way from one kingdom to another.  The tilted wreck
of the galleon was rotted in the thinner parts, but most of it was thick
and sturdy wood, which had not yet succumbed to the ocean depths.
  As the seven marched along the ocean floor, one of them very subtly
moved into the lead.  Ten feet tall and rather broad, it was an armored
juggernaut, fully clad from head to toe in plate mail armor.  The past
year spent deep underwater had somehow, inexplicably done nothing to mar
the bright red color of this fearsome armor.  In its right hand, the
massive figure held a huge ten-foot sword.
  Neither this titan nor the six beings that followed it made any move
to circumnavigate the shipwreck.  Instead, the figure walked right up to
the dead hulk of the sunken ship...and smashed through its hull with one
sweep of an armored fist!  Shards of waterlogged wood floated this way
and that, and the creature simply walked _through_ the wrecked galleon,
clearing a path as it went.  Along with chunks and splinters of wood were
spilled thousands of coins, a fortune in treasure...which was completely
ignored by the seven beings as they made their way through the sunken
ship.  When they had passed by, the massive galleon was nearly broken in
two...and simply because these beings had not deigned to go around or
over the obstacle, but rather right through it.





THE BOTTOM OF THE SOLNOR OCEAN, 5 MONTHS AGO

  The septet of beings departed the undersea city, leaving only death
and destruction in their wake.  What had once been a majestic series of
shell buildings and coral towers was now largely destroyed, and strewn
about were the corpses of hundreds of mer-men.  Some were hacked to bits
or smashed into pulp.  Others were rotted and decayed, ravaged by foul
diseases beyond comprehension.  Yet other mer-men had been reduced to
withered, emaciated, dead husks that bore little resemblance to their
former, living, healthy selves.  And still other victims simply no longer
existed, having been utterly vaporized.  Not a single denizen of the
once-proud city remained alive...a grim testament to the evil purpose
of these seven beings.





THE SOLNOR OCEAN, SEVERAL DAYS' SAILING TIME FROM THE COAST OF AERDY
ONE MONTH AGO

  The fishing trawler was anchored in place, its crew working hard to
pull up their nets.  Out here, a fair distance from the coasts, the fish
were always more plentiful, and varied, and larger, for those who had
the proper equipment and were willing to risk the more turbulent waters.
This was doubly so in the frigid winter; with less in the way of crops,
people were more receptive to eating seafood.  The risk was greater - ice
coated the ship's exterior surfaces, and a slip of the hand while manning
the nets and ropes could be deadly.  Still, every man aboard this boat
was willing to work harder in the miserable weather for the money their
efforts would generate.

first mate:  What's the problem with that net, boys?
crewman:  It's stuck!
second crewman:  Or filled with too much fish!
first mate:  Bullcrap.  (he walks over and grabs one rope, checking its
  threading into the winch)  Let me-

  Suddenly, the rope was pulled from beneath the ocean's surface, hard.
Ten feet of the thick rope vanished into the cold, choppy water...and
then another five feet.

first mate:  What the hell?
crewman:  Maybe it's a shark or some-

  The rope was pulled again, and this time it didn't stop, but whizzed
through the winch and into the water fast enough to inflict rope burns
on those still trying to hold onto it.  As the startled crewmen backed
away and cursed and wondered aloud what was happening, the rope ran out
of slack...and continued to be pulled from far beneath the boat!  The
sheer force tipped the boat slightly, until the winch broke loose from
its fastenings and tumbled into the water.  Left behind were splintered
sections of deck, a ship now lacking its winch, and about twenty very
puzzled fishermen.
  Had they known what lurked in the depths far below their boat, they
would have considered themselves fortunate to survive this day.





THE AERDIAN COASTAL TOWN OF DALNIN, ABOUT FIFTY LEAGUES SOUTH OF ATIRR
THREE WEEKS AGO

  There was but one topic of conversation lately, in this small fishing
town:  the unusually low yields of fish from the ocean.  This had never
happened before; not only was it affecting the town's livelihood, but
it was a mystery that bothered folk who'd spent their entire lives in
the ocean without seeing anything like this.  The city's few wizards and
priests couldn't reach a consensus, despite their magic - they all knew
that _something_ was happening out there in the ocean to the east, but
none of them could explain exactly what it was.
  Though none of them knew it, they would soon find out, much to their
sorrow.





THE CITY OF BADWALL, WITHIN THE WILD COAST
NOW

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Neera          11th level female human sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          2/1/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         the city of Badwall, within the Wild Coast             +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



  Belphanior was not pleased.  After several hours spent roaming this
city and searching for certain scrolls, spell components, and other
miscellany, he'd only found a fraction of the items he'd sought.

Otto:  Maybe we'd have had better luck if the goal had been to recruit
  some new manpower.
Belphanior:  Nah.  You've always done a good job with that in the past,
  but I like things the way they are.  Besides, there's no more room in
  the sky castle.
Otto:  True.
Belphanior:  (sighs)  This city - though I love it dearly, like many of
  the cities in the Wild Coast - is no Greyhawk.  I guess if you want the
  best, you have to go there.
Otto:  We already went there yesterday, though, to give Mongo that helm.
Belphanior:  Yeah.

  The two companions, along with Neera and Hope, had made this journey.
Those latter two had gone off in search of their own supplies, mostly for
Hope's spellcasting and spellbook needs.  The secondary purpose of this
trip (re-stocking on food and drink for the sky castle) had already been
accomplished.  Much like the hideout in the Pelisso Swamp, the sky castle
lacked the ability to produce its own food, and so it was necessary to go
out into the world fairly often to procure these items.  On the bright
side, although this was somewhat of a chore, the group always had fresh
foodstuffs and libations, which was nice.
  After they regrouped and took stock of things, it was time to leave
the city.

Hope:  (staring at Badwall in the distance)  So this is what you do every
  time - just teleport to the wilderness outside a city or town, go in on
  foot, then reverse the process when it's time to leave?
Neera:  Pretty much.  Why?
Hope:  Just wondering if there might be a better way.
Otto:  Well, occasionally we swoop in from above, with fireballs and
  lightning bolts, but that's only in special circumstances.  And once,
  we even dropped a golem from a great height to announce our arrival.
Hope:  That...sounds like fun.
Belphanior:  It was-  (he whirls, drawing his sword)  We have a visitor.

  Blackrazor sensed souls at a range of about sixty feet; before there
was time to worry about who or where the soul in question was, it became
obvious...

tall man in gray cloak:  (strides purposefully toward the group)

  The newcomer was tall and lean; a longsword was buckled at his side,
and there was no doubt that he knew how to use it.  A long gray cloak
billowed behind him as he walked; it (and his other clothes) bore the
signs of much travel and use.  The man's gaunt, hawkish face was set in
an angry grimace.

Belphanior:  Who the hell are you?
tall man:  (now about thirty feet away, he draws a thin longsword and
  keeps coming)
Otto:  (having readied his crossbow at the first sign of trouble)  Want
  me to-
Belphanior:  (nods)  Drop him.

  Otto raised, aimed, and fired his weapon in one smooth motion; the
bolt whizzed through the air, a precise shot right at the foe's neck.
The tall man's sword-arm moved suddenly, the weapon a blur...and Otto's
bolt was knocked aside!

Otto:  Whoa.
Neera:  Damn, that was fast.
Hope:  I could blast him with a-
Belphanior:  (looking around wildly, he whirls and draws his sword)  We
  have more visitors...about a dozen.
Hope:  (still amazed at all of these little things she's been learning
  about the group and their capabilities)

  The dozen other foes showed themselves as they rose from hidden ambush
positions and fired.  They were human bandit-types and it seemed that
they'd been hiding in the grass waiting for their victims.  They were
also fairly experienced at this sort of thing, judging from the fact
that the first arrow was aimed at Belphanior, who presumably looked the
most dangerous.  That missile grazed the elf's side, tearing a hole in
his cloak and a gash in his side.

Belphanior:  Argh!

  In a surprising turn of events, the next arrow flew at the tall man
in the gray cloak.  Having turned to face the new attackers, he knocked
the missile aside with his sword, just like he'd done with Otto's bolt.

tall man:  (regards the bandits contemptuously)
Belphanior:  (speaking aloud)  Well, I guess he's _not_ the leader of
  these archers, or even their ally.

  The next arrows were fired at the other adventurers, with much less
effective results than the one that had hit Belphanior.  Neera's brooch
deflected an arrow meant for her, while another missile glanced away
from Otto's armor.  Hope had hit the ground early on and thus prevented
herself from being a clear target.  Otto's armor stopped several arrows,
while another pierced his arm - a wound that didn't appear to slow the
dwarf much at all as he plied his crossbow yet again.

Otto:  (having sighted one of the attackers, he fires a bolt before the
  man can duck, catching him in the shoulder)
Hope:  Will that kill him?
Otto:  Maybe, maybe not, but it doesn't matter.  My bolts are all coated
  with poison.
Hope:  Oh.

  Neera's response to the attack was a Fast Magic Missile, actually five
of them; they each sought out and hit a different attacker, buying the
group a little time.  Belphanior made full use of that time, using his
ring's stored spells to make a great leap over and behind several of the
attackers.

Belphanior:  (sword flashing, he goes to work)

  Ignoring the cries of the maimed and dying, the others continued to
turn the tide of battle.  Otto had already fired and missed at a second
attacker, though a third underestimated the dwarf's reloading speed and
paid a painful price shortly thereafter.  Neera had taken out four of
the foes with a cone of flame, while Hope had knocked several more to
the ground with a powerful gust of wind.  Belphanior was quick to slay
any foes near him, and he was quite efficient at this task.
  Soon, it was all over, another case of hostile, cowardly predators
making a terribly incorrect assumption about their intended prey.

Hope:  Are any of them left alive?
Otto:  (stabs a wounded bandit, finishing him)  No.
Neera:  (offhandedly)  Well, we're nothing if not efficient.
Belphanior:  (thinking to himself that this was a good fight, because
  Blackrazor hadn't been "fed" in a while)  Ahh.
Hope:  (looking around, fists still clenched)
Otto:  You okay?
Hope:  Oh, I'm fine.
Belphanior:  There's nothing to be upset about.  Remember that they
  fired on us first...hell, if not for Blackrazor, we might have been
  hurt, or dead.
Hope:  I said I'm fine.  (angrily)  After all, they tried to kill us.
  They got exactly what they deserved.  And I have no problem with that.
Belphanior:  Well, you did great in the fight.  That was some quick and
  skillful magic.
Otto:  Is anyone hurt?
Neera:  Not me.
Hope:  I'm unharmed.  (to Belphanior)  What about you?  That was a nasty
  hit you took from that arrow.
Belphanior:  (checks the now-healed slice along his side)  It _was_.
Otto:  I hate to break up this little party, but we've got another
  problem to worry about.

  He was pointing to the tall, cloaked man, who was stepping over the
corpse of a bandit he'd slain, sword in hand, his apparent intent still
to engage the adventurers in battle.

Belphanior:  You!  Stop!

  Normally, the elf would simply attack and slay such an apparent foe.
However, the tall man's obvious lack of association with the bandits,
coupled with the simple mystery of who he was and why he wished to fight
the group, had piqued Belphanior's curiosity.  If some greater enemy -
known or unknown - was at work, the elf wanted to know all about it.  If
simple parlay didn't work, he was certain that he could utilize the
hourglass of Kronos before the tall fellow was able to actually attack
any of them.  There was no reason not to at least attempt a parley.

Belphanior:  Wait just one moment here!  Who the hell are you, and why
  are you attacking us?
tall man:  (stops advancing, now staring at the elf incredulously)  You
  have doomed your world - YOUR ENTIRE WORLD - through your stupidity,
  and you ask me this?
Belphanior:  (almost flings up his hands, incredulous)  I truly have no
  idea what you're talking about, but now I'd really like to know.  (he
  frowns)  Would you care to explain, with words instead of a sword?
tall man:  Very well.  (he sheathes his sword and approaches the group,
  taking a seat on a small hill)

  As noted before, the fellow was tall and lean, with a build and gait
that suggested a potent combination of strength and speed.  The finely-
worked longsword at his side was sheathed in a worn scabbard, and his
other garments spoke of a great deal of traveling wear and tear.  Just
from looking at the newcomer, Belphanior could sense the enchantments
of multiple, powerful magical items worn or carried by the man.  His
face was gaunt, framed by straight grayish-black hair of medium length,
and his steely eyes were like chips of black stone.

