CHAPTER III: THE STRANGER

A SANTHARIAN POETIC NOVELLA

 
The Tales of Chyrán   
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Introduction. A sailor who's incapable of finding some sleep encounters a strange late night visitor he hasn't seen boarding the ship. Whoever he is, he has a tale to tell, or more precisely: a dream he had. But it's not a dream like any other, it's a dream that leads in two directions - it starts in a ship's cabin and heads towards the skies and to the bottom of the sea at the same time. But where will it end?
 

I stay with myself for a while, and yet have steady company – of the waves and the whistling, whining, wailing wind. The sound of billowing sails surrounds me, alongside rhythmic creaking of the beams, the whole rigging suffers strains and groans – and together the noises’ mystic unity forms the vessel’s otherwordly doleful moan. Silently, far up above, the moon keeps on watching, while – in playful contrast – his reflection merrily dances before me in the sea, nudged fondly by the breeze, wiggling, jiggling...

The disk itself up there, however, it’s just hanging in the sky. Untouched, immobile, pure. Bright and calm, as if the Injèrá herself is mirrored now in the velvet night, altogether stripped to essence, of the day gone by reminiscent. Like a wordless guide the glistening watcher poses above, shines on me in his aloft serenity, as a symbol maybe, a dreamy reminder of the past, or an omen of what still awaits, a beacon, a late sailor has been called upon to see. As I watch the spectacle I wonder why, I wonder how the moon has come to be and am thankful though, that he's here and deigns to spend some time with me.

A wave I am, a wave I’ll be, a wave that rocks on open sea…

Even much later, after I've long left the railing, my mind just won't let go – of those melodic lines, those soothing rhymes, like blood they rush through my veins. I might close my eyes, wait till my soul feels calm, the words are gone, but the rhythm they've left remains. Wearily lying in my cabin's bed still so many thoughts keep rocking through my head, aye, like waves, like all those fickle, innumerous wind-driven slaves. Inside, outside, it matters not, inside, outside, I sense the unknown, experience it breathing – an ocean, a mind, notions and waves – all mysteriously alive, alive through their ceaseless arrivals and leavings. Overwhelmed by the moment I let myself get carried away: the eternal around me is sinking back, then again it's heaving, from time to time somewhere I hear a lively splashing, and waves and thoughts both come a-crashing, and through it all I'm dreaming... dreaming... of exotic, exciting, still undiscovered lands, and of future memories that once will fight against forgetting dreamt up foreign banks.
 

Back in the cabin

Picture description. Back in the cabin, the sea still rocking outside. Image drawn by Seeker.

But all I can gather are mere glimpses. Wherever my thoughts are roaming, whatever they touch upon: they skip, meander, move in loops, unsure where they are going. Moment by moment is consumed by night, alas, the sleep I seek I fail to find, and while I’m not granted to leave the day behind, morning’s renewing glory too is still far, far out of sight. Again and again my thoughts try their luck, yet I perceive they tend to just walk back that lane, the well-trodden path from where they had come, the result always the same: Whatever ideas I discard, I also pick up some, and so I arrive where I first set out, packed with further questions, troubles, doubts. And though the hope dies last that I'll cover some ground, in a vicious circle neither start nor end are to be found. All it amounts to is the desperate quest, that aimless journey on the troubled mind’s behest... But what am I looking for? What’s in the dark recesses to be mined? I toss and turn, convinced I need my rest, yet only trapped I am, imprisoned, to my own labyrinths confined. I’m tired to the bone – all I know is: Home is what I’m longing for, a home... Aye, among all the things there must be... a home.

Suddenly a series of noises rips the night apart: Out of nowhere I hear a rattle, a clapper, a violent bang – the door bursts open, something hits the floor with a clang... A chilly howling wind assaults the cabin’s meagre warmth, there’s bright light and I see a shadow that eerily staggers along the wall. Worst of all: the stench of clothes reeking, soaked by rain. Just a moment later the door is slammed again.

I grumble sullenly, am annoyed, bewildered, vexed. I turn in my bed, look around.

In has stepped a man, a stranger by the looks, he shuffles passed me clacking with his heavy boots. Finally he slumps onto a stool over there at the other end, to eventually declare, curt, dry, purposeful, precise: "Don’t you mind me, friend."

