Brynja sighed heavily as she leaned against the door, forcing it shut. Her eyes stayed closed as she pictured the room before her in her mind. It had been months since she had been home, since she set off with the human expedition into the Dirge Swamp. Slowly she forced her eyes open, taking in the small building that was so familiar, yet long-forgotten. Everything was as it had been before she left, save for the layer of dust that had accumulated. Stepping in silence through the building, she traced her fingertips along her table, her walls, anything that she could reach. Words would never be enough to describe the relief she felt at finally coming home, nor the shame she felt for taking each of these items for granted; as such, they remained unsaid.
Inhaling deeply, taking in the familiar aroma, the dust tickled in Brynja’s nose, but she didn’t care. She quickly made her way over to the fireplace, and soon had a small blaze started. Pots of water were placed above the heat, combined with others in a tub to create a hot bath. It must have been months since she got to bathe like this, to finally feel clean. As she began to disrobe, Brynja noticed the aching stiffness in her joints, despite her young age. Must be the weather, she mused, knowing well that the cold air was not the cause of her pain. Her body had been subjected to trial after trial, more than she had thought she could endure, in just the last few months.
A sharp pain in her ribs stopped her suddenly as she pulled her tunic off. Her chest had been uncomfortable ever since the horrible day in Hazemane village. She was one of many corrupted who was corralled by an Axhound warpack and left to die by a cleansing fire. Her heart ached and her eyes began to sting as she remembered the man for whom she had nearly given her life, the cleric who panicked and fled only to be cut down. Why did the Great Wolf not call her name instead? He was not ready to die as she had been. This was the man who had sacrificed so much to give hope to so many. In the hopes of easing her suffering, he had taken a wound from Brynja unknowingly submitting himself to the corruption as well. It was for this reason that Brynja could not shake the feeling of guilt welling up in her stomach, and it nearly made her sick.
Her tongue was drawn to her fangs, newly budding for the first time in nearly a year. That had not been the first time her teeth had been removed, and would likely not be the last. It was cruel, however, as she was infected with the corruption shortly after being mutilated as she was. The foul magic kept her from healing properly, and as such, her fangs refused to grow back. She would never be whole again after that hellish night, nor the nine months of nightmares that followed. Now, for the first time since, she finally began to feel as though her world might not collapse at a moment’s notice. She finally began to feel once more like an Ulven, not a shell of her former self.
As she stood bare before the bath, she could not will herself into the water quite yet. Glancing down, her fingers traced a path across her chest and arms, winding their way to every scar, some more recent than others. A bruise just below her tattoo forced a grimace onto her face. A rough, scaly patch of skin on her shoulder reminded her of the fire in Hazemane village. A mostly healed puncture in her left arm called to mind the Battle of Pyre Hills: the honorable Whiteoak warrior that nearly ended her life before succumbing to his wounds from their duel. Eventually her fingers made their way to her left hand, caressing the recently stitched wound in her palm. Manetho had done excellent work in repairing the wound, but the damage had been severe: it had to be to finally force the corruption from her body. She slowly squeezed her hand into a fist, exerting far more effort to do so than she liked to admit. At the time, she had feared that she had lost the use of her shield hand, though determination (Manetho called it bull-headedness) allowed her to begin to build the muscles again. It would be months before she was once again in fighting shape, but she was beginning to see progress, and that’s all that truly mattered.
Finally Brynja stepped into the steaming water, embracing the heat as it relaxed her weary muscles. As she lowered herself into the bath her left arm nearly gave out, demanding attention and pushing the memory of the ill-fated swamp expedition back into her mind. She had forgotten so much of that journey, save the image of her comrades fleeing the Mordok as she fell to the mud, the wretched beasts swarming all around her. Her head sank below the surface of the water, hoping that the sensation would wash away the memory. As she did, she felt her hair pull against her, trying to float back to the surface, and she recalled the moment she had cut it off. Near the edge of the swamp, with the Mordok tormenting her, when a group of Shattered Spear hunters descended upon the creatures. Seeing her chance for freedom, Brynja had grabbed the knife in her belt and sliced off the lock of hair being held by one of the Mordok and crawled to the hunters. It was in Newhope that one of Marquess Madeline’s aides trimmed what was left of her hair into a somewhat presentable style. Shorter than she was used to, to be sure, though it stayed out of the way far better than it had before. Might as well keep it, she chuckled to no one. As she surfaced, she breathed heavily and allowed herself to drift away in the first true bit of rest in months…
A knock on the door jolted her awake. She had no idea how long she had been asleep, though her skin was pink and wrinkled, and the water had started to cool. The knock came again as Brynja scanned the room for her cloak. She left the tub and wrapped herself just as the visitor cracked the door. It was a young warrior, one whom she had trained many years before. “Nefstein? What is it?” Brynja prodded, trying not to show the sleep lingering in her eyes.
“There was a letter for the Pack. Everyone is talking about it,” he began. “It just showed up today from Onsallas…but there’s something else.”
“Well, spit it out. What’s wrong?” Brynja had never been the patient kind.
“This letter…it’s…for you.”