Cleve crouched in the greyish blue grass, his duralloy-tipped spear clutched in front of him. His eyes, which sprouted on short tentacles from the sockets, constantly darted up and down scanning the field in front of him. The wind was blowing hot and dry down the knoll where he waited, and he hoped this would cover his scent. Broose, his ursine companion, had cautioned him against leaving cover before falling into a deep slumber. Asleep, the bear could use his mental eye to scout the next ridge, while Cleve stood guard. Despite having journeyed to the great ruins of Pitz Burke and back nearly three summers ago, Cleve was still very fearful of any place outside Cambol lands and didn't much care for watching a sleeping bear in the middle of unknown territory.
Although this journey was only a routine patrol of the Cambol borderlands, they had come across the horrible remains of a Cambol trader and his family who had been ambushed by something on the north road a mile back. Their wounds had been easy to see but what could have caused them was still undetermined. Some kind of intense heat had burned fist-sized holes through the flesh and cauterized the wounds at the same time. Little blood was to be seen, which was probably the reason the bodies hadn't been despoiled by predators when Cleve & Broose found them. A few tracks could be seen around the bodies, but neither of the Cambol hunters could identify them or even where the tracks originated from. It looked like the attackers had just suddenly appeared in the traders' midst. The traders pack cart was missing, and it appeared that whatever had taken it, had driven the cart off along the path to the north.
They had followed the rutted mark left by the cartwheels for almost 3 hours. The path crested a grassy ridge before descending down into a field and thence toward another ridge. Seeing another potential spot for an ambush, Broose had decided to stop here and use other means to explore ahead. Before falling asleep, the bear had left Cleve with instructions to poke him with the spear if he hadn't awoken in an hour. The hour was nearly up by Cleve's reckoning when he finally spotted his companion starting to rise. Eventually, and with an irritated snort, Broose stood up from his grassy bed, and motioned to his companion to come close.
Broose told him in a low rumbling whisper what he had seen over the ridge. The path, he said, branched in two directions. One to the northwest was clear and looked to pass through another grassy field. The path to the northeast passed into a small copse of trees before entering a settlement of some kind. Broose's nose glistened with moisture, and Cleve sensed the big bear was more than a little afraid of what he had seen. The settlement, he said, was made of mounds of strange black hoops, some big enough for a man to stand up in. Some of the mounds appeared to be smouldering and the smoke that issued from them was thick and black. Worse still, the mounds were occupied.
The creatures looked a little bit like jackalopes without horns and were as big as a man. He said many of them were wearing armor and all carried a variety of weapons. Terrifyingly, some appeared to be armed with Ancient weapons like the fire sticks they had brought back from Pitz Burke. Broose said he had been unable to see clearly through the smoky air, but he thought they also appeared to be using Ancient talker devices, too. After watching them for a while, he noticed their numbers growing as more and more of them crawled and leaped out of the piles of rubbery black hoops. Although he couldn't be sure, it looked like they were massing for a raid or an expedition of some kind.
After a short discussion, the two hunters decided to leave for home immediately. If the creatures from the hoop mound were coming toward Cambol lands, the chiefs would have to be told. They'd both seen what could happen when the Red Death had raided an unwary Cambol town last spring and these hoop-mound creatures looked far more dangerous.