**This is a story set in E.R. Donaldson's Nethraverse** Part 5

The late afternoon air was thick with the decaying scent of jungle mud, the sounds of unseen nocturnal creatures awakening as the light of the day began to fade creating a wild concerto that echoed my unbridled thoughts. The Khepri Vascular, as dark and reflective as the day’s light began to fade, was the place Ramdothenese Seven had named for the absolution of remorse. I made the journey there with his whisper-shouted order still ringing in my ears: "Bring it!"

I had gathered the rune-carved tablet from my quarters and as I approached the stream, held it hidden beneath my robe. The cuff on my arm burned as my skin rearranged itself beneath it. Ramdothenese Seven stood by the water's edge, his tall figure almost blending into the shadows thickening from the inpenetrable canopy above. His eyes, as hard and unreadable as an atmosphere-scarred meteorite, turned toward me as I arrived.

“Inshotep Five,” he began, his voice a low rumble. “Do you have it?”

I heard something in his voice that had never been there before. Uncertainty. I hesitated for a moment before reaching into my robe and presenting the stone tablet to him. His eyes flickered with a mix of relief and urgency as he took it from my hands, examining the ancient runes with a practiced gaze.

“This will aid you in deciphering the hidden runes,” he pressed a detachable nanobot onto the stone. It melted into the tablet. “You already know the key.”

“What is this really about, Ramdothenese?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper. “Why did you tell me to keep digging, send me to find this, and allow me to destroy my position here?”

He sighed, looking up from the tablet to meet my eyes. “Could I have stopped you? There is much you don’t understand, Inshotep. Like this librarian nanobot,” he motioned to the tablet where the nanobot had left no sign of itself,” there is more than what appears on the surface. The council’s reprimand was necessary. The collaborators must seem to be making the decisions, even if that makes it more difficult to maintain the facade.”

“The facade?” I repeated, I could sense lights of confusion illuminating my face from within. My bioluminescents were out of control. Never since being a tad had I felt so at the mercy of my emotions .

“There is a war,” he continued, his tone grave. “They think you were brought into the council as their pawn, but in truth, my cabal ensured your selection. Your heritage and your unique physiology make you vital to uncovering the deeper truths hidden within the temple. We knew that, but they did not.”

"You were not chosen by the council for your perceived obedience or lack of ambition, it was no coincidence or lucky straw that brought you," Ramdothenese went on. "Some members believed you would be nothing more than an easily controlled vote within the council. This battle, no one is ever sure of what side they are on or who their allies are. The Gods keep us guessing and shift with the winds just when we think we may know. However, the lines seem to have solidified and those I work with ensured your selection for reasons only we could know, but then the other side may have reasons of their own. Such is the great strategy of the blind game. Only our side knew you could play a crucial role."

“A crucial role? A crucial role in what? ” I echoed, the pieces of the puzzle slowly starting to fit together but making no sense whatsoever. The council was divided? “You said my heritage and physiology? I am nothing special.”

Ramdothenese smiled now, his expression still dead serious. “Your connection to the Shal’tharan people, with their adaptability and heightened senses, makes you uniquely suited for this task. But there is more.” He pointed to the tablet as he handed it back to me.

The flaring of my skin lit the hidden runes. Now, the nanobot he had embedded began to translate the intricate symbols before my eyes. I didn’t understand what I saw, but it began to make sense to me as he explained.

“This tablet holds the key to a mystery that has eluded us for centuries—the fate of Terra - and more.”

I could hardly believe what I was hearing. “Terra? But how…”

“Terra was not lost by chance,” Ramdothenese interrupted. “It was hidden, protected by those who feared what its discovery of its secrets might bring. The star map cuff you hide under your robe,” he indicated a series of symbols on the tablet that now replicated some of what was on the cuff, “is a map that, over time, will guide its bearer to the true path to Terra.”

“Over time?” Never had I felt like such a novice, even when I had been. I understood nothing.

“There is a decay,” he told me. “It is programmed to reveal things based on certain conditions, some of which have to do with your enzymes and proteins and others that are dependent on location or other factors.”

I stared at the tablet, the weight of its significance pressing down on me. “Why me? Why was I chosen for this?”

“Because you are not just a follower of Khepri,” Ramdothenese explained. “You are a seeker of truth, someone who understands the balance between wisdom and folly, order and chaos. The council is divided, a schism that threatens our very foundation. Some seek power for its own sake, while others, like myself, strive to uncover the deeper truths and restore our faith’s true purpose.”

“Who can I trust? Who is on your side?” Even as I asked, I realized the folly of the question. I wasn’t even sure if he was on my side, though, this experience had brought me to the realization that he was not the nemesis I had thought. My mind was adjusting to the fact that he had been my ally all along, but still, the years of resentment and suspicion I had judged him with were loathe to allow me to change my thinking so suddenly.

“You can trust no one,” he laughed. “Not even me. Khepri will be your only guide because only Khepri knows the totality of actions that have led us to the present present. “If I were to tell you who I have worked with to bring us to this now, it would make no difference. Loyalties shift, agendas change, each of us has our role to play and sometimes it is the role of a thief, villain, or rebel. You must let Khepri be the director of your alliances. No one else.”

His words resonated deeply with me. I worked to reconcile the hate and resentment I had felt for him with this new perception he was opening of himself. I had to trust him in this moment. Khepri was guiding me. “What do you need me to do?”

Ramdothenese looked at me with something I had never seen from him, compassion. “Your assignment to the wild areas of the galaxy are part of a larger plan. While you spread the teachings of Khepri, you will also follow the clues within this tablet. It will not be easy, and you will face many dangers, but it is a path that only you can walk.”

I looked at the tablet, feeling a renewed sense of purpose. “You knew it was there. You directed me”

Ramdothenese placed a hand on my shoulder, an almost parent-like act. “You found your way to it, I merely sped up your discovery by playing my part as I was directed by Khepri. I suspected what you would find, but vastly underestimated the importance of it.”

“What comes next? How should I proceed?” I was lost. This was all too much, too fast.

His calm voice soothed the turbulent waters of my thoughts though not comforting my insecurities. “The odds are stacked heavily against you, Inshotep Five, the true path is not always the one that seems most clear. Tomorrow you will leave Wataru. Prepare yourself this night for all that lies ahead of you. Trust in your instincts and in the guidance of Khepri.”

He turned and disappeared into the rapidly approaching darkness, leaving me alone with my insecurities beside the sacred stream. I removed my clothing and following the direction of my internal compass, performed the absolution of remorse within the warm embrace of the Khepri Vascular, infusing my soul with the armor, strength, and power of my god.