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I

Dearest Derry,

I know you must be worried, and I am sorry for not having written sooner. My situation has prevented me from gathering my thoughts, and even this I pen with a frenzied hand. We have always been honest with one another, but I concern myself with how a recounting of recent events may way heavily on your mind. I do not seek for you to worry or concern yourself with me when you have your own matters to attend too. Still, even should I not post this I find it reassuring to again put pen to paper. At least this serves as some form of comfort.

I cannot tell you the tolls recent events have taken on my soul. The insomnia was horrid enough, but a lack of sleep is purely a physical thing. And now, I should think it would be a welcome respite in the faces of these terrible dreams. Every night they come, and I have found myself fearing the cooling of the afternoon as night quickly approaches. I have tried not sleeping, but at best this is a remedy of only a few days. I cannot begin to relate to you the horror these visions have left in my heart, and nor am I interested in their retelling. Rather, given how well you know me you must realize that if I fear sleep they trouble me greatly.

But the last few days have brought something new. A stray word, a whisper on the wind, a tickle in my ear. Every nerve ran raw, and the desire to return clouded my waking mind. A single word seemed to hover on my lips.

Alterac.

II

The ensuing five years had not been kind to the ruined city. To Isleen the stone seemed a bit more worn and the broken gates had begun to bulge and rot in the snow. She had approached from Southshore, wandering a careful and slow path to avoid the ogres who now claimed the ruins and the surrounding countryside. She knew that in reality they posed little threat, but violence in this place seemed sacrilegious. To further taint this land with more blood would be a grave insult. Enough had stained the dirt twenty years ago.

She dismounted just outside of the gates and took her horse, Eleanor, by the reins.

“Yuh up fuh this, girl?” she asked, stroking the horse’s muzzle lovingly.

Eleanor craned her neck and pushed her nose into her hand, staring at her with dull, vacant eyes. Isleen smiled beneath her hood and lead the horse through the gates, both sinking deep into the dirty, piled snow. Around her she could hear only the chilled wind as it echoed through the broken spires of the city. The cold cut to the bone, and even beneath the cover of her cloak her skin felt like ice.

In the quiet darkness of night the city appeared even more desolate, and she felt her heart sink as she drifted through the snow banks. The steady sink of depression took hold, and she pursed her lips, lowered her head against the cold, and pressed deeper into the ruins, angling towards the bakery her parents had once owned. It took only a few minutes of walking, but in short order she was standing beside the burnt husk, a place she had no memories of and could only imagine fully whole in her dreams.

She wrapped Eleanor’s reigns around the blackened frame of the building and slowly walked around the stone foundation.

“Why’m ah even out here?” she said to the burnt out ruins. Then, more angrily, “There’s nothin’ here, damnit!”

She kicked at the snow with a booted foot angrily. Stupid. She had been stupid for coming back. There hadn’t been any answers here five years ago, and there certainly weren’t any now. All of this had been a product of her dream tormented mind.

Then she heard it. Or thought she did. The crackle of fire. It came with the wind, just barely audible. She stepped away from the ruined bakery and into what had once been a major avenue cutting through the city. She craned her neck as another gust of wind blew, and this time the rage of the inferno was louder.

“Ogres?” she whispered.

And then she felt the heat and flick of orange tongues roar around her. She blinked and the world changed. The burnt husks of the ruins were whole again, but each was touched by fire that illuminated the avenue in an eerie orange glow that illuminated the entire city despite the darkness of deep night. Around her the streets ran with desperation as the population fled. Confused she backpedaled towards the bakery, the flames singeing her robes.

“Run! Run!”

“They’ve breached the southern wall!”

“They’re laying waste to the city!”

A fireball burned past her in the distance, exploding into one of the standing towers and setting fire to several nearby buildings. The tower shuddered and then collapsed in on itself, the stone and burning timbers spilling out over the street and crushing a family fleeing along the wall.

Behind her, a door slammed and a young woman -- carrying a baby in one hand and holding the hand of a small male child in the other – darted from the front stoop of the bakery with the intention of joining those fleeing. And she knew her. Instantly.

“Momma,” Isleen said, the words coming as a whisper. Her mind raced, and she stepped towards the street, reaching out with a shaking hand.

The woman could not possibly have heard her above the roar of the flames, but she paused, turned, and stared at her with the same dark eyes that Isleen had come to recognize as her own. The woman who had been known as Olivia Marcus dropped the young child’s hand and took her daughter’s in its place.

“Isleen,” she said.

“Momma,” Isleen said again. “It ain’t possible….”

Olivia looked down at the baby in her arms, its light brown hair gently tousled from sleep. “Yuh’ve changed so much since this….”

“This is…” Isleen said, understanding.

“Twenty years ago.” Olivia turned towards the burning city. “The en’ of Alterac. The en’ of everythin’ tha’ ever mattuhed to me…. ‘cept you.”

“Momma….” She squeezed her hand and it felt so lifelike. “How’s it possible?”

Olivia turned back towards her. “Does it mattuh? Yuh’re here fuh a reason, Isleen.”

“Reason?”

Her mother dropped her hand, and reached up, pushed down the mask of her daughter’s hood, and gently brushed her cheek.

“Ayup. Somethin’ is comin’, Izzy. Somethin’ in a big way.”

“But…”

“This is yuh pas’, my daughtuh. Tha’ pas’ is gonna eat’cha up if’n yuh can’t learn tuh live. Le’ go of wha’ yuh can’t change.”

“Bu’….” She felt a hot tear slide down her cheek.

“Isleen!” Olivia brushed away the tear, leaned forward and kissed her daughter’s forehead. “Please, listen tuh me.”

“Okay…”

“Do yuh unnerstan’?”

Quietly. “Ayup.”

“Isleen, know ah love yuh.”

Isleen felt her mother give her hand a tight squeeze.

“Momma, you can’t leave….”

“Ah havetuh.”

“Momma….”

“Say it back. Please?”

“Ah love yuh.”

Olivia smiled and kisses her daughter’s forehead again.

“Live well, Isleen.”

III

She woke with the sun and to the gentle rhythm of Eleanor nudging her with her nose. She came back to consciousness slowly, waking in increments as her mind kick started itself back into the world. With a last nudge from the horse she finally fully woke and sat up off of the cold stone stoop of the ruined bakery.

Around her the early morning sun found it difficult to penetrate the gray mists of morning, and the shattered city cask itself in a shadowy gloom. Morning meant that the Ogres would likely be about, and already, in the distance, she could hear the clamor of the brutes as they went about their mourning routine.

“Eleanuh,” she said, rising to untie the horse’s reins. “We should leave, yeah?”

She shook the last cobwebs from her mind and violently shoved the events of the previous night from her mind. She quickly mounted, and slapped the backside of her horse, kicking her into a full gallop as she left the city. She never looked back.

IV

That’s all I have thus far, Derry. It has been a few days, and still I struggle to make sense of what has happened. I am not even sure if it was real, or simply another nightmare. I find truth in it, though. I can feel it in my bones and at my very core. It is as real to me as those hateful dreams, and I feel that there is truth in my mother’s words. Something is just on the horizon, and it chills me to my very soul. But, there is hope now, isn’t there? I don’t think I’ll ever set foot in Alterac again. It’s nothing to me now but another set of burned out ruins and a place on the map. Maybe letting go of that place is the beginning of something.

Either way, my heart is heavy. I find myself wondering about the woman my mother was and what she would think of me now. I hope she would approve.

Such thoughts aren’t productive, though. I’ll come and visit you soon. Give your son a kiss for me.

Isleen

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