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You put up a fight
And just to show we feel no spite
You can be our acolyte
But first, boy, it’s time to bow



The red mare shuddered and stamped at the sight of the looming temple. She snorted and tossed her head in protest before taking a step backwards, as if to say, “This isn’t right. We were supposed to be going home.”

Settekh reached down and stroked her neck, “Shhh….Good girl,” he whispered. “I know.” She tossed her head again and her sides heaved. She tensed in preparation to bolt. “Easy Lady. I know. This is terrible, but it’s temporary. Just a couple years,” he said, scratching her shoulder. “Just a few more years than we go home.”

She didn’t calm at his touch or words, but she walked forwards nonetheless. He wished she hadn’t. An uncooperative horse was a poor excuse to leave his post, but a poor excuse was better than none.

Years of freedom would end the moment they stepped through the massive stone gates. He could still turn around and make for the nearest city, sell off a few possessions, and start a comfortable life somewhere far, far away from here. It would end any chance at a better life after this ordeal was over, but for a chance to escape, it would be almost worth it.

Within hours, the initiation would be over and he would be the head priest of a backwater temple to a minor goddess. Until one of the old priests in the capital died and his bloodline earned him a promotion, he would have to lower his standards of living. It shouldn’t be a long tenure, but he already knew he’d never adapt. If he did, he would never be the same.

Just the sight of the gates set his teeth on edge. The gates were flanked by a pair of burly men in white robes. The last rays of sunlight glistened on their immaculately shaved heads. He instinctively touched his own shaggy hair. He’d let it grow long as of late, if only in defiance of his classmates’ displays of piety. If he was home, he could get away with his appearance, but this was a conservative mouth to a hippo infested, refuse filled river. Priests of minor gods tended to compensate their irrelevance with strict adherence to outdated rules.

“Woah.” He brought Lady to a halt at the gate. Neither man looked at him nor said anything to acknowledge his presence. “Hello?” He tilted his head to the side and looked back and forth between the guards. People normally looked at him. Even shaggy haired and unkempt from weeks of travel, he was still a sight.

He stared up at the gates, still and silent as the doors to a tomb. He didn’t want to be here, but there was something about being shut out that made him roll his eyes and want to do anything but turn around and ride away. Almost. Instead, he smiled to himself and turned Lady to leave.

Then the gates ground open and the horse lunged. She wheeled and stopped facing the now open gate, tensed and ready to turn and run again at his signal.

“Smart girl,” he muttered, petting her neck. He gave her a squeeze and she walked towards the gate. “I know. If it were up to me, we’d run.”

A large, but sparse courtyard spread beyond the gates. A few ragged flowerbeds struggled against the sand along the edges, but aside from a dormant fountain, it was unadorned. There was a large, beige building off to the right, bits of the roof looked about ready to cave in and another building behind that. The temple itself was a plain, boxy structure, with only a single, plain spire. The window above the door was void of carvings, as were the twin columns flanking the door. It was a far cry from the lush gardens and magnificent buildings of home. Even the seminary had more life to it.

His nose wrinkled as he surveyed his new home. A few people milled about, two more men with shaved heads and one with a ponytail talked beside the temple walls. A similarly bald woman sat with a washerwoman at the fountain. Three chickens and a goat rooted through one of the flowerbeds for any potential treasures. Not a one of them so much as glanced at him.

He was just about to say something when the heavy wooden door to the temple swung open and another man in a white robe walked towards him. Settekh quickly dismounted and took the reins over Lady’s head in one well practiced motion. He still stumbled a bit when he walked towards Osorkon.

“Caretaker Osorkon,” Settekh said, nodding at him, trying not to stare at his head.

“You must be the new priest. Settekh correct?” the man replied.

“Prince,” he corrected. Nobody would be allowed to forget. If others forgot, so would he.

The caretaker sighed, as if remembering his proper title was a great burden, “Of course Your Highness. How foolish of me to have forgotten.” His voice was calm as the seminary’s meditation pool and he wanted to see it disturbed just as much. “It is good to have you here. The last few weeks have not been easy.”

“I can only imagine. Harkhuf was the head priest for forty years correct? You two must have been close.”