Belphanior:  I'm guessing you're a man who's fought in many battles,
  and ended his share of lives.
tall man:  You have no idea.  I am Atun-Asim Ini-Herit.  (he notes the
  puzzled looks on the others' faces)  Perhaps it would be best if you
  simply called me Atun.
Belphanior:  If you say so.  (he regards the other)  What's this about
  us dooming the world?
Atun:  Have you ever heard the parable about the secret box of wonders?
  No?  Well, it goes something like this:  the gods gathered a number of
  things both wondrous and terrible and secreted them in a box, and on
  the box they put a warning against ever opening it and freeing all the
  evils within.  Whatever the version of this tale, it always ends the
  same way:  some fool cannot resist the lure of the treasures inside the
  box, so they find it and open it and end up unleashing horrible things
  into the world.
Belphanior:  How does this relate to us?
Atun:  You were there.  You opened the box, so to speak.  A remote
  island...a lost civilization...a great treasure...
Neera:  Panagaea?
Atun:  Yes.  Ages ago, when the Emperor Hyperion's power was at its
  peak, he imprisoned seven powerful beings from elsewhere.  They were
  harmful and evil in nature, demigods or perhaps even primal forces...
  war...disease...famine...fear...insanity...age...death.
Neera:  (startled)  Seven?!?
Belphanior:  (holds up a hand)  Shh.
Atun:  Hyperion had amassed a treasure hoard unlike no other, and the
  tomb he built to hold this vast fortune was both massive and well-
  guarded.  However, his final defense was intended to prevent looters
  from enjoying the fruits of their labors.  (he pauses)  Seven coffins,
  seven mighty beings, seven ills in tangible form...the Seven Sleepers.
  Imprisoning them took an inordinate amount of power and resources, but
  this did not stop Hyperion, because he wanted the ultimate wards to
  protect the ultimate treasure.  Broaching the last of Panagaea's many
  treasure chambers was a death sentence, as doing so would cause the
  coffins to free their imprisoned occupants.
Belphanior:  This part, we know.  But we defeated those things-
Atun:  (shakes his head)  No.  You fought them...escaped them...but what
  then?
Belphanior:  We fled, and they were buried underwater, amidst the rubble
  from the collapsed dungeon.
Atun:  Indeed.  Unfortunately for your world now, the Seven Sleepers
  cannot be destroyed by such methods...nor can they remain trapped
  forever.  (he looks around at each of the adventurers)  They are now
  free, and they will soon reach land...and when they do, it will mark
  the beginning of the end of your world.
Belphanior:  Are they that dangerous?  Don't get me wrong, I remember
  them being tough foes in direct battle, but how can seven beings -
  even powerful ones - pose a threat to the entire _world_?
Atun:  Any previous experience you had with the Seven Sleepers was
  simply a battle with physical foes.  Their true power lies in their
  ability to adversely affect large numbers of people.  The diseased
  one, for example, can spread some dire illness to a handful of people
  who will each then inadvertently spread the pestilence to another
  handful of people...and so on.  The emaciated being is starvation
  personified, and the more people who it inflicts its famine upon,
  the stronger and wider the effect.  It _feeds_ on the decayed fruits
  of its labors.  Another example...the red-armored being is the very
  essence of war and strife, in a physical form, and its mere presence
  will cause fury and discord among those nearby.  The more people feel
  this effect, the stronger the effect becomes...and the greater its
  radius of influence.  (he sighs)  And so on.
Neera:  (in awe)  So they have farther-ranging powers in addition to
  what they exhibited in smaller-scale battle...
Atun:  (nods)  These seven beings, which represent the significant ills
  of life, were meant to ravage worlds.  This is why the gods kept them
  far from Oerth, or any inhabited place.  Hyperion, at the peak of his
  might, was able to gather and imprison them, but his intention was
  never to keep them captive forever.  And the death sentence I spoke
  of - punishment for finding and taking the riches of Panagaea - wasn't
  intended just for the robbers...but for the entire world.
Belphanior:  (truly impressed)  Wow.
Hope:  (wondering exactly what happened, as she wasn't around for the
  events being discussed)
Neera:  Now wait just one moment...this is insane!  Why in the hell
  would someone capture and imprison destructive forces such as this,
  to be inevitably found and released at some point in the future?
Atun:  Pride, or insanity, depending upon how you view it.  Hyperion
  considered himself - rather accurately, actually - successful in
  conquering many lands and amassing their treasures, and ushering
  in a time of great prosperity.  After this had been achieved, there
  was little else to prove, and Hyperion's outlook changed as he grew
  older and faced his own mortality.  To his way of thinking, a world
  of the future that was corrupt enough to locate and plunder Panagaea's
  lost riches...did not deserve to survive.
Neera:  Why does none of this appear in the lore and history of the
  world?   Surely I'd have come across some mention of it during all
  my research on Panagaea, before we journeyed there.
Atun:  (crosses his arms)  The Seven Sleepers _do_ appear throughout
  history, with different names, and not all together.  You just have
  to know where to look, and what you're looking for...and nobody does.
  At least, nobody born in the last couple thousand years.  As for the
  motives of Hyperion, they were secret then, and have been secret ever
  since.  Until today, no one else has known any of this.
Belphanior:  But you do?
Otto:  That's a good point.  How is it that you know so much about all
  of this?
Atun:  After Hyperion built the tomb, imprisoned the Sleepers, and died,
  the few magi and priests who knew the secret spent many moons trying
  to learn whether it was possible to undo Hyperion's actions without
  risking utter doom for civilization.  After much effort, they realized
  that tampering with the Sleepers, or even the treasure room, would be
  impossible.  Thus, they instead turned their attention to preparedness
  in the event that the tomb was violated and the Sleepers freed.  (he
  clenches his jaw grimly)  That was almost ten thousand years ago; all
  this knowledge has been passed on to me, and I bear the responsibility
  for acting upon it.  I am the last Guardian of Panagaea, and now you
  know what you have done.
Belphanior:  This is ridiculous!  We didn't _mean_ to...how the hell
  could we have known?
Atun:  Maybe the dozen warnings you chose to ignore in your singleminded
  pursuit of the treasure.
Belphanior:  (holds up his hands)  Okay, okay.  Putting aside the issue
  of what's happened and who's to blame, let me ask you:  why are you
  here telling us all of this?  Do you intend to slay us as revenge for
  these Sleepers now roaming free?  Or are you here to help us _solve_
  the problem?
Atun:  (pauses)  Fighting you would actually serve no purpose.  Point.
  But I'm not certain that the Sleepers _can_ be stopped.
Belphanior:  No problem is unsolvable, especially not with the fate of
  the world at stake.  Help us figure out what to do - using all your
  knowledge about these seven beings - and I assure you, we will do
  everything within our power to stop them.  And we can get some fairly
  powerful help to bolster our strength.
Atun:  (nods, though hesitantly)
Belphanior:  It's your world too - or once was.  Help us save it.  (he
  extends his hand)  What do you say?
Atun:  (clasps the elf's hand)  Agreed.





  Things moved pretty rapidly after that.  The group - and their strange
guest - returned to the sky castle.  Under instructions from Belphanior,
the other three who had heard Atun's tale refrained from sharing it...

Neera:  Because you don't want to deal with it tonight?
Belpahnior:  Exactly.  I already know that I won't sleep tonight, but
  there's no use in inflicting that upon everyone.  We need to be sharp
  tomorrow.
Neera:  You can't sleep because you feel guilty?
Belphanior:  No.  I can't sleep because I have too much planning to do,
  to come up with a way to solve this problem.

  They were, of course, in their private suite having this discussion.
Atun had been quartered in one of the guest rooms on the second floor,
Neera having to explain to Jenna (and eventually the others) that the
time for questions wasn't now.  Otto had locked himself in his room with
the stated intention of getting drunk on a bottle of rare, potent ale
that he'd been saving for a special occasion.

Neera:  I suppose it's not every day that you learn you were partially
  responsible for a threat that could ravage the world.
Belphanior:  The way I see it, the long-dead Hyperion is actually the
  one _responsible_ for this.  We just happened to be the ones to hasten
  the inevitable.
Neera:  Quite possibly.
Belphanior:  It is amazing, though, just how long ago all of this was
  set into motion.
Neera:  The hints have been there all along..."as legendary as any
  legend anyone's ever heard"..."before recorded history"..."stood for
  millennia"..."the greatest challenge is surviving its defenses and
  defenders"..."some secrets should remain secrets"...
Belphanior:  To hell with Hyperion.  Anyone who amasses the greatest
  treasure hoard in existence and sets things up so that the finding
  of that treasure triggers the end of the world...well, I'm not very
  impressed.
Neera:  The man was clearly insane.  That probably tends to happen when
  you approach godlike power.
Belphanior:  Anyway, I have to figure out what we're going to do.  And
  that will take all night.  I couldn't sleep even if I wanted to.
Neera:  Do you need a potion of vitality or something similar, to keep
  you coherent and awake?
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  I'm still invigorated from the outcome
  of the battle with those bandits.  I'll be fine.
Neera:  Very well.  I'd help you, except that I don't have anything to
  research.  Atun is the key here - we need to know what he knows.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I'd rather have everyone present when we discuss
  this...and that means tomorrow.  We need clear heads for this, and I
  let everyone know that we'd be having an important meeting in the
  morning.





+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Jenna          9th level female human priestess of Istus              +
+   Neera          11th level female human sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Atun           tall, lean warrior and descendant of Panagaea          +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          2/2/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the sky castle, in the clouds above Oerth's surface    +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





Atun:  -and that, I'm afraid, is the problem now facing you.
Ys:  That...is an amazing story.
Jenna:  (nods)  Wow.  Just...wow.
Skektek:  (silent for once, as he is overwhelmed by these revelations)
Razor Charlie:  (cracks his knuckles)
Belphanior:  So that's what's going on.  Sometime soon, these seven
  beings are going to come ashore in the eastern regions of the Great
  Kingdom, and wreak havoc there.
Skektek:  That would be no big loss.
Ys:  (to Skektek)  Isn't that your homeland?
Skektek:  Yes, but I'm not especially attached to it...never have been.
Belphanior:  While carnage in Aerdy might not be a bad thing, it seems
  that said carnage will eventually spread to other lands, the next in
  line I suppose.  Bone March...the Pale...Nyrond.
Atun:  It will get bad...very bad, very fast.
Jenna:  (wondering why she's received no premonitions at all from her
  goddess, Istus, about this)
Skektek:  So we have two choices:  one, we do nothing, pretend like we
  didn't know anything was going to happen, and let someone else deal
  with it.
Ys:  Or two, we take responsibility, address the problem immediately,
  and act while we still have more time and options.
Belphanior:  Yup.  Those are the choices.
Skektek:  It's too bad we can't let these things destroy the Great
  Kingdom, and _then_ stop them.
Atun:  It's not like that.  Once this begins, every passing day will
  make it harder to stop.
Otto:  Hell, can we even stop them?
Belphanior:  That is the question of the day, and one I didn't want to
  address until all of you were here.  (he turns to Atun)  So what about
  it?  You seem to know everything about these Sleepers...so tell us how
  they can be destroyed?
Atun:  They can't be _destroyed_...only defeated.  Contained, to be more
  accurate.  (he sighs)  These are beings of great age and power, from
  another plane of existence.
Neera:  Hyperion brought them here, and imprisoned them for millennia.
  That means they _can_ be bested, yes?
Atun:  (nods wearily)  They can, but it won't be easy.  Don't you think
  I've considered that already?
Belphanior:  Enough of this.  (angrily)  Time is wasting, so let's get
  to the point:  what will it take to stop these creatures?
Atun:  Their powers are negated by an extra-planar metal from their own
  world.  This alien ore was exceedingly difficult to obtain, but with
  a great deal of effort and persistence, Hyperion was able to gather
  enough of it to forge a sword and place mighty enchantments upon the
  item.  It was this unique weapon that allowed him to defeat and confine
  the Sleepers.
Skektek:  Great!  So we just find the sword and take care of business.
Atun:  (shakes his head)  When the Tomb was finally sealed, it was deemed
  best for the sword to be safeguarded elsewhere.
Otto:  I don't like the sound of that.
Atun:  Years became decades, and decades became centuries, and the sword
  changed hands many times, was eventually stolen, and then lost.  When
  it was found again, an evil and ambitious archmage named Oswig decided
  to melt it down.
Belphanior:  Great.  Just fucking great.
Atun:  Even so, that individual must have had some shred of understanding
  about the weapon's origin and purpose, because the remains of the sword
  were used to create seven crowns.  The purpose of this deed has long
  been lost to history, but my speculation would be that Oswig's idea was
  to use the crowns to control the Sleepers.
Neera:  (incredulous)  Was the wizard planning to find the lost tomb and
  wake them up?
Atun:  Quite possibly, and attempt to control them too.  Each crown was
  a vastly powerful device of imprisonment tailored to a specific victim,
  a specific Sleeper to be exact.  When placed upon the corresponding
  Sleeper's brow by a brave soul, each of these crowns would neutralize
  that Sleeper.
Neera:  Brave soul?
Atun:  I mean that literally - a person has to _use_ the crowns or their
  enchantment doesn't function.
Neera:  So much for telekinesis, then.
Belphanior:  Did this plan ever work?
Atun:  Oswig never got the chance to test them.  Certain parties didn't
  want to risk the Sleepers being found and unleashed, so Oswig was
  assassinated and the crowns stolen.
Otto:  This just gets better and better.
Skektek:  Really, what's next?  Each crown got scattered to the ends of
  the world, buried within some vast dungeon and guarded by gods-know-
  what?
Atun:  Oh, no.  Actually, they are all together in one place, or at least
  they were the last time anyone saw them.
Belphanior:  Nice.  This should be easy, then.
Atun:  Not likely.  The crowns are in a safe, well-protected location...
  one which as far as I can tell is the most secure place that exists.
  They currently reside within the Vault of Greyhawk.
Belphanior:  (frowns)  Fuck.





+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+                                                                         +
+   Peldor         20th level human, Greyhawk Guildmaster of Thieves      +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          2/2/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         the Green Dragon Inn, within the Free City of Greyhawk +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





Peldor:  That _is_ bad news.  At least for the Great Kingdom.
Belphanior:  This is no joke.
Peldor:  And why are these ancient crowns hidden within Greyhawk's vaults
  anyway?
Belphanior:  Atun didn't know that - he just knew they were in there.  I
  get the impression he's been tracking them down for quite some time.
Peldor:  (shaking his head)  I'm not sure I buy it.  Who is this guy?
  Can you really believe his story?
Belphanior:  About as much as I can believe in the existence of a group
  of insanely powerful beings, guarding a long-lost tomb full of untold
  treasure, on an island that only rises from the ocean depths when the
  stars are aligned just right.
Peldor:  Point taken.
Belphanior:  We saw these things.  We _fought_ them.  They're real, and
  we didn't destroy them, and that means Atun's story is probably true.

  Actually, before the elf had departed the sky castle, he'd consulted
Jenna, who had prayed and communed and called upon the wisdom of her
goddess Istus.  As far as it was possible to tell, Atun had spoken the
truth.  That had been enough for Belphanior to proceed to Greyhawk with
all due haste, as he had.

