The Travelers reconvene in the Banshee Wastes, at the twisted tree that will be their meeting place. They discuss the plan for when Wanda arrives, and the axeman whose services Kho Na’an enlisted approaches. Kho Na’an asks him to hide behind Hope’s southwest gate and report any potential dangers to his fellow sentries back in town; he agrees, and the two fist-bump enthusiastically before he gets himself into position. Blaze searches the area for any potential traps or other dangers; he finds nothing, and decides to position himself in his Ghillie suit about 50 ft away from the tree, bow & arrow readied.
The paladin utters a prayer to Heironeous; the barbarian utters a prayer to Gruumsh. Caratticus gets a distant but severe look in his eye, as if his true personality is beginning to reemerge. Kho Na’an notices this change, and calls his name; there is no response. He attempts to speak to him in Draconic; still, no response. ”Dick.”
They wait for a few minutes more, until a tiny cloaked thing emerges from the southwest gate. Wanda joins the five Travelers (Caratticus, Kho Na’an, Annalae, Voltage, and Xenlin), greeting them heartily and exchanging pleasant conversation for a small time. She notices that Blaze is missing, and senses motive like a motherfucker. However, she claims that it shouldn’t be an issue, so long as he’s listening in. Then, the conversation turns to the heart of the matter; she takes down her hood, and begins to explain the conspiracy emerging from the Kingdom of Entille. There rests the High Tower, an amalgam of wizards that broke off from Alche, the Wizard Throne and set up operations outside of Dietrich. Since their inception they’ve caused great harm to the Kingdom of Aenn, spreading madness amongst its people. Though Aasterinian is all for Chaos, she has realized that the Wizards have begun targeting her Travelers- and this she cannot abide.
In the middle of this exposition, Wanda looks at the dubious expressions of some and explains that she can show them something that might prove her honesty a bit more. She asks them to keep calm; she particularly asks Blaze, shouting the request into the Wastes. Then, she pulls her hood back up and over her eyes. She begins shaking; the air around her begins to swirl and blur; her body descends into shadow; the shadow grows larger and larger, reaching the size of roughly five buildings. Then, the shadow recedes, and in its place is a large, adult brass dragon. Aasterinian.
Pretty much everyone is freaked the fuck out. Caratticus, even sane, is speechless. Xenlin is struggling to maintain his calm; Blaze freezes in place; Kho Na’an starts asking worriedly if the dragon is Aasterinian, and where Wanda went. The dragon calmly and politely introduces herself as, yes, Aasterinian, and explains that Wanda has been her avatar for years. She notes that there’s not much time; Wanda failed to notice the axeman at the gate, and he’ll surely be running for the town at the appearance of the dragon. However, in what short time she has, she must request the assistance of the Travelers. The Wizards of the High Tower are wreaking havoc on the Kingdom of Aenn- they brought the Dragonflight all those years ago in an attempt to dissuade and weaken the gods of this realm. They’re also responsible for curses of madness across Aenn, including Caratticus’ own sickness. Furthermore, their plots have gained them near-full control over Dietrich, the capital city of Entille; not even the gods know what destruction they could reap with the power of an entire kingdom at their disposal. They worship an old god, one of death and destruction and rage. It is a god so old that not even Aasterinian knows its name. Yet the wizards are not serving this deity, so much as drawing power from it in the hopes that they themselves can ascend as demigods- a foolish and surely dooming endeavor, but if they succeed it will be the end of Aenn. Aasterinian has enlisted the help of many gods, even those she quarrels with on principal (Bahamut, Heironeous), but few of them have enough power to fully interfere in the affairs of the Kingdom Across the Sea.
Kho Na’an laments. ”If even the gods are weakened, what chance have we?” Aasterinian gives him a calm but serious look. ”I’m not saying this mission won’t be dangerous,” she admits. ”But my friends still fight the Wizards. They are distracted, their resources are focused, and they are unlikely to notice a few mere mortals at their door; together, you may just have a chance.”
”Little Travelers, will you assist me, and the Kingdom of Aenn, against the coming dark?”
Most of the Travelers seem ready to join in this quest- but Blaze, from a distance, merely stands and draws his sword. ”NEVER!”