How unexpected an image… How odd its occurrence… How late the hour… How disturbing the faked familiarity… And I ask myself: Who's the curious company that has come for evening tea?

In his arm I see the stranger holding a flickering lamp that now illuminates the cabin as best it can. However, already he now raises his finger, as if with it he’s about to kill the flame, implies thereby that he has plans to linger, and I haven't even asked whence he came!

Who told the stranger that he so boisterously may intrude? Why barge in to startle a sailor, keep him from his well deserved sleep? After all, what might an uncomfortable stool even have to offer? What's its asset compared to a bunk in the foc's'le of the crew? By the Twelve, how come I haven’t even seen this fellow yet? Could he be a stowaway, roaming around now, desperate in need of something he would call a bed? To end up with me? Is that the place he wants to be? – Ah, what silly thoughts the midnight chases through my head!

So while my guest might be intent on dozing off, I sit up and "Not so fast!" I fiercely scoff. "Who’re you then? Where do you hail from anyway?" I demand. No doubt, the bloke appears anything but sound! "Refresh my memory, but I can’t recall to have ever seen you here around?"

"How then ‘bout opening your eyes?" he quipped. "Who'd you think I am? Emissary of the crown? No, I’m just like you! ’n home would be some rather common Manthrian town. ‘cause what more can such a place be to an ever roaming sailor’s eye? What’s it to you from where I came? I’m just a guy. Know me or not, it’s all the same."

Nevertheless he insists on claiming that stool like a king refuses to give up his throne.

"Still you act like the Santhran himself! What's your business here then, stranger?" I inquire. "Is there anything else your highness perhaps might desire? Have you dined yet? The servants are out, though, so special requests I fear are not to be met."

The stranger just grumbles aloud and groans. "Well, sure, dine I did, and thanks for asking, mate," he moans and dismisses my words by waving his hand. "Trust me, for wishing it's a tad too late. So, good night then, friend, and may your dreams be grand!"

Once he has spoken he stretches his legs, noisily makes room, leans back. However, a proper answer he did not provide, with the tongue-in-cheek he offered apparently quite satisfied.

"You speak of dreaming, yet disturb my sleep in the middle of the night! Not to mind you, eh? Well, not quite!" I retort. "Burst in, almost knocking down the beams, and dare to speak of… pleasant dreams?"

The stranger turns to me, fiddling with his lamp, frowns, then stares right into my eye. "Methinks you look way too awake for a blessed dreamer’s sake... What have you been up to anyway all night? Pondering, wondering, your time a-squandering? Say: How many winks did you succeed to grab? Any dream worth mentioning you could nab? – But well, you wanna know about dreams? What ya longing for? Azure skies, tranquil valleys, views on moonlit streams? That other side, the place beyond your journey’s ever so constricting seams? Well, a wise man once said: The Gods provide us with the dreams we’re entitled to – and if I disturbed thine, methinks they gave you something you are meant to chew."

The gall he has! Yet with such insolence I hardly feel impressed. Rather I’m inclined to raise my voice to counter him, and naturally it has to happen with defiance and in sharp protest.

The stranger however unperturbed continues speaking, doesn’t care for any qualms expressed – as if his purpose is to entertain, or at least drown out the ship’s incessant creaking. Whatever he’s up to, his self assurance takes me by surprise.

"Ah, my friend, to sleep, perchance to dream…" he mutters. "Perchance to dream! However, a soft cushion is no guarantee to leave the world behind and flee, to change the vessel, abandon ship, be indulged in the pleasures of a most unusual trip... Just remember this when fighting reappearing demons that rob your sleep: Don’t tarry and look back, my friend, for the past doth future lack! Aye, so I’ve been told, that’s what I believe, and while the saying’s old, forgetting’s the thread wherewith the future weaves."

Hmm... He talks strange, the stranger, but how else could it be? I remark to myself. So much about: What’s in a name? Strangers are hardly for their strange talk to blame... Mind you, not that I understand any of his ramblings! Yet for some odd reason I guess I hit a nerve that just endowed this late night visitor with fresh resolve and verve. And after all he’s right there: The peace I sought to catch Eyasha failed to grant, and without her blessing, alas, bidding the day farewell I fear I can’t.

