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Dear Jak,

How are you? I am fine. I am moving to a house in Pandaria!!! with Daddy and Mommy Ast and LaLa and Koosv Kusa Kuavv my other sister.  It’s just for a few months while Daddy is out there all the time so he can come home at nights.  There is lots of fighting in Pandaria but where we are going is safe and Mommy says I will get to see funny dragons.  I do not know how we would take you with us and I do not want you to be lonely so I guess it is good that you are gone.

I miss you.  I was mad at first that you left without saying goodbye but I am not mad anymore.  Mommy says ghosts do not belong with us and that you are where you belong now.  I hope you are happy there and not sad or scared anymore.  It made me sad when you were so scared.  Now I am sad that you are gone but I am happy for you.  I asked Mommy if your mom and dad might be where you are and she said maybe.  I hope they are.  Maybe they have funny dragons where you are too.  That would be neat.

Mommy gave me the flute you left for me.  It is very pretty and I love it thank you!!!  I can not play it very well but I can make some noise with it and Mommy says she knows a person who can teach me to play actual songs on it.  I hope the person is a troll like you and can teach me a song you would like.  I am keeping it next to my knife because I know you liked that too.

I wish I could come visit you but since I can not do that Mommy promised to use her magic to send you this letter.  Maybe there is a person where you are who has magic and can send one back? I would like that.  Mommy does not think that can happen but she did not even think you were REAL so I think maybe it can.  Anyway Mommy says she will send all the letters for me that I want so I can write you any time I get lonely or sad and I am going to do that even if you do not write me back. 

You are a good friend Jak and I am glad I met you.  I hope you do not forget me where you are.  I will never ever ever EVER forget you.

Love your friend,
Anais Hollyfield Firewing

* * * * *

Astoreth hated lying to Anais.

But what else could she have done?  The child wouldn’t understand.  The child still didn’t understand – she kept asking whether Jak was going to be okay, if he was happy, if there were other children where he was, if she could go visit him.  When in desperation Astoreth suggested writing her lost friend a letter Anais had pounced on the idea… and it seemed to be a good choice, in the end; almost as soon as she had handed Astoreth the little note in its lavender envelope (with TO JAK carefully scribed on the front in childish hand) Anais bolted outside to play cheerfully for the first time in days.  But now, looking over the heartfelt letter with furrowed brow, Astoreth wondered whether her other choices had been so wise.

Engaging the Vrykul mystic who had come for the little ghost boy absolutely would have been foolish.  Anything powerful enough to get through the wards on Astoreth’s sanctum was an entity she did not want to tangle with on a lark, not with Laurelia sleeping yards away and Anais curled up anxiously in her own bed not much farther away.  The caller had already captured the little shade besides, with magics unfamiliar to Astoreth; the likelihood that she would have been able to unwork them to free the boy’s spirit was small… and for that matter, from what the Vrykul woman said, Jak wasn’t a little boy at all, but a grown troll who was victim to a botched resurrection.  There likely wasn’t anything of substance there to free.  Even oblivion might have been a blessing to such a creature as the mystic described.

…but what if the witch had been lying?  This was a question that had troubled Astoreth.  She had accepted the woman’s explanation and her seeming contentment to depart again with few questions once she had confirmed that the mystic had no intention of returning.  Had her reluctance to hinder the Vrykul in her passage resulted in the damnation of an innocent child to some unknown torment?

No, she decided.  The creature was not a child; it merely held the shape of one.  And her duty to two real and living children trumped any imaginary obligation to one who was, at the very least, likely many years dead.  If letting a powerful willworker leave her home with one errant spirit meant the witch did not turn her eyes to the two little girls in Astoreth’s care, that was certainly for the best.

Astoreth frowned as a thought occurred to her.  The Guardians, the mystic had called her and Westel.  Astoreth had assumed the woman meant Anais’ guardians.  But then the witch didn’t seem to know of or care about Anais at all.  What then had she meant?  Ast and West hadn’t known of – well, hadn’t admitted to Jak’s existence before that night.  Guardians of whom, or what?  Were they meant to guard the little spirit?

If so, Astoreth realized, it was moot now.  Still, she’d guarded Anais from a spirit-snatching witch the night Jak was taken.  Today she had to protect Anais from the harsh truth of the world, for at least a while longer.

Carefully Astoreth ran her fingers along the delicate runes in the prescribed order to unlock her sanctum.  She entered in a smooth motion, turning to immediately lock the door behind her again before proceeding to the bookshelves at the far end.  She reached up high, scanning the shelves until she found the one she wanted – a book not of spells or rituals, but of old Thalassian fairy tales; the cover and pages themselves were old and worn, which was why it had been relegated to this location while her own children received newer editions.

She flipped through the pages to find some of Anais’ favorite stories, and ended up tucking the little note between Strawberry-Hair and the Three Green Trolls and Jack the Giant-Killer.  Then she replaced the book on her shelf and departed her sanctum, silently wishing she could hope Jak was happy, too.

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