Belphanior:  As a matter of fact, my priestess is convinced that Atun's
  on the level.
Peldor:  (sighs, and leans back in his chair)  This could be trouble.
Belphanior:  So Greyhawk's vault is no trivial matter?
Peldor:  No, it's not.  It houses the city's treasury...all of its liquid
  capital, the money used to conduct the larger business that keeps the
  city functioning.  What very few people know is that a _second_ vault
  lies next to the first; the idea was to keep magical items isolated
  from the actual money.
Belphanior:  I see.
Peldor:  And what no one knows is exactly how the whole thing was built,
  the layout of the vaults, and so forth.  Even if you _did_ know, you'd
  never break in.  It was designed to be impregnable, through a unique
  and formidable combination of physical barriers, complex locks, and
  magical defenses.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Peldor:  And then assume you actually _were_ successful in breaking into
  the place to get these crowns.  The result would be chaos.  Nobody's
  ever done that before.  If people learned that the Free City's funds
  weren't secure, the local economy could collapse.
Belphanior:  I'd lose my own investments then, too-
Peldor:  That's not the point!  (he pauses)  Damn, just TALKING about all
  of this could be considered treason!  Treason in Greyhawk is a capital
  offense.  I could lose everything I've worked for years to build.  It's
  my whole life...my family.  You have to understand.  (he eyes the elf)
  I just can't help you with this.
Belphanior:  I wasn't really asking you to.
Otto:  So let's review the options.  One, we find a way to break into the
  vault quietly.  This would involve mining and drilling from beneath, a
  lot of physical work if you figure we couldn't use magic.
Belphanior:  Two, the direct approach.  We go right in the front door,
  move fast, find what we need quickly, and get the hell out.
Peldor:  You mean _hope_ that you find what you need quickly, before the
  forces of an entire city descend upon you.
Otto:  Three, we find whoever has the keys and kidnap them, and force
  them to let us in, or go get what we need.
Belphanior:  Complicated...but it could save time and avoid destruction
  and bloodshed.
Peldor:  (muttering)  I can't believe I'm still sitting here listening to
  this.
Otto:  These methods all have their own pros and cons.  Hard to say which
  is best, though.
Peldor:  There is a fourth option:  we talk to those in power in Greyhawk
  and ask for their help.
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  I don't like that idea much at all.
Peldor:  Why?  More than a few of the Oligarchs and other powers-that-be
  here would understand the greater problem and threat, and would agree
  to take the crowns from the vault.  I mean, if they're really in there,
  they are city property.
Belphanior:  And if these people refuse...then they'll know we need the
  crowns, and be ready for an attempt to crack the vault.  Alerting them
  isn't a good idea - if they don't go for it, then everything becomes
  far more difficult for us.
Peldor:  For _you_.  (sighs)  I can't talk about this anymore.  The less
  I know, the better - for me and for you.
Belphanior:  Understood.  I really just wanted to run the problem and its
  possible solutions by you.
Peldor:  I wish you luck.  And if all of this is true, I wish the world
  luck.

  Shortly thereafter, Belphanior and Otto conversed in a corner of some
nameless, seedy tavern...

Otto:  I didn't really think he'd be of much help.
Belphanior:  He was, in his own way.  Just by talking to him, we learned
  some things about the vault and the risks.  The question is, what do we
  do now...how do we breach the place?
Otto:  Maybe you should bring in some help...Parekh, Pallin, someone like
  that?
Belphanior:  (frowns)  I'm considering that.  On one hand, I hate to get
  help for this - and possibly lose control of the situation - but if we
  don't stop these beings early, we're going to lose control anyway.
Otto:  Not to mention that we'll need a lot more power than just our
  crew, to take on _seven_ of those things.  Hell, last time it was us
  and those Crimson Blades people and even then, nobody could defeat
  just one of the Sleepers.
Belphanior:  I'm afraid you're right.  The question is, do we recruit
  help before or after we acquire the crowns?
Otto:  Hmm.
Belphanior:  But before we look into that, we need to do some scouting
  in preparation for possibly breaking into the vault.
Otto:  Possibly?  But I thought-
Belphanior:  I'm not bound and determined just yet.  Let's see what we
  can learn...

  The rest of the day was spent analyzing the problem from every angle,
gathering information as only expert thieves were able to do.  The city
vault lay beneath the prison blockhouse, which was found within the
Grand Citadel - a mighty, walled section of Greyhawk that rested atop
a low rise, and butted up against part of the city's outer wall.  Within
the Citadel were housed the city's prison, the majority of its more elite
fighting force, the offices of high-ranking city personnel like Sental
Nurev and Derider Fanshaen...and of course, the city vault itself.  About
this, little was known - there weren't exactly publicly-accessible plans
or people who could be interviewed on the subject.  Belphanior concluded
that the actual vault itself was likely constructed with massively thick
walls, perhaps lined with lead to deter magical entry.  It was also very
likely that some sort of powerful anti-magic effect or device existed
somewhere within, which meant that they had to count on only physical
prowess after a certain point.

Otto:  This isn't going to be easy.  A job like this really needs more
  time to plan.
Belphanior:  We don't have a lot of time.



  Unbeknownst to the pair of veteran thieves, a _third_ veteran thief
was hatching his own scheme.  Having used his power and influence to
gather a select audience, Peldor was doing his best to save his old
friend from getting into a great deal of trouble...

Derider Fanshaen:  You definitely did the right thing by telling us now.
Peldor:  I'm not saying they're _definitely_ going to try for it, only
  that they might.
Sental Nurev:  (given his long history with Belphanior, and the debt he
  currently owes the elf, he reflects on the irony of these events and
  the position he's now in)
Nerof Gasgal:  We certainly can't allow him to plunder the vaults of
  Greyhawk.
Peldor:  No, we can't.  (he shakes his head)  Which is why we need to
  go in there ourselves, retrieve these ancient crowns, and give them
  to Belphanior.
Nerof Gasgal:  (gasps)

  The Lord Mayor would have choked on his food, had he been eating.  As
it was, his face bore an incredulous expression, and he came as close to
sputtering as he had in a long while.

Nerof Gasgal:  GIVE them to him?!?
Peldor:  Yes.  I thought I made it clear:  he's trying to save the world
  from an ancient evil here.  Morally, we're obligated to help.
Sental Nurev:  And if not morally, then practically, because if all of
  this is true, these monsters will eventually reach Greyhawk.
Derider Fanshaen:  Agreed.  Nerof, we _must_ assist the elf.
Nerof Gasgal:  This will be...complicated.  There's the matter of going
  into the vault to get these crowns, which I must do, and you as well,
  Sental.
Sental Nurev:  (nods, as they have done this upon occasion in the past,
  when large sums of the city's money were needed for secret deals)
Nerof Gasgal:  And we must verify the presence of these seven beings.
  That might be best left to one of our wizardly allies...
Derider Fanshaen:  And someone must find the elf, and convince him to
  cease his plotting and designs upon the city vault, without getting
  killed if he loses his temper.
Sental Nurev:  (winces)
Peldor:  Why is everyone looking at me?



  Things happened pretty quickly after that, as different players in
this game took care of their own parts.  Peldor had reached the limits
of his own abilities here, so he sought out the most powerful - and
most trustworthy - wizard he knew and could locate readily.

Alindyar:  Now that is quite a tale.
Peldor:  I know.  I was hoping that you could-
Alindyar:  Verify its authenticity?  Of course we shall.
Lyra:  If it is true, then this matter is grave...on a par with the
  beast from the stars which had to be stopped before it demolished
  Greyhawk.
Peldor:  Actually, this sounds like it could be even worse.
Alindyar:  Verily.
Peldor:  I was also wondering if you could take care of one other thing
  while you're at it...someone needs to find Belphanior and explain this
  to him.
Alindyar:  (raises an eyebrow)
Lyra:  Why can't you do it?
Peldor:  Err...because I don't know where he is, I have no way to locate
  him, and I'd have no way to get there if I did know where he was.

  This was a bit of an exaggeration; Peldor was reasonably sure that
Belphanior and Otto were somewhere in the Free City or its environs.
However, in this instance, Peldor felt that the elf was much more likely
to pay heed to the words of an archmage than a master thief.  Besides,
time was of the essence.  Alindyar and Lyra could simply accomplish the
necessary tasks faster and more efficiently.

Alindyar:  Fear not, my friend.  We shall take care of it.  Your role
  must be to deal with the retrieval of these crowns from the city's
  vaults.
Peldor:  Right.  I'll work on that.  (he heads for the door)  So what
  next?
Alindyar:  I would suggest that we meet at the Green Dragon Inn later
  today...say, at dusk.  If all goes well, we shall be there with
  Belphanior, the story about the Sleepers will prove true, and we can
  hand over the crowns - all in one meeting.  Of course, you getting
  them is key to everything.
Peldor:  I've got people working on it even as we speak.  You're sure
  you can handle the other stuff?
Lyra:  The teleportation won't be a problem, though finding the exact
  location of these beings might be.  I'm confident that we'll figure
  something out.
Peldor:  Sounds good.  I'll wait to hear the outcome of your efforts.

  The Guildmaster of Thieves quickly vanished into the night, leaving
Alindyar and Lyra alone and indoors.

Lyra:  Whew.
Alindyar:  This is dire, indeed.  We must act quickly, so that when
  Belphanior does seek help, it will be there without him suspecting
  anything.  (he frowns)  I believe I know how to accomplish this.



  A short time later, and not so far away...

Belphanior:  (hiding in the shadows of an old, run-down building, he
  watches and waits)
Otto:  (next to the elf, he also watches)

  They were observing the patterns of the guards around the entry gate
to the Citadel.  After their scouting was complete, the elf intended to
return to the sky castle and marshal the necessary forces in preparation
for a middle-of-the-night attack.  Given the task ahead, the "necessary
forces" would likely include everything he could muster:  henchpeople,
golems, summoned monsters, and a hell of a lot of magic.  The planning
of an attack on a major city felt easier than it should have...almost as
if he'd done it before.

Belphanior:  (senses a sudden presence in the shadows nearby, and draws
  his sword)

  A figure emerged from the shadows, even as a voice that was familiar
spoke without any actual sound.

Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  It is I, Alindyar.  I have come to
  aid you, and perhaps save you.
Belphanior:  (instinctively, he almost makes the mistake of speaking
  aloud, then expresses his thoughts as thoughts, ESPing back to the
  dark elf)
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  A most unpleasant thought, that.
Belphanior:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Leave me alone.  I need no help.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  Yes, you do.

  Belphanior knew that ESP could work two ways, and that a strong mind
could sometimes pry into the thoughts of a weaker mind.  However, the
dark elf had much experience with this sort of thing, and his mind was
like an iron tower.  Belphanior could not penetrate it and glean any of
the secrets therein...which made him wonder if Alindyar could get into
_his_ thoughts.

Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  Shame on you.
Belphanior:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Sorry, couldn't help it.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  You certainly have the aptitude, but
  not the practice.  That, however, is beside the point.  Again I say:
  I am here to _help_ you.  Do not talk; listen.  Both your plot to raid
  Greyhawk's vaults and your past awakening of the Panagaean guardians
  are known to those in power, in Greyhawk and elsewhere.
Belphanior:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  What?!?  How the hell-
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  It is always best to bear in mind that
  no matter one's might, there is always someone even more powerful.  The
  beings from the Lost Isle will soon make landfall, and there is precious
  little time to waste.  I have...intervened with the rulers of the Free
  City, and then spoken with Peldor.
Belphanior:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Peldor?!?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  Indeed.  He is but a rogue...while you
  and I and others are so much more.  The ancient relics you require are
  being delivered to him, even now.
Belphanior:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Just like that?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  Aye, just like that.  As I said, there
  is little time to waste.  we must go to the Green Dragon Inn now, and
  take these crowns, and then make haste to Aerdy to stop these creatures
  before their vile power grows and spreads across the Flanaess.
Belphanior:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  You're going too?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Belphanior)  Yes.  Enough talk, now.
Belphanior:  (blinks suddenly)  Eh?
Otto:  (whirls, sword in hand)  What the hell?!?

  They were now standing outside the Green Dragon Inn!

Belphanior:  Alindyar.
Otto:  Where?
Belphanior:  You mean you didn't see him?
Otto:  No, why?  Should I have?
Belphanior:  (sighs)

  The elf wasn't happy about any of this - not the ancient evils he'd
accidentally awakened two years ago on the Isle of Panagaea, not the
sudden coming of Atun to condemn him for that deed, not the need to rob
Greyhawk's vaults to get items needed to stop those evils...not this
sudden and unexpected knowledge by others of all this...not Alindyar's
apparent reality-warping powers, powers that allowed the dark elf to not
only locate Belphanior, but also sneak up on him - and then teleport him
without his consent.  Had Alindyar actually become this mighty?  If so,
when...and how?  And what motivated him now?  These questions nagged at
Belphanior for some reason, as if some lost memory floated within his
mind, just beneath the surface.

Belphanior:  (sways in place, grabbing a handrail to steady himself)
Otto:  Are you okay?
Belphanior:  My head is pounding like it's going to explode...just give
  me a moment.

  The pain and vertigo subsided just as quickly as it had come, and the
elf finally set his jaw, eyeing the inn's front door angrily.

Belphanior:  I can't exactly explain it, but I've a feeling that plans
  have changed.  For good or bad, I can't say...but the answer lies in
  there.

