Maxwell Novacek and the Shepherd of Ruin

Exorcist Maxwell Novacek is sent to investigate Petunia, a girl suspected to be possessed by demons.

The sun was high in the sky as I pulled into the parking lot of the orphanage. I stepped from my car, looked down as I adjusted my cassock one last time. It was my first time on official church business—investigating a troubled girl in the area. The headmaster thought it to be a possession, but my bishop claimed otherwise.

“There are no spirits to possess,” he said. “It is simply an archaic understanding of the tricks of the mind.” He had sent me, not to truly investigate the girl, but to simply give the headmaster peace of mind. Given the proper care, the girl could become an upstanding citizen.”

I stepped through the glass front door into the waiting room, where several couples sat, waiting to be interviewed. A lone man sat by himself, reading a newspaper, wearing a pair of blue coveralls and a baseball cap. I thought nothing of him at the time.

Sitting at the curved desk opposite the entryway was an older woman looking down at a computer screen. As I stepped in, she glanced up, put on her glasses. She smiled, before taking her glasses back off and returning her attention to the computer.

I could feel the eyes of the couples around me drawn to my unusual dress as I walked across the room. I wished I could have worn street clothes, but, alas, official church business. The receptionist looked up at me as I reached the desk.

“Father Novacek?”

I took a deep breath through my nose. “That I am,” I said, letting the breath out slowly, felt the stress ease away.

“One moment please.” She picked up the dial-less phone beside her. “Father Novacek is here to see you.” She gestured to a nearby seat. “Mr. Kay will be with you shortly.”

I took a seat, stared into space for a moment. I fished my wallet out of my brief case, a polaroid out of my wallet. My family. The family I’d lost. One was taken from me by God Himself, the other I took away by my own shortcomings. Alive, but gone from me.

I bit my lip as I thought about their laughter. As I thought about who I would be if they were still around. Of the things I threw away when I answered the call. I shut my eyes tight as I thought of everything I’d thought I knew.

For a moment, I forgot how many eyes were on me.

“Father Novacek?”

A man stood before me in a sweater vest and horn-rimmed glasses, hints of grey in his curly, dark brown hair.

I stuffed the polaroid back into my wallet, my wallet back into my briefcase, stood. I shook his hand. It was clammy and he was clearly shaken.

“Rodger Kay. Would you like to speak in my office?”

“Of course.”

I followed him down the hall. The office was cozy: had cream-colored walls, a mahogany desk, plush chairs, a few pictures on a shelf behind him—wife and kids by the look of it.

Mr. Kay took a seat, began poring over an open folder on his desk. Let out a heavy sigh.

“Petunia ‘Petty’ Trinidad; ten years old. Mother died in a car accident when she was five and her father mysteriously died of asphyxiation soon after; grandparents were already deceased, no other relatives wanted her. She’s been here for the past five years—except the few times when she was adopted.” He paused, clicked his tongue as he continued reading the file. “She’s always well-behaved, gets along great with the staff—except one time, but…” He trailed off, shook his head.

“What happened the one time?”

“Father Novacek, please understand, we do very thorough background checks on all our workers, and the caretaker has been fired.”

My face began to feel quite warm and I felt a bead of sweat roll down the back of my neck. “What happened?”

“We, um…” He coughed. “We’re not sure—exactly. A commotion drew the attention of several staff, and they found the caretaker in Petty’s room. Petunia had the caretaker in a choke hold, just kept saying, ‘the pain will go away eventually, you taught me that,’ over and over. The front of her shirt had been ripped open. When we spoke to the caretaker later, he said he thought she was at lunch with the other children—had gone to replace her bedding and she’d attacked him from behind.

“That was nearly two years ago now and we’ve taken measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

I nodded in understanding as I listened to the man. “So why have you asked for me?”

Mr. Kay let out a huff. “I mentioned she’s been adopted a few times—keeps being sent back here.”

I nodded. “It’s odd, yes.”

“She hasn’t just been sent back—she’s left a trail of bodies in her wake. Everyone who adopts her dies. The mothers usually die some violent death—car accident, mugging gone wrong, whatever.” He stared into space as he spoke. “The fathers usually die soon after from something like an allergy, or carbon monoxide poisoning, sinus infection. Sometimes the mother dies by her own hand after the father, but both parents always end up dead.

“The only exception was a woman who found her husband’s body, brought Petunia back here the next morning. She seemed scared.” Mr. Kay began rubbing his hands together nervously. “She just kept saying she felt like she couldn’t care for Petty on her own. Still alive as far as I’m aware.”

I shrugged, leaned forward. “So, you think a demon is possessing Petunia, causing these deaths.”

He shook his head. “I know she’s behind these deaths. I just can’t understand how.”

“Would you mind if I speak with her?”

“Of course.”

He led me through a couple hallways into the dormitory.

It was a nice dormitory as far as group homes go. Each child had their own private room, with carpeted floors, a full-size mattress on a box spring, a nightstand, a wardrobe, and a desk.

When we entered the door of her room, Petunia was sitting on the floor at the foot of her bed, holding a barbie in her hand. The skin was faded over most of it, and certain portions were clearly burnt, the plastic black and melted. She was moving the arms up and down, watching them. It was like she was studying it—trying to determine what made it tick.

Almost as soon as Mr. Kay opened the door, she jumped, both her hands quickly falling to the floor as she tossed the barbie under her bed. Her eyes darted back and forth between us, eventually landed on me. She squinted at me, cocked her head. Looked back to Mr. Kay, smiled. “Good morning Mr. Kay.”

“Good morning, Petunia. This is Father Novacek, he’s with the Church. Do you mind if he asks you a few questions?”

“About what?”

Her words sounded curious, but there was a hint of hostility in her tone. She stared at me, one eye squinted in malice, the other upturned and cheerful.

Mr. Kay hesitated. “Your families.”

Petunia frowned—insincerely. “I have no family.” I found it hard to believe she was only ten years old.

Mr. Kay’s lips tightened uncomfortably as he let out a sigh. He held out his hand, gesturing I could enter before him. I stepped into the room, crouched down.

“Petunia, Mr. Kay thinks you might be in some trouble, and I’m here to help you out. Would you let me help you?”

Petunia furrowed her brow as she scooted away, pressing her back against the bed. “I didn’t ask for help.”

“Do you need help?” I asked. An odd sort of question, I’m aware, but one I thought pertinent to the situation—especially depending on whether she answered the question asked, or another.

Her jaw tightened. No answer.

“Why haven’t you asked for help?”

She pursed her lips as she pressed herself harder against the bed frame. “I don’t like asking for help.”

I nodded. “Mm.”

Her eyes fluttered to Mr. Kay angrily before returning to me.

I sat on the floor, crossed my legs. I relaxed. “You started living here five years ago, is that correct?”

She looked down at the floor beside her, crossed her arms.

“What was life like before living here? Did you like your life before?”

She kept her head turned away as she looked at me through the corner of her eye. I had never seen such hatred in such a young face.

“I have a daughter, you know.” I shrugged. “It’s a little odd for a priest to have a daughter, I know, but I do. She was a little younger than I think you are now when she lost her mother—my wife.”

She looked away again, turned her head further. It reminded me of my Mary, the last time I’d visited her. She wouldn’t even look me in the eye; her hatred for me because I knew I couldn’t raise her combined with her teenage angst made the anger she felt too much to bear. This little girl had the same anger, the same rage, filling her, but in a body six years younger.

“Please look at me, Petunia.”

She bit her bottom lip, looked at me out of the corner of her eye once more before pushing herself up off the floor and onto her bed. I watched as she shuffled her way across the mattress until her back was pressed to the wall. She glared at Mr. Kay.

I stood up, let out a sigh. “Would you mind if I read something for you?”

She scowled at me.

I carried my briefcase over to the desk, opened it, produced a Bible. I sat at the foot end of the bed and flipped it open—Mark 10.

“And they brought young children to him,” I read.

Petunia let out a huff.

“That he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw–“

“Stop!” she said. She hadn’t screamed, hadn’t yelled, only slightly raised her voice. She stared right at me; the corners of her lips turned in the subtlest smile as terror emblazoned her eyes. “My parents deserved to die. All of them.”

I shut the Bible, looked to Mr. Kay; he seemed more surprised than I. I looked back to Petunia, frowned.

“What makes you say that?”

She scowled at me. She glanced down at the bed, frowned. She appeared confused—like she didn’t know where she was. Her eyes landed back on me; realization dawned on her. “Leave me alone.”

“Petunia, I can’t–“

“Leave me alone!” Her scream echoed off the walls of the small room.

I took in a sharp breath through my nose. “Okay.”

I stood up, returned the Bible to its place in my briefcase. I started toward the door, nodded to Mr. Kay—who quickly stepped out of the way—and shut it behind me.

“Would you happen to have an address or phone number for the surviving mother on file?”

***

It was nearly a two-hour drive to Longmont, the gated community where Lorraine Pembridge, the only surviving mother of Petunia, lived. A buzzer sounded as the guard let me through the gate into the neighborhood. Within a minute, I was pulling into a large, U-shaped driveway in front of a rather large house. Nearly a dozen trucks were parked on the street outside.

A woman, perhaps a little older than myself, answered the door.

I nodded in greeting. “The Lord be with you.”

She squinted at me. “And also with you. Can I help you?”

I smiled, though I knew it didn’t reach my eyes. “I’m looking for Lorraine Pembridge, is she in?”

The woman stepped back, gestured for me to enter the house.

There was a large entry hall, complete with a marble floor, a double staircase leading to a balcony up above, and a large fireplace on the far wall. A construction crew was busy surveying the house.

“My apologies,” she said as she led me through one of the many doors that lined the hall, into a sitting room. “I’m trying to get an estimate on the value of the house to see if it’s worth selling and moving somewhere smaller.” She let out a quiet sigh as she gestured for me to take a seat on the plush couch. “Given that it’s only me now. Can I get you anything? Perhaps some water, or tea?”

“I’ll take some water, thank you.”

I was alone as she left to fetch the water. This room had a hardwood floor, another fireplace (which had a painting of Lorraine and a man that I assumed to be her late husband), and several well-cushioned sofas. Large windows looked out into the sprawling yard out behind the house, and along the same wall was a liquor cabinet, with many kinds of drinking glasses, but no bottles.

“Here you are,” Lorraine said as she set a coaster and glass of water on the end table beside me. She sat in the sofa across from me. “Why is it you were looking for me?”

I took a quick sip of water. “You adopted a little girl named Petunia around six months ago, is that correct?”

Lorraine’s face hardened. “My husband and I did, yes.”

“I wanted to ask you some questions about her.”

Lorraine leaned back into her seat, crossed her arms. “Why?”

“Because I believe this may be a matter of importance to the Church. Every parent that has adopted Petunia has died soon after the adoption—except you.”

Lorraine’s jaw slacked as her brows flared.

“All the mothers died violent deaths and all the fathers died of breathing difficulties soon after. Why didn’t you?”

Her brow knit together as she stared at the floor in thought for a moment. She appeared to be making a decision. “I– I didn’t tell anyone before, but I nearly died that day—the day I found my husband, my car stalled on the tracks just down the highway. It was foggy, so I didn’t realize a train was coming—someone busted the window and pulled me out just before the train crushed my car.”

I craned my head. “Do you know who saved you?”

She looked to the ceiling in thought, shook her head slowly. “He was bald. I think he was a mechanic. That’s all I remember. He offered me a ride home, and I was going to refuse, but there was a woman there with him. She said her name was Ariel, I think. Oh! The man was named Ambrose. I didn’t recognize either of them, haven’t seen them since.”

I nodded as I took a mental note. “Do you mind if I ask you more… uncomfortable questions?”

Lorraine bit her bottom lip. “I suppose not.”

“What happened when you returned home?”

She shook her head, shrugged. “Everything seemed fine—at first.

“I was coming back from a luncheon with many of the other women in the community but had made a detour to the grocery store. Bob worked from home most days, so he was home with Petunia the whole time. Usually, if I was out and he was still home, I would come back, announce that I was home, and he would run to greet me.”

She had a hint of a smile.

“He would sweep me up into his arms, kiss me, and tell me how much he loved me. But, on that day, all I could hear was a faint grunting noise, coming from the upstairs bathroom. I ran up to see what was going on, he–”

She choked on her words.

“Bob was lying on the floor. His face was… blue. Pe– the girl– was kneeling over him, beating her hands against his chest. Tears were streaming down her face, but… I swear, she was smiling. Just kept saying, over and over, ‘Quit complaining. The pain will go away eventually, you taught me that.’ She finally stopped and looked at me. I was frozen, I couldn’t– I just watched, I don’t think I even cried, I just… She looked at me, started repeating the same thing, ‘The pain will go away eventually, you taught me that. Suffering is just a part of life, you taught me that.’

“I took her back to the orphanage the next day. The coroner said that he died of drowning—maybe he was getting a drink of water and it went down the wrong pipe, but… Why is the church involved? Do you think she’s possessed or something?”

I took in a deep breath. “I’m sorry you had to relive that.” I wiped my hands on my cassock. “My superior doesn’t think there’s anything wrong, that she’s just troubled, but… the more I learn about her, the more I think Mr. Kay might be right. That she is, indeed, possessed.”

Lorraine let out a sob, rubbed her forehead.

I took a deep breath, let out a sigh. I didn’t want to abandon this woman, but in order to help I needed to be elsewhere. The church my bishop resided over was nearby; then it occurred to me I didn’t need to go there. “Do you have a phone I could use?”

She nodded, stood, and gestured for me to follow. Tears had begun welling in her eyes, though she tried her hardest to suppress them.

I rang the bishop and exchanged pleasantries as Lorraine left. Afterward, I lowered my voice so that the contractor couldn’t hear.

“I need permission to exorcise the girl.”

I was met with silence at first. “No.”

“No?”

“No, I do not grant permission. Have you conducted your proper investigations?”

“Not all of them, but I have reason to believe the girl is in some way in the domain of the devil—if she is not possessed, there are certainly demons attached to her.”

“I told you before, there is no such thing as possession.”

“And you call yourself a bishop?” My voice rose, attracting the attention of the contractor for a moment.

“You call yourself a bishop?” I repeated, this time a whisper.

“The Pope calls me a bishop,” he growled. “I am a man of God, and you will do as I say. Complete all the necessary investigation, pronounce her in fit spiritual health, and call it done.”

“Why did you ask for me?”

Silence.

“Why did you request I be placed in your diocese?”

“I did no such thing. Someone else decided it was necessary, I don’t know why, I don’t care why. But you are under my authority and you will behave as such.”

I took in a deep breath, closed my eyes, bowed my head, and pinched my nose. “The Lord be with you.”

I replaced the phone on the receiver before he could respond.

***

I prayed throughout most of my drive back to the orphanage. I thought about what Lorraine had said, compared to what Mr. Kay had said. What Petunia had said: “You taught me that.” Had she really been speaking to those around her? Had she been speaking to whatever spirit afflicted her? Had she just been speaking to her deceased parents?

Those in the waiting room had completely rotated out, not a single face was the same, not even the receptionist—except one. The lone man, sitting with his newspaper, remained in the corner of the waiting room.

I looked to the receptionist, now a younger woman who wore a cheery, never-ending smile. I walked over to the lone man.

As I sat beside him, he continued staring at his newspaper. His eyes didn’t move.

“What’s happening in the world these days?”

He cleared his throat before speaking with a low voice. I had to lean closer to hear him.

“A little girl’s future is in the hands of two men—one says there is nothing wrong with her, the other knows there is but is under the authority of the first.”

I didn’t know what to say. I sat and stared at the man. My eyes wandered down to the name tag on his coveralls: Ambrose.

“Have you been following this girl?”

“My employer told me to.” He turned the page of the newspaper. “I don’t ask questions—do you?”

I pursed my lips in thought. Was he saying I should, or saying I shouldn’t? He seemed to be indicating I should defy my superior, yet he was saying that he wouldn’t defy his.

He closed and reopened the newspaper to the same page.

I stood, walked to the front desk. “I’m Father Novacek, here to see Mr. Kay.”

She spoke over the phone on the desk before asking me to take a seat. How much more of Petunia’s life had Ambrose been there for, watching as people died? And how did he seem to know more about what was going on than I did? And what was going on with her? Some of her behaviors mimicked that of demonic possession, but was it in the power of a demon to manipulate things such that people would somehow die around the girl for seemingly unrelated reasons?

I didn’t have much time to contemplate these questions: Mr. Kay soon approached me, asking me back into his office once more.

He stood behind his desk, waiting for me to sit. I did not.

“My… superior,” I said, “would like for me to proclaim that this is no demonic possession and that the deaths related to this girl are mere coincidence and nothing more.”

Mr. Kay momentarily slumped.

“I do not, however, agree with my superior.” I cleared my throat as I prepared to—as far as I was aware—defy the will of God Himself. “I believe that an exorcism is necessary and, while Church law dictates that I can do no such thing without my bishop’s permission, I believe God wills that this be done. If not, then my soul shall surely burn in Hell.

“Take me to her.”

I once again entered her room. She sat on her bed, staring out the window. She remained still as I entered the room.

“I have other business to attend to,” Mr. Kay said, leaving me alone with her. I felt a certain unease at his words. He shut the door behind him.

I placed my briefcase on her desk, pulled out her chair, sat down.

She continued to stare out the window, a blank expression on her face.

“Petunia,” I said.

For the first time since I entered the room she blinked. Her arm moved, and I saw that she was spinning a steak knife in her hand. Her bottom lip trembled.

“Petunia,” I repeated. Where had she gotten the knife from?

She gripped her blanket with her free hand as her jaw tightened. I saw a certain resolve swirl in her eye.

“Petunia, I want to help you,” I said. “Will you let me help you?”

She looked at me, her face still directed toward the window. Her eyes held resolve, her brow, fear. “I don’t want to die.” Her voice trembled. She stopped spinning the knife, gripping it tightly. “I don’t want to die,” she repeated. It pained me to hear those sort of words from someone so young.

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I killed them, didn’t I?” Not a question of curiosity but of affirmation—an admission of guilt. “They died because of me. He told me they deserved it.” She shut her eyes tight, shook her head. “But I’m the one who deserves it.”

“We all deserve death,” I said, “We all deserve to suffer. But we don’t have to.”

She opened her eyes, stared straight at me. A wicked smile spread across her face. “You deserve death?”

I took in a deep breath, unsure what to expect. “Yes.” I hadn’t noticed her flip the knife in her hand so the blade was opposite her thumb.

She lunged at me, sliced the air.

