By the time the captured ant was dragged into the cage and locked away there were only a few hours left to sunrise. A few people managed to sleep, most were wide awake. As soon as the sky started to lighten, Duffy began barking orders and rousing the few who’d managed to nod off.
The plan for the day was thus: Thomm and Emma would continue to scout to the south to find other ant trails beyond the one to the northeast. Bad Ladle John would stay at the camp to recuperate while Duffy and a couple of redshirts would tend to camp. The rest of the party, led by Melissa and Joey, would venture to the northeast to find the ant trail the scouts had discovered the previous afternoon.
One cart was loaded with an empty cage, some water, bear traps, ant catchers and emergency provisions. The valley the expedition had camped in opened to the northeast, so travel was relatively easy for the horse drawn cart. About a mile in they came to the base of a large hill, which they skirted to the east until they came across the ant trail (1). A river of giant ants trundled busily along in front of them in a northwest to southeast route. The ants journeying to the northwest carried nothing, but the ones traveling southeast carried large balls of some kind of tar in their mandibles.
At this point, the party debated (very briefly) about the wisdom (or serious lack thereof) of trying to snag an ant out of the line. This idea was discarded in favor of following the trail to the source of the tar where, they reasoned, the ants might be more spread out to collect the substance. The bulk of the party walked along the ant trail, keeping a reasonable distance between themselves and the ants. Because the ant trail went straight up the large hill the party had just skirted, Joey took a couple of redshirts with him and traveled around the base of the hill to meet up with the party on the other side.
The party traveled along the trail over the top of the hill and along a valley. Following the ants over the crest of another hill, they came upon the ants’ destination: a tar pit (2). The ants formed a relatively tight formation as they pulled tar from the pits. The characters were hoping the ants would be spread out more for easy capture but this was not the case.
the red line denotes the ant trail
The party noticed as well that the ants were somehow making the tar into tidy spherical globs in their mandibles for the return trip home. Oedustov tried forming the tar into a similar ball with his own hands, but it oozed fairly quickly through his fingers. Just in case the tar could be used for a lure somewhere down the road, he emptied a tool chest from the cart (which had by this time rejoined the party) and filled it with tar.
Oedustov, curious to see if his rations might be used for bait, tossed some dried meat at the ants, but it was ignored.
Not feeling confident that this would be a good place to capture the ants, the expedition decided to trace the trail of the ants back to their ant hill to see what else they could learn about their quarry. Joey and a few redshirts once again separated from the group as the rest traced their way back towards the anthill. At this point it was early afternoon.
The expedition traveled for roughly two hours following the busy and swiftly moving trail of ants. They were making their way down a hillside (3) when they heard shrill screams coming from the ant trail: a small child was clinging tightly to the back of an approaching ant and screaming for help to the adventurers. The ant it was riding was on the far side (outbound side) of the trail from the expedition. Oedustov tried to approach the line to try to snag it with one of the ant traps, but when he got within 15 feet of the trail, three ants peeled off from the line and took up a defensive stance.
Frank made a whiplike gesture with his arms and the ball of tar in one of the defensive ants mandibles burst into flames. It staggered forward, head on fire towards the party, the rest maintained their defensive position. The trail continued to move on, with the child, now identifiable as a little girl, still gripping the ant and screaming for help. She was about to pass where the adventurers were.
- Frank attempted to set another ball of tar on fire, but without any luck.
- The flaming ant staggered into the middle of the expedition before collapsing and curling into a ball.
- The girl, still screaming, was now uphill from the adventurers and traveling away rapidly.
Donny called out to the child to jump off the ant. “I can’t! They’ll eat me!” she screamed as she disappeared over the crest of the hill.
The party at this point decided to retrace their path, heading outbound on the ant trail, their rationale being that the child would eventually return on the inbound line of ants and might be easier to reach. After an hour walk, someone noticed that a rope was dangling from a tree that hung over the ant trail (4). It hung low enough that the girl might have been able to reach it.