  The elf strode into the inn, followed by Otto, who sheathed his sword.
Strangely enough, no one asked them for their weapons or said anything
else to them.  Tanya, tending bar or perhaps supervising others, simply
nodded toward the door into the private area.  Belphanior gave her only
a slight nod of acknowledgement as he and Otto passed from the common
area into the employees-only area...and then into a back room.  This was
the same chamber where Peldor always held his most personal or important
conversations.  The entire room's walls, floor, ceiling, and door were
extraordinarily thick and lined with metal - as was the single sturdy
door, the only entrance or exit.
  Belphanior wasn't surprised to see some others present here, so he just
took a seat at the old, heavy table.





+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Belphanior          18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief   +
+   Otto                10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief             +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar            18th level dark elven wizard                      +
+                                                                         +
+   Derider Fanshaen    12th level female human priestess of Pelor        +
+                       Constable of Greyhawk                             +
+   Glodreddi Bakkanin  10th level dwarven thief                          +
+                       Greyhawk Inspector of Taxes                       +
+   Jerome Kasinskaia   19th level human high priest                      +
+                       Patriarch of Rao in Greyhawk                      +
+   Nerof Gasgal        10th level human thief                            +
+                       Lord Mayor of Greyhawk                            +
+   Otiluke             16th level human wizard                           +
+                       President, Greyhawk Society of Magi               +
+   Peldor              20th level human thief                            +
+                       Greyhawk Guildmaster of Thieves                   +
+   Sental Nurev        13th level human fighter                          +
+                       Captain-General of the Greyhawk Watch             +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          2/2/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          dusk                                                   +
+   Place:         the Green Dragon Inn, within the Free City of Greyhawk +
+   Climate:       cold outside, warm inside                              +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





Belphanior:  Just seven of Greyhawk's Oligarchs?
Otiluke:  Actually, we'd have eight, but Kieran Jalucian is far away on
  business and cannot be reached.  (he doesn't bother to mention that
  not every Oligarch is consulted for every secret situation)
Belphanior:  It's not a party without the Guildmaster of Wizards, is it?
  (he crosses his arms, eyeing the small golden chest that lies upon the
  table)  So am I here to be judged or to be aided?
Nerof Gasgal:  Aided.  If I may cut through all the trappings and other
  needless formailities...?
Belphanior:  Please.
Nerof Gasgal:  Nobody faults you for venturing to some lost island, or
  seeking some lost treasure, or accidentally freeing some lost evil.
Belphanior:  It could've happened to anyone.
Derider Fanshaen:  True, but it always seems to happen to you.
Belphanior:  (ponders this, frowning)
Nerof Gasgal:  It's apparent that you intend to fight this menace, and
  so we've gone to a great deal of effort to assist you.  (he points to
  the chest, which Belphanior already knows contains something of great
  magical power)  Normally, getting into the city's vaults to retrieve
  something is not a task that can be done in a mere hour.
Belphanior:  Why would you do this?  How do you even know my claims are
  true?  (he frowns, realizing that they're not even _his_ claims)
Nerof Gasgal:  This dark elf has vouched for you, and several of those
  present - not to mention others - have vouched for him now and in the
  past.  Also, we tend to trust your judgement when it comes to matters
  such as large-scale death and destruction.
Belphanior:  I'm glad to see I haven't lost my touch.
Nerof Gasgal:  As several have already pointed out, this menace is not
  one that will stop with Aerdy.  Some rulers would ignore this counsel
  or remain confident that they could stop the threat when the time came.
  some might even stick their heads in the sand like a huge flightless
  bird with little in the way of brains.  (he shakes his head)  Greyhawk
  has not survived all this time, defying all the threats that it has,
  because of weak or stupid leadership.  This vote was unanimous, from
  those Oligarchs who could be contracted on short notice - the ones you
  see here at this table.
Derider Fanshaen:  Besides, we couldn't have let you try to break into
  the city's vaults.  Either you'd have succeeded-
Glodreddi Bakkanin:  Not likely!
Derider Fanshaen:  -which would have been a great security and publicity
  problem for Greyahwk.  Or, and more likely, you'd have failed, which
  would rob the Free City of a past ally.
Sental Nurev:  Not to mention delaying the solving of the greater problem
  at hand.
Belphanior:  I'm touched to know that people care.
Nerof Gasgal:  Enough.  (he stands)  In this chest are the seven mystical
  crowns that you seek.  They have been in our vault for as long as any
  can remember, and we've no record of how or when they got there.  That
  is all inconsequential, in any case.  You can take them - but you will
  also take some of our number to aid you in the battle to come.
Otto:  (realizes that this will also have the benefit, for the Greyhawk
  powers, of assuring that the crowns come back after the mission is
  completed)

  Belphanior knew this to be a mixed blessing; although he could use any
and all help when it came time to fight the Sleepers, he was reluctant to
have any of these people learn any of his secrets or capabilities.  Yet,
if that was managed carefully, he could minimize what they discovered...

Belphanior:  (smirks, his voice tinged with sarcasm)  That sounds great!
  Just like when we took on Xusia at the Fortress of the Nine, eh?
Jerome Kasinskaia:  Yes, except this time we are allies from the inception
  of the mission.
Belphanior:  Yes.





  And so it was that Belphanior didn't have to attempt to raid the vaults
beneath Greyhawk, and deal with the consequences.  Instead, less than a
day later, he found himself sailing through the clouds with a quite large
and powerful complement of passengers...





+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Jenna          9th level female human priestess of Istus              +
+   Neera          11th level female human sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+     Lyra           14th level female drow wizard                        +
+   Atun           tall, lean warrior and descendant of Panagaea          +
+   Drak           15th level human barbarian warrior                     +
+   Sir Dremel     12th level human paladin of Heironeous                 +
+   Eyer           13th/17th level wood elven fighter/acrobat             +
+   Derider F.     12th level female human priestess of Pelor             +
+   Jerome K.      19th level human high priest of Rao                    +
+     Reptor        9th level lizardman fighter                           +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Otiluke        16th level human wizard                                +
+   Pallin         18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian              +
+     Socrates, large albino hound                                        +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard                         +
+   Rob            17th level human high priest of Trithereon             +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          2/3/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         Belphanior's sky ship, far above the world's surface   +
+   Climate:       very cold                                              +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





Skektek:  (looking around)  It's like some weird kind of party in here.
Otto:  No big surprise...just about everything we do is weird.

  Most of the travelers were in the magical vessel's main interior cabin,
either catching up (in the case of those who knew one another) or getting
acquainted (in the case of those meeting for the first time.)

Reptor:  -and so I became the next man-at-arms of his Holiness, Jerome
  Kasinskaia, just as my older brother Reptar had before me.
Ys:  Most noble work, that.
Reptor:  Yes.
Ys:  (eyeing the crates of food and drink, supplies which Belphanior
  stocked the skyship with before this journey)  And we shall dine well!
Mongo:  Dine?  (leaning against a wall, looking queasy and miserable)
  Urgggggh.
Drak:  Come now, it can't be that bad.
Mongo:  It is, so please just leave me be.
Drak:  (somewhat sadly)  As you wish.
Sir Dremel:  So you fought with my brother against the arch-lich?
Drak:  Whoa!  (startled by the paladin's resemblance to his currently-
  incapacitated brother)
Sir Dremel:  We are twins, you know.
Drak:  ...right.  Yes, we fought there.  (he hefts his great mallet)
  It was a great battle - your brother fought well and with great skill
  and honor.
Sir Dremel:  I'm glad to hear that from one who was there.
Otiluke:  (apparently asleep in a chair, snoring lightly)
wispy thing:  (hovering near the wizard)  pfsss?
Otiluke:  (opens one eye)
wispy thing:  sprrp!
Derider:  It is good to see you again, Socrates.  (she pets the huge
  pale hound's head)
Socrates:  (licks its paws happily)
Eyer:  It's been a while.  That was some fight, at the Fortress of the
  Nine.  Many fell that day, some never to rise again.
Derider:  Yes, it was.  It had to be done, though...just as this battle
  must also be undertaken.
Eyer:  (looking around)  Well, we certainly have a fine group assembled
  here.
Jerome:  (nodding)  This was important enough that three of Greyhawk's
  Oligarchs were committed to it.  (he winks at Derider)  Though, to tell
  the truth, I made sure it worked out that way.  There are times when
  one needs to get out of the city and fight the good fight, so to speak.
Derider:  (smiles)  There most certainly are.
Rob:  You can say that again.  I'm busy building a great city and keep
  to shield all of my lands and people, but even I need a break now and
  then.
Alindyar:  Aye, my thoughts exactly.
Lyra:  I think we needed a break from Greyhawk, and-  Eh?  (she frowns
  as she spots something amidst the crowd)  It can't be.
Rob:  What's that?  What can't be?
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  I think I just saw Bosco!
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  You are not mistaken.  The small one stowed
  away somehow.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  You knew this, yet said nothing?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  What point is there?  The halfling has as
  much right to come along as anyone else, and he may prove useful.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  I somehow doubt that.  I suppose there's
  always the comic relief aspect though.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Verily.

  While some talked, others were busy elsewhere in the ship...

Atun:  -and there you have it...that's everything I know about the Seven
  Sleepers, their history, their various powers and possible weaknesses.
  Everything.
Pallin:  (nods)  The key now will be for me to discern their place of
  origin...and do so before it is time to fight them.  I must work with
  great haste and yet great accuracy.  We cannot afford a mistake at this
  juncture.
Neera:  (gestures to stacks of old books, most of which she borrowed
  from Greyhawk's libraries and the Guild of Wizardry)  I've been doing
  some research on that.  No luck so far, but I'm hoping that one or
  more of the hints Atun has told us will spur some discovery.
Pallin:  (nods, pleased)  Excellent.  It is good to be working with you
  again.
Atun:  Let me know what I can do to help.
Pallin:  I am sure that new questions will arise about Panagaea, the
  Sleepers, and such.  Just be on hand to answer them.
Atun:  (nods)  I shall.
Neera:  Damn that Hyperion!
Atun:  Eh?
Neera:  What kind of person brings evil like this to our world, then
  traps it in such a way that the slightest disturbance sets it free?
Atun:  I thought I'd made this clear.  As I've said before, Hyperion was
  quite insane.
Pallin:  He would have to have been, to set in motion something like
  this.
Atun:  This is exactly what he hoped would happen:  someone dared to
  plunder his kingdom's riches long after he died, and now they will pay
  the price for their actions.

  In the bridge of the magnificent sky ship...

Belphanior:  You too, eh?
Parekh:  Alindyar contacted me simply because I possess a scrying device
  of incalculable strength.  It was the fastest way to determine the true
  danger.
Belphanior:  And what is the true danger?
Parekh:  We cannot be sure, not from afar.  Either we'll know when we
  get closer to the Aeridan coast - burning towns on the ground, that
  sort of thing - or we'll use line-of-sight type magic to pinpoint the
  Sleepers.  This is why we couldn't just teleport everybody right to
  the exact place.
Belphanior:  Because you don't know where to go.
Parekh:  Basically.  (she frowns)  All we do know for sure is that
  _something_ is not right in that region.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  Vague, yet purposeful.
Parekh:  Are you upset about something?
Belphanior:  (lying)  Not really.
Parekh:  That's good.
Belphanior:  Yeah, it probably is.  So you and Alindyar have frequent
  dealings?
Parekh:  I wouldn't say that...but since the assault on Xusia's fortress,
  we have corresponded in the meantime, as wizards are wont to do.  That
  dark elf has tremendous expertise in the area of illusionary magic.
Belphanior:  Indeed he does.  Well, we should be there in just over two
  days.
Parekh:  Excellent.  I'll go check up on things.  (she departs, leaving
  the elf alone with his thoughts)

  Belphanior had purposely brought the skyship to Greyhawk, as he didn't
want anyone knowing about the castle in the clouds.  It was bad enough
that he had to let so many people in on the secret of the skyship's
existence, but tough situations always demanded sacrifices.  For some
unknown reason, Pallin has been unable - or unwilling - to teleport the
entire group to Aerdy.  It might have been because there was no clear
destination in mind, but Belphanior wasn't sure.

  Elsewhere on the ship...

Bosco:  (lingering at the edge of the crowd)
Otto:  (walks over to the halfling)  I knew it!  Bosco!  What the hell
  are you doing here?
Bosco:  Err...
Otto:  This is not the time or the place to pick pockets, believe me.
Bosco:  I'm not here to pick pockets - I'm here to help.  I _was_ there
  the last time we fought these things from the coffins, remember?
Otto:  But how did you find out...?
Bosco:  It's amazing what you hear within the walls of the Green Dragon.
  I have big ears.
Otto:  (sighs)  This isn't a treasure hunt, Bosco.  We're going toe-to-
  toe with some damn powerful foes this time.
Bosco:  Not me - I'm too short.  I can stab one of them in the toe,
  maybe.
Otto:  You need to take this seriously.
Bosco:  Never fear, I am.  Like I said, I was there before.  I know what
  I'm doing.
Otto:  For your sake, I hope so.



  Two days flew by (literally) and before they knew it, the shipful of
adventurers was high above Aerdy.  Now was the time for divination and
srcying; the combined powers of Jenna, Jerome, and Parekh searched the
world's surface far below for any sign of trouble.

Atun:  (peering over the rail)  They never had vessels like this in my
  time.
Neera:  That reminds me...I have a question for you.
Atun:  Very well.
Neera:  You have referred to events in the ancient Panagaean Empire as
  if you had first-hand knowledge, and you have discussed Hyperion and
  his deeds as if you were there.  (she pauses)  This question may seem
  a bit odd, but...exactly how old _are_ you?
Atun:  (sighs)  I would rather not discuss this...and you wouldn't
  believe me if I told you.  Suffice it to say that I have witnessed
  some of your world's more memorable events.
Skektek:  What are you, immortal?  A demigod?  Something like that?
Atun:  Something like that.  (he locks eyes with the wizard)  Do not
  test my patience on this.