So he drags his stool closer to my bed, leans forward, shines his lamp on me and snorts: "Now, I could do something for you, you see: If the Gods today deny you your dream, let me help out: I might just be the one to redeem! Can tell you quite a tale I witnessed in a dream myself, so perk up your ears, listen closely, just pretend for a while you’re an elf..."

By now I’ve grown tired of the stranger, too tired even to object. "What’s your dream about then if it can’t be helped? Is it happy, is it sad?"

"Oh," he mutters, "You’ll see, of everything it has a tad."

Then I close my eyes and reluctantly I yawn. "Do what you must then, tell your tale or sing a lullaby, but just go on!" That said, I rearrange my cushion so that I can rest my head. "Well, if your story doesn’t make me weep, chances are it helps a tired sailor fall asleep..." Wryly I smile and sink back into bed.

"We’ll, see, we’ll see... " The stranger nods and then he’s off with me.

Indeed a miraculous yarn it is, and while he gestures, spins and spins I sense my vision blur, only hear that voice, not sure from where it’s talking, but I follow it and wherever it heads I feel I’m also walking.

"Yesterday night," is how he begins, "as I was resting in my bed, resting, just the way as you try now, yesterday night I rose from myself in my dream. Stood up, yet saw myself still lying there, pale and grey, found my body waiting – stiff, late I was, it would seem – laid out for the pallbearers to take me away."

"Interesting start," I remark, yet mock: "But pallbearers on a ship? You haven't been privy to seamanship for long!"

The stranger however simply ignores my comment and goes on.

"Small and humble it was, the cabin, yet decked like a hall, furnished with all the sepulchral charms found in a crypt. Incense hung in the air, there were candles and all, surrounding that corpse, a burnt out flame, of life finally stripped. On a trunk sumptuous garments had been arranged, prepared for the deceased one’s last voyage sake. That's how it is, right? A soul’s leaving, but back here things stay unchanged, and the bereaved ones gather to celebrate, and call it a wake.

The table in the corner, though, was just laid for one, and to my surprise even the dining had already been done... Everything felt somewhat off in this single, tiny room, so final, solemn, permeated by the odour of a tomb...

Peculiar it all might have seemed, but I thought nothing of it at first, ‘cause that’s then how my end must have been meant to be. However, as I looked closer a shiver crept up my spine: The tablecloth was in tatters, glasses and plates shattered, if there had ever been mourners, they now had all scattered. Who’d gonna put these clothes on that corpse that undoubtedly was mine? – And there it didn’t end: To my horror I noticed that the cabin’s boards were all but rotten, cobwebs hung here and there, on table, door, bed and chair, even the dead body was draped in spider’s silk, left and forgotten. I felt my former self was already uncalled-for, once travelling flotsam, now ultimately washed ashore.

Thus I decided to leave that sordid place, step out, leave behind the dead and what he was all about, step out, out, out, to go on a final walkabout, ride the fabled gryph or head for new horizons on my own – be it as it may, go wherever the Gods intended, join whoever would direct a soul whose mortal days had ended... So I stepped out, right through the cabin’s boards, right through, as if they weren't even there, stepped out of oppressive darkness, of this gloomy, dismal affair, before me now the blue sea's ever stirring carpet, and once my foot touched the ocean's water I positively felt... departed.

Where to now? I heard myself asking. Just pass through?
Walk on the waters like once on land?
On eternity's road? Towards what goal? Is there an end?
Whatever questions bothered me, I pondered, raised,
the promise of answers seemed carried by the distant haze.
But for now the skies kept silent.
Everything was calm.
The sea murmured blue,
and the wind bathed me with an airy balm.
Onwards then, traveller, I prompted myself, on you go,
savour what this journey's about to bestow!

And thus I set out:

One step, another,
a step, one more following the other.

Two, three, ha! Look at me! My feet didn’t even touch the sea!
Up I went! Four, five, of solid footing oddly deprived...

Or, wait, was it rather the other way?

Two, then three - and I sank, I sank! – oh, woe was me!
Four and five, deeper I went, ever deeper into the sea.


Two paths ahead that didn’t agree.
Which one would be right? Which the one for me?
Lacking a guide, how would I know? So I walked them both.
Close your eyes then, sailor, so that you too might see,
close your eyes, join in and go a bit with me,
wherever we’ll both be heading,
let us together find
…the key.