Blaze asserts that he will never assist a dragon, no matter what the circumstance. A shouting match ensues, watched over by Aasterinian as the townspeople amass in the square. Caratticus begins to lecture the half-elf; Kho Na’an finds his words insulting and provocative, and attempts to clobber him over the head and therefore knock him out of his clarity. However, his fist is met by Xenlin’s arm, and the cleric continues. Xenlin further disputes Blaze’s hatred for all dragons, and the argument continues quite dramatically until Xenlin begins to hear the shouts and stomping of an angry mob approaching from beyond the gate. Aasterinian hears as well; ”I must go, Travelers,” she says. ”For the sake of the gnome woman. Please, if you have any concern for her well-being, you must lie about my presence. Give her your answers by tomorrow.” That said, the deity reverts back into shadow; she morphs and shrinks, and when the shadow recedes, it is again Wanda, in her little green cloak, smiling sheepishly up at the Travelers just as a terrible swarm of people flock to them. Blaze disappears (as the Blaze do), and the rest of the group readies to face the town.
With some incredible bluffing-their-asses-off skills, the Travelers and Wanda convince Eliade that what the axeman saw was merely a display that Wanda had been working on for some time now. She promises, for further reassurance, to make the “dragon” reappear during the festival three days hence. Eliade and the townspeople are confused, but accept this merely due to the power of the ass-bluffing-off; they depart, all but the axeman who asks Kho Na’an why on earth he was told to come. Kho Na’an explains that he was an important part of the Dragon Beta, and that his reaction was a necessary part of the process. He accepts this, due to Kho Na’an’s super bluffs, until Kho Na’an leans in as he shakes the axeman’s hand and whispers, ”There are forces at work. Trust no one.” He leaves, reasonably freaked at this point but remaining silent.
Kho Na’an decides to walk out beyond the destruction and desolation of Hope and the Banshee Wastes, desperately in need of some time to think. Wanda and Caratticus converse, with Xenlin listening nearby; Wanda met the cleric roughly 50 years ago, and is happy to see him as himself, if only for a short time. Caratticus pledges his mace, just as Kho Na’an has pledged his axe, to the cause given them by Aasterinian; Xenlin is also pledged to help. Wanda worries about Blaze- she says that she believes him to be a good man, one who could be of great help in Entille. She acknowledges that he is merely plagued by his past, and asks that the cleric and the paladin try to talk him into coming with them. They express that it is their wish as well, and with that Wanda bids them a cheerful goodnight and patters off into town. Caratticus and Xenlin engage in some conversation about his sanity; feels are had. Then, the cleric decides to take Annalae and Voltage back to the inn, while he still finds himself capable of some intelligence and direction. Xenlin walks away in the direction of Kho Na’an, also looking for some time to clear his head.
Caratticus and his companions reach the inn without incident; as soon as the cleric sits on the bed, experiences a moment of calm and comfort, his expression begins to change into that of a careless simpleton. ”Hmm! I’m tired!” He then offers Annalae the bed; she accepts graciously. She also thanks him for his part in saving her, and explains that she heard something about a ranger, and wondered if it might be Blaze. The matter is left open, however, and she begins to speak of her friends out in the Wastes and Blaze’s promise to help. Caratticus offers his services as well, and NPC bonding ensues. With that said and done, Caratticus, Voltage, and Annalae drift off into sleep.
Kho Na’an, upon seeing the unburned fields outside of Hope, decides to construct a small fire from sparse trees and dry grass. He is soon greeted by Blaze, who sits with him and immediately begins a major feels jam. Blaze explains his contempt for dragons; the half-orc explains his history, and reasons that if he is a half-orc who tries to be good, perhaps not all dragons are destructive and evil. Blaze is unsure of his feelings, but sees no way to contend the words of the barbarian.
They are then joined by Xenlin, who sits with them and furthers the feels jam as he argues for the sake of some good dragons. He explains the destruction he has seen, and warns Blaze against the dangers that may reach Aenn if the High Tower is allowed to thrive. The conversation does not go super well, and ends with a chorus of “you don’t know me”s. The ranger leaves, and the barbarian follows behind, commenting on the way that Blaze should feel no obligation to obey Xenlin’s commands, as chaotic good individuals are wont to do. Blaze returns to the bunkhouse; Kho Na’an goes to the inn to speak with Caratticus.
The half-orc wakes his former mentor; the old man is rather crotchety, and does not understand a word that Kho Na’an says. However, Kho Na’an asserts that he only wishes to “leave a message” for the “real Caratticus”: ”For seven months, I led you through that forest. I tried to help you; I am still trying to help you. But if you endanger me, or get in my way, I will smite you.” He stares severely at the old man for a moment more; then he smiles and bids him a cheerful goodnight as he leaves for the bunkhouse. Caratticus 1.0 sighs uncomprehendingly and goes back to sleep; Xenlin soon joins them at the inn, succumbing as well to the promise of rest. All said and done, the Travelers lay in their beds, dreaming of things to come and preparing themselves for the long days to come.