  Skektek, as aggressive and unreceptive to threats as he was, could not
meet that steely gaze for more than a moment, and he was cowed despite
himself.  Before the temperamental wizard could sputter out a retort or
change the subject, a cry was raised nearby - something had been found!

Otiluke:  (excitedly)  Is it time?
Jerome:  Below us, you see the coast of Aerdy, and some sort of dwelling,
  most likely a fishing town.  Three different types, and casters, of
  magic have all detected some anomaly down there.  It would seem that
  our quarry lies below.
Bosco:  (peering over the rail)  Where?  I don't see anything.
Parekh:  We'll probably have to get down there before we actually see
  the enemy.
Bosco:  Oh.  (he idly wonders how long it would take him to fly all that
  way using his little winged boots)
Belphanior:  (having brought the ship to a stop, he strides onto the
  deck and takes charge, addressing everyone with a magically-amplified
  voice)  I thank you all sincerely for coming here today.  The battle
  ahead of us won't be easy.  (he scans the faces, some of whom are more
  familiar to him than others, but all of whom are paying attention now)
  You all know what we're facing.  We've been over the plan.  Let's get
  down there and stop this evil before it spreads.



  With that, things were really set into motion.  Belphanior and a small
group went first, to scout the situation and locate the threat.  Once
this was accomplished, they would open a teleportation gateway between
the ground and the skyship, allowing everyone else quick and reliable
transport to the ground.

Belphanior:  (appears on Aerdian soil for the first time in a long while,
  and scans the area)  What exactly should be be looking for?
Atun:  It's hard to say, given that the evil of the Sleepers has never
  been unleashed in the world.
Belphanior:  (using his magical eye, he spots something to the northeast)
  Never mind.  (he points)  That way.
Pallin:  As soon as we find what we seek, I'll bring everyone else down
  here.
Parekh:  (quickly conjures a semi-visible chariot, which the four of them
  board)
Belphanior:  Why not just make it invisible?
Parekh:  I tried that once...people kept tripping while getting into the
  thing.
Belphanior:  Ah.

  The enchanted chariot took to the air, propelled by magical forces that
moved it along at great speeds.  The foursome crested a small hill and
beheld a scene of utter chaos:  the town before them was in ruins.  Some
buildings were damaged, while others were aflame; dozens of dead bodies
littered the streets, and scores of people wandered about in various
states of distress.  Screams and shouts filled the air, and a sense of
dread was palpable.

Belphanior:  Wow, what a mess.
Atun:  This is nothing compared to what they'll do if they ever reach a
  large city.
Parekh:  That's why we're here.  Pallin?
Pallin:  (already casting his mass-teleportation spell)

  Shortly, the entire group - twenty-five combatants, not counting the
wispy thing - was gathered atop the hill.

wispy thing:  sprrp!





+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+     bone golem      previous creation of Xusia                          +
+     giant ant       summoned monster                                    +
+     large spider    summoned monster                                    +
+     wild crocodile  summoned monster                                    +
+     huge scorpion   summoned monster                                    +
+     doppleganger    summoned monster                                    +
+     wyvern          summoned monster                                    +
+     cryohydra       summoned monster                                    +
+     purple worm     summoned monster                                    +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Jenna          9th level female human priestess of Istus              +
+   Neera          11th level female human sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+     Lyra           14th level female drow wizard                        +
+   Atun           tall, lean warrior and descendant of Panagaea          +
+   Bosco          12th level halfling thief                              +
+   Drak           15th level human barbarian warrior                     +
+   Sir Dremel     12th level human paladin of Heironeous                 +
+   Eyer           13th/16th level wood elven fighter/acrobat             +
+   Derider F.     12th level female human priestess of Pelor             +
+   Jerome K.      19th level human priest of Rao                         +
+     Reptor        9th level lizardman fighter                           +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Otiluke        16th level human wizard                                +
+   Pallin         18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian              +
+     Socrates, large albino hound                                        +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard                         +
+   Rob            17th level human priest of Trithereon                  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





  Belphanior had summoned the various monsters using his Book of Beasts;
if ever there was a time to have the most allies possible, this was it.
The elf had also opted to bring his bone golem along for this fight,
because he figured it might have some resistance to the unusual attacks
of the Sleepers.  He could have brought more of his golems - logically,
stone and iron golems would be useful in any fight - but the problem
with golems was that they were hard to control if the situation changed.
They might require new commands at some point in the battle, and it was
possible that Belphanior wouldn't be able to give them those commands.
  At any rate, of the twenty-four living, breathing individuals on the
team, nine had been present for the previous battle against the first
four Sleepers:  Belphanior, Otto, Charlie, Skektek, Ys, Neera, Mongo,
Parekh, Drak, and Neera.  The plan - which had been reviewed, revised,
and finalized over the course of many hours during the airborne voyage
here - basically split up the group into smaller teams.  Each of these
sub-groups, which consisted of three or four individuals, was tasked
with fighting and neutralizing one Sleeper.  According to Atun, that
merely entailed getting a particular crown onto the head of the Sleeper
to which the crown was linked.  This was, of course, no simple task...
for in the certain chaos that the battle would become, things could get
confusing quickly and easily.  Worse, the powers and weaknesses of three
of the foes were completely unknown.
  All of this had meant a lot of careful planning - planning which was
about to be tested.  The group had arrived just in time:  the Sleepers
had plowed through the town and appeared to be heading southwest.  It
was possible that the creatures were splitting up, as they now marched
about twenty feet apart.  Whatever the case, this seemed to be a good
tactical advantage for Belphanior's party, as the foes had fanned out
enough that fighting them separately would be possible.
  And then, just as they were about to make their move and put the plan
into play...a third party arrived and ruined everything!

Belphanior:  (points to the north, where the sounds of war trumpets are
  now heard)  What the hell?!?

  A force of a couple hundred mounted warriors, lances at the ready, was
charging toward the town, or more specifically, the Sleepers who had just
emerged from the town.  Riding behind these heavy cavalry were a hundred
archers, and behind them were about two hundred infantry, on foot with
swords or axes.

Skektek:  That's the Aerdian flag they're flying.
Alindyar:  It appears that the local forces are none too happy about the
  fate of this small fishing town.
Atun:  They're about to be a lot less happy.

  The Aerdian force was bearing down fast on the seven figures, and it
occurred to Belphanior that perhaps this was why the Sleepers had moved
apart, to maximize their various powers against such a large number of
enemies.

Skektek:  Pardon my asking, but shouldn't we use this distraction to get
  down there and fight those things?
Belphanior:  No.  It would get too confusing, and we'd have to watch our
  backs against the Aerdians too.  Besides, this is a great opportunity
  to see what those other three Sleepers can do.
Sir Dremel:  (angry)  We cannot just let those people down there be
  slaughtered!  (he stands, drawing his sword)  By the holy light of-
Jerome:  (speaks in a low but firm tone)  Dremel.
Sir Dremel:  Eh?
Jerome:  This is perhaps the most important battle you will ever be a
  part of.  We have spent a lot of time reviewing what we know about
  these foes and planning our assault upon them.  You charging forth
  and ruining our advantage, and possibly dooming the world, is _not_
  part of the greater plan.
Sir Dremel:  (sees many of the others glaring at him, and realizes that
  the high priest is right)
Jerome:  Not to mention that the soldiers down here are, more or less,
  Evil themselves.
Sir Dremel:  (pauses)  Right.
Bosco:  (muttering to himself)  Well, I'm glad that's over with.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  (he turns his attention back to the impending battle
  below)  Everyone, just be ready to launch our attack, when the time
  is right.
Mongo:  (to Drak)  I have a feeling that won't be too long.
Drak:  No kidding.

  The five hundred Aeridans engaged the seven strange beings in a great
din and cloud of dust.  It almost seemed impossible that a mere septet
of individuals could stand against half a thousand skilled warriors, but
it was happening.  First, the archers sent a rain of arrows over their
cavalry and into the Sleepers...and the latter simply stood there and
took it.  This encouraged the cavalry to attack with greater enthusiasm,
and they smashed into the seven beings, surging past them, using their
lances to strike what should have been fatal blows.
  The red, armored being, ten feet tall and broad, did not give up an
inch as lances shattered against its armor.  Horses and their riders,
unable to stop when they realized that the gigantic armored foe would
not fall to the lances, smashed against the opponent...which brought
its gigantic crimson sword around in great arcs, destroying men and
horses with every blow.  The tall, slender bone-white Sleeper - which
Atun had identified as synonymous with disease - had already taken out
a half-dozen troops who had been unfortunate enough to come into direct
contact with its diseased skin.  Multiple lances protruded from the
sickly body, but they didn't stop the thing from spreading disease to
anyone it touched.  The Sleeper that Atun called "famine" - tall and
impossibly emaciated, with dull black skin stretched tight over its
bony frame - had also suffered wounds from a dozen lances.  Some had
speared its body, while others had simply gouged it...but in all cases,
no blood flowed from these wounds.  Several horses and their riders lay
at the feet of the thing, shriveled and emaciated as if they hadn't had
food in a long time.

  From their hilltop vantage point, Belphanior and the others watched
all of this...

Atun:  See how they gain strength as they inflict their various ill
  effects on people?  _That_ is why we have to stop them here...because
  if they make it to a large city, with its many thousands of people,
  their evil powers will increase tenfold.
Belphanior:  Gotcha.

  The fourth Sleeper was well known to those who had been in the Tomb;
it was Death given animated form.  Eight feet in height, its pale white
flesh covered in loose black robes, it had jet-black eyes with no pupils
or irises.  This creature wielded a great scythe of well-worn wood, with
a black metal blade...and this weapon was cutting down lance-men and
horses alike.  Every blow of the scythe was absolutely fatal, given that
those hit with that curving metal blade simply ceased to exist.  Wounds
inflicted by arrows and lances barely slowed the deadly foe's attacks,
and after a score of their number had fallen around it, the cavalrymen
no longer wanted any part of that fight, and began to break ranks around
the foe, avoiding it and its weapon entirely.
  A fifth Sleeper was one of the ones they hadn't dealt with during the
final battle in the tomb of Panagaea.  Seven feet tall and garbed in a
black, hooded robe, this figure was surrounded by small, moving wisps of
darkness.  It didn't look very intimidating, at least not from afar...
but its power was soon obvious:  attackers by the dozens veered away,
unable or unwilling to approach the creature.  Horses refused to carry
their riders anywhere near the thing, and a few of them even threw the
men off their backs.  Other riders simply passed by, intentionally
giving the foe a wide berth.  A strange keening sound came from the dark
confines of the Sleeper's hood as the darkness danced about its form.
  The sixth Sleeper - a lean, half-naked individual with strange sigils
and glyphs covering its body - was also unfamiliar.  It had been described
by Atun as the embodiment of chaos or discord.  The reason quickly became
clear, for the nearest mounted attackers suddenly stopped, then turned
on each other!  Seized by sudden insanity, comrade fought comrade, using
weapons or their bare hands.  Men leapt from their horses and fell upon
their friends, sometimes becoming impaled on lances in their wild, mad
frenzy.  Even the horses were stricken by this chaotic fury, smashing
into one another or fallen riders, frothing at the mouth due to forces
beyond their understanding or control.  All in all, it was horrifying to
watch, even from a distance.
  The seventh Sleeper was quite unlike the others:  a wizened little
figure, barely five feet tall, it had long wisps of white hair splayed
out from its head in all directions.  It wore an old, tattered gray robe
that looked as if it might fall apart at any moment.  Still, this being's
appearance was deceptive, for not a single attacking cavalryman or horse
had gotten within ten feet of the small figure.  They simply stopped when
they neared the foe...stopped, because once that close to the Sleeper,
they began to age at an alarming rate.  Muscle shriveled and became fat,
which quickly wasted away to nothing.  Hair turned gray and then white,
if it didn't fall out.  Metal rusted, and cloth grew worn and frayed
before falling apart.  The horses changed as well, from young strong
animals into old, weak nags that could barely walk.  This, then was the
power of the seventh Sleeper, which Atun had characterized as drawing
its power from the ravages of time, of age.

  By now, the Aeridan troops' numbers had been seriously diminished, the
men falling to various afflictions (or else the huge, merciless sword of
the gigantic red-armored foe.)  Unfortunately for the soldiers in the
front ranks - who had realized that they faced unearthly foes - those
in the middle and rear ranks pressed onward.  This had the effect of
forcing troops toward their doom...and it was a slaughter.  As Belphanior
and the others watched in amazement and shock, five hundred men quickly
became three hundred, and then two hundred, and then a mere hundred or
so.  These last remnants of the Aerdian force were scatted and confused,
making them easy prey for the Sleepers.  A few dozen were lucky enough
to flee before falling victim to one of the seven terrible creatures,
and the battlefield was clearing out.  The Sleepers continued their march
to the southwest as if the massacre hadn't even happened.

Belphanior:  Now.





WAR, the huge red-armored Sleeper:  (wading through foes, it dispatches
  three fleeing infantrymen with one swipe of its massive red sword)
Mongo:  (uses Stormcrest to launch a mighty bolt of lightning at the huge
  opponent, from afar)
WAR:  (knocked back a foot or so, it is distracted momentarily and stops
  roaming for a moment)
Jenna:  Perfect set-up.  (she transmutes rock to mud directly beneath
  the thing)
WAR:  (immediately sinks down into the ten-foot-deep mud, only the very
  top of its helmet visible)
giant spider:  (scuttles around at the edge of the mud, just waiting to
  do something to help)
Bosco:  I can't really backstab him when he's like that.
Mongo:  Or hit him with my hammer.
Jenna:  I know.  Give me a little time here...