As invisible as the stairs may have been, I kept ascending
above the waves and their ways to walk with the wind
– and while I left the sea towards the skies unending
above and below seemed intrinsically twinned.

Yet it wasn’t the only path for me.

I meant to scream, but couldn’t. Something sucked me down.
With gurgling pleasure the depths devoured its helpless prey.
As I struggled I thought all I could do was sink and drown,
only to recall: Hasn’t my life already been snatched away?

Oh, what is night, what then is day?
What game is it the Gods force us to play?

See? How fresh and fair celestial air can be?
The further I went, the higher I rose,
unseen my path, but with pleasure I chose
to tread here, then there, go up and away,
away from my old and long time friend, the sea,
and let the world wonder about that absence of me...
The ship I had left by now had turned into a dot,
only to once and for all disappear from its spot.
Clouds that at first had seemed far off and remote
I now greeted in passing while watching them float.
Haha! Light as a feather I leapt through holes
of so many a torn milky waft... And with utter glee
I kept hunting for others, more of those souls,
who might also have left and ceased to be
– to roam, rejoice and share this wonder with me.

But maybe that’s just what I hoped to see in my dream
while grasping at straws to keep a vision agleam...

For captured, defeated I gave up, was pushed under,
let myself get swallowed by turmoil and stir.
From the world above I felt torn, ripped asunder
as the sky in an instance transformed into a blur.
Only a mere shadow remained from the ship.
And yet it was the only thing trusted to me as I fell,
fell further and further down doom’s gaping well.
Desperately I reached out... – then caught a grip!
There, there! From that shadow I left behind
dangled a cord like from a newborn’s navel:
My ghostly fingers struggled but at last were able
to grasp the chain around which they twined,
and held it tight. And while my free fall had ended,
there I hung now, floating, between worlds suspended.

Between worlds suspended...

One last time I looked down, and – lo and behold! –:
There was the whole Sarvonian coast: Gopstone,
Evermourn, the Yanthian Gulf, Woulton Wold,
and so many other places I should have known...
And there: Brooding Jepp – the way he had always been,
landmark, sentinel, eternal face, to a God akin,
silent adviser, admonisher, a proud, towering guide.
Now he was almost unrecognisably shrunken,
devoid of meaning, in the depths below sunken,
insignificant, a mere pebble on a passed up shore,
a legend, an artifact for memories, for myth, for lore.
Though now I left him aside, diving through the clouds,
and to my delight realized that in the distance blended
others – bright, luminous figures –, all clad in shrouds,
with rays that shone through them, gifts from the sun.
Towards a new future, friends! It has only just begun!

Has it ...only just begun?

Tighter and tighter I clung to the chain,
swaying with it in the current. Like a snake
it wound, an iron serpent, a phantom in wake.
But my attempts to climb it proved all in vain:
The ocean was stronger, and it kept forcing me deeper,
down into the black gorge of the ageless sleeper,
of the dreaded demon that lurks far, far below...
They say, from Netherwordly pits he had once risen,
at the times when those above sought shallow leisure.
Now the spawn must lie in wait, to settle what I owed,
to gobble me up, all the while gloating with pleasure!
That’s the tale at least you might have heard,
when the elders by the fire talked of Yaehgarath
and Khalkaroth, Kaymenahr and Gelgalath
– and now the time had come to challenge their word.
Fore by fore the light from above grew dimmer
– till it faded away, and gone it was,
the very last faint azurine shimmer.

Ah, how one learns to value what is lost:
Engulfed by eternal night
the tiniest star must seem like a sun,
shining ever so bright...

A whole airborne town

View picture in full size Image description. A whole airborn town. Pic by Morjer.

Aye, what’s in a star? Could I ever reach that far?
Cloud by cloud I scaled: Higher! Further! I vowed,
to in the distance discover another unusual sight:
spires, castles – all afloat – ships circling around...
Figures on gryphs! Lo, a whole airborne town!
The Skydom of Qel’tra’loh? At this absurd height?
It might be, it might... But why was the town agleam?
Why did gryphon riders like burning torches stream
in a procession, spiralling up, up into the spheres?
In the meanwhile, with the Injèrá quietly setting,
the day bowed out and silently altogether disappeared.
In half darkness engulfed I was already forgetting
what had passed – neither did I know why I was here.
Transfixed I followed the dancing lights with my eyes:
Like nocturnal beetles they set out, conquering the skies,
only as the night descended, things became clear...

