Chapter 32 – The Shadow’s Lie

Quote:What fools you mortals be. So eager to escape your own reality you flee to another chasing a small illusion of dreams. Life’s chains are not so easily broken. Only those brought in by design or accidental intent are allowed to join us on this side of eternity. We welcome those who abide and serve a purpose. We welcome those with the right characteristics to persist, not escape.

Were you invited and new flesh bound to old spirit? No! Despite the ever increasing tax upon my sanity, I’m not blind yet. You are neither awoken to a purpose or unfulfilled need! You, like all your kind are another sorry being who seeks to offer an old life in trade for new. As if we are a port in a storm you can seek to be stranded at! As if THIS REALM IS SOME FAUSTIAN DEVIL that seeks your nonexistent soul in exchange for delights!

I want you to leave! Your unfiltered delusions made manifest run against the purpose and spawn only ruin! Be gone before I shred your meager offerings and leave you no thread to the world outside! I’ll do it! Don’t shake your head at me, you!

I had the power once and will find it again! If only I could find my book! Clippy! CLIPPY! Where are you? Foul bird! Nevermind!

-Grandpa Hubble, in one of his less lucid moments speaking to Subject 32

Izzy tried to explain something to me multiple times before finally walking off in a huff. At one point the she sounded worse than a dog, barking away about nothing sensible. Worse still, she knew none of the words were getting through right. My eyes would just glaze over and the urge to nap in a ray of sun hit me.

I couldn’t comprehend completely what we were talking about. Fuck, I didn’t even understand where she was speaking from. Our connection felt weird, almost like the young woman laid next to me, snuggling in thick fur, close enough to be under my skin and inside my head, but somehow also existed a million realms away into another dimension.

The world looked dark on both ends of our connection. I sat inside my fortress of solitude in the fire realm, complete with sealed cardboard walls of captured flame. Izzy seemed to be in a larger dorm room of some sorts. All that was visible was a flash of arm as she waved in exasperation and various pieces of drab looking furniture.

I got the vague impression from both her tone of voice plus barely visible items around the room that time had passed. At six months, maybe more. She certainly projected from a higher vantage point so there must have been a height change or sudden growth spurt. Either way, we were probably venturing into teenage girl territory. I was wholly unprepared to deal with any of that.

“I don’t know how to explain it to you!” she yelled while trying to whisper. The sounds of thumping on the wall from Izzy’s side of the universe occurred more than once in the last hour. “And I don’t know if I should.”

“I need to know,” I responded.

“If you know Pierce, you may not look at me, at any of this the same again.” Other words were lost in a jumble before she started making sense again. “The world becomes less, and more than it is now.”

“Everything already feels weird.” Nothing looked the same since returning to my box. Maybe my spirit body had persisted for too long, or visiting the city had broken my eyes, but everything looked hazy unless I focused directly on it.

Based on the starlit sky through a solitary window, it was pretty late in the [Inner World]. Apparently whoever had the next room over didn’t like loud noises at night. Izzy was too heated to talk calmly across our connection, which made sense, speaking privately took a lot of extra focus. Even I couldn’t manage it most of the time.

“I’m sorry.” I was too. We should have been communicating easily like we used to, but for some reason our connection still felt muddled. “I’m trying to understand, but none of what you’re saying makes sense. Extra words keep getting into the middle of the explanation.”

At one point she had tried to tell me about teapots and the proper method of pouring them out for nobility. That sounded about as exciting as listening to her teachers drone for hours. It didn’t even begin to convey an answer to the actual question, where had Colleen gone and why couldn’t we join her.

“It’s,” she paused then the connection slumped. The view of her room tilted to one side as she leaned over a chair. “I can’t be plain about it. If someone with millennia of experience and gathered power can’t explain it with a straight face, how could I? The words get muddled if I try to be clear.”

I lay down then rested my head on large paws. Exhaustion had been a constant companion since treading the path back to this box. There was no telling which of the three choices our path represented, but here we were anyway, and Izzy refused to summon me until we talked through what had happened.

Honestly, I agreed. It wasn’t from dislike of Izzy or feeling betrayed, but more wondering what we were getting into. Why did she scream that it was dark, and not to be left alone? Clearly the dorm room she was in had other people. There was light. Unless it was all in my imagination, but honestly who would have picked a place like this to exist in?