I ducked, picked her up, and threw her over me. I spun in shock as she crashed into the ground, but she was just as quickly back on her feet. As she lunged again, I stepped out of the way, grabbed her arm. She had immense strength for such a child.

I twisted, hard, and she cried out in pain, dropped the knife on the ground. I threw her by the arm, she landed on the bed. As I picked up the knife, she scurried across the mattress; I held the knife high in the air, out of her reach. She jumped for it, landed on her rear—began to sob.

“Please!” she cried, “Kill me!”

My brow furrowed as I stared down in pity.

Kill me!” she shrieked.

I watched as her labored breath seethed through her teeth.

“Please,” I repeated, “let me help you.”

Her face softened.

I set down the knife on the desk and began reaching for her, slowly.

She leapt for the blade, plunged it into her chest.

I cried out as I grabbed her, lifted her in my arms.

She sputtered; smatterings of blood came forth from her mouth. “Let me die,” she croaked.

I shook my head as I cradled her in one arm, grabbed my suitcase with the other and ripped the door open. I sprinted through the halls, into the waiting room.

Ambrose was gone.

“Receptionist! Drive me!”

She looked in shock, scrambled out from behind her desk.

I handed her the briefcase. “The key is in the outer pocket. Quickly!”

I laid Petunia in the back seat, sat beside her as the receptionist climbed in the front.

She tried pulling the knife out.

I only barely managed to stop her, held the knife in place, pressed against the wound to stem the blood flow. It would likely be her death, but I needed to try.

It felt like hours as we rushed to the hospital. The receptionist and I barreled through the front door. I lost track of my surroundings. Next I knew, she was in surgery. I remember waiting. Praying.

The receptionist sat with me—Alexa, I learned her name was—she was far more shocked, more disoriented than I was.

Finally, the doctor emerged. We both stood in unison. I didn’t hear a word he said, except the final few: “But she’ll live.”

I let out a breath, almost a laugh, and my eyes began to tear. We were taken back to her room. She was still asleep—and restrained.

I sat beside her. I had known her for only a little time, but she reminded me so much of my Mary. I couldn’t bare to see her die.

The receptionist left before Petunia awoke several hours later. It was dark outside.

She looked at me, still in a daze. Her eyes focused and she pulled against the leather straps that bound her to the bed; her face twisted in rage and sorrow.

“Rest.”

She snarled at me before leaning back into the pillow.

“You said ‘he’ told you they deserved it. Who is ‘he’?”

She clenched her jaw, looked out the window.

“Petunia, can you hold this for me?” I held up a golden cross.

She looked at it, snarled, turned her hand over to accept it. She didn’t react as I placed the cross in her hand.

“You’re not possessed,” I muttered. “At least not in the traditional sense. I need you to tell me who ‘he’ is? Who has been telling you these people deserve to die?”

She clenched her jaw, started scanning the room.

A certain weight bore down on my mind. “Who toils among us, afflicting this girl’s soul? In the name of Christ Jesus, son of Mary, I command you, make yourself known to me.”

A sudden breeze brushed the back of my neck. I turned; Ambrose stood behind me, arms crossed as he leaned against the wall.

Petunia’s eyes widened as she jerked against her bonds. I’d seen what I thought was fear in her eyes before, but I realized now what I’d seen was most aptly described as disdain. As she looked upon the man who’d saved her adoptive mother, I truly saw fear in her eyes. Tears began to well as she opened her mouth to scream, but her voice caught in her throat.

“Do not be afraid,” Ambrose said, almost dismissively, as he walked toward the hospital bed. “I do not come to harm, but to heal.”

Petunia shook her head. “No.” Her voice was raspy, strained. “No.”

“Because this man has stepped out in faith so that you can be healed, so shall it be.” He reached for her.

I nearly leapt from my chair to tackle him to the ground, but as I attempted to stand, it was as if several sets of arms were grabbing me from behind, pinning me to the chair.

He placed his palm on her forehead; her eyes rolled back. She started screaming—only for a moment—before convulsing. Her mouth began to foam. It seemed she was choking on her own saliva.

I tried reaching out to stop him once more, but a hand grabbed mine. A woman’s voice said, “This is how it must be.”

I watched in terror. I pleaded for her to be spared as the heart monitor beeped faster and faster.

Finally, she stopped. She laid there, her eyes opened, still rolled back. Her mouth hung open, her chest still—she drew no breath. The monitor wailed—no nurse arrived.

“Please,” I prayed.

Ambrose kept his hand on her forehead. “Awaken.”

She lurched forward, breathed. The rhythmic beep began again.

She breathed heavily, looked at me. She looked even younger now. Her eyes held a certain innocence I had not seen there before.

Ambrose nodded, vanished—the woman with him. I sat alone with Petunia once more—perhaps for the first time.

She looked to me and wept. I leaned over, held her. Still, no nurse arrived.

As she took in a shuddered breath and began to breath again, I sat back up.

“Who told you they deserved to die?”

Petunia gulped nervously. She scanned the room in fear and wonder, returned her gaze to me. As she spoke, her voice sounded younger. For the first time since I met her, she truly sounded like a child, yet her words echoed with an air of morbidity. “Father Colbert.”

My bishop.

***

I found myself in the study of the church Colbert resided over, poring over the guest book. The sun was beneath the horizon now, and the only light came from the dimly shining sconces that lined the wall.

I read through those that signed the book, looking for those that had turned up dead. Excepting Petunia’s birth parents, everyone was somewhere in at least one of the guest books. I set the last book I looked through on the table beside me and stared into the empty air. Did he believe in demons after all? Did he consort with demons after all? Did someone know this and that’s why they sent me here, to a diocese that didn’t want me?

“Father Novacek?” a voice called.

I looked up. Brother Simon stood in the doorway. I raised my eyebrows in recognition.

“Father Colbert will see you now.”

I strode across the room, my jaw clenched in anger and confusion. How could the church– how could God allow someone so vile to be so high in the hierarchy– to be in the priesthood at all?

I entered his office and slowly lowered myself into the plush seat across from his desk.

“Father Novacek,” his deep voice muttered, with more than a hint of disdain.

“Father Colbert,” I replied similarly.

He tapped the desk impatiently as he rubbed his forehead in annoyance. “Did you do as you were asked?”

“No.”

“Then why have you come back here?”

“What do you know of the girl I was sent to investigate?”

Colbert rolled his eyes. “She’s troubled. People die when they care for her—a matter of mere coincidence, I’m certain.”

“She attempted to kill herself today.”

He began examining his fingernails. “Understandable for one who has seen so much death.”

“Something was influencing her. I believe it to be gone now.”

Colbert’s jaw subtly tightened as he glanced up at empty space for a mere moment. He cleared his throat. “Then you can report that the girl is clean.”

“She said she knew you. Mentioned you by name, said that you had some influence on her. I wasn’t aware that you’d ever met the girl.”

Colbert wet his lips, began straightening the pens on his desk. “I haven’t.”

“Are you aware that all the deceased’s names appear in your guest books?”

He took in a deep breath, looked to me. His lips pursed and he clicked his tongue. He smiled. “I was aware that all the deceased were members of my parish, yes.”

“Would you happen to have taken their confessions?”

Colbert almost looked impressed. “Perhaps.”

“You’ve been consorting with demons.”

Colbert took in a deep breath, rolled his eyes again. “Whatever was– is, most certainly– inside that girl is no demon, but an angel of justice.”

“I believe I have seen an angel today, and whatever was inside her was most certainly not.”

“The men she throttled deserved to die, Novacek. They wanted to do… unspeakable things. They admitted it to me themselves. Petunia– whatever was inside her– drew in the sort. It only killed after they acted upon it, and the wives died for knowing and doing nothing.”

“You sent them to her, didn’t you? Encouraged them to adopt? You’ve been consorting with demons, Colbert, to dole out justice that belongs to God.”

“You think God will enact the necessary justice? Those men came into confession, earned their penance. Their forgiveness was not justice, it was outrageous, and I– I chose to do something about it, while God let them rest in their temptation.”

“You believe yourself to be above God.”

Colbert laughed. “The Church is God.”

I shook my head and stood. “If this is your god, then I want no part in it. It is not the place of the church to sort the wheat from the weed, but to nourish all, that they may be brought out of their temptation, not die in it. I’ll be submitting a request for repositioning tomorrow.”

“Good,” Colbert sneered. “I’ll make sure it’s granted.”

I made my way back to the hospital, to Petunia’s room. Lorraine was standing in the hall.

“Father Novacek,” she greeted me as I approached.

“Miss Pembridge,” I replied, “what are you doing here?”

“I– There was an error when I returned her to the home. Apparently, the paperwork was lost—I’m still her mother.”

“She’s better now,” I assured her. “Whatever was afflicting her has gone.”

She nodded. “That’s good.”

I took in a deep breath, looked through the door. Petunia was still restrained, though she appeared to be asleep. “Did you know your husband was abusing her?”

She looked at me in surprise. Her eyes darted back and forth between mine before dropping, wide in shock. She didn’t know. Her hand slowly reached up to her mouth. “It all makes…” She looked back to me, swallowed nervously. Her eyes dropped back to the floor. “I should have.”

“It’s okay.” I crossed my arms, looked to the girl once more. “Something tells me your paperwork was lost for a reason. Something tells me you alone survived for a reason. Look after her and keep her safe.”