DISEASE, the tall, slender, pale, sickly Sleeper:  (having just finished
  infecting a wounded soldier with multiple diseases, it shuffles around
  just in time to get bitten and then stung by the giant ant)
giant ant:  (just keeps on attacking, heedless of what it's fighting here)
DISEASE:  (grabs the huge insect, causing sections of its body to turn
  white and mottled)
Sir Dremel:  (charges in as the giant ant falls to the side, slashing at
  the foe with his enchanted bastard sword)
DISEASE:  (reels, its left arm almost severed by the blow)
Sir Dremel:  I need no giant insects to fight my battles for me!
Otiluke:  Heed the warnings we were given - watch out for its grasp-
Sir Dremel:  Disease and sickness havenever particularly bothered me
  in my profession.  (he sidesteps a flailing blow from the Sleeper,
  and hacks at the foe, tearing a huge gash in its torso, then backs
  away)  We will not lose this battle.
Otiluke:  Rob, you're up.
Rob:  (nods, bringing down a column of flame atop the creature)





FAMINE, the tall, emaciated, black-skinned Sleeper:  (reels as a bolt of
  lightning blasts it, creating a crater in the ground beneath its feet)
Skektek:  Eat that, fucker.
Drak:  (now twenty feet tall, he charges in, smashing the thing over the
  head with his gigantic mallet)  Greetings!
Derider:  (hits it in the knee with a summoned spiritual hammer, knocking
  it off-balance)
FAMINE:  (staggers, thrown off by this sudden flurry of attacks)
Drak:  (steps back)
wild crocodile:  (barrels toward the foe, seizing it between its fanged
  jaws and shaking it viciously)





DEATH, the robed, black-eyed, scythe-wielding Sleeper:  (sensing the
  group now squaring off against it, it immediately strides directly
  toward Parekh)
Parekh:  (remembering how this particular opponent had sensed which enemy
  was most powerful, and always headed right for that one)  Uh-oh.
cryohydra:  GRAAAAR!  (breathes with all seven of its heads, hitting the
  foe with seven streams of icy frost)
DEATH:  (blasted by snow and ice, it is slowed a bit from the multiple
  physical impacts of the breath weapons)
Parekh:  (notes this, speaking to Eyer beside her)  The hydra's breath
  was not negated by the Sleeper like all the spells we tried last time.
  This is useful to know.
Eyer:  (shrugs)  If you say so.
huge scorpion:  (skitters around, waiting for an opportunity to join the
  fight)
bone golem:  (lumbers forth to meet the foe, dozens of sharp, curving
  bones jutting from its long arms)





FEAR, the tall, black-robed, shadow-cloaked Sleeper:  (whirls about,
  with surprising speed, to face the charging Reptor)
Reptor:  (about to leap at the foe and land a blow with his broadsword,
  he suddenly and inexplicably loses his nerve)  Aaaaaie!  (he backs
  away, trembling)
Jerome:  Interesting.  I've never seen him do that before.
Hope:  Not surprising, considering the powers of the thing.  (already
  airborne thanks to a spell of flying, she hits the foe with a sudden
  gust of wind, staggering it and allowing another attacker to get close)
wyvern:  (swoops down, the flapping of its wings almost bowling Hope over
  as she hovers)
Hope:  Whoa!
wyvern:  (grabs the Sleeper in both taloned feet, intending to carry it
  away and continue to attack it in the air, as wyverns do)
FEAR:  (begins its strange, wailing keening, as the bits of shadow flit
  and dance about its robed form)
wyvern:  (suddenly seized by a powerful, primal terror that it can neither
  understand nor resist, it releases the foe and flies away at top speed)
Jerome:  Well, so much for the wyvern.  (he casts a spell of protection
  from fear upon himself and Hope)
Hope:  What was that?  I feel...great!
Jerome:  A special enchantment granted to high priests of Rao.  With any
  luck, it will protect us against that thing's unearthly aura.





DISCORD, the lean, half-naked, sigil-covered Sleeper:  (facing the fast-
  approaching Ys, it simply stands there)
Ys:  (avoiding gazing directly at the foe, as he figures that will spare
  him from its chaos-bringing power)
DISCORD:  (smiles thinly, its white pupil-less eyes narrowing)
Ys:  (stops suddenly)
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  That's not good.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Nay.
Ys:  (turns slowly, his eyes now also white...and charges at the drow)
  Yaaaaaarr!
doppleganger:  (has a "what the hell am I supposed to do here, anyway?"
  look on its face)
Otto:  (fires a bolt from afar, hitting the Sleeper in the chest)
DISCORD:  (stumbles, then grabs the bolt and pulls it out, a thin green
  liquid oozing from the wound)
doppleganger:  (having assumed a form identical to the Sleeper, and faces
  off against it)
DISCORD:  (reaches out suddenly and grabs the imitator by the neck)
doppleganger:  Urk!  (lifted off of the ground, it struggles against the
  iron grip with all its might)
Otto:  (hits the Sleeper in the head with a second bolt)
DISCORD:  (closes its hand fully around the doppleganger's neck, crushing
  it and then snapping the spine too)
doppleganger:  (dead, it reverts to its natural form)
Ys:  (charging toward the two drow, his sword swinging wildly)
Lyra:  (hits the ensorcelled reptilian with a Web spell, trapping him in
  place out of harm's way, and unable to attack the drow)
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Excellent.  (he drops an unusually large
  darkness spell atop the Sleeper, cocooning it within a hemisphere of
  pitch blackness)





AGE, the wizened little Sleeper with the stringy white hair:  (makes its
  way through a throng of unnaturally-aged victims, and confronts Atun)
Atun:  (to Razor Charlie)  I've trained all my life for this fight, and
  now I'm not sure what to do.
Razor Charlie:  It's easy.  (he hurls first one knife, then another at
  the foe)
AGE:  (hit by both knives, although they are rusted and brittle by the
  time they pierce its creased flesh; one knife shatters, while the other
  inflicts only a minor cut)
Razor Charlie:  ...damn.
Atun:  We can't even get close to that thing, either.
Pallin:  But we have something that can.
purple worm:  GRRRAAAAAARGH!  (it rears up, towering above the entire
  battlefield...and then slams down, its huge fanged maw engulfing the
  Sleeper)  URP!
Pallin:  Surely it can't be that easy.
Socrates:  (watching all of this, he growls with concern)  Rrrrr...










WAR:  (immersed in the rock-turned-mud, it begins to move through the
  mud, its progress marked by the tip of its red helmet as it moves)
Jenna:  (walks up to the edge of the mud-pit and casts a Dispel Magic,
  negating her own spell and turning the mud into solid rock once more)
Bosco:  That got him!  Look, he's stopped moving!
Mongo:  (hefts his hammer, waiting)  We'll see.
giant spider:  (scuttles across the fresh rock, and begins covering the
  exposed tip of the trapped Sleeper's helmet with webbing, pausing for
  only a moment when it sees a couple of cracks appear around the foe's
  helm)

  Belphanior (along with Neera and the wispy thing) hadn't been part of
any particular sub-team, instead holding himself in reserve - airborne,
hasted, and invisible - so that he could take advantage of any tactical
opportunities that sprung up.  In his mind, there were two particular
Sleepers that posed the greatest threat, and now that he saw one of them
immobilized, he finally acted.

Belphanior:  (swoops down toward the trapped War, one of the ancient
  crowns in hand)  Time to take this guy out of the fight for good-

  There was an earth-shattering explosion as the huge armored form broke
free of the solid rock.  Apparently brute strength, in this case, made
up for lack of leverage; the rock around the Sleeper's upper body flew
in every direction.  The giant spider was pulverized, and its webbing
torn apart like string.

WAR:  (slashes upward at the nearby elf with its ten-foot sword)
Belphanior:  (quite surprised that the being detected his presence, not
  to mention broke free,  he barely avoids the swinging sword...but is
  then caught by the armored fist of the foe's other hand)  Ungh!

  As the elf sailed away to land roughly on the ground about thirty
feet away, the Sleeper immediately began the process of freeing its
lower half.





DISEASE:  (writhing around within the column of intense flame, its pale
  flesh burning and melting away)
Otiluke:  Can you make it any hotter?
Rob:  I'm afraid not.
Sir Dremel:  But how am I to face this champion of evil if it's burning
  within yon fires?
Otiluke:  You're not.  That's kind of the point.
Sir Dremel:  Oh.  (he looks around, noticing Belphanior land in a heap
  after being punched by the armored Sleeper)  By the gods!  (he heads
  in that direction)
Rob:  Err...so what now?
Otiluke:  When that ugly bastard comes out of there, I'm going to hit
  him with -  ah.
DISEASE:  (emerges from the pillar of flame, its body looking like a wax
  candle)
Otiluke:  (fires a blue ray of pure, freezing cold at the foe)

  The wizard from Greyhawk had invented the spell he now used, and his
version was especially potent, its freezing effect colder by far than
"normal" castings of the spell.  He was counting on the combination of
intense heat followed by intense cold to inflict great damage on his
target, and he was not disappointed.

DISEASE:  (encased in bluish-white ice)
Otiluke:  Perfect.  Now to put the crown on its head.  (he pauses)  Where
  _is_ the crown for this one?
Rob:  Sir Dremel is carrying it.
Otiluke:  (sighs)





FAMINE:  (trapped in the jaws of the giant crocodile, it is shaken back
  and forth with savage force)
wild crocodile:  (suddenly slows in its movements, weakening rapidly as
  the foe's mysterious power saps its very flesh and muscle)

  In moments, the great reptile had shriveled up into little more than
a big bag of scaly green skin.  As for the emaciated, black-skinned foe,
its body bore great gory wounds...but as the opponents watched, these
slowly began to close up and heal, even as the foe strode toward its
attackers with significant speed and malicious purpose.

Drak:  (steps in front of Derider and Skektek, his gigantic mallet held
  ready)  Let me handle this.
Skektek:  Be my guest.  (he steps out of the way)
Derider:  (hits the Sleeper with a flame strike spell, staggering it)
Drak:  I thought I said _I_ was going to handle this!
Derider:  Go ahead.  I was just softening the thing up for you.
FAMINE:  (emerges from the flames, smoking and singed but still moving
  in their direction)
Drak:  Bah.  (he charges forth, and smacks the foe with all his might,
  apparently pulverizing it against the ground, where a large dent now
  exists)
Derider:  Do you think it's...
Skektek:  I doubt it.  These things are tough, and they seem to always
  regenerate any damage.  (he looks around, and his eyes light up with
  an idea)
Drak:  (steps forth)  Nonsense.  Nothing could survive-

  A black, bony hand reached forth from a flattened, mangled body that
should have been unmoving...and grasped the gigantic warrior's ankle.
Drak screamed in agony as the might was sapped from his body, while the
foe grew stronger.

Drak:  (falls, shriveled and weak, and drops his hammer)
FAMINE:  (stands, whole once more, and gazes at Skektek and Derider)
Skektek:  (having waited and timed this perfectly, he uses one of his
  wands to summon a massive wall of iron, perpendicular to the ground
  and right next to the foe)
FAMINE:  (turns to look up at the wall above it)
Skektek:  Mongo!
Mongo:  (having discussed the tipping of walls with Skektek earlier,
  and not engaged in combat at the moment, and in the right position
  for this maneuver, he hurls his hammer, hitting the wall near its top
  and on the opposite side from the nearby Sleeper)

  The heavy sheet of metal tipped and fell, crushing the foe against
the ground.  Due to Skektek's careful timing and positioning of the
spell, most of the creature's body was pinned between the iron wall and
the ground; only its head and one arm jutted out beneath the wall.

Derider:  (dashes forth immediately, pulling a small, plain-looking
  metal crown out and quickly slapping it on the head of the stunned,
  immobilized enemy)

  The effect was instantaneous:  there was a bright flash of light and
what sounded like a muffled explosion, and then the Sleeper ceased all
movement, becoming as inert as a statue, the crown glowing on its brow.

Derider:  Wow.  It worked!
Skektek:  Good job!  Now if we can only pull that off six more times...





DEATH:  (currently fighting the bone golem in a furious battle between
  unliving combatants)

  The great black scythe hit the bony form of the golem, cracking some
protruding bones while snapping others off.  Belphanior's hunch had paid
off, though:  the scythe didn't vaporize victims who weren't flesh and
blood.  The golem was giving as good as it got, too; several of its
blows had torn great gashes in the Sleeper.

DEATH:  (with a sudden, vicious sweep of its scythe, it decapitates the
  golem, sending the gigantic skull rolling away to the side)
bone golem:  (keeps fighting on, regardless and headless)
DEATH:  (reaches out and touches the construct with one pale hand)
bone golem:  (suddenly falls apart, literally, as thousands of bones of
  all shapes and sizes clatter all over the ground)
DEATH:  (kicks bones aside as it strides toward Parekh)
Parekh:  (suddenly floats up into the air)  You didn't think it would be
  that easy, did you?  (she flies high, high enough to stay well out of
  range of the Sleeper's anti-magic effect)
cryohydra:  RAAARGH!  (lumbers forth to confront the foe, but not before
  breathing again with several of its heads)
DEATH:  (buckles against the triple blasts of frost)
Eyer:  (nowhere to be found)

  Unfortunately for the hydra, its foe had that infernal scythe, and the
first blow from that weapon caused the monster to fade from existence.
The scorpion charged in, stinging with a poison that would have slain a
normal foe...but this was no normal foe, and within moments, the scythe
had eliminated the scorpion as well.

Parekh:  (floating above, out of the reach of the foe and its deadly
  weapon)

  Parekh had assumed that the monsters would eventually fall before the
Sleeper, and she hadn't been idle.  Using a spell that was basically a
huge telekinetic scoop, she'd lifted several tons of rock and dirt from
the ground into the air, and positioned them a hundred feet above the
foe.  Now that it was unoccupied and on the loose, she released the
earth...which fell with great force, pummeling the creature beneath and
actually stunning it.  She'd been convinced of the probable success of
this tactic after observing the relative success of the cryohydra's
breath weapon attacks.  And now, the final and most crucial element
of the trap was sprung...