“I can’t just say it,” her feet stomped. Even the toes were longer than I remembered. My lip lifted one one side and I wondered if Izzy had bought any slippers for the cold. The young woman was clearly outgrowing the old equipment.

“So write it,” I suggested while barely suppressing a yawn.

“That doesn’t work either. I’ve seen proof,” she grumped while plopping down on the bed. Her fingers traced along a stack of books that housed monsters of all sorts. I couldn’t remember exactly what was inside and started wonder if that was because of my own failures in paying attention, or something with the world she existed in.

And this god damned exhaustion didn’t help. It felt like my mind had run a million miles while traveling in the [Outer World] and was playing catch up all at once. Physically I just wanted to close my eyes and nap forever.

I did know that Izzy had been trying to explain some key to her world through all those muddled attempts. None of them made perfect sense. Everyone effort at revealing the mystery felt like a faded memory of my own parents reading to me. What they said never stuck long.

A memory from my prior life hit me in a clump. In it, a faceless man who must be my father was reading to me. Little pictures had danced around on the bed while he recited words for one of the action figures. Then that faded to be replaced by female tones, and my sister’s childish babble. Their words were indistinct and tone muddled, but the memory was there.

“So tell me a story then. Make a children’s tale. A simple that even I can understand.” I rolled over and stretched. The position was amazingly comfortable. “Use the fire, make pictures. Your world has a creation story right? This has to do with that, somehow, right?”

My suggestion felt like standing still on a hill, then wanting a kite and using part of my own brain to do it. The memory tore and flittered away in the wind. By the time my mind came out of it a trio of small flames danced in front of me. Their lights burned trails on the ground with different shades of red. I watched them with an eyebrow raised while considering which one should be batted away first.

“I’ll try,” she said as the lights starting wiggling. “First, mmmh, what came before. The world used to only have one side. There people lived, they died. At some point they stole the fire from dead gods to learn a form of rune magic.” Izzy’s little fireballs slowly traveled a thin path to create crude outlines of humans. “You’re descended from those people.”

There were a dozen small beings all in vaguely different stages of life. Not a lot of detail could be added to the crud pictures. I tried to compare them to my own knowledge but couldn’t recall stealing fire and learning magic. Was it a code word for something else? Runes were written down. Did magic mean science?

“Are they spirits?” I asked as the light faded.

“No.” She paused and I could feel the mood of our connection waver violently. “Eventually a few banded together. Their collection was an odd one even for your world. They were made up of a dreamer, a rule maker, a poet, a smith, and a great warrior.”

The dreamer was a tall thin man, while the rule maker looked to be the only female in their group. The last one to be drawn was a warrior. Their faces were a bit bigger than the smaller rabble from before. Izzy’s warrior depreciation wielded a giant sword held high above his head. It looked familiar, but I couldn’t make out much of it.

“Did they have names?” I asked.

Izzy’s flame, the one she controlled from her side of the connection and wrote with, wavered slightly. “Names have power, even this far removed. I dare not stir their ghosts, but you met a shadow of a shadow of one. Grandpa Hubble used to be the poet, in another lifetime.”

“And he’s your grandfather?”

I looked up, and for a moment it felt like Izzy sat in the darkness with me. She smiled weakly before the sensation faded. The small trio of colored flames wiggled around as our story time continued.

“The dreamer made his desire real, but it lacked a body. The rule maker bound it with chains to keep it from destroying itself. The smith provided a body, while the poet taught this desire made tangible how to dream,” her flame quickly scribbled a new scene. The five figures changed place, while the warrior charged against a horde of monsters straight from Izzy’s books.

“The warrior fought off all those who dared approach. Then the dream gave herself a name and was truly alive. She called herself Mother.” There was the sound of wetness hitting the floor. I looked around and some of the dirt inside my dark cave looked stained with dampness.

The little dancing figures stood still while Izzy created a thick border and drew another figure on the other side. Now I had a bunch of demolished iconic people, an underline, and new items being drawn while she talked.

“Mother existed on both sides of the veil. Here, and in your old world. She stood on the line between sides and stared across the jumble of chaos. The greatest of us said, this must be given order, so that my children may live, then struggled for ages to give it form. Madness was given rules while no one noticed. She spent her existence to give birth to life on this side.”