“We worked together for almost twenty-five years. Make of that what you will,” Osorkon said.

“I apologize for my lateness.” He’d made a point of spending a few days committing all sorts of decidedly unpriestly acts when he passed through Thema in order to insure it. “I presume the funeral has already taken place?”

“Harkhuf’s pyre is yours to light tomorrow morning.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“You can only be sorry if you are at fault,” Osorkon said. “Would you like me to show you the temple grounds?”

“It has been a long day of travel, both Lady and I are tired,” he said. He also had a good idae he’d seen the entire grounds already. “Show me to the stables, then my room. You may show me the grounds another time.”

“Yes. Then right this way,” Osorkon said, leading him through the courtyard. “Now, most of your belongings can be given to charity right away. However, the local livestock auctions aren’t for at least another fortnight. We could…”

“Livest…” He stopped and his grip on the reins tightened. “No.”

“I’m sorry your highness.” Such a calm and gentle voice would be better suited to a bureaucrat than a temple caretaker. “Your material possessions must be given…”

“She’s not a possession,” he said, moving so that he was between the man and his horse. “At least, not one of mine. Do you see her brand? She is one of the king’s horses. Her sale without consulting a royal steward could be considered treason.”

“It would not do for a humble priest to ride such a fine animal. I’m sorry Your Highness, this is how it must be,” he said, still projecting perfect serenity.

“How it must be?” He said, making eye contact with the people who had begun to stare. “There is nothing in the world that must be. I am going to make one thing very clear right now. You will not sell her, with or without my knowledge, at auction or otherwise. You will not give her to charity, or anything, or anyone else. Do you understand me? I will check the stables every morning and if when I check, Lady is not where she should be, in the time it takes for a messenger hawk to fly from here to the capital, the flow of funds to this temple shall cease and you will face trial as both heretic and traitor. That is, if I find myself in a good mood.”

“You may have drank and whored your way through the seminary unhindered because of your father, but we cannot allow you to so blatantly flout the rules and smear the profession,” Osorkon replied. “As a priest…”

“As your high priest. As well as your prince. You would do well to remember that Caretaker,” he said. He then turned to the gathering crowd. “I am not what you were expecting, nor what I expect you wanted. However, I was appointed High Priest of the Goddess Amara, Queen of the Five Winds and Guardian of Boundaries by the Sun Council. Whether or not any of us like it, I am here to stay. Anybody who takes issue with this can speak to me whenever they like or if they are so daring, can take it up with the Council.”

Settekh flinched and coughed as a sudden gust of wind threw sand in his face. “Now Osorkon, once Lady is stabled and I know where I’m staying, point me in the direction of the ceremonial wine and please tell me that the surrounding area is not populated entirely by ugly people.”

X~*~X~*~X

Settekh leaned back in his chair and raised the cup to his lips again. He flinched as he drank the vile liquid. The wine was little more than grape flavored piss, but it would do for now. He would like to remember as little about tonight as possible.

He rubbed his shoulder, his fingers ceaselessly circling the spot where the new brand was to go. Just above phoenix’s right wingtip. He’d been tattooed, like the rest of the royal family, with their symbol. He’d thought that its great wings across his back would protect him by making him unfit for service.  He’d always been a fool.

For a prince, they could make an exception for even the oldest of rules. So his instructors added the mark of the priesthood to his growing collection. The sun and moon had only just healed and now he was to be marked again. He could still remember the blood filling his mouth as he bit down on his tongue to keep from crying out, determined not to give them the satisfaction, while the woman beside him sobbed in agony as a physician tended to her wound.

He drained the cup and got out of the chair. Settekh was far too steady on his feet for his liking, so poured himself another. If there was ever a time to get so drunk he couldn’t walk, it was now. It would be difficult, the wine was weak and revolting, but he had time. He’d already made himself out to be a spoiled, whoring, drunk to the people of the temple. It would do him no favors to try and change a first impression.

The third cup went down easier. He hoped he would never get used to this filth and he hoped that when he looked at Osorkon and his lesser priests, he was not looking at his future. Bald, more than slightly pudgy, content with their lot in life. It almost scared him more than the initiation. He’d heard of priests whose brands had become infected over the long night of prayer and by the time they were allowed to see a physician, the infection had set in too deep.  

