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Alberus Petcher was the oldest apprentice in the Magus Tower. Every morning, he awoke wondering if today would be the day; whether he would finally face the test.

Every day, he would seek out his tutors and gently turn the conversation towards his apprenticeship; was it not time that he face the test and become a mage in his own right?

Every day, his tutors would gently shake their heads and tut. An apprentice was never told when they would face the test. That was simply the way it was.

He had started to doubt the existence of the test; he wondered if it was an elaborate fiction designed to ensure a steady supply of servants for the elder mages.

Yet still the evidence mounted; he awoke to find another apprentice packing her boxes, making ready to move out of the apprentice’s quarters.

“Tell me about the test,” he pleaded. “When do you think I might face mine?”

She shook her head and giggled. “You know I can’t tell you, Mister Petcher. It’s against tradition. You’ll find out, one day. Be patient!”

She left with a wink, and he glowered after her. It was easy for her to talk about patience; she was young, had barely served a quarter of the time he had, and was a mage already. He was growing older.

He set his jaw. His test had been put off for so long, he had to be sure that he would be ready when the time came. He had to find out what the test entailed. He had to prepare.

And so he continued, questioning, probing, poking into dark corners and undisturbed libraries.

And he grew old.

His breath grew short. He ached. His eyes dimmed. He lay on his bed, with Death hovering in the corner of his room, and he clutched at the sleeve of the mage who had come to bid him farewell.

“Please,” he begged. “The test. Please tell me about the test.”

The mage shook her head sadly. “I shouldn’t tell you, Mister Petcher. It’s against tradition.”

“I’m dying,” he gasped. “Please. Tell me why I was never tested. Was I not good enough?”

She looked over her shoulder at the closed door. It seemed unfair to keep it from him now.

“You faced the test every day,” she whispered. “The correct answer was patience.”

© Kari Fay