I stood in my watchtower, under the amethyst sky, waiting for them to appear.
A chill spread under my skin. The closer they came, the quicker the ice ran through my veins. Soon, the clouds would bend to my heart. Take the shape only I was meant to give them. But only for a moment, before turning to powder and dusting the earth in a delicate, cold flurry.
I looked over the railing at the crowd that had gathered on the beach below. They were a sea of skin and little else. They didn’t feel the cold as I did. Where I was covered from head to toe, the others were scantily clothed, leaving as much of their skin as the Heavens allowed exposed to receive the most from the blessing.
Being a Sculptor, I no longer needed the monthly blessing. Good thing. I would have frozen to death if I had. But I’d have gladly given up my eternal blessing to be on the ground. To be with my friends. To dance and laugh and play with them. All of them, but especially, Theo.
The clouds rippled like a rock had been thrown into the sky on a distant horizon. This marked the end of the previous continent’s Sculpting.
A shiver raised goosebumps all over my body.
They’d be here soon.
I practically threw myself over the railing. “Theo.”
Though I knew him by the thick wave of garnet hair he kept short and neatly combed out of his eyes, he looked different. His boyish figure cut away to reveal the man he had become.
He called up to me. I couldn’t hear but every other word over the chattering crowd, but I could see the worry furrowing his brow.
Nearly a year had passed since we last spoke, before I had to leave family and friends behind to live at the abbey with the other Sculptors.
Whether he could hear me or not, I called back, “I’ve missed you.”
Before the tears dropped from my cheeks, Theo was halfway up the twenty-foot tower.
“Theo, no,” I cried as he hurdled the railing.
He stood before me. Taller than I remembered. And I’d never seen his charcoal eyes so full of sadness. I knew I shouldn’t, but I ached to reach out for him. To comfort him.
The Sculptors were only to think of the Heavens, but when he moved toward me, I damned the Heavens and threw my arms around him.
He lifted me. My hood fell back and sandalwood and sage embraced me when the wind caught at his back as our lips met.
He was summer to my winter. His lips hot and supple, mine like ice. But only for a moment before his mouth, moving in a familiar rhythm I thought I’d never feel again, thawed them.
He lowered me onto the deck. I wanted to beg him not to, but I knew he had to.
I stood on my toes as he held my gaze, his fingers still playing in my amethyst hair as our lips parted.
“You can’t be here,” I breathed. “The Heavens—”
“Have already punished me,” he said.
My body stiffened. “What do you mean?”
“I had to warn you.” The worry was in his voice now. His lips quivered as he spoke. “And tell you, how sorry I am.”
He dropped to his knees and held me around the waist, pressing his cheek against my stomach.
Steam rose as I placed my ice cold hand against the hard line of his jaw. “What would you ever have to be sorry for?” I couldn’t imagine. His love for me had always been gentle. Kind beyond measure.
He looked up at me. Shame written in the wrinkle in his brow. “I was curious,” he said. “I’d only ever watched from above and I wanted to see the blessing as you saw it.” He stood and gestured to the crowd. “Feel it as you felt it.”
“From above?” There wasn’t time to process what he’d revealed to me. No time for him to answer my questions.
He could only explain, “The Heavens granted my request, but only to observe.” His tentative smile threatened to undo me. “Then I met you.”
My breath caught with the knowing that overcame me.
I was too young to be a Sculptor. We had a whole life ahead of us, Theo and I. Then my predecessor died too soon. More than fifty years. The other Sculptors claimed he had forsaken the Heavens and they had punished him for it. Why else would the Heavens have taken him before I’d had the life every Last Born was promised?
Because my predecessor wasn’t the one being punished.
I tried to form words. To make sense of the being before me.
The steam rose again as I lay my hand on the firm muscle over his heart. He was Heaven-sent, but a man’s heart still beat in his chest.
Tears pricked the backs of my eyes. Anger. Sadness. Betrayal. Not by Theo, but by the Heavens I’d been forced to devote my life. The life I should have had with Theo.
A fire burned in my belly, threatening to melt the ice in my veins. The ice I needed to perform the Sculpting.
Panic widened Theo’s eyes as my touch warmed against his skin. “You can’t let them see your heart like this,” he said. “They must see your absolute devotion to them, or they will kill you.”
He knew, as well as I did, I could never forget him.
There would always be a place in my heart for Theo.
Ice fought with the fire and I knew… They were here.
I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t stop loving him.
I wouldn’t stop loving him.
He was here to warn me. But why bother, if there wasn’t a way to save me?
I locked my eyes on his.
Standing tall, ready for anything, I said, “Quickly, then.”
He lifted his hand between us. Gently, his fingertips touched my chest and a light bloomed over my heart.
He leaned in, brushed his lips against mine and whispered, “I’ll always love you, Kaia. Goodbye.”
My eyes fixed on the sky as the clouds rolled, forming colossal, icy sea creatures. Dolphins, sea lions, otters, and orcas. A scene from a picture book my mother read to me when I was a child. They swam toward me. Then, when their shapes were complete, they stopped.
My heart beat once, and they shattered.
Flakes of ice floated down. Speckled, then melted into the skin of the people below. The blessing complete.
The people embraced one another. Cheered the Heavens together, while I stood alone. Another year on my watchtower, wondering why my eyes were drawn again to the garnet haired man, under the amethyst sky.