THE HOT AIR pressed against my face as I entered the glass factory. The heat and the smell of burning coal surrounded me in a comforting embrace. I paused to breathe in the thick air. The roar of the kilns sounded as sweet as my mother’s voice.

“Opal!” Aydan yelled above the noise. “Are you going to stand there all day? We have work to do.” He gestured with a thin gnarled hand.

I hurried to join him. Working in the heat had turned his gray hair into a frizzy mop. Dirt streaked his hands. He grimaced in pain when he sat at his workbench, rubbing his lower back with a fist.

“You’ve been shoveling coal again,” I admonished. He tried to look innocent, but before he could lie, I asked, “What happened to your apprentice?”

“Ran off once he figured out how hard it is to turn fire into ice.” Aydan grunted.

“Sorry, I had a…test.” I sighed. Another frustrating, fruitless endeavor. Not only had I failed to light the fire, but I knocked over the candles, spilling hot wax all over my classmate Pazia’s clothes and burning her skin. Her expensive silk tunic was ruined. She sneered in disdain when I offered to replace her shirt. Nothing new. Pazia’s hostility spanned my entire four years at the Keep. Why would I expect my last year to be any different?

After starting my fifth year of lessons at the Magician’s Keep, I had hoped to be able to do more with my magic. Pazia’s abilities had grown so much since we sat next to each other during our very first session that the Master Magicians considered allowing her to take the Master-level test.

I’d learned about Sitia’s history, politics, how to fight and about the uses for magic, but my ability to tap into the power source remained elusive. Doubts flared and the nagging feeling of being limited to one magical skill churned in my chest. And it didn’t help my confidence when I overheard my fellow students calling me the One-Trick Wonder.

“Jealousy,” Aydan had said when I told him about my nickname. “You saved Sitia.”

I thought of the day—over four years ago—when I helped Liaison Yelena capture those evil souls. She had done all the work, I was merely a conduit. I tried to downplay my involvement, but Aydan remained stubborn.

Remembering his words made me smile. Calling fifteen to twenty-year-olds children was typical for Aydan, a proud curmudgeon.

He tapped my arm with a blowpipe. “Stop daydreaming and gather me a slug.”

I grabbed the hollow rod and opened the oven. Intense light burst from the furnace as if a piece of the sun was trapped inside. I spun the end of the rod in the molten glass and twisted it up and out, removing a taffylike ball before my eyebrows and eyelashes could be singed off again.

The cherry-red slug on the end of the iron pulsed as if alive. Aydan blew through the pipe then covered the hole. A small bubble appeared in the molten glass. Resting the pipe on the metal arms of his gaffer’s bench, Aydan rolled the pipe back and forth, shaping the glass.

I helped him as he created an intricate vase with a twist at the bottom so the piece actually rested on its side yet could still hold water. In his hands, turning glass into art appeared to be an easy task. I loved the unique properties of molten glass which could be molded into such wonderful objects. We worked for hours, but the time flew.

When he finished his artwork, Aydan stood on creaky legs and said the words that were the reason I came to help him after my Keep classes. “Your turn.”

He exchanged places with me and grabbed a hollow pipe. While he gathered a slug, I made sure all the metal tools lying on the bench were in their proper places. All I needed was my annoying younger brother telling me to hurry, and my patient older sister helping me to complete the feeling of being in my family’s glass factory.

Sitting at the bench was home—familiar and comfortable. Here and here alone, I was in control. The possibilities endless and no one could tell me otherwise.

All thoughts fled when Aydan placed the pipe in front of me. Glass cooled quickly and I had no time to dwell on anything but shaping the molten ball. Using metal tweezers, I pulled and plucked. When the slug transformed into a recognizable image, I blew through the end of the pipe. The piece’s core glowed as if lit by an inner fire.

My one magical trick—the ability to insert a thread of magic inside the glass statue. Only magicians could see the captured light.

Aydan whistled in appreciation of the finished piece. Technically his ability to light fires with magic made him a magician, but since he didn’t possess any other talent he hadn’t been invited to study at the Keep. I shouldn’t have been invited, either. I could make my special glass animals at my home in Booruby.

“Damn, girl.” Aydan slapped me on the back. “That’s a dead-on copy of Master Jewelrose’s red-tailed hawk! Did you make that for her?”

“Yes. She needed another piece.” I never knew what I would create when I sat down at the gaffer’s bench, but my time spent helping Master Jewelrose care for her hawk must have influenced me. The core glowed bright red and called to me with a song of longing. Each of my creations had a distinctive voice that sounded inside me. No one else could hear its call.

“See? That’s another talent you have.” He bustled about and placed the hawk into the annealing oven so it could cool slowly. “Magicians can now communicate over vast distances with these animals of yours.”