And yet, what the one understands to be the light
is another’s torment, his pain and plight:

The ocean’s deep dark blue now turned into black.
Once the schools had been playfully teasing me,
now I only sensed their brushes – and failed to see:
Nothing in the world would ever bring me back.
Into the maw of utter nothingness I now glided,
all but awaiting to be seized by a grizzly claw,
vanquished, discarded, useless, misguided,
at the very mercy of whatever fate provided
– and be it tusks protruding from an oozing jaw...
There was a glow however, deep, deep down below.
I stared at it, at what might be the beastly lair.
While the bottomless sea here did reach an end,
the shimmer's origin proved to be nothing but
– a simple square?
How odd, I thought, failing to understand.
And with the ground illuminated I became aware
of bones and shipwrecks spread around
and how they all spelt death and despair.

Hope, despair – which one will take the claim?
Which one's to seal my fate,
which one will give me my final name?

The gryphs, the figures, all these spiralling lights,
finally they found their purpose, I grasped it now:
The farther a creature – don’t ask why or how –,
it changed shape upon reaching new heights,
and thus, to the onlooker who watched from afar,
emerged something new, indeed: a fixed, shining star!
So it was with one, so it happened with the others,
gryph after gryph and their sisters and brothers
merged with the void and formed the night as it was,
thousands were following the first, serving the cause.
Amazed I found such a beast in wait for me as well.
I approached, fallen under its enchanting spell,
and without further ado I mounted, shot away,
took off into the skies to join the starry fleet
towards night and destiny, my part to play,
ignorant still though, whom I was about to meet...

Above the clouds, below the sea concealed,
to whatever one started out is bound to be revealed.
For the end must be what the beginning sought,
and yet the in-between by your own hand is wrought.
 

A startling discovery

Picture description. A startling discovery awaits at the bottom of the sea. Image drawn by Quellion, Seeker and Artimidor.

With the bottom of the ocean reached
the chain I’d clung to also came to its very end.
Straight towards the faintly shimmering light it led
till it arrived at what I considered
to be my last remaining friend:
the anchor.
On the square it lay like a weary head,
half buried in rocks, clams, seaweed and sand,
skulls, remains around it formed its gruesome bed.
Ignoring the sight I reached for it with my hand,
to help break it out from its earthy prison,
send it up, return it, from its grave again risen,
and thereby uncover the secret it bore...
Yet to my utter surprise the anchor was hooked
not to the seabed, no, but to a massive iron ring,
which itself was part of that square-like thing
that so mysteriously framed it.
Around it, and the more I circled it, touched it, looked,
the more it dawned on me what I had discovered: a trapdoor
was embedded there, hidden within the ocean floor.


 


Digging deep, aiming high,
you’re made of both, o wandering soul,
of earth and sky.
 

One step further...

Picture description. One step further... Image drawn by Quellion and Artimidor.

Ah, it was my turn now to sail through the spheres,
and to overjoyed greet the vastness that was the void.
From my mount I tasted the wind, the salt of my tears,
pleased as I felt them on my cheeks like morning dew.
Riding high, it was like dancing on top of the world
while I witnessed how time and space unfurled...
Together towards the final frontier we flew,
as that’s what the beast’s duty demanded,
until half an eternity later we finally landed
on a cloudy, august, grand precipice.
Thereupon my companion let me be,
aloft in the heights I once had admired from below.
There, alone with myself, I beheld a light shining on me,
and as I stepped through a waft I saw this light grow,
grow and grow – and there it was: the disk,
enormous, shimmering white, the disk in its entirety.
That disk I had once known as the light of the night:
the moon.
And what so long had been kept from me as a mortal
I now learned: out of the void’s enigmatic fabric hewn
was nothing but a glistening, beckoning portal.
 

Onwards then, traveller, on you go!
Take the leap, for it's your turn to know.

