Far From Holy
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My name is Asteria. With the autumn moon round and full, I am now twenty-five.
I am today’s sacrifice.
The matriarchs drape me in white. A slip beaded with glittering sea glass peeks out from under my skirt. The delicate lace lining the collar of the dress extends down my torso. The waves and droplets hide my nipples, which stiffen and rise as they rub against the rough netting. I lower my eyes and smile demurely as the matriarchs weave forget-me-nots into my jet-black hair and make the last adjustments to my ceremonial outfit. My eyelids have been dusted gold, my lips painted scarlet, my cheeks blushed with rouge.
The white of the dress is meant to symbolize my virginity. But I was no longer a virgin by the time I was eighteen. I’d tried to quench every desire myself, my hand thrust between my legs, fingers slick, hot, toying with my open cunt, my hips bucking, bolts of pleasure shooting through me as I grazed a nail against my clit. It was never enough. I needed another heart beating through mine, another person’s breaths to swallow.
It’s an open secret that only perhaps half of the chosen adhere to our virginity vows. I am one of the ones who don’t. I have found myself with the taste of the ocean against my lips as I looked up into another woman’s eyes, my tongue deep in her as she trembled against me and moaned. I’ve had a man’s cock buried to the hilt in me as he pressed my face into the cold stone of the cellar floor, keeping my hips high in the air for him to take. I’ve come as one man fucked me against a wall while another watched, his dark eyes smoldering in the midnight light; I’ve pressed hard against the solid crest of a person’s pubic bone as I fingered them, their lips full and flushed, their hole a dripping wet mess.
It’s easy to find someone to couple with. But I have wondered too, even while pleasure bites through me, whether the Minotaur will know that I haven broken my virginity vow.
“We are gathered here today…”
A censer swings, unfurling incense through the air. The sunlight softens as it slants through the smoke into a diffuse glow that gilds even the high-arched ceilings of the temple hall.
“…to pay our thanks to our dearest Asteria…”
The hierophant paints the tattooed mark on my forehead crimson as a pair of pages adjusts the laces on my cloven-footed shoes. A few people chance a look up through their veils, only to look away quickly, afraid to be caught staring. My resplendence is not meant for the villagers, who are expected to avert their gaze out of reverence.
“…for her honored sacrifice.”
The hierophant, pages, and matriarchs step away. Only the priestess remains beside me, intoning her blessings as I try my best to center myself and steady my racing heart.
“May the afterlife reward her well. May our lands be at peace.”
With my head held high, I step into the Minotaur’s maze.
This is what I know about the Minotaur.
The legend goes that, hundreds of years ago, the sea bequeathed upon the king a beautiful white bull to sacrifice for good fortune. But the king kept the bull and sacrificed an ordinary one instead. The queen fell in love with the bull, and from their unholy union came the Minotaur, full of the sea’s rage and whims, ready to channel that power into destroying the kingdom.
Summoned by news of the monster’s ruthlessness, the finest warriors across the land arrived to prove their prowess and slay the beast. Armed with swords, bows and arrows, pikes, glaives, harpoons, maces, hammers, axes, every myriad type of weapon, they charged into the Minotaur’s lair, ready to bring his head back as a trophy.
None of them returned alive.
Unable to placate the Minotaur, the king had no choice but to trap him inside a maze and provide sacrifices to sate his bloodlust. The choosing ceremony was passed down through generations to ensure a steady supply of sacrifices. Every spring, the kingdom gathers all newborns. A sheep is led to the altar, where it is slaughtered and its entrails read. The chosen children are tattooed on the centers of their foreheads with the mark of the sacrifice: twin crescents, turned outward like horns. The mark is a reminder to all that the sacrifice must remain illustrious, virgin, docile, and tame to placate the Minotaur. Only that way may everyone in the kingdom live peaceful lives.
For the most part, people honor and revere the chosen. We are living martyrs waiting our turn to die. I receive gifts on my doorstep: baskets full of pomegranates and oranges, bread still fresh and steaming, sausages slick with the light’s sheen. I take them inside before the sea breeze can encrust them with salt. It’s often the only food I have. Making a living as a person destined to be a sacrifice is difficult. We are said to harbor the spirit of death, and few want death to linger beneath their roofs.
Some, however, see the chosen as conquests. We are territory to be claimed.
The first boy I went to bed with was beautiful: raven-haired, dark-eyed, his skin warm and golden like a fawn’s. He’d seen my mark and grinned, lewd and hungry. There was something dangerous about the way his eyes glinted when he saw me from across the sun plaza.
I wanted that energy.
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