I find myself at a crossroads.

I stumble slightly, disoriented from traveling by magic.

“Where are we?”

“A road on the outskirts of Skaran,” Aurora tells me.

Skaran. A country that at least acknowledges magic, even if they don’t entirely trust it.

“And what is my task?”

Aurora straightens, a serious look coming over her face. “Nova, you have been my apprentice for 10 years now, studying magic and the responsibilities of a sorceress. Today you will face your final test. Do well and you will finally become a sorceress. I will use my magic to observe you. Your task is the beggar woman. Disguise yourself and wait along this road. Test the first person you meet, pass judgment, and punish or reward that person accordingly.” Her stern expression softens and she smiles at me. “Best of luck, Nova. I have faith in you.”

With those ominous words, Aurora vanishes.

I take a deep breath and survey my surroundings. The road stretches in four directions, but each path soon disappears into the dense woods.

It strikes me as oddly symbolic, the location of this test. I’m at a crossroads, both literally and metaphorically. Simply waiting. I will either become a sorceress or all the years I’ve spent as Aurora’s apprentice were a waste.

And I only get one chance.

I can only hope the first person I meet is some kind soul I can quickly reward so I can be on my way.

“The Beggar Woman” is one of the classic tests every sorceress’s apprentice learns. She disguises herself as someone in need of help. When someone comes by, she asks for help. She passes judgment based on their actions and either rewards or punishes the person. It sounds easy enough, but it’s surprisingly difficult. Does a person stop out of genuine concern or mere duty? Does she pass by because she doesn’t care or because she is delivering medicine to a sick child? Does he foolishly give more than he can afford?

I gather my magic around me like a cloak, discarding my 25-year-old, and in my humble opinion, rather beautiful, appearance. I grimace as my body changes. The transformation isn’t exactly painful, more itchy than anything, but it’s disconcerting to feel your body change shape. I take the form of a decrepit old woman. It’s one of my least favorite forms. My joints ache, my posture is hunched, and my bones creak whenever I move. I much prefer the ‘beautiful sorceress’ appearance. It dazzles and awes people. The old woman form only inspires pity and scorn.

I’m pulled out of my thoughts by the thudding of horse hoofs. I listen carefully. It sounds like more than one horse.

I hesitate. Traditionally, “The Beggar Woman” is targeted at a solitary person, not a group. I don’t know what to do. The pounding grew louder. I have to make a decision.

I finally choose to stand off to one side. If anyone from the group approaches me, I will test them.

I hobble to the edge of the road and sit under a tree.

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