Anxiously my shivering hand grabs the ring
and with all the might a phantom can muster
I pull the hatch open, take a glimpse into the hole:
Stairs descend into the heart of the earth
from where I feel warmth, solace, mirth,
and an odd, welcoming light that bathes my soul.
Within a moment I feel overwhelmed,
and boldly I step in, head down that last passage.
At the end: a cryptic, ever glowing shimmering white.
But as I cross over to the other side
I can’t help but to remember the bones
– so many who crossed must have died.
Well, a long way I’ve come, now I’ve pushed open the gates,
knowing too well it's on me to find and to face
whatever makes that journey worth and awaits
to be unearthed at this God forsaken place...

Forsaken?
So many have walked the same path
and yet were proven mistaken...

Bright as day that gateway that is the moon
hovers before me,
but as I step closer I can already see
behind his blinding, yet fragile existence, see
that he’s more than what he appears to be.
A secret he harbours, of that I’m now aware:
Behind the luminous disk
extends a room, a vast, waiting hall,
and while it’s plain and bare,
it exudes calm, tranquility, a soothing air.
I feel drawn towards it, and finally go in,
one voyage ends, another one begins.

But nothing happens as I enter.
After a while I walk over to the centre
of whatever I'm in, only to find... a flight of stairs...
That’s what I must have come for:
to go up, find the source of that light.
For something glows, shines down from there
and in wonderment I stop,
a moment I just stand and stare.
However, up and away then with me,
towards the light so brilliant, so fair.Aye, sailor, onto the stairs!

Stairs.
Need to be climbed or descended.
Either way, whatever you overcome
you’ll leave behind, transcended.
One step, another,
a step, one more following the other.
Towards whatever makes you climb, descend,
towards a goal, a purpose, an end.
Another step, another, one more,
treading on the path you set out to go.
Be it littered with misery, sorrow and throe,
too steep for you, too hard, too long,
you’re also forged by tears and woe,
stepping stairs is what makes you strong.
Don’t worry about shadows cast
when you go into the light,
for shadows cast will never last,
looking ahead they’re always out of sight.

There. You’ve made it.
With your last step now taken
it’s time to return, to rise, to awaken!

Come on, be ye stranger, be ye friend!
Have a look now, for the time is right,
at what shines between stairs
so fair, so warm, so blessedly bright,
at what makes connect the above with the below,
what lets the rivers flow and trees and flowers grow,
even inspires the night to change for the day,
what creates, what thrives and takes away.
Have a look now, do not falter,
on, ahead, approach the blazing altar,
on which was bedded and enshrined
the answer you seek:
the one divine.

See? There he rests. Still unknowing,
from the journey he took all worn,
and still contemplates where he’s going.
And yet arrived he’s now, reborn.

Touch him, traveller, make him complete!
For this is the place where dreams and dreamers meet."

 

Back in the cabin

Picture description. Back in the cabin. Image drawn by Seeker.

For a long, long time I look at the flame in the lamp. It illuminates the cabin as best it can, and while it’s quiet, in its calm it feels so very much alive. How it is trapped behind the glass and yet, once enkindled the flame burns on and on, on and on, for sure to last the night, maybe long into the dawn. See how it flickers, dances, sputters, reinvents its shape? How from time to time it mutters, crackles, winds itself around the wick? Occasionally only touched by the wind it tumbles, shoots up, and briefly on the glass it licks, then back it falls again, a habit to be repeated, only the wind knows when.

I look over to the bed from the stool I’m sitting on. The day has left its traces. I can’t help but stretch my legs, lean back and yawn. How soft, how sweet, how safe and sound a bed’s comfort promises to be. However, the longer I sit and stare it’s almost as if I see someone lying there.

As if I see... someone already lying there...

I need to go. Head out once more, help check the riggings, and once things are fine bid good night to them all, to the sailors, but even more so to the sea, that since the days of yore has been there, had been preceding me. As I prepare myself to leave, through the porthole I notice: Rain by now is beating down on the ocean. So I grab my coat, shuffle out, heavy boots clacking to again join the commotion, see what that weather’s all about.

There’s a rattle, a clapper, a violent bang – the door bursts open, something hits the floor with a clang... A chilly howling wind assaults me as I leave. Drizzle is in the air, and a moment later I know for sure that the porthole’s view did not deceive.

Onwards then, sailor, I say to myself, on you go, with every storm you’re about to grow. I might be just like a wave. A wave I've been, a wave I'll be, but as a wave I’m born to rock the sea.

 


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 Date of last edit 23rd Dead Tree 1674 a.S.

Mystery Tale written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile