“I am a veteran of many intense surrenders.” — Carpa
Final preparations are made for the departure. Cabrino offers Carenza a few tidbits of advice for mercenary work in Maviolo: the Prince’s reach thins at the borders, there may be money in jobs to scavenge the ruins in the northern hills, and the Sepechs will pay extra for any bounty whose corpse is delivered intact. Vesper reassures Carpa that not all of the dread rumors of Maviolo are true.
The journey is largely idyllic: it’s a fine trip through summer Calvera, and the expense purse given by Temagli allows the travelers to stay at rather nice inns (though Opilio swears off inns with flowers in the names after learning something about what a floral name signifies). As the Serpent Road rises into the border hills, they stop in the town of Zantira to hear of a recent grave crime. A small band of brigands have attacked a wedding, slaying the bride and groom (as well as a few others who attempted to defend them) and then retreating over the border to Maviolo. The leader is described as a wolfish-looking woman who carried a pike and seemed to bear some personal grudge against the groom. Fully incensed, the group agrees to pursue the brigands where Calveran law cannot. Carpa is left to guard the wagon, with grave reminders of what might happen if Secordis Osomont’s body is again disturbed or if Temagli’s gift for Prince Lazzaretta goes missing.
As the afternoon moves past its midpoint, the group rides past the serpentine columns that mark the ancient border, and into Maviolo. Opilio tracks the brigands into the woods, and a brief potentially violent run-in with a cinnamon-colored bear is averted when Carenza is able to drive it away with commanding tones.
The brigands’ trail leads to an old house in the woods, abandoned maybe forty or fifty years; a large structure, probably belonging to someone of means but not quite of a major landowners’ status. Ettorio scouts the rear entrance (sparking a scandalous comment from Vesper that Opilio deliberately fails to hear), and discovers that all is quiet — a single person lies in the front room, unmoving and not breathing. At that point, a pale mushroom-colored spider the size of a badger drops from above and bites into the Iluni. He manages to escape by fleeing the house and rolling down the hill until the arachnid is smeared across him, and heads back to the group to report and receive some treatment for the bite.
The group first decides to check the stables, to see if the brigands’ three horses are present. They find instead three horse-sized, slightly wriggling cocoons, and an spider of similar size tending to one. The disgusted Rasennans attack the monstrous thing. Though it’s able to wrap Opilio up as easily as a mother scooping up a baby, and place the huge peasant on its back, Ettorio is able to jump on the thing’s abdomen and cut Opilio loose. With all four directing violence against the arachnid, it’s soon slain. Carenza and Vesper cut the horses free, and Opilio is able to treat the sickened animals such that they may recover their strength with a night’s rest.
The group enters the house and discovers that the corpse Ettorio spotted has been drained dry. Nothing else remains on the lower floor save a couple of cat-sized spiders that are easily dispatched and another drained human corpse. The stairs up, though, confront them with another corpse swung from above and, more disconcertingly, whispers of invitation in the local tongue. Upstairs they meet the true residents of the house: more spiders (both the size of bull terriers and the size of mastiffs), and two hideous spider-like humanoids, one of which wields a pike. The spider-things get the advantage, and Opilio carries the brunt of their venom during the battle (as well as developing a growing dread for one of the smallest, and seemingly immortal, of the spiders).
Once the group is able to more effectively coordinate their violence and soldier through the venomous punishment, the spiders are largely smashed and chopped to bits. The final ettercap attempts to flee, but Carenza runs it through the heart with a final charge as it attempts to clamber out a window. Sifting through the larders of the lair, the group finds the corpses of the remaining brigands (including a woman who may once have looked wolfish, before being drained like a wineglass) and the spoils from the wedding raid, which they carry back. The pike is broken and brandished at the gate of Zantira as a warning to future brigands. A particularly fine prize, unclaimed by the wedding party, is a pair of elaborate parrying gauntlets worked with a filigree of thorny hedges. Opilio accepts them, and finds that they match his breastplate rather nicely. Carenza also makes a point of taking a couple of spools of ettercap silk for some future project.