It was starting to get late in the day. Not wanting to leave the fate of the little girl to chance, it was decided that some of the party would set up camp by the tree while the rest of the party would return to base camp to coordinate with Duffy and the scouts. Melissa, Oedustov, Uther, Frank, Donny, Betaya and Tig would stay behind while the rest would return to base camp. The cage was unloaded from the cart just in case it was needed.
Four watches of two were established, with Melissa taking both the first and second shift. One sentry stayed near the ant trail while the other stuck closer to the camp. At the start of the final shift, Donny marched up the hill to relieve Uther of his watch and found Uther dead- his throat was shredded, almost as if it had been raked open by claws or sliced repeatedly with a knife. Donny raised an alarm and most of the crew ran up the hillside to see what had happened. It looked like there had been no struggle, something had snuck up on Uther and slashed his throat in a most violent way.
Tig, still near the camp, shouted in alarm: A large dark shape vaulted over the nearby ant trail. From what anybody could see, it looked like something roughly human in size and shape was running off into the distance on the far side of the trail.
Unable to cross the ant trail themselves, the party regrouped. The rest of the night the remaining party kept awake to watch for more intruders. In the morning, the party buried Uther while they waited for the rest of the expedition to return from base camp.
When Joey returned with the rest of the party, the group consulted and it was decided that it would be necessary, for efficiency and safety’s sake (not to mention to better keep an eye out for the distressed child), to move base camp closer to the ant trail. One of the redshirts was sent back to tell Duffy, Bad Ladle John and the rest of the crew of their decision. A new camp was chosen a little bit farther to the south (5).
While the bulk of the party waited for Duffy and the other carts to arrive at the new base camp. Joey, Frank, Donny Oedustov and Tig scouted along the rest of the ant trail to see if they could find the colony.
Another mile or so on the party rounded a bend and found the ant hill, a tall mound of broken up earth out of which four streams of ants were emerging. Here and there, the sun glinted off of bits of metallic deposits that were mixed in with the churned up earth. The four stood up on a hillside overlooking the ant hill considering what their next move might be.
Frank reviewed his elementalist repertoire, considering plugging up the hill with earth, or creating a wall to stop the flow of ants. All of these things required much more power than he currently had.
Oedustov was impressed with the way setting fire to one of the ant’s tarballs had worked the previous day. He proposed several times to set the ants on fire. Most of the party demurred on these ideas, as it seemed to only affect one ant, and it had let to the fast death of the ant which was counter to their goal of capturing ants alive.
Tig’s brain was trying to formulate an effective trap he could engineer.
After the group had mulled over their options for a little while, Joey spoke up:
“Do you remember stepping on an ant trail when you were a kid? The ants would scatter and wheel about randomly for awhile before reforming the trail. Maybe we could do the same…” With this, he grabbed one of the ant catchers and used the pole end to pry loose a nearby boulder. The large rock bounced and rolled down the hill and into the trail. The ants scattered. For the next ten minutes a radius of about 50 feet was filled with randomly circling ants. Gradually the ants reformed into a line.
Because they were so close to the anthill, repeating this exercise in this particular spot with the intention of capturing an ant didn’t seem like a particularly good idea… also, they needed more bodies to lend their strength to wrangling an ant. The five decided to rejoin the main party to explain their idea and find a better place to execute the capture of more ants.
Once regrouped, the party traveled a bit farther to the north and found a hill overlooking the trail where they could roll a boulder into its path. Melissa was starting to become concerned because Duffy and the remainder of the expedition should have met up with them by now. She sent out her falcon to see where everybody was at. After thirty minutes the falcon returned and related to her that base camp was unmoved. She sent out the falcon again to look for the redshirt that had been sent to retrieve the rest of the party. Another 20 minutes passed and the falcon returned to tell her that he’d found the messenger dead, murdered. Melissa then tied a note to her falcon’s leg explaining the situation of the rest of the party and sent it off to be delivered to Duffy. Then she turned to the expedition: “From now on we have to stick close. The ants are not the most dangerous thing in these hills. No one travels alone from now on!”