When the dirt settles, the floor no longer crumbles, and our curses clear the air, we finally discover the trouble we’ve gotten into. The dim lighting emanates from fungus coating the walls, illuminating what appears to be a cavern full of refuse. Dead husks, emptied egg sacs, luckily no live ants about. Once we found our feet, our goal was quickly agreed upon – escape without any undue trouble.
Errol gave us a glance and a smirk, and forged ahead, fading into the gloom. The rest of us tried to keep up, moving towards the closest passageway where Erroll had gone. The passageway opened into a massive cavern, the dirt well worn. Our explorations weren’t stealthy – we realized this when a couple fire ants stumbled across us. We got the jump on them and ended it with a minimum of fuss. Our lesson learned, Erroll forged on ahead to find a way for us to escape while we returned to the refuse room.
While Erroll was gone, the gods were not smiling on us. Ants kept wandering into sight, launching themselves at us. We fended them off well enough, though it started getting a bit closer when the worker ants starting trying to call for help. As we’re starting to feel some pressure, Erroll just . . . faded into action. We didn’t see him coming, and neither did the ants. Mopping up didn’t take long after that.
Erroll had us wait a bit, then lead us towards the exit. The ants seemed preoccupied, though Erroll initially didn’t comment on it. Once we found the exit, the story became clear. The “exit” was an ant, specially formed to act as a gate. Erroll pulled some organs from a pouch, staring thoughtfully at the ant. He explained the organs were pheromone pouches, one of which he had thrown into the queen’s lair to induce a panic in the ants. The gate ant used the same pheromones to communicate – examining the ant revealed a set of sensory organs, which responded to the pheromones, allowing us out.
And by out, I mean up a level. We had fallen more than a single floor under ground, and we weren’t out of the hill yet. This floor seemed much more open – we could see a giant lake, some walls swarming with normal ants, and cavernous open spaces. Erroll headed off to scout ahead, leaving the rest of us to check out the lake. As we approached the lake, we could see a skeletal hand reaching out of the lake. Something glinted in the skeletal hand, which obligates any adventurer to investigate for potential loot. It looked promising, until we went to reach for the skeleton – then the walls boiled to life, pouring ants to the floor. Unlike the ants we had previously seen, these were thousands of regular ants. Like the previous ants, they were aggressive.
These ants flooded us, crawling up our legs, into our armor, biting anything they could reach. They seemed to be an omnipresent aura of enraged biting – strikes could kill hundreds of ants with little apparent effect, although explosions could clear entire areas of the swarm. Another combat, more enemies dead. And with killing the ants, we were free to examine the corpse to relieve it of an amulet and some scale mail. Closer examination revealed both to be magical, and were duly doled out to interested party members.
At this point, Erroll led us to one corner of the cavern which he found suspicious. In a large alcove comprising one corner of the cavern, he warned us that the central section was a false floor, but there was something strange about the walls. We scoured the walls and argued over the possibilities, and finally decided the floor was false and hiding the actual exit. Digging unveiled the suspected exit – and a pit full of spikes and ants, waiting for us to fall through the false floor. We opted to quietly make our way up another level.
I felt pretty good about our progress as we reached the third floor of the ant hill. I felt less good with the rumblings as we started hurrying along the single hallway. Some ants attacked us as we hurried down the hallway, and we killed them as quickly as possible. We arrived at the end of the tunnel, running smackdab into another false wall. We attacked it with a vengeance, figuring escape was imminent, and while we started removing false wall, our enthusiasm caused the ceiling to become unstable as well. We cleared the area, watching the ceiling and various walls collapse. Our destructive enthusiasm brought the attention of a whole host of ants – including soldier ants this time around. This fight got hairy as they rushed us and pinned us against a wall, but behind them we could spy the entrance. Daylight filtered down from the exit, and gave us the strength to face a final wave of ants. We killed them, ran for the exit, and kept running as we heard the enraged scream from the hill – the queen, most likely.
Once we heard the scream, we kept running until we made it to Paradiso. Sighting the walls of Paradiso was a relief for multiple reasons – the safety and civilization was nice, but the sudden absence of mosquitoes and other insects was luxury itself. The voice of a guardsman challenging our entrance was a kind reminder of returning to humanity. Upon announcing ourselves as Hands of the Agency, he informed us that the Mayor had already acquired rooms for us, and would see us in the morning. We took the room gratefully, and retired for the evening.