Author's Note: I am a fan of the Seto Kaiba & Téa Gardner pairing, so I wanted to try a Sethos & Túaa story first to support a later Seto & Téa fic (I know that their real names are Priest Seto/Seth and Téana, but these are the names I have for them, and it's a long story as to why… but I have Túaa's family name as Téana). This won't be a full-out romance fic, though; the main focus will be on finding new keepers for the unclaimed Millennium Items. This fic can be considered a sequel to "Erasing the Cartouches" and a spin-off to "Beneath the Valley." Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, except for Túaa's brothers, the other priest/priestess hopefuls, and the villains. And the final scene of the first chapter was somewhat inspired by the movie Mulan.
"My Pharaoh, what troubles you?" asked Mana, as she arrived one morning to the court. In the past months, she had completed her apprenticeship and finally acquired her late mentor's Millennium Ring. She had relinquished the Millennium Necklace upon acquiring the Ring, and could no longer read into the Pharaoh's mind.
"You needn't worry over me," Sethos promised Mana. "I was concerned for the unclaimed Millennium Items. "You now hold the Ring, and I hold the Rod. The Puzzle has been returned to the tomb of my predecessor. But that leaves four Items unclaimed: The Necklace, the Eye, the Key, and the Scales. It distresses me to think that these Items could lapse into the hands of thieves or incompetents."
"Then we must find some new masters of heka to bear these items," said Mana. "But how do we spread the word without attracting the wrong sort of attention? We do not want another Akhenaden… oh, sorry, my Pharaoh!"
Sethos had frozen at the mention of the name he so despised.
"You are right that we cannot afford to have another traitor," he said at last. "All applicants will have to face us in a series of duels and undergo training. Have the word spread by messenger that the acceptance process will be long and grueling before they can even go within a three-foot radius of a Millennium Item. And make it clear that any and all applicants must arrive in Thebes within one month; that way, only the true best will be ready. See to it, Mana."
"Right away, my king," said Mana.
She bowed and then departed, allowing Sethos to traverse his own thoughts. He headed for the Shrine of Wedju, which was his favorite place to ponder; the ka of his beloved Kisara would be there.
He had not been able to summon her in a long time; his cousin and former Pharaoh Atem, who now slept peacefully in the Valley of the Kings, had requested that the creatures in the shrine to remained in their stone tablets unless absolutely necessary. Hopefully, searching for new Priests and Priestesses qualified as necessary, since Sethos yearned to see Kisara again.
Sethos stood before the carving of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon.
"You'll be free again soon," he promised her.
"My Pharaoh, I am so sorry…" her voice whispered through his mind. "My memory causes you much anguish. I wish you could forget me and move on."
"Kisara, the memory of you is all I have," Sethos replied, placing his hand on the stone. "No one can expect me to cast it away."
"And no one is asking you to. But you have closed off your heart because of me," said Kisara. "I pray that you will find another woman who could give you the light that I once brought to you."
"You have always been my light," Sethos declared. "And you always shall be. You are not a person who can simply be replaced."
"Replaced? Of course I can never be replaced," she said. "But I am no longer a person. You have chosen me as you new spirit ka, and that is the greatest honor you could bestow upon me. But do you truly want to hold on to my memory?"
"Yes," he replied, instantly. "The greatest honor I truly could have given you was to have you become Queen of Egypt."
"My king, you needn't torment yourself for me," she said. "Don't let my memory prevent you and Egypt from knowing the kindness of a queen."
Sethos did not reply to this.
"Can I count on your assistance to aid in the training of the new Item Keepers when they arrive?" he asked at last.
"Of course, my Pharaoh."
Sethos took his leave of Kisara and left the shrine.
"I pray that the new keepers of the Millennium Items will not need to use them," he thought. "After everything Atem did for us, it would be a shame for his death to have been for nothing."
Mana approached him now.
"The messengers are on their way," she announced proudly. "Excuse me; I must tell Master Mahado the good news!"
She headed for the shrine. Sethos watched her go with slight amusement; she must have been the youngest priestess in the history of the New Kingdom. Even he had been slightly older than her when he had acquired the priesthood. But Mana was far more resilient than he was; he was still mourning the loss of Kisara as though she had died only yesterday. Mana still mourned for Mahado, but she seemed to have been able to move on. So why couldn't he? The people of Egypt were looking to him for support; he would have to find a way to move on, for their sake.
"It's times such as these that I envy you, Mana," he thought.
In the days that passed, the word of the need for new priests and priestesses spread like wildfire through Upper and Lower Egypt. Many hopefuls were already on their way towards Thebes when the news reached the ears of the Téana family in Ijtahwy. They were a well-to-do family; the patriarch, Ráa, had served in some of the military campaigns of Akhunamkhanen and had been well-rewarded for his efforts. He had heard of the untimely death of Akhunamkhanen's successor, Atem, and did not know too much about the new Pharaoh Sethos. However, he felt it his duty to aid this new king in any way he could. He knew some ways of heka that he had taught to the rest of the family as well. Perhaps he could apply for priesthood…. But no; he was getting on in years, and perhaps it would be best to send one of his sons in his stead to serve the king.
His thoughts were diverted by the voice of his daughter, Túaa.
"Father?" she asked, approaching him respectfully. "Dinner has been prepared. We are ready to begin if you join us."