When he found his balance still too good, he poured another and returned to the chair. He’d barely started into the wine when the door opened.

“Give me a moment; I’m almost done with this.” He refused to turn to face them, instead he held the cup out to the side and shook it.

“Up,” Osorkon said. The footsteps grew louder. “Get up. Now.”

“The moon is not nearly high enough,” he took another drink, “You’ll find that it says in the Middle River Codex that a new priest may not be initiated until the moon has passed through the Crocodile’s Gate.”

“An unmarked and shorn priest,” Osorkon said, his voice calm as ever as he placed his hand upon Settekh’s shoulder. “Now, your other mark is of no concern to us, it may just as well not exist, but your hair is another matter entirely. Come along Your Highness.”

When he did not rise quickly enough, another man took his arm and yanked him to his feet. Wine spilled over both him and the floor. The jerking tugged at the barely healed scars of the first brand and his feet went out from under him in both memory and foreboding of the pain.

“Spoiled drunken brat,” a woman muttered, as she helped the man get him back on his feet. By the time that happened, he could think of nothing but the smell of burning flesh and he went limp again. He tried to walk along with them, not wanting to make this worse for himself, but his feet had forgotten how. They dragged him forwards and he found that if he could not go with his head held high, he could at least stagger.

They walked him to the temple like this, a condemned man led to the gallows.  He didn’t notice when they reached the sanctuary for the pained whimpers and screams of his fellow initiates filled his ears. He’d wanted so badly to forget this, to be able to go through tonight walking tall and if not truly unafraid, than too ignorant to be afraid of what was to come, but it was not to happen. He’d much rather they perceive a cocky prince than a scared, pathetic bastard.

His knees met cold stones as they dropped him before the altar. A white robe lay on its center, surrounded by multi-colored candles.

“Disrobe,” a soft voice commanded and he obeyed. He fumbled and struggled to undress in ways he, no matter how inebriated, had ever before. He tossed his clothes off to the side and tried to focus on the flickering candles on the dais. They cast dancing shadows on a statue of a woman, beautiful and ethereal. A dancing goddess. His goddess.

He swayed and his head swam while he stared ahead. A hand on his shoulder forced him back to his knees. Somebody took gentle hold of his hair and he shook as they started to cut it to a more manageable length. The statue looked at him, her expression amused and curious as locks of hair fell around him. They held it taught, then as the blade cut through, the tension fell again. Then the cycle began again. Tension, cut, release. Tension, cut, release. The sound of the knife through his hair was like the constant drip of a clepsydra.

When it was short enough, the blade pressed against his scalp and they began the final removal of his pride and glory. He didn’t notice as he gasped when they nicked his scalp the first time, or the second, or the third, or any other. Blood smeared across his scalp as calloused hands brushed stray scraps of hair off his head.

Moonlight shone through the window above the door and fell onto the face of the statue. Then, while he was on his knees, cold, bald, naked, and staring blankly ahead, Osorkon began to speak. The words blurred together, but it didn’t matter. He may have slacked off in his studies but, knew them well and he was sober enough to remember.

“I will honor the goddess, for I am but a servant before her,” he said when the other man stopped speaking. He braced himself for the shock of cold water, but he still had to stop himself from jumping when they poured it over his head.

Osorkon started to speak again. The cold water may have cleared his head because he knelt a little straighter and understood more of the words. “…Amara, praise be to her name and sacred be her duties.”

“I will praise the goddess, for I am but a servant before her,” he said. One of the women drew a series of interlocking spirals on his forehead in thick mud.

“…Forsaking all vanities and pride and pleasures of the flesh, you take upon your shoulders the mantle of the priesthood. You are a servant of Amara, praise be to her name and sacred be her duties.”

“I will humble myself before the goddess, for I am but a servant before her.” The smell of incense filled the air.

“From this moment forth, your life will be in her hands, forever and always, until the end of days. She will do with you as she sees fit, commanding you as a servant and acting through your body. Accepting your destiny, you take upon your shoulders the mantle of the priesthood. You are a servant of Amara, praise be to her name and sacred be her duties.”

