Taliah raised her hand. Her ring glowed, she focused, and the window did not shatter.
Of course it didn’t shatter. It had only been a few hours since she even received the ring—it was a feat in itself that she could get the piece to glow at all.
She paced. Her shoes kicked up the rubble spread out around the abandoned village. Her mentor—the one supposed to be teaching her—stood behind and watched. Every other apprentice learning glass bending would be starting with the history of the rings, maybe by the end of the week they’d try to shatter a small shard of glass, yet Alvin brought her out here and told her to break a window.
“Alvin,” Taliah said, “I can’t do it. You can’t really expect me to do this when you haven’t shown me anything yet. What kind of mentor just stands there?” Taliah raised her hand again. The ring glowed faintly, she narrowed her eyes, and the glass did not shatter. The cyan glow emanating from the ring quickly faded.
Alvin raised his hand, palm facing him, and one of his many rings lit up with color glowing as bright as a bonfire. Taliah jumped back as the window fifteen feet away from them exploded into hundreds of pieces. Shards trickled down the moss covered bricks of the ruined house.
“What?” she exclaimed, “that doesn’t help me!”
“You need to clear your mind, kid. Let’s move to the next window. Shatter it and we’ll head back for the day.”
Of course she got paired with Alvin. Only hours ago she watched the other apprentices sit out with their mentors beside the fountains or in the courtyards, while she had to walk out with the ‘prodigy’ to some old, abandoned village. Of course she got the only mentor who didn’t dress right for the job. One of the only glass benders who could under the rule of the law. Bad luck on her part.
They stopped outside an old, ruined tavern. Broken chairs and bar tables littered the inside. Layers of dust and grime coated the only window left intact. Taliah sat down on a boulder across from it, focusing on the vines snaking down the window sill. A spider rested in the corner, its web neatly spanning from one end to the other.
“I don’t need your help,” Taliah said, raising her ring hand. “I mean, you’re not helping me anyways, right? If I’m going to clear my mind, I’d do it better with you not here.”
Alvin shrugged. The ‘prodigy’ turned and walked off. Yeah, right. Maybe decades ago he had been a prodigy, ages before Taliah had even been born. Why has she not heard of him, anyway? None of the history books she read mentioned him, and all she read of the wars never mentioned a glass bender by his name either. Yet, every single mentor shied away from him. The higher ups even looked hesitant to give orders to him.
And out of dozens of mentors, she got paired with him.
The ring glowed and the window refused to shatter. Sunlight fighting to reflect off the dirtied glass slowly faded, the hours passing by, Taliah occasionally raising her hand and trying again. Wasn't she supposed to feel some sort of pull on her mind? And why wouldn’t the window even budge? She ‘cleared’ her head as Alvin had told her—clearly not the greatest of instructions.
It could all be a test, she thought. Surely, Alvin would help her out soon. Unless he just expected her not to be able to. To humble her, in a sense. If so, sure, she lost. She couldn’t shatter a window on her first day with the ring.
Nice job, Alvin, you sure proved me wrong!
She looked behind her. Her mentor sat by the lake, watching the sunset on the waters.
“Hey, I can’t get it,” Taliah called, “can we go home? I don’t know the way back.”
Alvin ignored her. Of course he did. Taliah flexed her hand into a fist, squeezed her eyes shut, and faced her knuckles to the window. Clear your mind. Prove the dumb ‘prodigy’ wrong and shatter the window. She imagined the spider running off. The vines blowing back from the explosion. Shards of glass would rain down and dance on the tavern floor.
The ring glowed.
She tried again. Damn it, why couldn’t he guide her through it?
“Alvin,” she called after several frustrating attempts, “it’s getting dark. You win, I can’t do it, can we try again tomorrow?” Taliah turned to the lake, where the stars had begun to shimmer on the waters. Her mentor no longer sat there. Taliah shifted uncomfortably on the boulder.
Would bandits come by? Or wolves? What would she do then, throw the ring at them and hope they choke on it? If Alvin was here, then she could at least feel safe. He could throw one of those compact balls of glass at a threat and then shatter it like a bomb. Maybe he could even go out of his way and teach her a thing or two of glass bending. Wouldn’t that be nice.