***

As I walked out of the hospital, Ambrose stood on the sidewalk across the street, a woman beside him. They were both dressed in street clothes. Barely visible in the dark was an inverted black cross tattooed on his forearm.

“You knew everything, and yet you did nothing,” I said. “Why?”

“It is not our place to know the times that the Father has set in place, only to facilitate them. You have shown promise this day, Maxwell Novacek. I hope to see you again.”

“I’m afraid I can’t quite say the same.”

Ambrose nodded, the woman put her hand on his shoulder, and they vanished.

If you liked what you just read go ahead and subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or the email entry field on the right side of the page—more Maxwell Novacek stories are in the making. Also, hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. The more feedback I receive, the better my content will be. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!

Taking a Step Back (Isle of the Dreamer Update)

After a 5-month hiatus, I finally have decided what I’m going to do about Isle of the Dreamer.

Sometimes, you just need to take a step back from your work. Sometimes, you need to take a step back, look at it as a whole, and evaluate, “Is this what I should really be doing, or is this just a waste of my time?” Sometimes, the answer is one, sometimes the other.

Isle of the Dreamer has been put on hiatus for the past 5 months. This was for multiple reasons, but I think the main reason is that I was going about it the wrong way. See, I made the amateur mistake of deciding that I was going to post the chapters as I wrote them, as that would force me to follow a deadline: 1 chapter per week. This resulted in: (a) a fluctuation from week to week on the quality of writing and (b) inconsistencies resulting from me either deciding to go in a different direction or from forgetting key details.

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have started posting Isle of the Dreamer at all if I had received the advice of ‘don’t do exactly what you’re doing’ before I started posting it. However, I found that advice immediately after I started posting the story so here we are: with an incomplete story that ended on a cliffhanger five months ago and has just been hanging in limbo ever since.

Those five months has given me some time to think things over and decide where I want to go with the story. Assuming that I want to try to release something of high enough quality to exemplify my talents (which I do), I have decided the best decision is to go back to the beginning. At the time that I publish this post, I intend to remove the existing 13 chapters of Isle of the Dreamer from XavierMakes so that I can go about writing it properly, giving it the attention and proper procedure that it deserves.

Once I have finished going all the way through (telling myself the story, as Terry Pratchett would put it), then I will begin posting the chapters on the website, and be able to do so much more consistently as a result. I suspect this will also allow me to bring the chapters up to a similar standard that my short stories are at. The story itself, before being posted, will go through multiple self-edits and be subject to the scrutiny of some of the most critical people I know, alongside other authors (hopefully).

Most of the changes will probably be superficial, but there likely will be some changes to the narrative and almost definitely changes to the format. An idea that I’ve been bouncing around in my head for a while is restructuring Isle of the Dreamer to be a series of 10 or so short stories approximately 8,000 words each with an overarching plot. I believe this will work better for an online format than the previous intention of it being a single cohesive novel.

This will take me some time and detract from my attention to the main novel I’ve been working on, Devilspawn, but I think, overall, it’s a wise decision in terms of thinking for the future.

If what you just read happened to pique your interest, subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or using the email entry field on the right. You can also follow us on Twitter @MakesXavier or hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. The more feedback I receive, the better my content will be. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!

Aurora’s Demise (Lorelai Epilogue)

Aurora was the high priestess for the Church of the Makers. When one of her most prized priestesses went missing, she pursued those who liberated her. But things didn’t go as planned, and now she must face the consequences.

This story takes place just after the short story Lorelai, if you haven’t read that already, I highly recommend doing so first, though this story can likely be understood without it.

A rock in the road jolted Aurora, the High Priestess of her temple, awake. She attempted jumping to her feet, stopped by ropes binding her wrists to the floor. The fibers rubbed painfully against her skin as she attempted to pull free. She gave up and looked around. Immediately, her eyes locked with those of an Umbrai – a descendant of the Dark Makers – sitting opposite.

Everything about her betrayed this ancestry, a daughter of the Southern Continent: her dark skin, yellow eyes, and dark, curly hair – representing the Chaos that the Dark Makers so wished the world would fall into – that she had braided back into rows like the crops of the field. Her name was Amari if Aurora had heard correctly.

Beside her sat an Aratha, a man of the wild. He looked much like the one who’d come into her temple several days prior. That one was a Paladin of the Crimson Cord, a perversion of the Church’s traditions. This one bore no such mark. On his neck, however, was a nearly invisible tattoo, just darker than his skin, that almost looked like it moved, swirling like fire. He was a Keeper of the Flame – a druidic enforcer. It suddenly felt very warm as Aurora felt her heart leap in her chest. She knew no fear of these paladins and their wards until this very moment, as she looked upon the one likely to be her executioner.

No one else sat in the cart with them.

“Where is she?” Aurora demanded, once again looking to the Demonborn. She’d followed them into the Hartal Wilds to retrieve one of her priestesses – Lorelai.

“Dead,” Amari replied, “you killed her.”

Aurora tried to swallow, fighting back the urge to vomit. With each moment, the fear within her grew. “No, that can’t be.”

Amari sat forward, resting her elbows on her knees. Her face twisted in a scowl. “You could have just let her go. She’d still be alive if you had.”

“No, she can’t be dead.” Words seemed to simply flow from Aurora’s mouth. She didn’t think about what she was saying, only the consequences. “She can’t be dead. She had not yet been with child.”

Amari narrowed her eyes at Aurora, the High Priestess of the Temple of Liberport. “You don’t even care about her, just her ability to bear children. What, was she just ‘prime stock’ to you?”

Aurora shook her head as she continued, “I care for her far more than myself.” For a moment, her fear wavered. “She is of the line of the firstborn daughters of Ynara, the women of utmost respect among the Church, which our temple was trusted to protect. If she is dead, then there is much suffering to come; the force which keeps the Dark Makers at bay is waning. The world will fall into Chaos; the Balance will be no more.”

Amari wasn’t listening. “What good is it that you keep her body alive if you kill her soul in the process?”

“What good is it if she lives a good life if it dooms the rest of us in the process? What is one life lived in turmoil for the good of the world?” Aurora spat. “She needed to have a child, and we did everything in our power to make that happen! You killed her when you took her away!” Her fear returned as soon as she looked at the Keeper once more. It would have been better if she’d died in the raid than be captured. Keepers were not known to let those they execute die easily.

“Hers was not a life of turmoil!” Amari screamed. The Keeper placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hers was a life of torment and sorrow!” Amari’s face contorted, on the verge of tears. “Her death was better than her life,” she whispered.

“She can’t be dead.” Aurora’s own voice sounded distant to her.

“Let the Fires of Truth bear witness,” the Keeper muttered, “the last of the Line of Ynara has passed into the realm of the Shadows. The last of the Line of Ynara has breathed her last. And yet one lives on.”

Aurora’s mouth became very dry as she struggled to breathe. They blamed her for Lorelai’s death. The Keeper was going to exorcise her. Even if they didn’t, the suffering that would come was comparable to the death she was now going to face. She tried to wrap her arms around herself. To comfort herself. To know that she could still feel. The binds digging into her wrists worked to bring her back to reality.

“’Woe to all the land, for the last Daughter of the Maker has passed,’” Aurora quoted from her studies of the visions of the Prophet, “’The Balance shall be no more, and the Dark shall inherit the world.’”

The Keeper, Tupu, was familiar with a similar prophecy told by the Sabulosians and the Druids. “Woe to all the land, for the One who Binds the Chaos is slain. The Balance shall be no more, and the Shadows shall inherit the land.” A translation error, he thought. According to the Druids, ‘the One Who Binds the Chaos’ was no daughter of the Makers, but the World Guardian – leader of the Druids since the Balance began. How much of the Great Teachings have they twisted within their own minds to meet their own ends? How many of them truly believe the lies they spew is truth?

Aurora looked to Amari. “This must make you happy.”

Amari jumped forward from her seat and struck Aurora across the face. “It makes me no happier that the Balance should fall than it does you.” She took Aurora’s chin in her hand, forcing her to look her in the eyes. “But I believe the Balance did not hang on the life of one girl. That girl, however, was far more precious to me than to you.”

Amari shoved Aurora’s face away. “I guess it would be a mercy for you to die – if you are right.”

Aurora sneered as she glanced at Tupu momentarily before focusing back on Amari. To postpone death for a time – there was but one way.

“You cannot kill me,” she said. She did everything she could to hide her trembling. To ensure that they could not know her fear. “Your oath forbids it. You must keep me alive and attempt to turn me from my ways.” She sat up in a show of feigned dignity. A spectacle of righteousness.

Amari took on a venomous smile. She had thought of having mercy. She had been considering it. “That may be true. But his oath requires it.” She nodded to the Keeper before returning to her seat. To attempt manipulating her; that was the tipping point that swung the scales out of her favor.

Aurora’s breathing became quick and shallow as the Keeper began to breathe deeply. Within moments, tongues of flame leapt from his nostrils. He stood and knelt before her, rubbing his hands together. His palms became red, like iron fresh from the furnace as he let a breath from his mouth. A single bout of flame leapt forth.

Aurora squeaked, cowering in fear. She struggled once more against her bonds, splinters of twine digging into her skin.

The Keeper put his hands on her arms; her skin began to boil. She let out a scream and he pressed his lips to hers, a hot breath filling her lungs. Her cries turned to gurgles, and her gurgles to silence as her lungs filled with flame.

She should have been dead within seconds. But the Keeper wouldn’t let her soul go that easily.

