**This is a story set in E.R. Donaldson's Nethraverse** Part 3

The jungle world of Wataru was bathed in the pale, ethereal light of the night of the 11th lunar day, casting long, torpid shadows amongst the ancient trees and crumbling walls. The air was thick with the musky scent of damp earth and the distant calls of Wataru's nocturnal creatures. In the depths of the Temple of Khepri, all was silent save for the gentle murmur of the sacred stream, Khepri Vascular, winding its way through both the ruins and the restored.

I had chosen this night in particular for my secretive excavation in the Hidden City. On the one hand, I was hoping the increased lunar glow would aid my search without the need for torches that might attract unwanted attention. On a deeper level, I felt a call to journey and break rules on this most personally sacred of nights. Eleven being the heart number of Khepri and my own birth rune meant that I was at the peak of my synthesis - the bioluminescents of my skin swirled non-stop.. My heart raced with a mix of excitement and trepidation as I delved deeper into the ancient ruins than I had ever dared, the faint organic patterns on my skin cast a soft glow around me.

The southern quadrant of the Hidden City had always intrigued me, but its excavation was strictly regulated by the temple’s hierarchy. Ramdothenese Seven, with his imposing presence and strict adherence to protocol, had always deterred any unsanctioned exploration. Yet, something deep within me urged me forward tonight, a whisper of Khepri’s will perhaps, guiding my hands as I carefully brushed away layers of soil and debris revealing deep layers of stratigraphic timeline. The increased sensitivity of my skin under the moonlight was intolerable under my robes and I stripped down to my malo, the loincloth that all priests of Khepri wear under their robes. It was strictly against every rule to be out in the world thus, but there was no one to see me.

The night was serene, the jungle’s orchestra a soothing backdrop to my work. I was so absorbed in my task that I did not hear the approaching footsteps until it was too late - or maybe there had been no sound, no indication at all. The sudden shadow falling over me made my heart leap to my throat. My skin burst in an intense green glow of alarm lighting up the area around me. I looked up, and there stood ArchPriest Ramdothenese Seven, his midnight blue skin shimmering under the moonlight, his eyes reflecting a spectrum of colors that betrayed no emotion.

“Inshotep Five,” he began, his voice a low rumble that resonated through the ruins, “what brings you here, digging at night without permission and without clothing?”

Caught off guard, I struggled to find my voice. “ArchPriest Ramdothenese, I… I felt compelled to continue the excavation. There are truths here that call to me, and I believe Khepri’s will guides my hands.”

I fully expected to be reported to the council. My actions were indefensible. I would be expelled.

He stared at me for a long moment, his gaze piercing through the darkness left behind as my skin's light retreated. To my surprise, his expression softened just a fraction. “You are bold, Inshotep Five. Perhaps too bold. Boldness can be both a virtue and a folly. However,” he paused, glancing toward the southern quadrant, “it might serve you well to focus your efforts further south in the forbidden area. The ancients often hid their greatest secrets in the most unassuming places.”

His eyes rested on an undisturbed hillock that rose from the stream.

Before I could respond, he turned and began to walk away, his long, silvery robe flowing behind him like a cascade of moonlight. His form melded with the shadows, and soon he was gone, leaving me alone with my alarm, my thoughts and the faint glow of my bioluminescence - returning now that I was sure I was not under attack.

I stood there, stunned by the unexpectedness of the encounter. Ramdothenese Seven’s subtle suggestion was not lost on me. It was not at all what I had expected. His reprimand was also a nudge in a direction he deemed important. I had no idea what awaited me in the morning. It was still likely that I would be expelled and banished from Wataru. This was, in all liklihood, the last chance I would have to dig within the hidden city. Tomorrow, my life would be upended. There was no way that Ramdothense Seven would choose to just let this blatant disregard for protocol slide by. It occurred to me that perhaps he was encouraging me to go deeper so that I might, metaphorically, dig my own grave deeper.

Still - in for a drabbit, in for a dramaskeg - as they say back at home. I gathered my tools and moved towards the southern quadrant, my heart pounding with anticipation, fear, and a touch of sadness. I would miss this life, this world.

I began my excavation on the side of the hillock. As I dug deeper, the soil seemed to give way more easily, as if guiding me towards something significant. Hours passed, and as the first light of dawn tickled the jungle foliage, my hands uncovered a large stone box. Several more hours passed by - with me remaining engaged in the dig - so much so that I missed my morning devotions. Finally, prying the stone sarcophagus lid from the now exposed white stone box, I peered into the interior - revealed by the mid-morning light. A gold cuff depicting a star map made of jewels sat atop an intricately carved stone tablet. The runes inscribed upon it were unlike any I had seen before, glowing faintly in the dim light. As I reached for it, my skin pulsed green with the bioluminescence and a second set of runes was revealed, secretly carved into the grooves of the more obvious runes. They would have been invisible to any who were not of my race, possibly to any who were not me.

I would have to face the music of Ramdothenese Seven's discipline. I had no doubt of that, though a part of me wanted to take the cuff and the tablet and flee. It was equal parts of two things that kept me from doing so. First, I knew that it was the will of Khepri that I should stand tall in front of my mentor. Second, I couldn't read the runes and if there was anyone who would be able - it was he. Finally, there was the awareness that he had played a key role in my finding these treasures.

Khepri’s will had indeed guided me here, but so had the enigmatic guidance of Ramdothenese Seven. In that moment, I understood the delicate balance between obedience and boldness, between tradition and innovation. The path of a Kheprian priest was fraught with challenges, but also with the promise of profound discovery.

I placed the cuff on my left arm. I could feel my skin adapting and changing to the currents that ran through it. I had never felt anything like it. It wasn't unpleasant, but it was so foreign, so unfamiliar - like having a visitor inside the house of my skin. One who made themselves right at home and knew where everything was without being asked.

With the tablet carefully wrapped and secured, I made my way back to the temple, my mind racing with the implications of my find. I knew not what awaited me but stopped to perform my morning obeisance, ablution, and worship before heading to whatever Khepri and Ramdothenese Seven had in store for me. It took every bit of my courage and strength not to run away - but my faith and practice gave me strength to face whatever might come next.