As Demanor reflected on the departure of her people (well, most of them) from the world of men she felt a lingering disappointment that they had so easily abandoned the world that had been their home for so many years; Strike was a good deal less introspective in his opinions, mocking the cowardice of the elves for “running away” from their responsibilities and leaving their “mess behind them.” Korra for her part was quiet, no doubt her head was still whirling with the thought of all the stories that she had collected from the elves prior to their departure, stories which were now entirely unique.
Zephandius (one of the younger, zealous elves who had chosen to remain behind) was talking to his fellows saying that they must guide the humans and show them the error of their ways, Demanor listened by counselled caution lest the humans see the elves as another enemy, Korra advised them to visit smaller settlements first and give the humans time to adjust to the idea of accepted elven aid in current affairs.
Troubled by her vision of the pulsating, dark tree Demanor wanted to set off in search of the strange dark elven figures that the vision had revealed to her and, joined by her two friends, headed into the western jungle; as they continued westwards the feelings of anger that seemed to bubble below the surface of the natural world and that were reflected in the elven druid herself seemed to grow stronger and it was only Korra’s soothing singing that allowed the elf to maintain a grip on her temper. A shout from Will caused them to stop as he pulled back the foliage revealing the greying flesh of a dead man, clad in the furs and humidity rusting armour of a northerner, an axe lay near the man’s hand, a strange, thick reddish substance coating the blade; not wanting to see one of his kinsmen go to Valhalla without a weapon in his hand Strike picked up the and placed it on the dead northlanders chest. Without warning the ribcage of the corpse collapsed causing Will to fall forwards and his hand to sink into the stick red substance, immediately Strike started to feel a little queasy and suspected that it must be poison of some kind, luckily he was able to wipe the rest off before any further damage was done to him (although he still felt slightly weakened).
Trying to hide his momentary weakness from his companions, Strike began to analyse the poison using his years of experience attempting to identify it, however, it was like nothing he had seen before, it had the consistency of tree sap but was like nothing natural he had come across; Korra was reminded of an old tale where a man attempted to poison his wife but was tricked into drinking the poison himself, when he died his spirit was not allowed entry into the afterlife and wandered the land, corrupting it until the spirit killed the wife and the land returned to normal.
Without warning the dead body suddenly jerked upright, cadaverous hands grabbing Demanor’s leg, Strike spun round and with a slice of his blade beheaded the creature, the skull rolled to rest against a tree, a piercing shriek emanating from it as the foliage and roots around them began to move and disgorge more of the rotten half-dead, orcs, farmers and northlanders all stumbled forward, hands grapsing and eyes blank. Korra finished off the still moving body of the original creature, meanwhile Demanor concentrated and, leaping up into the nearby trees, she assumed the form of a great jungle ape, brutally dispatching one of the shambling creatures with a blow from her mighty simian arms. A few moments later the group had destroyed the creatures, they stood panting from their extertions and several injuries Korra began to sing her songs of healing whilst Demanor applies some herbal poultices to the bard.
Demanor had been examining the trees, they all seemed tainted with the poisonous sap, she suggested burning them and purifying the area with fire but, as Strike pointed out, the wood was entirely too wet to burn; a ragged voice from the many shattered and destoryed skulls littering the clearing shouted out the word “Coward, the gates of Valhalla are closed to such as you!” Although he didn’t recognise the voice, Strike looked thoughtful, he had an idea who might be responsible.
Deciding that she must risk being overwhelmed by the feelings of anger in order to find out more about their current situation Demanor merged herself with the natural forces running through the area, her eyes rolled back in her head as her spirit travelled elsewhere, in her trance she found herself standing before a huge shadowy figure that vaguely resembled a northlander in outline, twin points of red light serving as eyes. The shadow lashed out with a huge axe and, as she dived backwards, abruptly ending her trance a shallow wound opened on her chest where the tip of the axe had grazed her flesh. Once again the ragged voice echoes through the clearing, “The bloody left hand awaits.”
Seeing Korra and Demanor looking puzzled, Strike explained that in northlander culture when several tribes elected a warleader they dyed his left hand permanently red as a sign of his leadership and he was known as the bloody left hand, they were interrupted by a crashing growing closer through the trees, Demanor transformed herself into a jungle grass snake whilst he two companions dived behind trees. A bedraggled looking elf burst into the clearing, seeing this the party revealed themselves, the elf told them that, after they had left the elven city in came under attack from strange creatures who swamped the elves, it was a massacre; Zephandius ordered a couple of his fatest men to flee to try and warn nearby settlements, thanking the elf for his news they suggested that he continue to warn the human settlements. The elf nodded and, after accepting some healing poultices from the druid, he left them to continue on his mission of warning.
Strike mused that the fate of the jungle was clearly somehow linked to his own people, he suggested that they head for Axeholme, the only northlander settlement on the mainland, nodding numbly after news of the potential massacre of her remaining people Demanor agreed. Days later they arrived at Axeholme, however, the once bustling village had been reduced to little more than a smouldering ruin, all except one building, the central long-house. Walking in they saw that the room was mainly taken up by a huge stone eagle, lashed to it was a battered but alive figure that Strike recognised as his uncle, the once chief of his tribe; gasping the bloodied but proud northlander coughed as Strike cut the ropes fastening his to the eagle and said “Ragnor has returned, with an army of the dead, he has killed me… but do not let me die without a weapon in my hand.”
Nodding Strike passed his uncle a weapon and dropped into a fighting pose, he parried the clumsy tired blow that the tortured, older man aimed at him and then, seizing his moment, he stepped in under the older northlander’s weapon and stabbed his sword deeply into his uncle’s side; the old man nodded, a faint flicker of a smile on his lips as his last breath left his body and he crumbled to the floor.
A few minutes later a boat transformed into a blazing funeral pyre left the shore, carrying the deceased chief, heading in the opposite direction a second boat containing our heroes began to sail towards Royal City, Demanor and Korra listening with rapt attention as Will told them that Ragnor was the previous chief of the northlanders and that he himself had been banished for poisoning the old chief after he had laid hands on his sister.