Amari looked away from the spectacle just as Aurora’s eyes caught fire. Tiny jets of flame leapt from her pores.

She did not like what Tupu did for them. The violent, gruesome ways that he enacted justice. She thought for a moment: Should I have offered mercy? Should I have followed my oath to do everything in my power to preserve life? “I shall do all that is within my power, that none more blood shall be shed,” the oath went. Her eyes flashed back to the flaming spectacle for a moment. It was a wonder that neither Tupu nor the cart burned. But what justice would there be if she was allowed to live? What justice would there be for those she’s wronged? For what she did to all those under her? For what she did to my dear Lorelai? For what she did to my beloved Delilah?

Delilah once stood against the justice of Tupu. “What good does it do to slay evil? Do we not, by making the evil good, remove the evil? If we make the evil good, and they are truly good, then how much more can they do for us, to bring about more justice? Killing the evil is not justice. Transforming it, that is true justice. I say to you, Keeper, spare this one.

Amari chuckled nervously as a tear rolled down her cheek. Her argument had no effect on Tupu. The sound of the High Priestess burning alive became distant. What would Delilah say now as the one she hated, the one who tormented her, who took her daughter away, tormented her daughter, and caused her daughter to die, burned in the Fire of Justice? Would she say the same?

The crackle of flame stopped.

Amari looked over to Tupu, a pile of ash before him.

He muttered a prayer under his breath, then turned toward her and nodded.

She looked to the pile of ash, hoping Lorelai would climb from it and into her arms. She never did. Amari closed her eyes and wept. There is no justice. No such thing.

If you liked what you just read, go ahead and subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or the email entry field on the right side of the page. Also, hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. The more feedback I receive, the better my content will be. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!

Lorelai

Lorelai is a young priestess for the Church of the Makers, raised to ‘uphold the Pillar of Life’. Someone has come to offer her a way out, but can they stand up to the Church?

The following contains themes of sexual assault. While nothing is explicitly described, the situations may cause distress for some readers. Please proceed with that in mind.

Lorelai stood in the temple courtyard, watching as patrons passed by. She hoped none of them would eye her. The temple never gave the girls much to work with, and Lorelai struggled to cover whatever dignity she might have left – if there was any at all. A young man’s gaze met her eyes, and she forced a smile. He looked away, quickly setting his attention on one of the older priestesses. If she were lucky, no one would be drawn to her too long. No one would ask for her.

She still remembered the first time she was required to ‘fulfill her duty’ to the Makers. She would never forget her thirteenth birthday, as her cries of pain were blatantly ignored.

The previous night, another priestess had visited her – Delilah. She always snuck Lorelai extra food, and always bought her a gift for her birthday. She had a secret stash hidden under her bed so that the other priestesses couldn’t find it. That night was the last time Lorelai saw Delilah. She told her what was going to happen; Delilah told her that the High Priestess was going to make Lorelai perform her first ‘upholding of the Pillar of Life’.

Delilah had told her to focus on the wall. To choose one spot on the wall and stare at it, and to remember her voice. To think of all the gifts she’d been given and the life she wanted to have, instead of the life she did have. And to remember the last words Delilah ever said to her: “I love you.”

The next day, Delilah was gone. The higher priestesses claimed she’d disappeared into the night. Others said that the priestesses did away with her and dumped her in the city sewers to be eaten by rats. Then, as the sun began to set, the High Priestess, who claimed to be Lorelai’s mother, came into her room with a man she’d never seen before.

He was tall, and had fair skin, and a silver circlet sat upon his head – the symbol of priesthood. Lorelai was told to take off her clothes and lie down on the bed. She complied, reluctantly. As the priest climbed onto her, she struggled. It was then her mother held her down, pinning her on her stomach so she couldn’t fight. For a brief moment, her face was smashed into the mattress and she struggled to breathe. Hands wrapped around her as she let out a silent scream, muffled by the cushion. Finally, her face was free. She took in a deep breath and stared at the wall.

Slowly, she retreated inside herself. Imagined that Delilah was her mother. That she lived away from the temple – in the countryside, maybe. That she had an older brother, who defended her from those who would do her harm. That she had a father who loved her and cherished her. She’d never met her father, and she was fairly convinced she’d never met her real mother.

Slowly, she retreated deeper and deeper inside herself until she couldn’t think. She couldn’t hear. She couldn’t see. The only thing she could feel was her vocal cords wearing out as she let out scream after unanswered scream. She thought she heard a laugh – her “mother’s” laugh. By the time she returned to her body, she was alone again, lying in a puddle of filth and tears on her bed.

The courtyard suddenly became silent as Lorelai returned to the present. People around the courtyard sneered at the entryway. She looked over to see a man, dressed in tattered armor, and covered in muck. He had a scar down the side of his face, and a disheveled beard matted with mud – or worse. It was a disgusting sight, were it not for a single feature. Around his left shoulder was a braided cord, made of strands of bold crimson.

She looked to the High Priestess, who was scanning the courtyard to see how her subordinates would react. There would be trouble if Lorelai approached him, but she needed to leave this place, and a Paladin of the Crimson Cord was just the person to help her do that.

Lorelai began approaching him, only to be cut off by her supposed mother.

“My name is High Priestess Aurora. Is there anything I can help you with, Crimson?” she asked. “Have you perhaps decided to uphold the Pillar of Life our way?”

The Paladin’s eyes locked with Lorelai’s before returning to Aurora’s. “How much?”

“Twenty Jades.”

He nodded to Lorelai. “I’ll take that one.”

“Tsk,” Aurora shook her head, “unfortunately, that one’s a favorite of certain patrons of ours, so it’s going to cost extra. One hundred Jades.”

Aurora and the Paladin locked eyes for what felt like an eternity. Paladins helped people without pay – they depended on the generosity of strangers and, as such, were usually poor. Aurora knew this.

The Paladin took in a deep breath before letting out a quick huff. Lorelai couldn’t believe her eyes – a small bout of fire leapt from the man’s nostrils.

Aurora recoiled, her eyes wide as she reached up to cover her mouth in shock. Within the same second, her evident fear turned to determination and hatred. “Leave this place, heathen,” she said, “or I will remove you permanently.” Her hand came to rest on the hilt of the sword attached to her waist.

The Paladin smirked as his own hand settled on the handle of his mace. “Very well.”

Lorelai’s face became downcast as the Paladin turned to leave. He stole a glance at her one last time before stepping out the entryway. At that exact moment, a man approached the High Priestess.

“How much for that one?” He pointed at Lorelai.

Normally, she would upscale the price. But Lorelai had heard the previous exchange. She had attempted to rebel against Aurora. She needed to know her place. “Ten Jades.”

***

Lorelai entered her room and locked the door behind her. She fell against it and buried her head in her hands. She felt dirty. Ashamed. Dejected. She clawed at every part of herself, hoping to feel something as she began to weep. Tears rolled down her cheeks, soaking into her dress – if it could even be called that.

She heard movement but didn’t bother to look up until she felt a hand on her shoulder. She lifted her head and opened her eyes – it was hard to see through her tears. She felt a hand on her face – a woman’s hand – its thumb wiping away her tears. She blinked a few times as everything came into focus. “Delilah?”

Once she could see, she knew that the woman before her now was not Delilah. In fact, if the woman before her now were found by the Church on temple property, she’d be killed immediately.

“Fear not, little one,” the woman said as Lorelai wiped away her own tears.

The woman stood before her, taller than most men she’d seen. Her skin was almost as dark as the night sky, and her eyes were like gold. She was of the Umbrai, people of the Southern Continent descended from demons – according to the Church.

She pulled the edge of her cloak to the side, revealing her shoulder, and the crimson cord tied around it. “I have come by request of my compatriot. I have come to take you away from this place – if you so choose.”

Lorelai sniffled.

“Would you like to come with me?”

Lorelai brought her knees to her chest, hugging them for support. She stared at the floor.

“What is your name, little one?”

Lorelai lifted her head to look at the woman. She looked at her eyes for only a moment before dropping her gaze to the woman’s feet. “Lorelai.”

“Would you like to come with me, Lorelai? And leave this place?”

Lorelai sniffled. She swallowed as she felt a lump in her throat. “No.”

The woman raised a brow and crouched down, leveling herself with Lorelai. “Why not?”

“It doesn’t matter if I leave. They’ll find me and bring me back here. They don’t let anyone leave.”

The woman reached out her hand, caressing Lorelai’s cheek before lifting her head. Lorelai looked her in the eye once again. She saw empathy – understanding. “My name is Amari. I would like to help you, Lorelai. But I can only do that if you are willing to help yourself.”

Lorelai pulled her face from Amari’s hand. “I told you, they’ll come for me.”

Amari stood once more, her hand resting on the mace tied to her waist. “I, too, will come for you, Lorelai. I will come every night to visit you. We can protect you.”

Lorelai shook her head.

Amari’s face fluttered with a pained smile for a moment before she closed her eyes in solemn silence. Lorelai buried her head in her arms. In a few moments, she heard Amari’s cloak swoosh. When she next looked up, she was gone.

***

For the next four days, Lorelai’s life continued as it always had. For the next four nights, Amari came to her room and offered to take her away from the temple. She would join the Crimsons at their camp and become one of their traveling companions. Perhaps one day she, too, would become a Crimson – that was their cycle: to amass traveling companions until a group of three set out on their own, donning a new set of Crimson Cords. For the next four nights, she said no.