Eyer:  (sprints right up to the Sleeper, who is half-buried under the
  rubble and trying to get to its feet, and brandishes an unremarkable-
  looking crown)

  The Sleeper, despite all of the damage it had just taken in battle
and from the falling earth, wasn't quite incapacitated.  It lashed out
with the scythe, coming within inches of decapitating Eyer as the elf
leapt back in alarm.  He was quite nimble and possessed of exceptional
reflexes, but as he scrambled back, his foot hit a large chunk of rock
and he tripped, falling backwards and dropping the crown.

DEATH:  (looms over the elf, its scythe raised)

  The black blade swept down - and was met by the elf's longsword, an
enchanted weapon forged of bluish-white steel.

Eyer:  (blocks the blow, but his arm goes numb with an otherworldly chill
  from the foe's weapon, and his sword falls from cold fingers)  Ungh...
DEATH:  (prepares to strike what will surely be a killing blow)
wispy thing:  (flies out of nowhere, flitting madly in front of the
  Sleeper)  sssss!
DEATH:  (swats at the wisp, who has backed up out of range)
wispy thing:  brrrf...
DEATH:  (returns its attention to Eyer, who has started to drag himself
  away, and steps forward, raising its scythe again)
Atun:  (charges in, his sword a blur, and strikes a mighty blow to the
  creature's neck, almost decapitating it)  No!  Enough of this!
DEATH:  (staggers, trying to bring its scythe around)
Atun:  (hits the thing again in one arm, a strike that would have severed
  the limb of a normal foe)
DEATH:  (ignores the blow, bringing its lethal scythe around in a rather
  quick motion)

  Those watching this fight were sure that the strange warrior would be
slain by that blow, but Atun parried it, then ducked and brought his
sword back up again, stabbing the thing through the chest, where a human
foe's heart would have been.  The Sleeper took no notice of this wound,
and reached out to grab the man...but Atun had leapt back, deftly pulling
his sword out as he did so, avoiding both that cold grip and the wicked
black scythe that swung at him a moment later.
  This battle continued for what seemed like forever, the warrior using
his speed and skill to strike at the Sleeper again and again.  Atun's
skill was extraordinary - any other opponent would have fallen a dozen
times over by now.  The grim foe was fast, but Atun was just a bit
faster, such that he seemed to avoid being slain by the narrowest of
margins time after time.

Atun:  (frustrated, though he presses on, now attempting to disarm the
  other)

  Slashing and stabbing attacks to the Sleeper's arm, hand, and shoulder
had no effect - there seemed to be no way to make it drop the dangerous
scythe.  Every time he tried, Atun put himself in harm's way, and though
he was clearly a great warrior, even he had to tire.

Atun:  (sweating and breathing heavily now)
DEATH: (swings its scythe, missing the warrior again)
Atun:  (jumps forward, hacking with all his might at the foe's wrist in
  a final, all-or-nothing attempt to break its grip on the scythe)

  It didn't work, and the Sleeper was able to lock a pale hand on the
warrior's shoulder.

Atun:  (suddenly hit by a wave of icy cold)  Aaaaargh!
DEATH:  (raises its scythe, ready to strike a fatal blow)

  However, someone else was in position to take a huge chance, and make
the best of the ancient warrior's diversionary actions...

Eyer:  (in great pain and still recovering feeling in his sword-arm, he
  yet darts forth, before the foe can react, and deftly puts the crown
  on the thing's head)

  There was another bright flash and loud sound, and this Sleeper, too,
was immobilized.

Parekh:  Outstanding.  None of our spell-casters could have pulled that
  off, not with this one.  It had to be someone fast and daring.
Eyer:  (still doubting, he keeps out of range of the thing's hands or
  weapon, just in case)  Whew.
Belphanior:  (moves to help Atun)  Are you okay?
Atun:  Y- y- yes...
Jenna:  (moves to work some healing magic on the warrior)





FEAR:  (now heading in the direction of Hope and Jerome)
Hope:  Wow, these things never give up, do they?
Jerome:  (aware, thanks to the pre-battle briefing, that undead-turning
  is useless against these beings)  Just another moment...
Hope:  (still airborne, she buys the high priest some time by conjuring
  a cloud of fog around the shadowy enemy)  Will that help?
Jerome:  Absolutely.
FEAR:  (emerges from the fog bank, marching resolutely toward Jerome)
Jerome:  (completes his spell, blocking the foe with a barrier of tiny,
  whirling blades)
Hope:  That won't hold it for long.
Neera:  (flies down)  Allow me to help.  (she conjures a bubble of
  force, trapping the Sleeper inside along with the blade barrier)
  That ought to occupy it for a while.
Jerome:  I'll say.
Hope:  Can you move the blades around within the confines of the wall
  of force?
Jerome:  No...unfortunately blade barriers are immobile.
Hope:  Too bad.  That would make our job easier.





DISCORD:  (having ensorcelled Ys' mind and dispatched the doppleganger,
  it is now moving toward the pair of drow)
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Enough of this.  (he summons a gigantic
  black sword, which is customized in his case as a curved scimitar)

  The dark elven archmage brought this immensely powerful spell/weapon
to bear immediately, with favorable effect:  the Sleeper was hewn in
two, right across its torso from right shoulder to left hip.  Each of
its two halves fell to one side, with surprisingly little blood from
the grievous wound.

Lyra:  Based on what the others said, that won't kill the thing.
Otto:  Which is why we have this.  (he holds up one of the plain metal
  circlets that had been kept in Greyhawk's vault for untold years)

  The dwarf ran up to the half which had the head and put the crown on
the being's brow, just as its eyes opened.  Otto leapt back amidst the
flash of light and muffled sound, and then the Sleeper moved no more.





purple worm:  (having just swallowed the Sleeper AGE, it suddenly begins
  writhing about wildly, smashing anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby)
Mongo:  (having caught his hammer and returned his attention to WAR, he
  is blindsided by the great worm's thrashing body, and knocked aside)
  Ungh!

  The cause of the monster's pain soon became apparent, as the huge worm
shriveled up and began moving much more slowly.  Then, a section of its
body split open messily, and the wizened little sleeper emerged, covered
in dark blood and gore.

AGE:  (turns its attention to Pallin, and begins walking toward him)
Socrates:  (preparing to leap into battle to defend its master)  Grr...
Pallin:  Socrates, no.
Razor Charlie:  What the hell am I supposed to do now?  My knives aren't
  doing shit to that thing.
Pallin:  Can you distract it?
Razor Charlie:  Probably.
Pallin:  Do that, then.  I need a bit of time to try a spell here.
Razor Charlie:  Right.  (he picks up a slain Aeridan warrior's lance and
  takes careful aim, using the thing like a big spear)
AGE:  (suddenly hit in the midsection by the long lance, it finds itself
  impaled)
Razor Charlie:  (charges along, using the lance to push the wizened being
  along, while keeping it at a safe distance)
Pallin:  ...interesting.
Razor Charlie:  (notices that the thick lance is already decaying like
  the knives did)  Shit.

  The archmage completed his spell, and attempted to stop time around
the Sleeper.  Unfortunately, the foe's unique powers caused the outcome
of this effort to be altered...

Razor Charlie:  (frozen in time)
Pallin:  (frozen in time)
Socrates:  (frozen in time)
AGE:  (steps backward, pulling itself off of the lance)










WAR:  (bursts free of the rocky ground, and heads for Belphanior, who
  has just been healed by Sir Dremel)
Belphanior:  (stands, recovering from the earlier blow)
Sir Dremel:  Let us now-  eh?
Bosco:  (quietly and covertly flying around behind and above the huge
  being, he now makes the most of this rare opportunity, attempting a
  surprise attack with his shortsword, aiming for the open eye-slit
  in the giant foe's helmet)
WAR:  (turns to face upward, and doesn't even bother to use its sword,
  instead swinging its armored fist)
Bosco:  Eep!  (he flies backwards, avoiding the brunt of the blow, but
  is still grazed, and thus knocked about twenty feet away to land on
  the ground roughly)  Unf!
Sir Dremel:  A match most unfair!  Try me!  (he charges toward the great
  armored foe, sword held high)  For great justice-

  The paladin's attack was deflected by the Sleeper's huge sword, and
then a red-armored fist smashed into Dremel's chest, denting armor and
cracking ribs.

WAR:  (knocks Sir Dremel aside)
Sir Dremel:  (lands roughly, battered and bloody, and drops his sword)
  Ungh!
Jenna:  Oh, dear.
WAR:  (turns and bears down on Belphanior)
Belphanior:  (stands there, sword ready, assessing multiple options at
  this point)
Mongo:  (steps in front of the elf)  Out of the way.  This big fucker's
  mine.
Belphanior:  Sure thing.  (he moves aside)  He's all yours.
Mongo:  Hey, you!  (he charges toward the red-armored behemoth)
Belphanior:  (turns his attention to the wounded Sir Dremel)





DISEASE:  (encased in bluish-white ice, it simply stands there, staring
  at its captors)
Otiluke:  We need that crown.
Rob:  Until we get it back, we need to keep this thing beaten down.  (he
  begins casting a powerful spell)
Belphanior:  (uses his magical ring of spell storing to make a mighty
  leap, from Dremel's fallen form to the iced-over foe)  Forget Dremel,
  I have the crown.
DISEASE:  (an expression of utter rage crosses its face, and it begins
  writhing in place...and the ice begins to crack)
Belphanior:  Oh, fuck no.  (he steps forth and forcibly puts the crown
  on the thing's head, with the same light and sound as the others)
Rob:  Oh.  (he turns his spellcasting efforts toward another foe)
AGE:  (free of the lance and about to inflict some massive aging upon
  Pallin, it suddenly finds itself trapped in a cocoon of solid rock
  which animates and rises up from the very ground to imprison it)
Rob:  Someone needs to act _now_!  Who has the crown meant for that foe?
Neera:  (having moved on from helping Jerome and Hope, she flies above)
  Charlie's got it.  I'll just-

  The sorceress had no way of knowing that the time-stopping effect was
an area, not just three individuals...so as she flew down toward Razor
Charlie, she too was caught in the field, and fell to the ground, frozen
like Pallin and the others.  Meanwhile, the Sleeper's powers were causing
the very rock around its body to erode into dust.

Rob:  Uh-oh.
AGE:  (breaks free of the weakened rock around itself, and heads for the
  high priest)
Parekh:  Look out below!  (she unleashes a meteor storm upon the thing)

  Whatever the Sleeper's ability to hasten the natural decay of material
in its vicinity, it couldn't do much against the sudden volley of blazing
meteorites that now pummeled its body.  Not only did this mighty attack
stagger the wizened being, but for some reason, the frozen field of time
around the adventurers ceased.  Whether it was due to the weakened state
of the foe or simple expiration of its duration was unknown.  Frankly,
Razor Charlie didn't care...

Razor Charlie:  (finds himself holding the lance, with no foe at its tip)
  Huh.  (he looks around, seeing the shell of rock and dust nearby)  Huh.
  (he then spots the battered, staggering form of the Sleeper, its back
  to him)  Huh.

  Aided by his magical boots of speed, the warrior accelerated into a
dead sprint, and then leaped at the creature, which turned to face him
just as he landed upon it.

Razor Charlie:  (instantly aging into an old man, he nevertheless guts
  it out and, even as he weakens beyond any measure of remaining ability,
  he slaps the crown atop the opponent's head)  Ahh...(he quickly falls
  unconscious, his body now that of a hundred-year-old man)

  Nearby, the Sleeper known as FEAR, last seen trapped within a bubble
of force which also contained a blade barrier, had not actually been
seen in a while...

FEAR:  (emerges from the ground nearby, somehow having escaped Neera's
  force-bubble)
Neera:  Oh, crap.
Hope:  Well, there's something you don't see every day.
Otiluke:  Let's try something else.  (he begins spellcasting)  Who has
  the crown?
Jerome:  Belphanior-
Belphanior:  (sails over, landing nearby)  Already on it.  We need to
  immobilize the thing - that seems to be working pretty well so far.
Otiluke:  If someone could stall it...
Hope:  Done.  (she conjures a blazing incendiary cloud around the being)

  By the time the Sleeper emerged from that fiery conflagration, Otiluke
had a gigantic hand of force ready to deploy.  The hand grabbed the foe
and held it tightly in place, its arms pinned to its sides.

Belphanior:  (dashes over there, crown in hand)

  As the elf neared the immobile creature, it lashed out with the only
attack it could bring to bear:  a concentrated wave of pure fear, and
one that would have stopped ninety-nine of a hundred people right in
their tracks.  Belphanior, however, was an exceptional individual;
rather than give in to the terror, he mustered all of his considerable
willpower and advanced, slowly, each step taking all the strength he
possessed.  He inched closer and closer to the Sleeper, finally standing
before it as continual waves of fear washed over him.

Belphanior:  (takes the crown, his hand seeming to move only an inch at
  a time)  You...will...NOT defeat me!  (with a final surge of willpower,
  he pushes the crown over the foe's brow)

  The palpable fear effect ceased in a bright flash of light, and the
opponent stopped moving, its eyes closing.

Belphanior:  (realizes that he's sweating profusely, and every muscle in
  his body aches)  Urgh...(he collapses to the ground, exhausted)

  This left only one Sleeper...

