**This is a story set in E.R. Donaldson's Nethraverse** Part 4

The noonday light barely touched the ancient walls of the Temple of Khepri when I recieved the summons from the Council. My heart pounded in my chest as I made my way to the inner sanctum, where the entire Council of Khepri awaited. The council rarely convened, and when it did, it was never for trivial matters. My unauthorized excavation had not gone unnoticed, and now I would face the consequences. I wore the cuff, but under my robes. The tablet was hidden within my sleeping cell.

Entering the grand hall, I was met with the imposing sight of the entire council assembled. They sat in a semicircle, Ramdothenese Seven in person but the others on wormhole holographic feeds from throughout the galaxy, their eyes fixed upon me with a mix of sternness and curiosity. At the center was High Priestess Aeloria from the oceanic world of Micorla. Her overly large deep blue eyes and flowing silver hair made her look like a living embodiment of the sea. She had been with the Kheprian religion for over a century and no one knew how old she was, her wisdom and calm demeanor were a guiding light for many. Some even claimed that she herself was a goddess, but not where they might be overheard. She had dropped the order designation of 'One' after five decades of service. Her name was synonymous with the designation.

To her left was Valtar Three, a tall and lean figure with feather-like golden hair from the temperate jungle planet of Zenthara. His eyes were like those of a hawk, sharp and piercing, reflecting his decades of service to Khepri. Next to him sat Meira Four, a petite woman with luminescent golden skin from the desert moon of Hespia. She was renowned for uncovering and recovering ancient Kheprian texts from places no one else would think to look - or be willing to .

On Aeloria's right was Haldor Six, a broad-shouldered man with fiery red hair and pinkish white skin from the outlaw planet of Pyros. He had been a part of the Kheprian faith for longer than I’d been alive, his fiery temperament was legendary in junior acolyte circles. Stories often showed it clashing with his duty to remain composed.

Finally, there was Elyssium Two, a serene figure with a lavender cloak and violet eyes from the crystalline world of Bromine. Her years with the Kheprian religion were marked by her exceptional ability to mediate and calm disputes - a skill that was often called into service by other religions or warring factions.

As I stood before them, I noticed Ramdothenese Seven standing off to the side, his expression unreadable. The council's eyes bore into me, and I knew the reprimand was coming. I was the youngest member of the council in the history of the order. No one had been more surprised than I when I was asked to replace Bergollian Five as Tender of the temple. While they all had legendary pasts - my greatest exploit so far was getting caught sneaking into the Hidden City for a nighttime excavation.

"Inshotep Five," High Priestess Aeloria's voice rang out, "you have been brought before us to answer for your trespass in the Hidden City. You have shown a blatant disregard for the rules and protocols that govern our order."

Valtar Three leaned forward, his eyes narrowing. "You have overstepped your bounds, Inshotep. Your position does not allow you to do whatever you choose. Such actions could have dire consequences for the sanctity and safety of our temple."

Meira Four's voice was softer but no less stern. "Your recklessness is unacceptable. You have proven yourself to be unfit to remain Tender of the Temple of Khepri. The Hidden City holds secrets that are not to be tampered with lightly."

Haldor Six, with his fiery disposition, could barely contain his anger. "You have jeopardized everything with your insolence! If word of this were to spread, our entire system of maintaining control could crumble. The Tender disregarding protocol - inconceivable!"

I knew I had broken some rules, but all of this seemed far too extreme. There must be a deeper reason, but no one was going to answer any of my questions right now. My best course was to stand thin and take it like a fermolin.

Elyssium Two, though more composed, was also far too upset for what I thought I had done, "Your actions demonstrate a lack of respect for our traditions and the hierarchy we have established. While we can’t remove you from the council, you will no longer be the Tender."

Aeloria chimed in "Did you discover anything of interest? Did you experience any sort of vision or bodily experience, Inshotep Five?"

Throughout the scolding, Ramdothenese Seven had stood stoically, his face betraying no emotion. Now he spoke “He found nothing. A childish foray into a forbidden area. We are making mountains out of scattle droppings!”

I braced myself for further reprimand, but then the council's attention shifted.

"Ramdothenese Seven," Aeloria addressed him sharply, "as the overseer of the temple, it is your duty to ensure that such infractions do not occur and to keep tabs on the inhabitants. How could you allow this to happen under your watch? Why is it that we had to hear about this from a drone satellite feed instead of your having discovered it yourself?"

This was interesting. They’d seen me, but they hadn’t seen him. Also, presumably, they hadn’t seen my excavation or discovery. Ramdothenese' eyes flickered with a hint of emotion - I couldn’t tell what it was, but he now remained silent.

"You have failed to maintain order," Valtar Three added. "Your laxity has enabled this transgression."

Meira Four nodded in agreement. "We expected better from you, Ramdothenese. Your negligence has compromised the integrity of our order."

Haldor Six’s voice was a growl. "This is a grave oversight, and it will not go unpunished."

Elyssium Two's calm voice delivered the final blow. "From this day forward, Ramdothenese Seven, you will share your administrative duties with a senior member of the council who will act as Tender and ensure that such lapses do not happen again."

I stood in stunned silence as the council turned their focus back to me. High Priestess Aeloria's gaze was unyielding. "Inshotep Five, for your actions, you are hereby removed from your position as the Tender. You will no longer serve within these sacred walls." They couldn’t take my name, nor my position on the council - but they could change where I served - and how.

The air grew tense as she continued, "You will be sent into the wild areas of the galaxy. Your punishment is to bring the teachings of Khepri to the bounty hunters and warring factions. You will spread our word among those who live by chaos and violence."

I began to push my sleeves upward so I could reveal what I had found and defend my actions but Ramdothenese Seven shoved me to the side and stepped forward, his voice like cold steel. "This punishment is fitting. Inshotep Five must understand the weight of his actions and above all learn how to respect the order and discipline that our faith demands. My failure to inspire him is a burden I must always carry. Who is it that will replace him as Tender?"

“I will take over the duties as Tender,” Aeleoria said.

For the first time in all the years I had known him, Ramdothenese Seven lost his composure.

“Shit,” he expelled in an uncontrolled whisper with something that might have been panic flashing across his face. Then “You are, of course, the most suited for the position but my understanding was that your work building bridges to the other gods was a priority.” He was looking at Valtar.

“I believe we are done here,” Aeleoria said in a whisper that was louder than gunfire. “The two of you can vacate your quarters at once, I will be occupying the entire senior barracks with my organization. Ramdothenese Seven - move into the novice barracks and I expect Inshotep Five to be well on his way by the time I arrive.”

The council murmured in agreement, and I bowed my head, accepting my fate. Their images flickered out. The council meeting was concluded, and I began to leave the grand hall with a heavy heart. At the doorway, the hand of Ramdothenese Seven spun me around.

“Not a word!” he said. “I will see you at the Khepri Vascular for absolution of remorse in ten minutes.”

I had never heard of such a thing, but there was no point in trying to avoid it.

Then in a whisper shout he mouthed “Bring it!”