A chill wind howled through the cracks in the old buildings. A branch scratched eerily against stone. What of ghosts? Her brother, years ago, would tell her ghost stories at the campfire—even when mother told him not to—as Taliah would huddle with her arms wrapped around her knees.
“And then, Tal,” he would say, the campfire burning in his eyes, “the women’s skinned corpses were never found. Dismembered limb by limb and thrown into the river. Word has it if you walk alone in these woods at night, even to go out to pee, you can still hear their voices as they warn you about the axe murderer, who’ll chase you down and gut you!”
And Taliah would scream. And her mother would then rush out and scold her brother as he laughed and laughed. And then she couldn’t sleep, and she would jump at the sound of a leaf falling.
“Alvin!” she called out, “please. I can’t. It’s getting cold and I’m scared now. Come on out, you win, okay?”
He didn’t come out. Taliah stood up from her seat on the boulder. She focused on the window, the ring glowing and illuminating her surroundings. What if she couldn’t get the window to shatter? Would she have to sleep out here? All because she got paired with the ‘prodigy’ of a mentor? Bad luck. Bad luck. Bad luck.
The glow faded.
Okay, she thought, forget about Alvin. Could she find her way back on her own? Probably not. It had been a long walk out here—a long, intentional walk, one she was not supposed to remember. How was Alvin even approved to teach? The ring glowed and the window refused to shatter. What would she tell the other apprentices? My mentor abandoned me in an abandoned village expecting me to break glass on my first day, how about you?
Clear mind. She breathed in deeply, letting the air fill her lungs. The ring glowed. She inhaled the smell of nature: fresh moss, weeds, and tall grass poking out of stone. A twig snapped nearby. Taliah jumped and raised her ring finger in front of her as a rabbit froze in place to watch her. She exhaled.
He had probably left her out here for the night. Got bored and walked home. Well, she would have no choice but to walk back and follow his footprints. Or she could prove him wrong. Her brother had acted the same, pushing her towards competition as a way of encouragement. Not exactly what Alvin was doing, but the look of defeat on his face would be a sight to see.
She just needed the window to shatter, then return with Alvin and laugh at him tomorrow. Why not just pick up a rock then? Because that would be cheating, she thought, what if he asked her to do it again? Throwing a stone would defeat the whole purpose.
So Taliah focused. Cleared her mind entirely. Oh well. I got unlucky to be paired with him. Can't get anymore use dwelling on it. The ring glowed brighter than before, and a slight pull tugged at the back of her head. The window did not shatter, but the glass did vibrate! With the cyan glow from the ring, Taliah watched the glass shake in the windowsill, the spider darting from one end of its web to the other, the vines swaying slightly.
She tried again with a smile this time.
Imagining the window—and only the window—shattering into slivers, she raised her hand.
The ring glowed bright enough to rival the stars. The window shook, vibrated, then finally shattered into four uneven pieces. Taliah stood frozen in place as the cyan light died down. One chunk of glass broke again as it hit the stone below.
“Yes!” she called, breaking from her daze, “oh, I knew I could! Wait until everyone hears of this!”
A slow clap erupted behind her. She twisted her body and watched her mentor approach slowly, yawning as he walked past her. Alvin bent down on one knee to observe the broken pieces of glass.
“Just had to clear your head, kid. Nice work. Tomorrow we’ll refine that skill.”
“You were here?” she asked, “but I thought you went back.”
“Hm? Yeah, my mentor left me here when I was your age. I would’ve gave in eventually with you, but I saw you making progress. Come on,” he began to walk off, “I’m starved.”
“Alvin,” Taliah said, moving to catch up with him, “all the other apprentices have to be learning of the rings right now! I’m-”
“Months ahead. Yeah, trust me, this is the easy part. We still have a lot more to learn.”
Taliah walked beside her mentor. She watched her hand, finding she could get the ring to glow whenever she wanted. And there was so much more to learn—from the prodigy himself.