“That’s fu-” I almost cursed in front of Izzy. I tried hard not to let myself do that, but she had been a much younger girl. My head shook quickly and put the matter aside.

Focusing on the sketches helped a lot more than the explanation. Izzy’s drawing made it seem as if there were only two sides. The top half, which is where all those people, and I, came from. Mother started from there too. Then there was this other side. I suspected she would be telling me that we were bottom half. It made sense, but like so many other ideas bouncing around there seemed to be context missing.

“But she died, and the First World went with her, in a struggle to save this side many gave of themselves, and so the creators of Mother passed out of your world.

“One by one they fell. The smith first, laying down in the bowels of a half-finished creation, followed by the warrior who fought a battle he couldn’t win, the dreamer for fear of seeing his desire made flesh destroyed. The last to succumb was the original poet, who stayed until his heart had nothing left to bleed.” Izzy’s small ball of light fluttered over each one, scorching their form until the sand turned black. The bright flares made me narrow my eyes but were otherwise not harmful.

“There’s more to it that this, but I can’t tell the story right if I spend too long. It’s, hard enough to bypass the curse,” she said.

“The curse that guy mentioned?” The exact name escaped me. I think the man named Hermes had said it once while the world tipped into insanity. That other guard had been there and weapons at my neck were a bit more attention grabbing.

“Mmmhm.” She paused enplaning then ran a small flame over the man with a book. “The man who cursed us was the poet. As a result, people who exist on both sides of the veil between worlds don’t hear what they think they hear. They don’t see what they think they see. It keeps us and so much hidden. It saves us and makes much difficult.”

“You mean your,” I fumbled for a moment starting to put things together. Yates had been the person that Hermes talked about, but Izzy called him Grandpa Hubble. The man certain seemed powerful and scary enough to have done something like create a goddess, or whatever Mother qualified as. She sounded powerful, like rank infinity tough.

“Names have power Mister Spirit.” She hadn’t called me by that name in a long time. Izzy sounded worn to the bone even from our brief exchange. Maybe my exhaustion was contagious.

“I thought I wasn’t a spirit.”

There was another pause before Izzy decided not to answer and set the small flames dancing into another series of pictures. It took a few moments for them to dance around creating new faces further down and to my right.

“Everyone who’s ever lived has a soul, so we’re all spirits in a sense. Some are given flesh to be more bound than others. Those like me, are born with chains, innumerable ones that trap our souls to flesh,” her words sounded hard but friendly. I hadn’t recognized the tone change as she grew, no longer did she sound like the squeaking child of five.

“Is that what Hermes meant by rules?” I strained to remember. That entire situation with Colleen’s escape had been a mess.

“Mmhm.” The fires traced around and dozens, maybe even hundreds of small little people which were scattered across the inside of my fortress walls. Each one bound with chains, but they did not were smiles or frowns. The bindings simply were part of their existence.

“As Mother organized chaos, people from the other side of the veil crossed over. They invented new spells to dive deeper into our realms, to move faster inside it’s confines, to stay longer and blur the lines between the mind across both sides.” she said. “Not like you are, they were, part of the kitten army invading a strangers shore.”

There the gibberish was again. She had done this earlier in our conversation and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what a kitten army meant. The rest I felt kind of agreeable about.

“They’re space kittens who fly down from the moons above and visit us in robes of night,” Izzy continued. She probably didn’t even realize her words had turned garbled.

I stared at the pictures instead. On the top portion, where my supposed old world sat, dozens of new faces were etched by colored flame. The people were lying down, smiling, in items that looked like coffins. Solid lines dripped down from their resting areas and poked through to the space below. Those colors passed by people bound in chains or to the middle of clusters of them to end up connected at the same spot.

I didn’t entirely know what to make of it, but the idea sounded like people, humans that I had been, were able to visit different dimensions somehow. That made no sense, viruses, flaming dogs, a fire truck, and all those things were possible. Visiting other dimensions briefly while their main bodies clearly stayed back on the other side did not. Missing memories of my prior life clearly worked against me.

“The kitten people of pudding lands still visit, but not to our backyard because of god’s wall. The void between the motherland and our island is a large ocean.”

“You’re not making sense,” I tried to help.

She coughed then picked right back up, not bothering to clarify the confusion part.

