Isabelle Santiago is another fellow former Drollerie author, who’s taken the series she previously published with Drollerie and re-packaged it on her own to sell–much like I did with Faerie Blood, in fact! She’s about to drop Book 3 of this series, and so the piece she’s sent me for Boosting the Signal is meant to tie Book 2 and Book 3 together, using the POV of a minor secondary character.
The series is YA fantasy with some romantic elements, so if you’re a YA fan, I hope you’ll consider checking these out!
His dreams were a strange kaleidoscope of colors. A touch of the rainbow broken into pieces of shattered glass. It took her a while to realize they were actually gemstones–cut, carved and shaped by his loving hands. When she went deeper, further into his subconscious, she found a world she could get lost in, a place of rolling green hills and rich brown earth. A mountain range decorated the horizon and the blue sky stretched as far as eternity.
His world smelled of earth and bark and iron. There was a hut, his own private little place at the very end of the dirt road, past the little village with stone cottages and wooden roofs. Within it, she found a scorching, suffocating heat.
Items forged by his own powerful hands hung from the walls. Intricate swords with gemstone-crusted hilts. Sculptures and vases crafted of clay, heated and glazed. Jewelry with stones in every color, hanging like wind-chimes, glistening in the sunlight that broke through the small window.
He stood at the far end, his naked back to her, the strong curve of his dark shoulders angled as he rolled a glowing, golden ball of molten glass across the table with a blowpipe. He looked like some sort of god, his back and arms streaked in cinders, glistening with sweat as he sculpted and formed something so delicate, so beautiful.
There was a kind of purity to his mind, one that she had yet to find in any of the other Guardians. His memories were not polluted by remorse or jealousy, unrequited love or the burden of unwanted destiny. The walls of his dreamscape seemed infinite, as though his soul had no bounds, and just as clear as the cooling glass, as the very Air she personified.
She smiled. He was everything she’d expected and more. Much more.
He turned, sensing the breeze, and put down his tools.
They stared at each other for a long, silent moment.
He took a step toward her, a flare of recognition in his molten gold eyes, though they had never met. And when he stopped right before her, her breath caught, just a moment, in her chest.
“Do you know who I am?” she asked, feeling foolish. Her cheeks flushed warm.
“Yes,” he said, on an exhaled breath. He reached out to take her hand.
Her skin was a pale, translucent alabaster, compared to his dark, sun-kissed brown. Her hands were soft and small, looking delicate and frail in comparison to his, so large and callous. He twined his fingers with hers, pressed his hot palm to her cool one, and looked into her eyes as though he saw her very soul.
Air blew between them and around them, caressing their hair, dancing through their arms, pushing them together. Two halves of a whole, separated for so long. Earth and Air, united like the earth and the sky in that distant place on the horizon.
He smiled. “I’m glad to finally meet you,” he said, and that shy, earnest look on his face warmed every part of her. “I’ve waited for you for a very long time.”
“So have I,” she said, wilting in return. “So have I.”
She watched him work from the shadows, hidden within her Element, exploring him as she could not in flesh. Her stomach fluttered, a cluster of butterflies scurrying to break free. He pounded at the red-hot metal of a steel blade with a large mallet, his naked back and shoulders slick with sweat. She traced the ancient script of his Mark with her eyes, from his neck down the length of his spine, stark black against the warm caramel of his flushed, sun-kissed skin.
His muscles tightened with each mallet swing. The four walls of the tiny, sweltering workshop quivered, ready to buckle, to bow to his power.
Bianca glanced at the room she’d long committed to memory–a room that had felt like a glimpse into his brilliant soul, full of trinkets made of blown glass and gemstones, carved of marble or stone, forged through fire.
Now, she noticed suddenly, those trinkets were gone. Cluttered with tools and raw materials, the room still felt bare, devoid of the life its craftsman had once breathed into its walls, giving them color and depth.
Something was wrong. Something had changed since they last spoke.
Enki turned as though he heard her thoughts. She startled. A dark bruise marred his jaw below his cheekbone. A red gash split the corner of his full lips. Bianca gasped, losing her cover, materializing before him.
“I thought it was you,” he whispered, his mouth tilting into the ghost of a smile. He removed his work gloves and placed them on the table behind him. “I can always tell when you’ve appeared. You bring the smell of springtime and sunflowers wherever you go.”
“Enki,” she breathed out, taking a careful step in his direction, unable to rip her gaze from the unsettling nature of his bruises.
“I have missed our meetings greatly,” he said and she saw the truth of it in the molten amber of his eyes.
“I tried to save her,” he said, but his thoughts were far away and his voice was soft and haunted. “I tried to save her but I failed.”
“Who? Who did you try saving?”
He looked away, clutching the edges of the table to steady himself. “Much has changed since we last met.”
Bianca swallowed hard, holding back tears, mourning days spent in the shed talking of sunflower fields and freedom or of a grandiose courtyard in the shadow of a glittering marble temple. It all came back to her at once, the smell of coal and fire on his skin, the warm sunshine coming through the open shutters of his windows. His smile; so earnest, so true.
They’d shared the entirety of their lives here between these four small walls, filled in the spaces where their paths had diverted so they could reunite and be as they were meant to, Earth and Air, two halves made whole.
“It doesn’t have to be different,” she said, desperate, letting Air caress his skin.
“But it is. And I’m afraid the things I’ve done have carved a hollow I cannot refill.”
Her heart broke for him, for the innocence lost, for the boy she’d first met and the tattered remains of the man that replaced him. His soul was still pure at its core, but she felt the differences in him, swallowing him.
The violence. The guilt. The regret.
She should have known. It was only a matter of time before this World got him too.
“I’m sorry, Bianca.” He broke, and she wrapped her arms around him then, breathing in his scent, letting her Element cradle and soothe him. “I am not the man you knew. I have the blood of many men on my hands. It sings to me from within the soil. Reminding me. Cursing me.”
“What have you done?” she asked him, clutching him tighter, wishing just this once that she was as solid as he felt.
“I tried to save her,” he repeated. “But I failed.”