“I don’t believe rushing blindly into the woods after an unknown number of assailants is a sound tactical decision, and I also can’t believe I’m the one on this side of the conversation!” —Vittoro Marvigliozzo
Breakfast at the Sespech Estate is not without its own incident. Things are going pleasantly enough, with Brosetta and Vittorio talking cheerfully of adventure with curious students and cadets, until Decillius Sespech takes a seat next to Vesper. His apparent attempts at polite conversation are rather clumsy — the first question out of his mouth is “Where’s your wolf husband? Does he delegate the task of protecting you?”
“He’s busy working on the social aspect of our latest endeavor,” responds Vesper even-handedly. The answer doesn’t mollify Decillius, who doesn’t seem to be able to tell if she’s serious or not. He continues the conversation, but isn’t able to keep his contempt for the Vargari under control, until Brosetta overhears enough to anger her. A giant palm slams down on the table. “Look, you pale leech-faced son of a corpse!” Carenza elbows Brosetta in the ribs to calm her down, but the half-orc interprets the gesture as “Yeah! You tell him!”
While Brosetta is immune to the more subtle discouragements of Vittorio and Carenza, a direct glare from Vesper is harder to ignore. The young necromancer looks Rosette directly in the eyes and tells her to be silent. The would-be Vargari’s protests are overridden. “Finish your breakfast so we can leave.”
The Estate behind them, they ride north for Lucovol Villa. They spend the next night in a barn, having made better time than the average travellers in need of inns would. Nothing troubles them at night; the Maviolo forests seem at their most welcoming during summer.
The following afternoon, the lack of trouble becomes clearer. During a passage between hills, Vittorio, Carenza and Vesper all note that there’s someone watching them from stands of laurel. The three of them quietly discuss the possible ambush as they ride, but Vittorio estimates that the watchers have likely assessed the group as far too dangerous to bother with. Then Brosetta rides up and asks “What are we talking about?”
When she finds out that there are bandits in the woods, she turns her mount and nearly charges before she’s stopped. Vesper actually chooses to side with Brosetta, arguing that the bandits will be trouble for other people sooner or later, while Carenza and Vittorio say it might be better to spare them for the moment and do something on their return if necessary. Vittorio in particular finds the conversation highly unusual. “I don’t believe rushing blindly into the woods after an unknown number of assailants is a sound tactical decision, and I also can’t believe I’m the one on this side of the conversation!”
So the riders agree to let the bandits continue to cower in the woods for the moment, and press on to White Hollow.
The town of White Hollow clearly earns it name from the pale birches that surround it, ghostlike, at the edge of the Maviolan forest. They find that the town is on the defensive. The locals sent a rider south, but apparently the rider never made it to a point where the travellers saw him; they assume that bandits captured the messenger. The group first meets the town’s principal defender Barcolo and then the unofficial town head, the vintner Jastara Pelorin. The townsfolk explain about the problems with ogres, who have recently arrived and are devouring livestock — and a few people have gone missing as well.
The blades offer their help immediately. They request a tracker or scout to take them to the ogres’ last location. Barcolo assigns a young man, Toriso, to show them the way. Toriso guides them to a farmhouse on the periphery of White Hollow. They find four ogres there: one with shaggy hair, another covered in scars, a third a filthy female, and the fourth, the leader, wearing a human’s breastplate for a bracer. A scream rings from the barn, and the four move into action.
Brosetta charges in, and starts very strong. However, the size and strength difference takes a toll on her, and she starts to flag after a few bouts. While she ties up a pair of the ogres, Vesper, Carenza and Vittorio devote their attention to the female first. Aggrieved and half-mad, the ogress charges Vittorio at a very inopportune moment, and they stop her dead before she can reach him.
The dangers of the Lucovol curse become evident during the battle. The ogres clearly hold the fever in their blood. Their open wounds actually give off an invisible miasma, a distracting fume that sends flashes of bloodlust and hunger. It takes careful work to cut each one down, one at a time, before the blood fever spreads. Though Brosetta is struggling by the end of the clash, she’s still standing thanks to Carenza and Vittorio’s support. The shaggy ogre, last to survive, finally experiences a flash of self-preservation and bolts — but Vesper holds it in its tracks, Brosetta piles into it, and Carenza makes the killing blow.
With the four ogre readers dead, the group finds the source of the scream — a young girl who’d snuck to her family farm to try saving her horses from the ogres. They take her with them safely back to White Hollow.