In 4121 AR, the desert dwarves of the Barrier Wall Mountains sealed the famed Tar-Urkatha mine abruptly, saying only that one of the richest platinum mines in history had played out. Nearly six centuries later, the truth rises from the darkness.
Leaving yet another companion behind as well as the strange encounter with a freakishly large gnoll matron and her enslaved studs, the adventurers continue. Eventually, the trail leads out of the canyon and through a mountain pass growing ever fainted and confused with game trails.
Chitleen shrugs as he strings his bow and readies to stalk off in the direction of the shouting. He motions for Surak to lead the way, as he recognized the guttural and harsh edges of Dwarven in the cries.
You quickly move down the trail until you spot the source of the ruckus. A grizzled dwarf is engaged in a game of tug-of-war for his pack with a pair of enormous ants the size of hunting dogs. Your mules grow nervous at the scent of the giant insects.
Surak readies his crossbow, and ensures his sword and shield are ready to draw. He proceeds slowly and as quietly as he can in the right direction once Tararr is ready to accompany him and the Elves are ready to follow.
The dwarves lead the way down the path between the pines as quietly as dwarves can move. Turning a corner, you see the source of the noise 60 feet ahead. A chain mail clad turbaned dwarf is currently engaged in a game of tug-of-war for his pack with a pair of ants the size of hunting dogs. The cursing and swearing cover the sounds of your less than stealthy approach.
Tararr charges forward taking an axe to one of the Ants. He smashes into the black shell severing a pair of legs and gouging its thorax. The Ant nips at him to no effect as it releases a burning odor. The other Ant continues pulling at the dwarf's pack.
The press of dwarves and Ants make for a difficult shot and Surak's bolt flies wide as he closes for hand-to-mandible combat. Daeron's shot is off target and ricochets off the thick chitin.
The decidedly non-exoskeletonic elf with a name similar to chitin, moves in closer and his shot hits the thing's head, blinding it as Tararr quickly hacks it to bits. The remaining Ant sensing an attack on its sister, drops the pack as it turns its wicked mouth parts on the turbaned dwarf. -4
The acrid smell continues from the dying Ant and three more burst from the trees. One is similar sized, but its companions are bigger than mastiffs with larger jaws and barbed stingers.
Surak charges to Tararr's side with a guarding swing of his blade to block the incoming Ants. A moment later he is nearly pushed over as Tararr grows to double his size and Daeron disappears behind the berserker's girth. Chitleen fires at the smaller of the new arrivals, but his shot is blocked by a pine bough.
Tararr turns his wrath on the worker Ant that yet harries the stranger, but doesn't compensate for his size and over reaches. His longer reach works for him as the soldier Ants charge in and he nearly hacks the head off one. It completes its charge, but its dislocated mandibles miss the giant dwarf as does its companion.
The new worker Ant joins its partner on the stranger and he is hard pressed and takes a grievous wound as he is captured within the mandibles. (-7, grappled).
Surak dodges a wild swing by Tararr that foils his attack on the nearest soldier Ant. Likewise, Daeron drops an arrow as the giant raging dwarf makes standing too near hazardous. Chitleen moves to assist the stranger and lands a solid blow on the worker. Even with the assistance, however, the stranger is unable to break away from the powerful mandibles.
Tararr drives the spear end of his urgrosh into the wounded warrior Ant killing it. A following swing of the axe end bloodies the other which frantically attacks the giant dwarf, but fails to injure Tararr. The stranger dwarf falls unconscious as the worker Ant continues crushing him in its jaws. The other worker bites at Chitleen missing.
Surak slips behind the soldier and and splits it with a heavy blow of his sword. Daeron and Chitleen focus on the Ant clutching the unconscious dwarf in its mandibles and quickly bring it down. An instant later Tararr makes short work of the last Ant. The legs and jaws of the fallen monstrous insects continue moving for some time, but they are no longer a threat as you turn your attention to the injured stranger.
Wiping the ant ichor off his blade, Chitleen stows the Talwar before moving to assist Surak in returning the fallen dwarf to the world of the living.
Surak channels some of Ragathiel's divine essence, willing the fallen dwarf to rise and take the fight of revenge back upon the insects that had laid him low.