Ráa made the announcement of Sethos's proclamation to his family during the course of the meal.
"You aren't thinking of going to Thebes, are you?" asked his wife, concerned.
"Not at all," he assured her. "But one of the boys, perhaps, could become a priest of the Pharaoh."
Túaa cast a wary glance at her two brothers: Geb-Iah and Mentu-Ra. She had to admit that while Mentu-Ra, who was older than her, could be a possible choice, but Geb-Iah was younger than she was. That meant that her father would have already made his decision.
"Mentu-Ra," said Ráa, confirming Túaa's suspicions. "I have taught you much in the ways of heka. I will be counting on you, my son, to serve Pharaoh Sethos in my name."
"But, Father!" exclaimed Mentu-Ra, in protest. "I had told you years ago that I wanted to be a soldier in the Pharaoh's army—not a priest! And you were training me to become one until today!"
"Lord Sethos has plenty of soldiers," said his mother. "The position of priest is one of honor that only few can earn."
Túaa knew that her elder brother could care less about honor; he was a man of action, and had long since dreamed of a soldier's life. He would be miserable and bored out of his wits if he was forced to become a priest, but there was no way he could bring himself to say it.
Resigned to his fate, Mentu-Ra continued to eat, a cloud of misery beginning to form over his head.
"My Pharaoh!" said Mana, glancing off of the palace balcony. "My Pharaoh, look! They're already coming!"
Sethos crossed to the balcony now.
"Ra, give me strength…" Sethos muttered, glancing at the numerous chariots and horses that were heading for the city gates. "Half of these hopefuls are probably a troupe of fools who don't know how to harness even the slightest bit of heka…"
"You do not seem pleased…" said Mana, disappointed.
"Oh, I am pleased that there has been such an… enthusiastic response to my proclamation," he said, trying to count exactly how many people were coming. He gave up when he realized that this was only the first wave of hopefuls; many more would be arriving in the coming days. "It is the task of finding the gems among the mud that I am not so pleased about."
"You could leave that to me, Great Pharaoh," said Mana. "Mahado and I would be more than willing to--"
"Thank you, Mana, but I have already promised Kisara a chance for her to stretch her wings after such a long time," he replied. "Have the applicants hold exhibitions matches with each other first; that will automatically eliminate the fools unable to harness their heka."
"If my king commands it…" she said. "Then I shall see it done."
"We'll give them time to rest from their journey and prepare themselves first," said Sethos. "The city gates close in a fortnight, and then the search for new mages will begin."
"Are you not worried that there could be potential traitors hidden among the applicants?" asked Mana, tapping into the powers of the Millennium Ring.
"It does concern me," Sethos admitted. "However, the Items choose their bearers, and I am assuming that they shall choose wisely. Does your Millennium Ring detect anything?"
"Nothing as of yet…"
"Then we shall not worry needlessly over this issue," he declared. "I suggest you take as much rest as you can now, Mana; we shall be having very little of it in the weeks to come."
He cast another glance at the travelers. With a sigh, he retreated to his throne room.
"Túaa, you're frightfully quiet tonight," her mother said.
"I shall be missing Mentu-Ra," she said. "Do you really think he will become a priest?"
"Your father seems to think so."
"Where is Father?" Túaa asked, noticing that he had left after dinner.
"He is giving Hor-Iah his combat lessons outside the city," her mother replied. "Poor Mentu-Ra wanted to go with them, but your father insisted that he study his spells tonight."
"Do you approve of Father's decision to send Mentu-Ra?" asked Túaa.
"Why wouldn't I?" she asked. "The worst that could happen is that he is turned down, and he returns. I used to worry about your father so often when he was on those military expeditions…"
Túaa politely listened to her mother as she talked. After a while, she excused herself, pondering over her parent's decision. Everyone seemed to like the idea of Mentu-Ra becoming a priest… everyone except Mentu-Ra… Somehow, it didn't seem fair.
Túaa was returning to her room when she heard frustrated sighs coming from her brother's room. Standing outside, she could see him going over spell after spell written over several sheaves of papyrus. Every five minutes, he would thrust the papyrus down, reach for his sword, look at it wistfully, and then go back to his studying.
"Mentu-Ra?" Túaa asked.
"Good evening, Sister," he replied, pleased to have an excuse to stop studying. His spirit ka, Maha Vilo, hovered off to the side of the room. "Father says I should leave tomorrow at dawn for Thebes. Keep me in your thoughts while I'm gone."
"You do not want to go…" Túaa said, softly. "I can see it in your eyes, Brother. You want to be a soldier."
"I do. But I cannot disobey Father," he replied, going back to his reading.
"You will not have to…" Túaa thought. Focusing her powers of heka, she summoned her spirit ka, Dark Elf.
"Sister, what are you--?"
"Goodbye, my Brother," said Túaa. "May you become the great warrior you so desperately long to be."
She ordered the Dark Elf to cast a sleeping spell over Mentu-Ra and Maha Vilo. When they were both asleep, she took the papyrus sheaves of spells from Mentu-Ra, hid them in her cloak, and left the house.
It was a short walk to the local stables, where she commandeered the family's prized horse. She rode the horse past the house, whispering goodbyes to her family as she passed.
"Ma'at, forgive me," she thought, praying to the goddess of righteousness. "And grant me glory for when I arrive in Thebes."