Looking for a place to rest, Korra locates a small inn situated in the poorer outskirt region of Royal City, entering the ‘Rose & Dragon’ they make the acquaintance of the innkeeper Samson Trebeck who, in response to their enquiries about drinks furnishes Strike with a pint of a local stout called Stiffbristle that has a picture of a boar emblazoned on the pump; all of the ales in the tavern seem to be associated with particular animals and, as she regales the innkeeper with chilling tales of the dead rising, Korra orders a flagon of Hopfoot, a light pale ale whose pump carries the image of a hare. Seeming out of her element in the surrounding of the city, the elf Demanor seems entirely confused by the bewildering array of drinks that her companions are ordering.
Having listened rapt about the legions of undead that prowl the jungles to the south, Trebeck tells them a story of his own, heard from a traveller through the city, he relates how apparently huge spiders the size of horses have been ranging far beyond the edge of the jungle; Demanor, who knows of such creatures within the jungle depths, is trouble by this, such creatures seldom leave their own territory, let alone the jungle. The innkeeper laughs when our heroes mention warning King John V about the unliving menace, saying that the King is already paranoid enough given the recent stone men that have marched out from below the mountains to defend the most ancient section of the boundary wall surrounding the kingdom; apparently the king sees them as a threat to the nations security, he has double guard patrols and imposed a curfew covering the hours of darkness. Trebeck says that they might be better off trying to speak to Salandra Drummond who is head of the city guard or, if they’re really well connected, perhaps Uzriel Godric, Seneschel of the city. Strike asks about the name Godric, recognising it as a norse name, Trebeck says there are all sorts of rumours that the Seneschel’s family were originally Northlanders, but nothing has even been proved.
Having retired for the evening and gone to sleep, Strike is awoken in their room at the inn by something tapping on the window; drawing his dagger the Northland assassin creeps over to the window and cautiously opens it. Pinned by a knife to the outside of the window frame by a rusty knife is a shawl that he recognises as belonging to his sister, stirred by the wind it has been rapping on the frame; standing silhouetted by the moonlight is a ragged figure, dripping putrid river water, dried blood crusted around a single clean slit across it’s throat. Strike recognises the undead form of the trader Tibbs, a man he sent to the afterlife, before he has a chance to ask any questions Tibbs speaks in a voice other than his own, the voice of Ragnar (deceased chief of the Northlanders, a man Strike also sent to the grave) saying “Face me in open combat or your sister will die!”
“Let your puppet go Ragnar!” shouts Strike, the corpse’s face twists into a leering grimace and then collapses, a puppet with it’s strings cut.
Hearing the sound of guards approaching (no doubt drawn by the shouting), Strike climbs back thrown the window into the inn, tucking the shawl into his belt. Meanwhile Demanor has been dreaming, in her dreams she sees the young elf Zephandius reaching out to her, pleading for help, then a darkness flows over him like oil, absorbing him, she jolts awake, a scream dying on her lips and shakingly relates her dream to the others.
Strike has decided that he must confront Ragnar and he knows exactly where to do it, on the ice sheets between the Northland and the mainland, a place he knows all too well from his first flight from his home, the others agree to follow him and, leaving the city behind, they travel back to where their boat is moored and make ready to sail.
Days later the ice sheets loom in the distance, a single line of dark figures stand on the ice, numerous burning arrows rain down upon Strike’s small vessel threatening to burn it to a cinder if he cleaves to his course; intent on rescuing his sister and on dealing death to Ragnar, Strike plows on heedlessly reaching the ice sheets and vaulting out of the boat, even as the burning hulk begins to slip below the water. Strike’s sister stands behind the line of deathly figures, gagged and restrained by two festering jailors, Ragnar steps forward, a giant whom death has done nothing to diminish
“You should have killed me like a warrior when you had the chance Strike, but thanks to you the doors of Valhalla were closed to me and I found a way back to the living world, I have become more powerful than you could dream” came the mocking taunt of the putrid undead Northlander
“Well i’ll just have to kill you now” spat back Strike, drawing his weapon and charging forward.
Sparks jumped into the air as Ragnar aimed a mighty blow with his axe, but Strike nimbly stepped around it, ignoring the huge chips of ice that sprayed into the air, but unable to land a blow back on the huge undead monstrosity; lashing out with a vicious kick Ragnar sent Strike stumbling backwards, the wind knocked out of him, bearing down on the wiry assassin Ragnar began to choke the life out of him.
Taking the opportunity now that Ragnar was in close, Strike headbutted him and slid beneath the undead chieftain, stabbing up with his sword and slicing sidewards, his reward was shower of mouldering innards and Ragnar sliding to the ice, his last words sounding almost proud, “So you do know how to fight like a man after all.”
Demanor and Korra had been working their way around to rescue Strike’s sister, but at the death of Ragnar all his unliving troops also collapsed as though the animating force behind them had been removed, Strike’s sister also collapsed, it seemed that she had been dead for some time and her “survival” was merely a ruse intended to lure Strike to this place.
Running over to Ragnar’s corpse as Demanor gave Strike the bad news, Korra discovered a scroll in tucked into his jerkin, covered in black angular writing of an elven variety, with her knowledge of elven Korra was able to translate the document was a list of elvish prisoners along with some instructions to “hand them to the child.” Checking over the corpses of the once unliving army, Demanor was able to confirm that their were no elves amongst their number.
Strike put his sisters body on the burning wreckage of his boat and pushed it away from the ice sheets whilst, in the ultimate act of disdain for Ragnar, he carved off a chunk of the iceberg, kicked the corpse onto it and pushed the freezing pyre away into the cold water. The wiry northlander looked at Korra and Demanor and seemed to pause for a moment, lost in thought, before speaking: “We’re going to need another boat.”