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THE GONG WAS HIT THREE CONSECUTIVE times and Zaina kissed the ground before she even opened her eyes. Groaning she lifted her head from the ground and wiped the trail of saliva on her chin. Smacking her lips, she slowly rose from the ground. She had just sat down when she turned her head and was met with the straight faces of the khadimas.

"Get up! We don't have all day," Lilith said with a clap of her hands.

Zaina quickly got up and the other two started straightening the bed and rearranging the pillows. Lilith dragged her to the bathroom and stripped her down; this time she didn't hesitate. When she was done, they sat her down on a stool, her wet hair providing discomfort against her skin. Khadijah combed her hair while Naima and Lilith drained the bath and tidied the bathroom. Her long hair was braided into a long braid and pinned up so that it was not laid against her skin. Then, she was fitted into a white linen dress. Unlike the usual linen dresses she wore, this one was shorter and ended above her knees. Khadijah and Lilith led the way, Naima trailing behind.

When the two other khadimas had made their way out of the tent, Naima turned her head and whispered, "May Renenutet cast her eyes on you."

Zaina gave her a grateful smile and with a sigh, sank onto the floor beside the bed. She had barely let out a breath when the hasida came in; his face was blurred as usual and the black kilt was wrapped around his waist.

"It is time for breakfast," he hissed, his head bowed.

"Oh," Zaina whispered lowly, rising to her feet and following him out of the tent.

The other competitors were walking out of their tents, the women dressed in a similar fashion.

"This is for you," the hasida said, handing her a leather band with a jackal on it.

"Thank you," she said, reaching for it.

"May I?" he asked, lifting the band.

Zaina nodded and extended her arm. He placed it on her forearm; his fingers were cold, a sharp contrast to her warm skin. She flinched, her body inching away from him.

He immediately stepped back, his hands falling to his side. "I apologise if I overstepped," he said with his head bowed.

"Oh, not at all! It is just that your fingers are cold, that is all."

However, he ignored her and continued walking following the crowd out of the large room.

Surprisingly shocked, Zaina stood there, trying to understand his reaction. That is, until she was almost pushed over.

Big, burly arms reached out and wrapped themselves around a waist when she was just an inch above the ground.

"I apologise," a deep, gruff voice said, placing her on the ground.

She fumbled over her words as she lifted her head, an act that seemed to go on forever, to meet his gaze.

The man who held her was quite tall, his chest most likely double the size of hers. In similar fashion to the men of their time, there was a white linen wrapped around his waist, the only thing covering his modesty. A leather band with a snake, Apophis' rafiq, coiled on it was stretched taut on his forearm, the string barely keeping it in place.

"Aharon," he said, extending a hand.

"Zaina," she answered, sounding a little breathless.

"I'm sorry," he said again before walking away.

Zaina followed them out. They walked down the winding halls, the only sound heard was the slap of their sandals against the ground. Soon, they arrived at a large clearing where the gods were in a straight file.

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