On the fifth night, she entered into her room and looked around, holding back tears. There was no one there. No Amari, nor anyone else for that matter. She let her clothing fall to the floor and wandered to the wash basin along the wall to begin cleaning herself once more. She’d already cleaned several times that day, but no matter how much she washed, no matter how hard she scrubbed, she felt she could never be free of the sickening filth.

She began to weep, letting her tears drip down into the basin. As the sobs racked her body, she stopped washing and held her hand over her mouth to muffle her cries. She couldn’t let anyone hear. She shuddered as she took in a deep breath and looked up. Placed in the windowsill was a piece of paper.

She wiped the tears from her face as she crept across the room. On top of the paper was a locket. She picked it up and studied the outside – it was covered in an ornate design – before reading the paper.

Lorelai,

I think the Church suspects trouble. It appears they have increased the guard. I had trouble escaping last night but made it away unharmed. My compatriot has sent this note with a bird, along with a gift, a comfort, I hope, that you will be safe. Know that I loved your mother. She was my dearest friend, and not a day goes by that I do not miss her. I only hope that one day we shall meet again, and, perhaps, on that day, you will be with me. I cannot risk returning this night unless I know that you will be by my side when I leave. If you are willing, tie a piece of bright fabric to your curtain rod before the sky darkens. Once I can see the stars in the sky, I will come for you. Please, Lorelai. Do not make me lose this last piece of her in vain. Come with me.

Amari

Lorelai looked closely at the locket in her hand. She flicked it open to see a tiny painting inside. A painting of the one person who’d ever loved her: Delilah.

She let out a single sob as she stared at the painting. She hadn’t seen her face in over two years. She’d escaped the Church. Maybe she was still alive. Maybe she could see her again.

Lorelai looked back to the letter. Amari called Delilah her mother. The life she wanted wasn’t so far out of reach. She could still have it.

For the first time that she could remember, she smiled.

She looked out the window, scanning the outside. The horizon was orange. The sky wasn’t dark yet.

She ran to her dresser and pulled out the brightest piece of clothing she could find – a large, square piece of bright red fabric. She ripped off the corner and scrambled over to her window, tying it to the curtain rod.

She scanned the horizon once more. On a far-off rooftop, a dark figure crouched. It was hard to tell from so far away, but Lorelai was sure that it was Amari, watching her.

Lorelai returned to the dresser and rifled through it as she searched for clothing suitable for outside the temple. As a Daughter of the Church, born into the temple’s service, she was meant to live there her whole life, rarely, if ever, seeing the outside world. There were a few exceptions, such as when a patron made a particularly sizable donation and preferred to use the temple’s services inside their own home. But that was rare, and they were often transported in a palanquin, so their clothes mattered not. Eventually, she found something she thought seemed appropriate. At the very least, it completely covered her legs and torso and was secured by silk cords rather than carefully placed pins.

Once she was dressed, she sat on her bed and waited.

***

As the orange of the sky turned to purple, the dark figure on the rooftop disappeared onto the street below. Nearly a quarter of an hour later, a shadow flew through her window, lightly tumbling across the floor. Golden eyes looked up at Lorelai.

Amari smiled as she dropped a pack from her shoulder and fished out a wad of clothing. “I believe these will be more comfortable.”

Lorelai unraveled the clothing to find a pair of black trousers, a linen shirt, and a burlap cloak. Amari then pulled a black bodice and a pair of boots from her pack as well, handing them to the girl.

Amari began putting the gifts from under Lorelai’s bed in the now empty pack as Lorelai changed clothes.

“I suspect we won’t be able to leave through the window I came in, so we’ll likely need to go through the hallway.” After finishing with the gifts, she pulled a thin, wooden rod from her other pack and pulled a dart off her belt, pushing it into one end. “We’ll need to move quickly and quietly to avoid attention. As long as you stay behind me and follow closely, we should be safe.”

Lorelai had just tied her trousers when Amari crept over to the door, pressing her ear against it. After listening for a moment, she looked to Lorelai. “Let me know when you’re ready.”

Lorelai quickly slipped on her boots and threw her cloak around her. Once she tied it off, she nodded and made her way across the room.

Amari smiled as she pulled Lorelai’s hood up over her head before listening to the door once more. She held her finger to her mouth and slowly pushed the door open, peeking through the crack. Seeing no one, she opened the door about halfway and peered around the side. The hallway was empty.

She motioned for Lorelai to follow and began making her way to the southern staircase, where there was a door that led out into an alleyway. As they reached the top of the stairs, Amari heard voices down below – men’s voices. Guards, probably.

She looked down between the flights in order to see who was down below. She saw no one.

She started down the stairs as quietly as she could, motioning for Lorelai to stay back. She reached the bottom of the upper flight and leaned over just enough to see the landing below. Two guards, one wearing a helmet, the other holding his under his arm.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm her mind. As soon she opened them, the blowgun she was carrying pressed against her lips, leveled with the helmetless guard’s neck. As soon as the dart was loosed, she slipped her mace from her belt and lunged forward.

The helmeted guard’s head turned just a moment too soon. As Amari lunged, he slipped his sword from its sheath, barely blocking the blow. The other guard hit the floor as Amari brought her mace back. The conscious guard tried to jump back, but lost his footing, and his face slammed right into Amari’s uppercut.

Her eyes widened in horror as she dropped the mace to catch him. She lowered him to the ground before rolling him onto his side. His face was covered in blood.

She placed her hand on his heart. “If you shall breathe your last this day, may the Unknowable know you, that you may not fade away in death, but find new life. So let it be said, so let it be done.”

After praying over the guard, she called out in a rasp whisper, “Little one!”

Lorelai’s head peaked over the side of the stairs. Amari motioned for her to follow once more.

As Lorelai reached the bottom of the stairs, she cocked her head at the two men lying on the floor. “Are they dead?”

“No, just asleep. I hope. Come along.”

The pair rushed out the door and into the alleyway before making their way to the next street over. They weaved through the mess of roads that made up the city until finally reaching the Green Gate – so named because it led into the Hartal Wilds. Amari held Lorelai back and watched closely, waiting for one of the guards to be visible under the torchlight.

“Damn.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not the guard I know, he won’t let us through without identifying ourselves – probably won’t let us through at all if he finds out the truth.”

“Can’t you just… knock them out, like you did with the guards in the temple?”

“No, that would only cause more problems. Here.”

Amari turned Lorelai to face her and pulled a small, folded cloth from her belt. Lorelai wasn’t sure what she expected to see in the pouch, but it certainly wasn’t a handful of mud. Amari dipped her hands in the mud and wiped it on Lorelai’s face.

“You priestesses keep yourselves too clean to pass as commoners. If you’re even a little dirty, they shouldn’t even consider the possibility.”

Amari led her to the gate and stood before the guard. “I’d like to leave.”

“Only those on official business are allowed out after dark.”

Lorelai recognized the voice. As she heard it, she realized she recognized his stature, too. She’d never looked him in the eye, but she’d heard him. Felt him. She lowered her head as her body began to scream. For her to run. For her to hide. She knew he was going to recognize her.

Amari wrapped her arm around Lorelai and rubbed her shoulder. “I’m taking this girl to her mother, by order of Captain Ren.”

“Captain Ren, eh? Let me see her.”

Lorelai and Amari’s jaws clenched in unison as Amari pulled back Lorelai’s hood. For the first time, Lorelai looked up at the guard, into his cold, uncaring eyes.

“What business does the Captain have with a girl like this?”

Amari shrugged as she forced herself to breathe. Hopefully, the guard wouldn’t notice.

The guard sighed. “Very well. Go ahead.”

Lorelai threw her hood back over her head and the pair made their way into the district of Aurora. As soon as they turned a corner, Amari scooped Lorelai into her arms and carried her like a sack of potatoes as she broke into a sprint.

“Why are you running?” Lorelai cried as the constant up and down motion forced the air in and out of her lungs.

“Because a bluff can only work for so long. He’s going to try to get the order verified, and when it comes back I was lying, we’re going to want to be long gone.”

Soon enough, they had passed the last darkened house in the wall-less district. Even then, Amari didn’t stop running as they passed between fields of farmland for several miles.

As they finally reached the tree line, she stopped and set Lorelai down.

“We should be fine to walk from here,” she panted. “Our camp isn’t too far from here.”

She stood to catch her breath for a moment before taking Lorelai’s hand and pushing through the undergrowth.

***

The moon sat directly overhead as they reached the Crimsons’ camp. Tents littered the ground, centered around a small stream that flowed through the clearing. A few dark figures wandered about; their hands rested on weapons affixed to their hips as they watched the pair approach.

Amari whistled a short tune and one of the figures nodded before they all returned to their patrolling.

“Are they all Crimsons?” Lorelai asked.

Amari shook her head. “There are only three of us which bear that burden. The rest are our wards, whom we’ve saved and who now save us – though they may become Crimsons one day, like your mother.”

“Where is she?”

Amari tightened her lips. “I wish I knew.”

She pulled a tent flap aside and gestured for Lorelai to crawl inside. Once the girl settled onto the sleeping mat, Amari climbed in and sat down on the other side. Lorelai fell asleep almost immediately.

“Rest now, child,” Amari whispered, “You’re safe.”

***

Lorelai awoke the next morning as the sun peaked through the gap between the tent flaps. Amari was nowhere to be seen, but she could hear talking outside. She waited and listened. Amari’s voice was among them.

