Our heroes departed on their quest to discover the origin and meaning of the symbol carved into the tusk of a mastodon they recently slew. Unable to pick out the trail of the marked mastodon from among the trails of the several hundred other mastodons of its herd, they followed the only clue they had: the cord found about the creature’s neck was made of woven willow strands. To the west stood a distant smoking volcano. To the east, a huge salt lake. To the north, a swamp and freshwater lake. Green-Leaf, their shaman with a rapport with the Willow spirit, said she knew of a small willow forest at the edge of that swamp.
They traveled north – the opposite direction from the way their people have traveled at this time of year, every year, since before the oldest living memory. Looking back south, and seeing their tribe dwindle to a distant speck on the horizon, they experienced a feeling not unlike that felt by the first astronauts to leave Earth’s orbit – as they saw their entire world dwindling in the distance behind them.
Near the end of their first day crossing the vast central plain, the party found themselves in the path of a stampeding herd of antelope. Mostly staying together, they followed Thunder-Gut‘s command to veer up the slope to the east. This saved them from the direct brunt of the stampede, but the herd was vast! Each of them still had to evade one of the antelopes, and most were successful. Thunder-Gut roared mightily to make the herd turn aside, but he was knocked down nevertheless – as were the NPCs Dark-Meat and Rock-Head. Calling upon the Willow-spirit’s aid, Green-Leaf disguised herself as a tree – which the antelope went around.
As the band re-grouped after the passing of the stampede, they discovered its cause: two ferocious scimitar-cats appeared from out of the tall grass! Thunder-Gut strode into battle with the first, and most of the other members of the band pelted the second one with thrown rocks. The first cat dealt blow after blow to Thunder-Gut, who bravely stood his ground as other members of the party came up to fight it. First to arrive was the speedy Spring-Thorn, followed by Soft-Touch who had been drawn by her helpmate Thunder-Gut’s roars of pain. Eventually both cats were subdued, and healing was administered by Green-Leaf and Little-Mountain.
Thick-Brow the hunter collected useful skins and teeth from the cats, and the band moved some distance away as the sun went down, lighting a fire to deter scavengers. That night, Little-Mountain attempted to ingratiate herself with Thunder-Gut at Soft-Touch‘s expense – but was rebuffed. She then attempted to enlist Green-Leaf’s aid against Soft-Touch, but was rebuffed again – and reminded that the tribe’s shaman, Sleep-Weed, had declared Green-Leaf to be her superior. Little-Mountain haughtily replied that she had more experience – despite her lack of a spirit-totem – and went off to sulk.
The next day, the hunting band resumed their trek toward the distant stand of willow trees, but Far-See spotted a crevasse that blocked their way. The crevasse carried rushing water down from the slope of the volcano, and toward the swamp. Goats were heard within the ravine. Vowing to remember this place for when their supplies ran low, they followed the ravine until it disappeared – the stream within entering the mouth of a cave. They resumed their trek toward the willow trees, stopping to camp again so as not to arrive there at night. Big-Hand asked for, and received, one of the four scimitar teeth for a personal weapon – his bowl having been of limited use in combat. And Green-Leaf spoke privately with Thunder-Gut, expressing her concerns about Little-Mountain’s machinations.