“I will serve the goddess, my life is no longer my own, but hers to use as she sees fit to bring honor upon her,” he said, trying not to tense for what was to come next. He shivered as blood dripped down the back of his neck.  “I will serve the goddess, my life is no longer my own, but hers to use as she sees fit as a vessel of her praise. I will serve the goddess, my life is no longer my own, I humble myself before her, forsaking vanities and setting both pleasure and pride. I will serve the goddess faithfully until the end of my days and beyond. In this world and beyond the thirteenth gate, I am but a servant before her.”

He heard the sizzling iron before he finished speaking. He had just enough time to bite his tongue before the brand bit into his flesh. The smell of burning flesh overpowered the incense and his eyes watered. Copper and salt filled his mouth as his tongue bled. Then the iron drew away. It was moments before he could breathe again.

Amara’s was a complicated mark and would take more than one piece to complete it, but they would give him time to regain his composure before they finished. The world swam worse than it did before they came to the sanctuary, but the pain was not the all-encompassing agony he remembered. It was almost painless. He breathed a sigh of relief and let himself relax.  He didn’t hear the footsteps until it was too late.

His eyes opened wide and his back arched, the iron still burned into his flesh. An ungodly sound filled the room. He was still screaming when they removed the iron. His whole body burned, yet he was paralyzed by pain. The stench churned his stomach and he silently prayed to whatever deity that would listen that what he expected next would not happen. Then bile mingled with blood and he fell to his hands and knees and his body convulsed as he fought the urge to vomit. As it turned out, the foul wine tasted even worse coming back up.

His arms shook and his lips trembled with a silent sob. He felt their eyes on him, scorn, disgust, pity, all manner of things. They would soon leave him to a night of silent prayer. There was a clean white robe on the altar. Tomorrow, he would be one of them, shaved head and plain robes. Not a prince, a priest.

His arms held out until they left, then he collapsed. The smell of vomit mingled with burned flesh. He no longer had it in him to fight the whimpers and sobs. He cursed his father for sending him here, his brother for taking what was rightfully his, and the queen for whelping that son of a bitch. He wished for his mother, her gentle touch and few, but soft words.

He lay there until his throat was raw. His throbbing burns and heartbeat counted out the seconds. The stones grew colder with every passing moment and he knew that hours ago, he wouldn’t have been caught dead lying in his own filth, but he couldn’t find it in himself to move. There was a clean robe just out of reach and lying here like this would only infect the wounds, but everything hurt.

He wanted to sleep, but the burns kept him awake, so the best he could do was close his eyes and wait for morning. Then they would clean the wounds and he would have to suffer through funeral rites for his predecessor.

A gust of wind blew through the temple and he heard footsteps. He slowly raised his head from the floor and opened his eyes. The flickering candlelight obscured the figure before the altar. Then it vanished, a trick of the light or a pained hallucination he couldn’t tell. Still while he was conscious, he dragged himself out of the puddle of vomit and lay on clean stones.

As he closed his eyes, he heard footsteps again and opened his eyes again. There was something by the altar, he couldn’t quite make it out, but there was something. The candles blew out and it vanished.

The moonlight through the skylight illuminated enough of the room so that he could barely see. There was something in the shadows beyond the altar. It moved and he thought he could make out the figure of a woman. It came closer, its footsteps soft as a cat’s. It stepped into the light, a woman wearing a dress of midnight with hair like shadows over the moon.

She was not as beautiful as her statue. Her face was long and narrow, her nose large and thin and crooked. Her body was more bone than flesh. Yet she walked like a goddess, measured confident strides, not caring how long she took to reach him, or even that he was there.

The woman looked at him through uninterested eyes, distant and threatening as storm clouds on the horizon. He tried to drag himself up, but he couldn’t quite do it. The left arm would hold him, his right shoulder burned too much to hold weight.

He couldn’t focus on her, but he couldn’t help but keep looking back to her. She stood before him and he couldn’t help but want to stand and greet her as anything other than a pained, pathetic priest. She shouldn’t see him like this. He was better than this. She should have seen him at the seminary, no, back in the palace wild and carefree and whole and beautiful. She should have seen him as a prince, heir to the throne and just as proud as she was.