WAR:  (charging toward Mongo, its ten-foot sword raised)
Mongo:  (charging toward WAR, his otherworldly warhammer raised)
Bosco:  (having recovered and rejoined Jenna, the two of them now back
  away quickly)  I'd cover my ears if I was you.
Jenna:  That won't be enough.  (she grabs the halfling and breaks into
  an all-out run, away from the imminent fight)
Bosco:  Hey, wait!  I want to see-
Jenna:  We need to get the hell out of here!
Bosco:  (looking back as Mongo and the Sleeper close to within ten feet
  of each other)  But-



  Though they never truly learned the cause, Aerdians in neighboring
villages several leagues away heard the sound of the impact, and their
windows rattled.  As for those closer to the incident, the effect was
much greater.  Parekh had spotted what was coming, and conjured a quick
protective barrier between the imminent collision and most everyone else.
Despite this, every single person within two hundred feet who had been
standing was blown from their feet.  In the nearby village, any windows
that had still been intact after the Sleepers passed through shattered,
and several buildings that had been teetering on the verge of collapse
finally fall to pieces.
  As for Mongo and his huge, armored opponent, they now stood in a ten-
foot-deep crater, around which dirt and rock had been blown outward.

Mongo:  (stands, shakily, his Invulnerable Coat of Arnd's chestplate
  dented ever so slightly)
WAR:  (also recovers its footing, its helmet now cracked on one side)

  Both of these combatants were the closest thing to unstoppable forces
that ever existed.  Having two such powers in one place, going toe-to-toe
in all-out battle, was the sort of event that would one day be written
about in tales of legend.

Mongo:  AaaaaAAAAARRGH!  (he hurls Stormcrest, hitting the foe in the
  chest and knocking it back ten feet, its armored boots digging twin
  furrows in the ground)
WAR:  (rights itself and charges at Mongo again)
Mongo:  (catches his hammer, and hurls it once more)
WAR:  (hit in the leg, it is knocked over and lands on its back)
Mongo:  (takes several steps back, and catches his hammer)

  The dwarf had initially thought to battle the foe in pure melee combat,
trading blows until one of them fell.  However, he now realized that
despite his protections and his strength (he figured himself and his
opponent to be about equal in raw physical might) he was still only a
mortal being of flesh and blood, and though it would take him a long,
long time to tire, he _would_ eventually tire.  The armored Sleeper,
however, was some sort of unearthly, primal force - and might not tire,
ever.  Mongo had learned long ago, from the great general Lord Marcus,
that fighting intelligently was just as important as fighting bravely,
no matter how mighty you were.
  And so he began a pattern of keeping the foe at bay:  a hammer-throw
would push the other back, or knock it down, and Mongo would catch his
hammer and repeat the process.  All the while, he made sure that the
armored one never got closer than thirty feet or so.  This worked for
exactly four iterations, and then the foe seemed to realize what Mongo
was up to.

Mongo:  Let's see how much you can take, fucker!  (he hurls his hammer
  again)
WAR:  (ready this time, it waits...and _catches_ the hammer in flight!)

  Stormcrest wanted to come back to Mongo's hand, and indeed, in any
other such case, it would have, either breaking free of the foe's grip
(or anything else that held it) or else dragging the foe with it as it
flew back.  In this instance, however, the Sleeper's might was enough
to hold the hammer in place.

Mongo:  Shit.
Bosco:  (swoops down, his winged boots' little wings flapping with all
  their might, and grabs the Sleeper's fingers, trying to pry them loose
  from the hammer)  Almost...there...
WAR:  (holds its hand - and Bosco - in front of its face)
Mongo:  (wondering what the hell the halfling thinks he can do)  Bosco,
  get the hell out of there!
Bosco:  (not giving up despite being completely unsuccessful, he keeps
  trying to free the hammer)  Let...go...!
WAR:  (backhands the small one, sending him soaring high into the air
  and far away)
Bosco:  (bleeding, bruised, and quite possibly unconscious, he sails
  away at a high rate of speed)
Mongo:  (stares helplessly at the airborne halfling)  Bosco!  (glares at
  the Sleeper with considerable anger)  You.

  Mongo turned to his right, picked up a small boulder, and threw it
at the other.  There was a mighty explosion of rock and dust as the
boulder shattered against the Sleeper, spraying stone chips everywhere.
The red-armored foe was still standing there.

Mongo:  Dammit.  (he looks around for something bigger to throw)

  The dwarf's companions came to his aid then; from the wizards came a
fireball, and then a lightning bolt, and then a cone of cold.  Magic
missiles were followed by flaming spheres, and even a barrage of small
boulders.  Alindyar also brought the black blade of disaster into play,
that enchanted force-weapon scoring a direct hit on the foe's helmet.
It was an overpowering offensive showing, one that would have leveled
a fortress or sunk a fleet.

WAR:  (strides forth from the smoke and dust, its gigantic sword held
  in one hand, Mongo's hammer held in the other)

  Mongo hadn't waited around to see if the various spells would stop
the otherworldly foe.  As the thing emerged from the assortment of
magical distractions, Mongo tackled it from behind with enough force
to knock it down.  Wasting no time, he grabbed his hammer's head and,
using his leverage coupled with the element of surprise, he wrenched
the weapon out of the Sleeper's hand.

WAR:  (getting to its feet)
Mongo:  (swings Stormcrest in a great overhead arc, bashing the foe in
  the helmet with all his might, and actually knocking it back down to
  the ground, face-first)
Mongo:  (grabs the other's sword-arm and pulls it around behind its
  back, attempting to disarm the thing)

  The dwarf was shocked to find that the opponent's sword was actually
_fused_ to his gauntleted fist - the weapon was part of the armor!

Mongo:  Shit-
WAR:  (trying to bring its sword-arm back around to the front)
Mongo:  Oh, no you don't.  (he keeps his body between the foe's back
  and the bent-back sword arm, holding the arm in place)

  The dwarf's efforts only worked for this if the much larger opponent
was face-down and off-balance.  Try as he might, Mongo could not keep
the Sleeper from getting back to its feet - as a dwarf, he was just too
short and didn't have the leverage.

WAR:  (stands, then reaches behind its head, grabs Mongo, and pulls
  him forward where the ten-foot sword can be brought to bear)
Mongo:  (scrabbling desperately for a hold, he spots the inch-wide crack
  in the thing's helmet and gets the fingers of one hand into that tiny
  crevice)

  The Sleeper's strength now worked against itself - as it pulled its
small opponent forward, it threatened to tear its own helmet off!  The
headgear was bolted to the neck of the armor, which was one reason for
the success of Mongo's sneak attack and also his efforts to pinion the
big foe's arm behind its head.  Now, Mongo took full advantage of the
Sleeper's momentary confusion, getting his other hand into the cracked
helmet and then pulling in opposite directions...

Mongo:  GrrrrrraaaAAAARGH!!!  (he rips the helmet apart, exposing the
  head within)

  All present then beheld the face of War:  a squat, thick head atop a
neck like a tree-trunk.  The thing had red skin, a mouth full of short,
pointed teeth, and tiny gleaming black eyes.

Mongo:  Whoa!
WAR:  (holding the dwarf in one hand, it bashes him once, twice, thrice
  with the pommel of the sword in its other hand, then flings him away)
Mongo:  (sails away, blood splattering everywhere)  YAAAAAAAAAaaaaaa...
Belphanior:  (having waited for the right moment, he leaps through the
  air, landing on the back of the foe's shoulders, locking his legs
  around its neck, and slamming the last crown onto its exposed head
  with enough force to draw blood)  Got you!

  There was a final bright flash of light and muffled sound, and the
last remaining Sleeper finally fell, the ground shaking with the impact.

Belphanior:  Whew.  (he looks around, as the others convene around him)
  What now?
Otiluke:  Well, I used a spell to catch Bosco before he went splat.
Belphanior:  ...and we thank you.  I meant what now, as far as these
  seven we just defeated?
Pallin:  Now, we send these things back to the Outer Planes from which
  they came.  I've been able to determine their place of origin, and I
  can generate a planar gate through which we can send them.
Skektek:  Shouldn't we destroy them first?
Parekh:  From what Atun said, it's not clear that we _can_ destroy them.
Atun:  (shaking his head sadly)  You cannot.
Belphanior:  (ignoring Atun)  It would be nice if we had an active
  volcano to toss them in.  (he pauses)  Hmm, that's not a bad idea.
Jerome:  I don't think that would destroy them - only give them a warm
  place to sleep.  Besides, the goal here was to send them away from our
  world.
Otiluke:  I can't speak for the Circle of Eight, but I do agree.  The
  priority here is to get rid of these things.
Pallin:  (completes his spell)

  A huge vortex appeared in the air then, a good thirty feet from the
nearest adventurer.  A mass of black and purple vapors, there was a red
center further back within the gateway.  Just the presence of the thing
was ominous - it made everyone uneasy.

Pallin:  Quickly now!  Keeping this portal open is exceedingly dangerous!
Parekh:  (uses her telekinetic scoop to pick up the seven Sleepers, one
  at a time, until they are all together...and then she hurls them into
  the extraplanar void)
Pallin:  (immediately closes the gate)  Ungh...(he collapses, weakened)
Hope:  Are you okay?
Pallin:  That...took every bit of strength I had left.
Belphanior:  I know the feeling...
Mongo:  (limping back to the others)  Me too.  (he wipes sweat and blood
  from his brow)  Man, I tried everything to knock that thing's helmet
  off so we could get the crown on his head!
Derider:  Well, it worked.
Mongo:  It almost didn't.  (he regards the prone, armored Sleeper with
  awe)  After all of those hammer-blows, and all of those spells, all
  we did was make a tiny damn crack in its armor.
Otto:  And that was all you needed to save the day for us.
Mongo:  (cracks his knuckles)  Hmm, true.
Neera:  (notices that Atun is now translucent)  Aaah!
Parekh:  (whirls, her eyes widening)  What the hell...?
Atun:  My time on this world is over.
Neera:  What do you mean?
Atun:  With the departure of the Sleepers from the world, my purpose has
  been fulfilled.
Belphanior:  That's crazy!
Atun:  Not to me.  For a very, very long time, the knowledge of the
  Sleepers has been my responsibility - my burden.  I must confess, I
  truly did not expect to find heroes powerful enough to defeat them.
  (he looks around)  But now I am free of the burden, thanks to all of
  you.  It has been an honor and a privilege to fight alongside you.
  Never has a finer group assembled to fight such a menace.

  As the man spoke, his body grew more and more transparent; right now,
he was barely visible at all.

Atun:  Like the Sleepers, I must depart.  I bid you...farewell.

  And with that, the enigmatic warrior was gone.

Parekh:  (to Pallin)  Where did he go?
Pallin:  To some higher plane, I suspect.
Belphanior:  Well.  (looking around)  Quite a day.

  It was time to take account of the fallen and wounded.  Sir Dremel was
merely wounded thanks to a mighty blow, but he would heal in time.  Bosco
was in similar shape, though unconscious for the time being.  Drak had
been weakened to the point of starvation, Razor Charlie aged to the point
of death, Reptor overcome by great fear, and Ys taken by insanity.  None
of these ill effects had ceased or reversed with the Sleepers' defeat,
and further measures would need to be tried once the wounded were back
in friendly lands.
  Every single summoned monster, as well as the bone golem, had perished
in the fight...and then, of course, was the strange departure of Atun,
whose knowledge and efforts had made this epic confrontation possible.

Otto:  Too bad about Atun.
Neera:  Such a shame...think what we could have learned from him.
Belphanior:  Yeah.  At least he got to accomplish the mission for which,
  as far as I could tell, he'd lived his whole life.
Otiluke:  His name will be remembered and honored, just like those of
  the others who have fallen in various campaigns to save the world.
Derider:  I wonder...did we really save the world today?  And if so,
  what exactly did we save it from?
Belphanior:  We'll never know.





next:       who knows
gateways:   http://www.peldor.com/misc/gateways.php?chapter=975
ftp:        ftp.peldor.com
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   12/18/09
notes:      I know it seems like forever, but the original Panagaea arc
  only happened 22 months (of game time) ago, back on 3/579 C.Y.  This
  sequel was something I'd been thinking about ever since...namely, what
  the hell were the four beings in the coffins, and what about the three
  that showed signs of life right before everything collapsed?

    And now you know.  This episode ended up being a whopping 137K in
  size, most of which was written in a single weekend.  For those who
  yearn for the old days of an episode every week, bear in mind that a
  single 130K mega-episode is basically _ten_ "normal" episodes, just
  all rolled up into one.

    I just checked, and this is the second biggest single story I ever
  wrote.  The biggest was 525, which was 142K in size.  Third place was
  250, at 106K.  The next highest after that are all 67K or less.  So I
  hope you see that this one actually did constitute some effort on my
  part.

    This episode will be published in December 2009; before I begin work
  on 976, I'm going to clean up the website.  It's got broken links and
  outdated information, specifically:
  - the episode summaries at http://www.peldor.com/master.html
    (which are only current to episode 800 on that page, and 500 within
    the Epic III and Epic IV links)
  - the Rogue's Gallery at http://www.peldor.com/misc/gallery.html
    (which is only current to episode 600)
  - the timeline at http://www.peldor.com/misc/timeline.html
    (which is only current to episode 900)
  - the unique spells at http://www.peldor.com/misc/arcanum.html
    (which were last updated in April 2000)
  - the unique magic items at http://www.peldor.com/misc/inventory.html
    (which were also last updated in April 2000)
  - the Greyspire module at http://www.peldor.com/modules/
    (I need to find the maps, if they still exist)
  - the fan mail at http://www.peldor.com/fanmail/
    (last updated in October 2008)

    In fact, as this story goes to press, three other website issues are
  already fixed:

  - the list of episode quotes at http://www.peldor.com/misc/quoth.html
    (which is only current to episode 900)
  - update the list of FRP links at http://www.peldor.com/misc/sites.html
    (many links are now broken, and the web surely holds other good ones)
  - update the links at http://www.peldor.com/misc/mustread.html
    (all three are broken)

    You probably have to be a writer to understand, but these outdated
  resources are driving me crazy and I'm compelled to fix them.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



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