She took a deep breath and focused on the fact that she was free now. She could do whatever she wanted as long as she never went back to the city. She could go anywhere, be anyone. But what did that mean for her?

The life she just left behind was all she ever knew. She was born into the Church, raised in it. She wanted out, but she didn’t know what she’d be going in to. She bit her lip as she thought about it for a moment before shaking the thought from her mind. Then, she climbed from the tent.

Standing outside were four people, three of which had Crimson Cords tied around their shoulders. One was Amari. Another was the man who had visited the temple the morning before Lorelai and Amari met. The last two were a man who looked much like the other, and a woman who Lorelai didn’t recognize at all, who had red hair and warrior braids on the left side of her head.

“Good morning, little one,” Amari said as she smiled. Her eyes looked more green than gold in the sunlight.

“I would like to introduce you to my compatriots. This is Salazar” – she pointed to the man who visited the temple – “and his brother, Tupu. And this” – she pointed at the woman – “is Alianna.”

“It is good to finally meet you, Lorelai,” Salazar said. Tupu and Alianna simply bowed their heads.

“Tupu is one of our wards,” Amari continued, “He and his brother were rescued by the Crimson unit we formed from. Salazar decided to become a Crimson. Tupu decided to travel with us after training with the druids to become a Keeper of the Flame – a lawman of sorts.”

Tupu chuckled. “That is one way to put it. Why do you not be honest with the child, it is not as if she has never seen nor heard of the ways of the world.”

Alianna pursed her lips, suppressing the slight smile spreading across her face.

Amari shot Tupu a pensive gaze. “Because I do not like what you do for us.”

Tupu smiled at Amari before looking down to Lorelai. “I am their executioner. Crimsons must preserve life, you see. That is their purpose. Mine is to enact justice. Mine is to exact retribution. To strike down evil where it stands, without regard for the petty ‘Pillars’ that the Crimsons and Church so foolishly revere.”

Amari’s eyebrows rose for a moment. “Yes.”

Lorelai thought back to the day in the courtyard when she first saw Salazar. “You breathe fire.”

Salazar’s eyes shot to his companions.

Alianna raised a brow and frowned as Amari recoiled slightly.

“You did what?” Amari snapped.

“I was trying to intimidate the High Priestess. It’s not like anyone else saw me.”

“You cannot be that reckless,” Amari continued, “They could have killed you.”

“How does he breathe fire?” Lorelai interjected.

Tupu and Salazar both took a deep breath at the same time. Tupu got his words out first.

“It is a learned skill. To move in natural harmony with the elements is something one must begin training as soon as they can talk, otherwise, there is no hope of achieving it. My brother and I were lucky enough to have been trained in it before our home was destroyed by the Church.”

“They are both elementalists,” Amari added, “capable of bending the will of the elements to theirs.”

Lorelai nodded.

“Would you like breakfast, Lorelai?” Salazar asked after a brief moment of silence. “I’m sure you’re hungry.”

Lorelai smiled. “That would be nice.”

***

The camp was quiet that night as Alianna patrolled its borders. They had sent a small contingent to town to gather supplies during the day before leaving the domain of the city tomorrow. Soon, they would be free of this branch of the Church and likely never have to deal with them again.

As she neared the edge of the clearing, something moved in the underbrush. A twig snapped. A flash of steel.

Lorelai woke up to the sound of a shrill scream. Within a second, Amari had sprung from their tent, her mace at the ready. Over a dozen wards were up and battle ready in a moment’s notice, with more soon to follow.

The flash of fire ripped through the sky as torches held high lit from a single spark, sent forth from Salazar’s fingertip. In a moment, the entire camp and much of the surrounding forest was perfectly visible. The Crimsons and their people were prepared for the sudden flash. The Church’s justiciars were not.

The camp flew into motion as the justiciars shielded their eyes. Maces whistled through the air, slamming into the justiciars’ helmets and knocking them out cold.

Those who weren’t immediately felled by the camp’s first counterstrike soon regained their composure as the real fight began.

Lorelai scrambled out of her tent to a maelstrom of blades and clubs. She ducked and weaved, avoiding the many weapons swinging about as she searched for Amari.

As a stray blade swung in her direction, she jumped backward, only to be knocked to the ground by someone slamming into her back. She felt an arm wrap around her waist before being hoisted into the air and onto someone’s shoulder. A justiciar had grabbed her.

She flailed wildly, trying to escape his grip. Before she knew what was going on, she was on the ground again, an arrow through the eye of her captor. She had no idea where it had come from.

She looked around once more and finally spotted Amari. She began running toward her. Amari’s gaze broke from the woman she was fighting for only a second as she shook her head at Lorelai. She only barely managed to block her assailant’s next blow.

Lorelai took a step backward as she watched before recognizing the sword of Amari’s opponent – High Priestess Aurora.

She ran back toward the tent, trying to ignore the fighting going on around her.

Someone tackled her to the ground. She began kicking and screaming as her attacker pinned her to the ground. She was slapped. She opened her eyes to see the familiar face of Alianna crouched over her, a massive gash across her face, from one side of her forehead to the opposite corner of her jaw.

Alianna threw down her mace and grabbed Lorelai’s hand, leading her into the woods without a word.

Lorelai protested, “But we need to help!”

Alianna shot her a piercing gaze as she dragged her to the tree line.

Lorelai knew the reality. She couldn’t fight, she couldn’t help. All she could do was run and hide until the battle was over. They neared the tree line as Alianna knocked weapons away with her shield, shoving several justiciars to the ground.

The Church’s focus began to shift as more and more opposition came against them. If Alianna got away with Lorelai, the Church would lose what they came here for. Arrows whizzed past Lorelai’s head. Alianna only barely managed to duck under them.

Lorelai could see the edge of the clearing. She was going to make it out.

She let out a cry as a stray arrow pierced through her back. She looked down. Its tip was sticking out of her chest.

The justiciars shouted as Alianna pulled Lorelai behind a tree to protect her. They’d gotten out just a moment too late.

Aurora and Amari’s attention wavered for a moment as they both looked in the direction of Lorelai’s cry. Amari used that moment of distraction to get the upper hand, knocking her opponent on the back of the head.

The justiciar’s ran, abandoning the clearing. Tupu slapped shackles on the High Priestesses wrists as Amari ran to Lorelai’s aid.

Her head rested in Alianna’s lap.

“Amari,” she choked. She let out a few coughs, splattering blood across her face.

“I’m here, little one.”

“I’m… free.”

Amari sobbed and forced a smile. “Yes.”

She took in a deep breath, shuddering all the while.

“My dear Lorelai. Your days have been filled with turmoil. Your life has been one of sorrow. I only knew you for a short time, but I love you as my daughter. I hope that this is not the day you breathe your last. But if it is, I pray that the Unknowable may know you. That it may wrap you up in its wings and rescue you from the Field of Ash. That you will not fade away in the cold embrace of death, but that you may be brought into the domain of the Unknowable, renewed with life. That you may have the life you always wanted. And that you may find peace.”

Lorelai smiled as she shook. She could hardly breathe.

“So let it be said,” Amari prayed, “so let it be done.”

Tupu stepped up next to them. “Would you like for me to ease her passing?”

Amari smile faded as tears rolled down her face. She let out a sob and cried aloud. Alianna placed her hand on Amari’s shoulder and she pressed her cheek against it.

She struggled to nod her head as she lifted Lorelai from her lap.

Tupu sat down beside her, crossing his legs as he pulled Lorelai close to him. “I am sorry, child, that you could not have experienced more of the good in this world. May you pass into the realm of the Shadows, and may they make you their queen.”

He began circling his hands slightly in the air as his hair stood on end. A blue spark flashed in his eyes as he placed his hands on either side of Lorelai’s head. She flinched as electricity shot through her mind. Then, she was gone.

If you liked what you just read go ahead and subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or the email entry field on the right side of the page – an epilogue to this story is soon to come. Also, hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. The more feedback I receive, the better my content will be. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!

On the Subject of Subjectivity (Devilspawn Update)

Another update on Devilspawn! In this post, I talk about the subject of writing from a morally grey perspective to emphasize the importance of morality.

Hello, all, and welcome to another update on the progress of Devilspawn! I am roughly three-quarters or so done with my most recent draft of the first book of Devilspawn, A Demon in the Night, and hope to be done with said draft soon so I can move into a round of Beta Reading. That said, if you would like to act as a beta reader, go ahead and visit our Facebook page to leave a like, comment, or share.

At present, I am at a roadblock and am awaiting feedback from my Alpha Readers for the next scene I intend on writing. This is because the scene addresses several real-world issues and I would like for it to be written in a concise and respectable manner.

That said, I am very happy with the progress I have made and am proud of the draft thus far. I will, of course, need to go back and make some edits, but I don’t think I should need to make any major reworks to the story anymore (at least for ADitN)- I’ve felt the need to make many such reworks between the first draft and now.

One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve been writing this draft is a shift in the way that I approach certain themes. Before, I approached them from a perspective of objective morality – the book is written from a third-person omniscient perspective, and any time a character did something morally dubious, it was evident within the narrators tone (that said, it was previously written from more of a shifting third-person limited).

With this draft, my writing reflects a much more subjectively moral approach. If the group of characters that any given passage focuses on believes that what they are doing is in the right, the narration takes on that tone. With any given argument or disagreement within the story, it is presented that both parties could potentially be in the right. I do this in real life, even in arguments where I have stakes, especially if I feel one side is underrepresented. I blame my losing of Trial by Trolley on that. But I digress.