She reached down and held his jaw, slowly lifting him to his knees again. There was a hum under her skin, energy and power like nothing he’d ever felt before.

“Amara?” he breathed, unsure if her amused smile was real or if he was hallucinating the whole thing.

She didn’t respond, but laughed a little. She stared at him a while longer, her gray eyes meeting his gaze and she cocked her head to the side. He promised to humble himself before her, but he would not avert his eyes. He didn’t fear her like a man should a goddess. Whether pain made him reckless or he still had some shred of dignity left he would never know. The corners of her mouth twitched, he was unsure whether it meant she was pleased or displeased with him.

A sudden shock ripped through him and his back froze. She released his jaw and sent him tumbling back to the floor. His cheek ached where it struck the stone, but his shoulder no longer burned. By the time Settekh looked up, she was gone.
Goddamn
 AU in which Minerva realizes that magic powers could be put to use impersonating gods and being worshiped and rather than being treated like he has any chance of inheriting anything, Settekh gets sent off to be a priest and he is very much not happy about it, and therefore shenanigans happen. It’s my new favorite AU. 

I don't think I'm really back, it all depends on how this goes. I'm just posting something that I happened to enjoy writing very much. 
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TheXGrayXLady
Samantha
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
I'm just doing this for shits and giggles. I don't take my writing very seriously. All I ask of my readers is to react similarly. Have as much fun reading as I do writing. :)

Current Residence: A suburb in the middle of nowhere.
deviantWEAR sizing preference: Small or extra small
Print preference: Color...do they even make black and white printers anymore?
Favourite genre of music: Soft Rock
Favourite style of art: Again, not really an art person.
Operating System: Whatever GeekSquad installed on the computer...why does it matter?
MP3 player of choice: Ipod...again, why does this matter?
Shell of choice: I guess cowrys are pretty. You can't find them where I live though.
Wallpaper of choice: Not clown patterned...what does interior design have to do with anything?
Skin of choice: Mine...this is sort of a creepy question...
Personal Quote: I'd say 'fuck you' but I don't particularly want to.
Interests
If you're not interested in the things I write, why the literal fuck do any of you follow me because seriously, fuck this shit. I don't need to deal with this sort of crap. I'm done. I am fifty shades of done with this shit.

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:iconcelticank88:
Celticank88 Featured By Owner May 2, 2014
I love your Once Upon a Time in Wonderland story but i have a question, i am trying to post a fan fiction story for Once Upon a Time and I not able to submit it because of category issues? how were u able to post it?
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:iconkatay:
Katay Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
thanks for the favs!:D
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:iconjavajojo:
JavaJoJo Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2013
Hey I was wondering, if you are not too busy could you possibly have a look at a story I have written? I want to try and make sure it is good and if there is anyway I could possibly make it better. And your very good at writing stories. Do you think you could help?

link to the story
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:iconthexgrayxlady:
TheXGrayXLady Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Check my Beta information first. Also, it's finals week for me so I might not get to it right away, but I can try to take a look at it. I'd love to help you out, but it might just take me a little while :^)
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:iconjavajojo:
JavaJoJo Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2013
No no that's fine. Take as much time as you need. And thanks. ^_^
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:iconthexgrayxlady:
TheXGrayXLady Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Like, you can send it to me whenever and I'll see when I can get to it.
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(1 Reply)
:iconoralle08:
Oralle08 Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
:rainbowllamaride: Thanks for the llama!
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:iconreligiouscornrose237:
religiouscornrose237 Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013  Student General Artist
Thanks for the llama back :3
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:iconreligiouscornrose237:
religiouscornrose237 Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013  Student General Artist
Congratulations on your honorable mention in the Confessions of a King contest! Your llama is on the way, and I will be making a journal featuring all honorable mentions and prize winners. Great work. Best of luck in your future endeavors! :)
- Rosie
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:iconthexgrayxlady:
TheXGrayXLady Featured By Owner Oct 17, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Oh my gosh thank you so much!!! This is amazing!!!
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