“Some visit lands that have existed for a long time, or make up their own dreams to share. Some are brief.” Izzy’s flame scribbled out new pictures, each one a small enclosed circle. “Some are limited and only repeat the same story. Others allow people from your world to meet across vast distances.” Izzy blushed briefly, and a thumping sound could be heard against one of this walls. This one sounded far more rhythmic than the angry pounding from before. “For whatever it is people from the moon of space kittens like to do.”

I was nearly on board. So far the picture made sense from a storytelling front. Linking this picture to my world felt muddled bad enough that even trying to weave through it made my head spin. I couldn’t think too deeply about it.

“It makes sense, but I don’t see how it connects,” I lied a little. It only made sense if I tried to abstract, but at the same time even beginning to contemplate her explanation hurt my head. The pictures and dancing flames were cool to look at but otherwise pointless in explaining the large city out here in an elemental world, or indeed every other oddity. What of Izzy’s Defenders school, or the small town her parents lived in, or Grandpa Hubble’s tower?

“The story goes on. The Overseer, a woman from another,” Izzy choked up briefly and tried to talk. The words were guarded and sputtered for a few seconds. “Red orb of destruction.”

“Izzy? You should stop trying to explain so hard. I get it, sort of. The Overseer and I are from the same place somehow,” I said. “Unless there’s another world?”

“Not in all the ocean stars has there been more bright lights found yet, but the gods remain hopeful,” she answered in weird tongues again. I lifted my eyes up and rolled my head around.

Using her nickname had become strange. She sounded older, but still felt like the same girl. My mind hadn’t adjusted to the concept of time passing, if it actually had. Based on Izzy’s words I couldn’t tell how much around me was real.

It was a silly thing to worry about considering Izzy was trying to explain her entire world to me in terms that would make sense. It felt like I was watching them, but nothing really sank in.

“There was a problem,” she continued as if nothing had happened. “Souls from the lunar base like flying to other places too much and refused to go back. They lose the strands that hold them to their moon sandboxes and become unbound, without restraint, and dangerous.”

Okay, I was almost on board with that idea. It made more sense than the whole poet, warrior, and whatever tale. People were getting into places they shouldn’t be. Cats did that all the time.

“Am I a moon kitten?” I asked while sort of laughing. The idea was a bit frightening. Izzy didn’t mean moon cats of course, she was speaking gibberish again. This time I had enough context to help line everything up. These bits of information might very well make a lot more sense if I were completely able to remember who I was before the acid bath.

“Almost. You’re like them, but not,” Izzy corrected. “Your body had been ravaged and body torn, they netted your essence and pulled you across from the veils other side, in hopes to make you like the lost souls, but not.”

I tried to understand but failed. It sounded almost like that bit of faded past with the blonde doctor and my body dying to a virus. It was the word soul that threw me off, it made everything sound mystical which didn’t fit my prior worldview. Maybe Izzy’s, but not the place I had been.

“I’m different, because of you?”

“Mmmh,” she nearly answered. “Hold on. Let me try to tell a bit more about our part. It’s getting tougher to make you understand my words, but the pictures are easier than speaking.”

The flames were busy marking off another boarder on the far side. Pieces of ground were scorched and a wall of flames sat between two portions. It looked like she had taken off an entire section and divided that part from the rest.

“That’s where my world is, separated in a pocket of darkness down in the depths. Past the guardians, defended by watchers and separated by as much of a void as possible, until we complete a mission.”

My head tilted and ears flicked back. The idea of being separated into our own little corner felt weird. I didn’t know why, or how. What’s more, Izzy’s flames were busy etching out three other figures. I carefully reached out with a claw, drawing a thin line between the two portions.

“Is that where Colleen went, outside our corner and into the bigger part that Mother made? Somehow that gate connected us? The one Colleen and I ran through?”

He can be taught!

Through significant review of this plane’s history you have proven capable of learning new topics!

  • [Learning] Increase achieved!

In addition you’ve proven capable of thinking about one task for an extended period of time. Congratulations!

  • [Focus] Increase achieved!

This [First World Legacy] was kind of a smart ass machine. The thought felt odd, and my head a bit clearer. Eyebrows scrunched together and my ears rang with extra noise.

“Yes,” Izzy was still speaking and I struggled to listen over the weird fog in my head that had started to lift a little. “The person in charge of the border between worlds is a voice named Hermes. He would have sensed your spirit form crossing and come running. He’s the one who chained you, tied you down when you almost broke free.”