Channel: 1d6 ⇒ 2 and 1d6 ⇒ 5 if a second dose needed?
The stranger rouses with the influx of positive energy. Blinking for a moment he starts at a stray Ant leg that lies nearby and then relaxes. "Ah cousin, I thank you. These cursed insects were more than I could handle alone."
Satisfied that the stranger is no longer near death, Chitleen gives him some space and withdraws a few steps. "This is a strange place for one to be alone... what brings you into the mountains?" adding with a touch to his chest "I am Chitleen"
Tararr catches his breath and moves to recover the mules which have run off during the battle taking long strides as he remains in his enlarged form.
The stranger introduces himself as he rebinds his hair and restores the turban which has fallen off during the struggle, "I am Tamerk. Indeed a strange and dangerous place to be alone. The Spotted Hide gnolls are bad enough, but now this valley has proven full of monstrous ants as well. Yes, I am alone. I seek, an um, important location to my people. It was recently reclaimed from the gnolls, but we have lost contact yet again and fear the worst."
Actually it becomes quite evident how Tamerk might have become separated from his kin what with Tararr off chasing the mules and Surak losing interest after healing the stranger.
NONETHELESS, Tamerk explains once you've retreated back to the main trail. "Our culture has diverged from our northern cousins since the Quest for Sky. We emerged on the borders of the verdant hell of the Mwangi Expanse, a realm alien to our culture. The orcs driven before us had already mostly succumbed to the horrors of the jungle so they posed little problem, but there were many more dangers awaiting: disease, demon apes, and worse."
"When we finally made our way east back to the drier side of the Barrier Wall and Shattered Range, we were much depleted. Our numbers dangerously reduced and our warlike temperament blunted. We become traders more than warriors. What we could produce in mineral wealth and armaments we gladly traded for cloth, grain, and livestock we cold not so easily produce. We became the desert dwarves, traveling in nomadic caravans like the humans of these lands and sending our best to continue mining what they could."
"Our numbers are few so when we heard nothing of this outpost, I came alone to see what had happened. My clan thought it best to send one to gather information rather than risk more lives. You see, we are a much more cautious people than our northern cousins."
Tamerk appears slightly upset by Daeron's tone, "It was my honor to volunteer. I am known for avoiding trouble and staying out of sight. Unfortunately, I did not take into account that these ants track by scent. Our ways are different, elf. If I fail to return at least my death has not been in vain as I will have warned my clan that these mountains yet remain cursed and not worth the cost of life."
"But why are you here? I do not think you would come to my aid if you were merely bandits, but what other reason would bring you to this gnoll infested wilderness?"
Smiling genially Chitleen adds "My wants are fuelled by avarice and greed, nothing so noble as your own good dwarf... have you yet to find the outpost you sought? - I would see it neighbourly to see your task completed, if only to sate the greed of my curiosity."
Intending to ask if Tamerk was waylaid en-route to or from his lost outpost.
The dwarf stiffens a bit from his seat on an old log. "No, I think our motives are quite different. I care only to honor my ancestors and protect my clan. Personal wealth and fame mean little to me. You speak of a lost dwarven hold you seek to pillage. Pray tell which one?"
Chitleen does not allow his smile to fade as he continues "Pillage, unearth, reclaim, honor, wealth... all such things mean more and less depending upon who speaks and who listens no? Would it make your back less stiff to hear our desires interpreted as serving as the instrument to return dwarves and dwarvish rule to a hold that has been long lost to them?" purposefully dancing around revealing their destination.
"Or is your need for honor tarnished by being rescued from certain death by those that are honest enough to admit a desire for coin?"
Diplomacy is probably most relevant, will roll just in case you'd like it: 1d20 ⇒ 11
Tamerk tugs on his beard in consternation. "I owe you a blood debt, it is true, but I beg of you no more elvish double talk. Speak plainly, what is your mission here? You speak of a desire for coin, but what does this have to do with my kind?"
Chuckle stifled as his smile is maintained Chitleen speaks as plainly as his mercantile soul allows "Our services have been bought, to act as a vanguard for dwarvish interests... in reclaiming Zolurket."