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The men seem awed by my transformation from hag to beautiful young woman. Still, the prince manages to sneer at me.

“I am a prince! What right have you to punish me, witch?” He draws his sword.

With a wave of my hand, I freeze them in place. How dare that little ingrate compare me to such a crude practitioner of magic! Dragon’s teeth, being a witch is worse than being magicless.

“I am no witch, but a sorceress. As such I am above your country’s laws. None would argue with me in this case.” I decide to leave out the vital information that I am nearly a sorceress, not actually one. The distinction is slight and would likely be lost on him. He’d probably just accuse me of being a pretender. Or a witch again.

“And what,” I say, walking up to the immobile prince and patting his face, “shall I do with you?”

The prince has enough control to contort his face into an ugly grimace.

“Now, now, make that face long enough and you’ll ruin your pretty looks. It’s a shame really. If only your soul reflected the beauty of your face.” I smile slowly. “There’s an idea.”

I step back, collecting my thoughts. In the space between us, I begin to create a shadowy creatures. I make the form, but let my magic fill in the details; a monster as ugly as the prince’s soul. The creature takes form. It’s a large bear, but more frightening. Its eyes are red, its sharp teeth protruding from its mouth. Its fur is matted and dingy, somewhere between gray and brown.

All three men gasp in horror as the beast approaches them. It merges with the prince, who begins to writhe in agony. My heart twinges with a chord of pity, but I can’t lose my resolve now or the magic will go haywire. The pity quickly dies as the prince starts to threaten me, shouting curses. The other two men keep their distance and eye me warily.

As I glance around, the setting sun gives me an idea. The prince has now transformed fully into the creature. It looks at me with sad eyes, yet still manages to appear terrifying. I nudge the magic and as the sun disappears beyond the horizon, the beast becomes the prince again.

“What have you done to me?” he whispers, on his hands and knees.

“This is your curse,” I tell him. “By day, you will be the beast, a creature as ugly as your soul, yet as sweet as your human appearance. By night, you will return to your human form. Until you know love, real love, you will remain this way.”

In the stunned silence that follows, I make myself invisible, but I don’t leave. I’m curious to see what happens next. I’m not the only one either. Aurora is by my side. She frowns.

I allow the magic holding the men in place to dissipate and they stagger.

“What are you going to do, Your Highness?” one of the riders asks. “What if the sorceress’s words are true?”