The party found a lost tribe deep within those caves, coinhabiting with the goblins. The Shadar-Zao were suspicious of outsiders, though some were friendlier than others, and had a strange problem that over time all their tribesmen were falling into deep, unending slumbers. Dispatching a number of marauding cave-nasties won some good will from them, though, though their leader still refused to lend them a guide. Skid volunteered, though, and the party—plus Skid and Rika, his wife—made their way out to the Western Wilds.
The wilds were not welcoming—after a few hours of making their way towards Westlanding, which was visible from the moment they departed the caves, Skid ran off to fetch a flower for his wife. Within seconds both goblins had taken arrows to the chest, killing Skid and injuring Rika. A smug, self-important, and black-clad ranger then walked up to receive back pats for “saving them.” Richard Thesbitt was his name, and he was working for Phelen Ostricar. As the party’s blood all boiled they still managed not to kill him on the spot—within sight of the town and its guards—and set off to bury Skid.
Despite their hesitance to take Rika into a town they knew contained a man who’d just tried to murder her, they made their way into Westlanding, where they were relieved to find that it was an impeccably well-run and well-defended town whose guard force showed equal care in protecting all of its guests. The inhabitants of the town seemed to confirm what they’d heard about unrest in the tribes, though they were hesitant to enlist their aid. Still, the party needed that information and, lacking anything else of import to do, they tried to build up the favor of the townsfolk. Slowly at first—starting with Tal, the friendly, loudmouthed rogue who took a liking to Cordelia, and then more rapidly as they intervened in a Thesbitt-produced conflict with the neighboring Kenku tribe—this worked.
The party spent only a week or so in Westlanding, but when they did so it was having made the friendship of both the town and the neighboring Kenku tribe: Thesbitt had kidnapped the Kenku’s spirit speaker, and it was the party’s timely rescue that prevented a large-scale conflict between the town and Kenku that would have led to many deaths. Despite this, they had been able to rescue her only by moving in on Ostricar’s tents, injuring or killing a number of his men in the process. Uld Rohansson, the de facto leader of the town, thanked them earnestly but said that he was sure they could understand they had to leave.
He did give them a new lead, though: Gavernus Cambillon, their top scout, had been sent north to investigate the human tribe, which had recently begun domesticating wild drakes for use as mounts. He was due back some days ago—a tardiness which had never previously occurred. The name sent off a hint of recollection, too, in Cordelia: Tunius Cambillon had been one of her father’s last allies defending himself against the political wiles of his other children, Cordelia’s half-siblings.
Understanding full well how necessary their taking quick leave would be—Ostricar was in Westlanding as an official envoy of the Mallian government, while Uld and James Pellegrin, captain of the guards, and the guards who had hesitated or declined to interfere were all in the employ of Korend—and given a new lead to investigate that seemed to put them back on the trail of the problems they had originally been sent to look into, the party set off towards the north. They were immediately thankful for what might have seemed a smaller boon: their copy of James Pellegrin’s map of the westtern wilds.
Stopping by Skid’s grave to pay their respects once more before leaving the area, they were then able to make their way north with relative ease, walking between the tall grasses and wild beasts of the plains and the rocky foothills of the divisional ridge. After a few days they came upon the village, a surprisingly permament-looking structure for the traditionally nomadic people, with mud huts built before—and on the grounds of—a temple they knew was traditionally open to all the tribes.
Watching carefully, as if they needed a last clear indicator that things were different than before, they next saw the return of a hunting party. Some eight warriors on red drakes as large and muscled as bulls flanked and escorted a cadre of foot troops, who bore on a grid an enormous cattle-like grazer, some ten to fifteen feet long. Clearly something unnatural was afoot, and the party was determined to find out what.