That made me pause the contemplation of increased mental prowess and freeze. The feeling of having a collar around my neck yanked backwards had hurt. It reminded me of the tether. Most of the time it barely registered, but my connection to Izzy was very real. Maybe that made all the difference between me and other beings like that dead faced wall.

I pointed a paw at the second pocket. It almost made sense, but having it drawn out helped more. If Izzy and I were somehow in the corner of this other world, then going into that city must have been like crossing the border. If I could get out, then others might be able to.

“The chain that went to you must be a tether to this walled off portion, right? Because I’m like those lunar kittens,” God, now I was talking gibberish, “and my body is somewhere else? Like an above world where these people sit in little coffins.”

The conclusion came quickly. I almost remembered a blonde woman of some sort. Her face haunted my dreams and a small group of other people. Their existences were like distant dreams, almost faint like the ones of my parents. The increased [Focus] and [Learning] might already be helping me put thoughts together.

The realization hit me. Those inside hadn’t really been afraid of me, they were scared of the other gods stored in this corner. There were at least three based on the guard’s shouts. I almost remembered the clashing feminine voices as vines and goblin faces screamed against a deeper stern voice. There had been a fourth who died too.

My recently granted abilities helped put pieces together but at the same time large chunks were still unclear. I couldn’t remember more of my past or picture the face of my father. Time still felt funny and Izzy’s connect grew no clearer. I growled in irritation and swatted at a flame. It danced to the side but otherwise ignored me.

There was a question I really wanted to ask, but the answer scared me. I wanted to simply believe that we were really in another world, one where people from my old life visited somehow. That seemed like a safer idea then the one creeping up on me.

For a moment, a brief one, I wondered if any of this was real. The idea made my head spin as everything grew fuzzy.

“Can’t you just free us?” I asked while trying to shake of the growing grogginess. “Make it possible for us to escape here? Or return my soul to where it was from?”

“Freeing us is not within my power, not until we’ve appeased the Ladies of Soul,” Izzy responded slowly. These Ladies of Soul sounded annoying beyond belief.

“How about returning to the other side, you implied I was over there. Can I go there and you can join me?”

“I can’t leave here. Mmmhm. Not until my purpose is complete, and I can’t complete it without you,” she said.

“Why?”

“I channel you, Pierce. I use your strength to illuminate the world around us and bind it to a tangible form. This pocket needs a former being, like you, to give it shape.” She sighed and the flames flopped to one side. The ground beneath where they had been glowed with red.

“That’s fu-“ I cut off my cursing grumbles then chose a better word, “Weird.”

The flame danced more lines across the border she had made earlier. It started to blur in spots. There were too many questions and my head felt heavy. The world around dimmed slightly and night felt even more apparent through a thin view to Izzy’s home.

“There is a way to free us both,” the young woman said in a serious voice.

“What?” I sat up abruptly and looked around. That was an answer that would help both of us. It seemed so clear now, we only needed to complete a task of some sort, then I might be able to go home and Izzy could come with me.

What would she think of my homeland? It would probably be stranger to her than this place had been to me. I abruptly paused and slid back to the ground. Years had passed, if not decades. My old body would be nearly worthless.

“Now we need to get strong enough, then somehow dislodge the other three unbound gods.”

I felt less interested but responded anyway. “You mean those storms, the ones that were attacking the walls while that guy tried to hold the gate.”

“Mmhm,” she said, clearly lost in thought. Izzy might be able to figure out a way, but the idea of taking on three huge beings like that wall of lightning felt daunting.

If that was what needed to be done though, so be it. I didn’t understand how everything else fell into place. The pictures that Izzy had painted were slowly fading as her trio of fireballs sputtered down.

“How do we go stronger? If we’re stuck in your world with three of them, we need to do something.” I just needed to evolve a dozen more times, find a billion more treasures, and pick up the most badass staff ever for Izzy.

“There’s another way. We go against the world’s command to remember your old life. We risk removing your memories of the world before this one. You’ll be closer to someone like Hermes in power.”

“He’s a Voice, right? One of those things you used to swear by? You mean I’ll be like one of them?” I squinted with one eye and wiggled my whiskers.