This moral subjectivity includes portions of the story where someone is most definitely in the wrong, such as in the case of a character who is verbally abusive. When things are described from his perspective, it’s made out to be, at least on the surface, that his actions are justified by his motives. However, from the perspective of the abused and several of her friends, he is made out to be the villain that he is. This is seen for (most of) the other villains in the story, as well – they clearly think they are in the right and dutifully defend their perspective.

And this brings up several questions: Is this how it should be done? What are the implications of presenting moral quandaries in this way? What are the consequences? Is this a way to make the book welcoming to all readers? Will it make the book alienating to all readers? Is there a happy middle ground, or are the extremes the only solution?

All these are questions I have considered, and here are the answers I have come up with, based both on what I have observed of other people, and what I have gathered from reading/watching other writer’s blogs/vlogs.

Implications and Consequences

The most obvious implication that this approach presents is that morality is subjective. It is subjective and measured by whoever is committing the action, and whoever the action is being committed upon. Subjective morality is a dangerous game: if morality is subjective, then no one can definitively say what is and isn’t moral.

So, if the book is written from a morally subjective approach, it could easily lead to others taking that same perspective. Assuming they take everything at face value and don’t bring their own biases into it. Which is impossible.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that everyone who reads the book will take their own biases and perspectives on morality into account when they read the book (and they will). Then, in the case where they are reading something that affirms their beliefs, they will agree with it, and like the writing more because it supports their beliefs. In the case where they are reading something that goes against their beliefs, they will disagree with it and perhaps consider a new perspective. This will, ideally, challenge their own thinking, and help to improve their critical thinking skills.

Now, consider a book which only affirms the authors perspective on morality. The book, whether it does so explicitly or implicitly, will tell the reader what to think on whatever is happening. Rather than thinking critically about everything that happens in the story and coming to their own conclusions, the reader is led by the hand to understand morality from the writer’s perspective. This would be fine and dandy if the writer’s morality was perfect. But no human’s morality is.

So, we must find a different approach. Consider a book which affirms the characters’ perspective on morality, even if told from the perspective of a voiceless narrator. The book will tell the reader that everything the target character is doing is good. This will make the reader question what is good. They will read something not good happening, say to themselves, ‘this isn’t good,’ and then (hopefully) begin to consider the moral imperatives of all things happening. To consider all sides of any given argument.

By this approach, the writer is not leading the reader to a specific moral perspective, but instead leading the reader to a vast library of moral perspectives, where the reader can more easily reconsider their views.

As well, writing from a morally subjective approach highlights objective morality. If a reader can look at something that is happening and recognize that what is happening is wrong, even when all possible arguments are made for it being right, then how can it be that the thing could ever be right?

In contrast, writing from a morally objective perspective, where the writer’s morality does not line up with the objective, does the exact opposite.

Even the Bible (more specifically the Old Testament) is written from a subjectively moral perspective, which highlights the fact that morality is objective. Nearly every act described in the books of Kings and Chronicles is written in an unbiased, here are the facts, format. This leaves the reader to interpret what is right and what is wrong. Even more so, this takes the focus off of the writers biases and places it on the consequences of the events that take place. Polygamy, incest, and rape, all written from a morally grey perspective, lead to dire consequences that lead to the downfall of Israel. We read through it and know that it is wrong, and those who do not see the consequences of those actions.

Welcoming vs Alienating

This, I think, is a question that has plagued me. Finding the line to draw, finding where Devilspawn reaches a point of being too alienating to my target audience for me to include various plots in the narrative. What I have decided on is this: I want people to be uncomfortable.

Devilspawn is written with a wide range of target audience in mind. It is made to make people question their own beliefs and their own actions. It is, ultimately, written from a Christian perspective, but it is made to make Christians uncomfortable, to call the religion itself out on the ways it has failed. It is also written to be enjoyed by those apart from the faith. I have attempted, in almost every scene where Christianity is brought up, to write it in a non-intrusive and digestible way. In a way that everywhere it’s brought up carries with it an important element that relates to the situations each character is going through and that has some plot relevance. Devilspawn is written to make people question their own reality and consider things from another perspective. One of the villains is a judgemental Christian; one of the heroes is a gay Satanist. As previously stated, everything in Devilspawn is subjective, but it all points to one objective Truth.

So, though Devilspawn is certainly alienating, I hope and pray that those it would alienate (i.e. everyone) would read it with an open mind and with the motive of gaining a fresh perspective on reality.

Conclusion: Is This How it Should be Done?

The straight answer is, ‘probably not’. The more complicated answer is that writing the book in this way will likely turn away many readers who are not expecting a book written in this way. As I’m writing this, the possibility of writing a sort of ‘letter from the author’ before the book begins comes to mind. One which explains that which I’ve written above. That the book is intended to make people feel uncomfortable, and make them question their own perspective. Because questions and doubts are the only ways we move forward. Questioning the understood best way to do something is how we find better ways of doing things.

And that is why I’m writing Devilspawn in this way.

If what you just read happened to pique your interest, subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or by way of using the email entry field on the right. Also, hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!

Devilspawn and Divus Update

In lieu of releasing a chapter of Isle of the Dreamer (coming next week), I’ve decided to post an update on other projects I’m working on.

Unfortunately, there is no chapter of Isle of the Dreamer for this week, due to various things going on. I have, however, made progress on other projects in the past two weeks. Significant headway has been made on the most recent draft of Devilspawn, and actual work has been done on the video game I am working on, Project Divus (NP). More details below.

A Demon in the Night, Book I of Devilspawn

Unfortunately, Devilspawn sat dormant for several weeks while I got distracted by the wonderful prospect of doing nothing and lazing around all day. On the bright side, I have broken free from that temptation and made significant headway to the tune of and additional 30 pages.

As I write this, I come to the realization that I have given little to no updates about the writing of Devilspawn. Ever. Better late than never, I guess.

The first draft was 321 pages and the five people who read through it adored it. That, alongside actually finishing a draft for once, was a great confidence boost.

However, much to the dismay of the woman who is now my wife, I was unhappy with that draft. This was for two primary reasons (that are actually just one reason in disguise): (1) the draft had a lot of ‘downtime’ – periods where nothing would happen, involving multi-month gaps in time – which resulted in (2) a lot of plot threads being introduced in the final stretch of the book as they were being tied up. So, I decided to write out the second draft much differently – namely, by filling in the gaps, which padded out the book quite a bit.

The problem is that this made the book very long. It didn’t drag on, mind you, but it became quite long in the process, with many plot threads introduced toward the beginning of the book that wouldn’t be resolved until toward the end. Based on the length of the second draft, that probably wouldn’t have been for another 200-300 pages, which would be less than ideal. Thus, splitting the novel into two books.

Now, I could, of course, just write the whole thing out to its full length of 600-some-odd pages and then find a nice breaking point. The problem is that, with the way it was being written, that wouldn’t work very well.

Devilspawn is a character-focused narrative rather than a plot-focused narrative. There are several major plot points toward the middle of the book that would work as a nice finale for Volume I before transitioning into Volume II. The issue with that would be that its right smack in the middle of multiple character arcs. This would make the book feel incomplete.

Thus, my decision to simply start the next draft with that in mind: restructuring certain character arcs to be resolved before that point and pushing off other character arcs to be introduced after that point. Obviously, some character arcs will still span across both books, but the plan is to make Volume I feel more complete in itself, which is more pleasing in the eyes of readers and traditional publishers, should I end up needing to go that route.

Project Divus (NP)

Project Divus has seen many roadblocks in its production, not the least of which is my own laziness. The other was trying to work with a rather lethargic and disagreeable partner.

The starting area, with the main character swinging a sword

So, there’s been a shake-up in the production team, and I am now proud to announce that I will be working on Divus with my wife, Olivia, who will be working on the majority of the graphics for the game as well as helping me with level design. The two of us together have made what I would call significant progress on the game in the past two days. The starting area of the game is mostly completed, the Player Character (PC) can walk, can’t walk through walls, and can swing a sword. I say ‘can swing a sword’ and not ‘can attack things’ on account of I am currently having issues with making the code recognize certain colliders in the engine.

Other than that minor issue that I’m sure I’ll resolve soon, production is coming along quickly, especially compared to the last 8 months, where nothing was done except the creation of placeholder graphics (pictured above) that were very obviously based on those of the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Moving Forward

As previously mentioned, there is not chapter for Isle of the Dreamer this week. Rest assured, you lovely people who actually read it and keep asking me or my wife for more, another chapter is coming next week (hopefully). What I’ve been trying to do lately is release chapters on the second and fourth Fridays of each month with short stories being released on the Fridays between (thus, Sunny and Raphael).

The unfortunate reality is that life gets in the way of these sorts of things, especially when you haven’t actually released anything that can make you money (or don’t have a following at all) and have to depend on a day (read: 3 o’clock in the morning) job that leaves you feeling like time doesn’t exist for some reason and nothing matters.

That said, my goal is to release another chapter this upcoming Friday and another chapter the Friday after that, then return to the normal schedule. My hope is to keep releasing chapters and short stories alongside weekly status updates on the various projects I’m working on. If that doesn’t happen, see previous paragraph.

If either of the projects above happened to pique your interest, subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or by way of using the email entry field on the right. Also, hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!