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Wooden knives, barracks brawls, cunning sabotage, unrelenting fear, and the stern glare of grudging approval. Only he had made it unscathed. But that stewing passion which drove him through the grueling process now threatened to boil over as he approached the high-backed throne, its delicate designs shrouded in shadow. The Scriptress herself. It was almost more than the initiate could bear.
At the base of the stairs he stopped, looking dutifully up at the back of the throne. The air froze.
"I give you my life." The echo solidified in the rafters.
"Who are you." The Scriptress' silky voice cut like a blade.
"I don't know who I am, or who I was."
"Why." It wasn't a question, but a challenge.
"In ignorance I am clean. In knowledge I will serve."
"Tell me, initiate. What brought you here?" This was the moment he'd been warned about. His words would be his own, one last time. He had conceived them long before selection and were the only thought he carried through his trials.
"If not for you, life is empty. I cannot live, and don't want to." Culatas wasn't ready for that silence. He'd done everything right, said everything as it should be, but the Scriptress was waiting for something. What had he forgotten? Fear tainted the emotions writhing in his chest. No! He couldn’t have gotten this far, to stand before the Scriptress, and fail! Suddenly desperation burst forth and he fell to his knees.
"I give you my life!" Culatas cried to the throne. The red walls closed in. Hands began removing his uniform, eyes scrutinizing every inch of his unblemished flesh under each layer of fabric. A gold framework was wheeled before him and Culatas was clamped into it. Blades appeared, and the robed figures began to cut into his skin.
Impossibly intricate designs streamed scarlet in the dim hall, but he made no sound. From his hunched position, Culatas stared at the throne above even as metal dragged carefully through his eyelids. Each line just deep enough to scar without distorting their living tapestry. For hours the blood flowing down his fresh wounds filled matching crevices carved in the stone floor.
Behind him, the crowd parted once more to allow a plinth of coals to be brought forth. One of the robed figures took a painstakingly detailed brand and slowly brought it closer to his back. With a carefully aligned thrust, the sculptor expertly pressed it into the last patch of unmarked flesh on Culatas' body. Immeasurable pain shot through his spine, shattering his heart and charging his brain.
There was a knife in his hand. Culatas jumped from the golden framework and swung at the nearest figure. His blade cut cleanly through their hood and a splash of blood merged with their robes. A glint of metal caught his eye and he ducked, thrusting the knife into another one. All thought drowned in a sudden surge of purpose as he fought.
Metal bit bone as blood soaked stone, each swing more than the thrashing of an animal, but something divine. The sculptors sought every opportunity to deface their masterpiece, but Culatas evaded every slash with vicious precision. Everything froze at the sound of a single snap. That was it. Culatas stood triumphant as blood poured like sweat from his body.
The Scriptress' newest Exitor had been initiated.
Scrit is a small nation where ignorance is prized. People are only allowed to know enough to fulfill their roles in society. Their knowledge is carved into their flesh, while how they are obligated to employ it is embroidered into their clothes, both as intricate, cryptic designs. Those found to learn beyond their limitations are exiled or worse: defaced. They are ruled over by the Scriptress and their laws are enforced by the Exitors, who must complete rigorous trials to reach the highest echelon of Scrit society, during which a single blemish will disqualify them. Every inch of their bodies is covered in carefully cut designs, signifying their empowerment with unlimited knowledge, and therefore unlimited power.