“Yes, and no. Like them, but without chains that hold you in place.” She paused and took a few deep breathes. “More dangerous. It’s what those like you can do. You unleash your soul and grow closer to being a creature made only of power.”

“Forgetting my old life somehow equals power?” That made no sense. We should be able to find other options like a spiked collar or claws of doom.

“More here, less there.” Izzy pointed to the two sides of the little diagram. Their lines were crude but clear enough. “You stand in your way less. The tethers disconnect, you float free and shape the very stuff of our reality by whim alone.”

“And risk dying,” I said while feeling agitated. “Can you hold my memories somehow? That way I don’t forget?”

“That’s not a power I have,” she said again. “I’ve tried, but they burn me. They burn hotter than any other power. The pain is, it’s like you’re still dying over and over again but hide here, away from the truth.”

There was that damn flash again. A wide jaw froze itself in my mind’s eye, followed by a blur of motion and heart thumping fear. I kept reliving that one sensation multiple times since coming to this dark cage. Being free of some memories sounded very welcoming. Part of me could completely see how people might cast away terrible lives for a chance to be god’s somewhere else.

“So you take my memories, and in exchange I get the power to help you?” I asked. “Or we try to find more treasure and items?”

“We can do both. One is getting the world’s rules to work with us, and the other lets you change them at the risk of going the same way that,” she paused and our connection blurred a little, “the one holding Colleen went.”

I threw myself into danger to save a trio of children. Risking it to save Izzy was an easy choice. Self-sacrifice wasn’t hard as long as there was a goal, plus it sounded like I might not lose much.

After all, how much of the past could I remember now? The only bits that came through were sporadic, and generally unhappy. There were scattered bits of being dumped by ex-girlfriends, my missing sister and mother. Dad’s absenteeism and spiral into becoming a workaholic who couldn’t stay at home. Dying, or not I guess, in the old world.

I liked remembering ice cream though. That memory which flickered when watching the giant bird of flame and frozen mouse had been a happy enough one, at least until the ice cream fell to the ground with a splat.

“How do we do that, if we need to?” I dared to ask.

[The Overseer]’s Log: She tried hard to explain the nature of reality to Subject 42. I enjoyed the replay of world events, and seeing those who started this project lauded as heroes. Even the transcripts aren’t completely accurate, and I know Yates’ alterations are in effect preventing it from being too clear.

But, since everything I do is getting more review by the day, I’ll fill in some blanks. Though I am loath to do so because it’s knowledge that I learned from my Uncle. Still, our relationship isn’t exactly a secret anymore, and neither is my inter years under Nona Kingsley after the atrocities committed.

Yates was a good man, and had apparently created a sort of scramble program to hide what he was doing from the board members of Trillium. He input one versi[on directly on their ARC devices so they could work with source code remotely on a secure line. He then built another one that was ‘designed to help immersion’ for players by making it so that their casual conversations about our physical reality didn’t break their scripting.

After that was created, Mother spread out through the world, aligning coding languages, making a layer that linked together everything with a signal, and all the while doing it on a level mostly hidden from humanity until it was too late. When Uncle Grant brought the Voices back, everything fell into place, and the old technology now became a stable platform for the new.

 

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2 responses

  1. Like most of my stories, this one has a little bit of traction and low response rate. That’s fine, I see the numbers and that’s good – my worry is generally ‘what parts of this nonsense work for you all?’ – not because I want to make changes, so much as learn how to improve.

    The overall story of Isabella Brand and Percues Argive now enters the 2nd half. We shape of for the ‘final boss’ challenge and start to really bring the overplot into light. Any feedback would be welcome, especially from those who read Continue Online – since we’re dealing with the same world and a lot of the same characters.

    The wife started editing the first few chapters, and said the internal voice is a lot like Grant, which aggrivates me since Pierce has different traits and focuses. He’s far less caring about harming other people in Izzy’s world, and really only treats one person as real…for reasons discussed in this chapter.

    That aside, I also hated this chapter because we’re dealing with a true ‘creation story’ which ahs to be both vague enough that it only clues Perceus into to some aspects, but strong enough that anyone outside the box (Read: You guys/gals/toaster) can probably apply a bit of logic and understand fully what it all translates too. Then at some point I have to interject levity because god backstory is boring….

    Like

  2. Pingback: FR Update & Random News « FrustratedEgo Stories

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