Kromrak entered the secure hold housing the recovered exoskeleton. The room was quiet, and relatively empty. Kromrak stepped closer towards the exoskeleton. They set up a small incense burner. The incense smells of sandalwood, oak, and pine. The jewelry box is set down next to the incense. Kromrak slowly sits and offers a prayer to Dugmaren Brightmantle, then proceeds to honor the Mordinsamman. After the initial prayer, Kromrak speaks.

“I burn this incense in offering to you all, as tradition requests.

I thank the Mordinsamman that the Clan of the High Pass recovered me from the facility I was found in. The Clan and the Brotherhood taught me much of honor, loyalty, and dedication. They taught me of you, the Mordinsamman, and I made a pact with Brightmantle, to discover what I could, to find inspiration in the many worlds beyond.”

The incense smoke trails around Kromrak, and they guide it as part of their prayer ritual. It swirls and wisps over their skin, whether furred, bare, or chitinous. The incense pays no mind.

“I sit here before two problems confronting me. These items have surfaced memories, visions of my past. Monsters made with mutations by dark powers and duergar sealed within constructs. I was…created, but I existed before.”

Kromrak concentrates, a moment of focus as an image appears and the incense smoke flows throughout. The image is one of an elf, vague features, hazy from the incense smoke. The elf nods, and the silhouettes of many gloved hands encompass it, altering it, changing it. The elf grows taller, wider, stockier. A manta ray’s silhouette swirls into the image, then a large crab’s silhouette. The silhouettes swirl and mix, the incense whirling through the image. The silhouette of Kromrak resolves, and the blues and greens chase the silhouette off. A blank, grey aura encompassed the figure.

“My research has revealed my origins from the Simic Combine, but Primex as well. Did they intend to try to create a monster like this anathema? I am different, but not misshapen. I am altered, but I am not cruel. The warmth and kindness of Brightmantle infuses my being, and I spread this where I wish. It is likely that my past self volunteered for this, but the results are troubling and my memories are naught.”

The image of Kromrak floated before the sitting, praying Kromrak. The blank aura faded as flames surfaced. The flames surrounded Kromrak, warm, in hues of blue, orange, red, and yellow. The firelight aura swelled, and the image of Dugmaren Brightmantle settled over the form of Kromrak, as if a suit of armor.

“You protect and guide me, and I listen and follow. So I ask for that guidance. I ask for your guidance in how to proceed, how to continue. These items echo of corruptions that mirror my own change. I have seen much of the evils of the multiverse laid bare, and I ask what you wish of me. I ask where you would have me go, where should I guide these companions, and how should I serve?”

The image spreads out widely, Kromrak with the Echo of Brightmantle stands amidst the companions. Lyndi surrounded by many Echoes of the Trickster, the Echoes are in constant motion drifting around her. Jane with the Echo of Dol’Modeen, the Echo undulates and rises and falls as if the waves of the tide. Proud, a vague Echo standing behind him. Sylvi and Shiro, Echoes of Machinery linked together. Isabelica, the Echo surrounding her showing her wings with a reaper’s cloak hanging from them. Many vague shapes continue, perhaps Vae’gaun and Farida, the warriors of the Unbroken Tide, Draco and Cyrus.

Collingwood chirrups from beneath the furs Kromrak wore. They slither and clamber free. They drag shed scales behind them and Kromrak pets Collingwood gently, helping the pseudodragon free of the scales. As they fall free, warm to the touch, the scales grow into a gauntlet matched to Kromrak’s hand. The gauntlet fits perfectly, and Kromrak flexes their hand. As they open it, a book manifests resting on their open palm. The book has Celestial written upon the cover, Tales from the Better Books. Kromrak stares a moment, then opens the book. The pages change as they leaf through it, various stories and languages appearing as they page through. The pages never seem to reach the end of the book.

As the incense spreads around Kromrak, the shadows in the corners of the hold gradually grow deeper and spread. The walls slowly lose the appearance of bulkheads on an elven cruiser, and become as the deep forest under the night stars. Superstructure gives way to pillar-like trees. Stacked crates become the familiar wooden chairs of the clan elders. Where the incense burner sits, the spectral form of a blazing, teepee-style bonfire burns.

The clan elders regard Kromrak under their various helmets and hoods. Their eyes are dark brown or black, with reflected glints of firelight. They are the oldest and most canny clansmen and women. Some have distinguished themselves as warriors and officers, others as teachers, crafters, or healers.

Above and behind them are larger thrones, on which some of the Mordinsamman site. Each divinity is easily twice as large as the elder below and front of them. There is Berronar the Matron, wrapped in silvery fox furs. There is Thard the Hunter–one of the most revered in the Clan of the High Pass–wearing buckskins and oiled otter pelts. There is Clangeddin, Father of Battle, in polished plate and mail, with a double-headed battle axe leaning against his throne, close at hand. And of course there is Dugmaren the Farwalker, with a great book open on his lap. There are others, too. Moradin himself is absent, although the largest and most decorated throne represents him nevertheless.

As the elders speak, the gods listen and observe.

An elder says: “The cub has become a warrior.”

Another says: “Aye, and their valor has brought honor to the Clan.”

Adds another: “And their kindness, too.”

“They have earned the respect and trust of this era’s mightiest chain breakers.”

“The Tide.”

“The Unbroken Tide.”

“As well the powers that favor the Tide…”

“…the Covenant of Chain-Breakers.”

“They are earning the trust and affection of a fist of Unbound, the Raptors.”

“Raptor Blue.”

“And now they offer humility and curiosity, to know the Mordinsamman’s will.” “We amplify their request, their humble request.”

“Guide this instrument of your will, mighties.”

“Guide them to honor…”

“…and justice.”

Dugmaren Brightmantle laughs. It begins as a low, guttural chuckle and builds to a happy belly laugh. Among the other gods, knowing smiles play in the corners of their lips. “Very well, my Knight of the Book. Behold what has come before, what is happening now, and what may yet pass.” He flicks two fingers over the book in his lap and a drop of glowing-black magic arcs through the air to land in Kromrak’s book. Kromrak’s attention becomes fixed to the turning pages of the book. Words and images move quickly, too fast to follow, like a turgid flow of light and shadow.

There’s a scene between some corporate-types in Earth suits, perhaps Primex, meeting with Simic Combine bio-engineers in smocks and aprons. They’re discussing or negotiating or collaborating.

There’s a scene of Draco and Cyrus. (Kromrak met them briefly in Sigil, and has subsequently learned more from files Max gave him.) They’re on a small spelljammer ship in the Astral Plane, approaching a cloud of debris. A massive pyramid shape looms within the cloud.

There’s a scene of a vast plane of fire and soot, under an alien sky of purple and scarlet darkness. A great battle was fought here, but now there is only debris and bones. And something under the ground.

Kromrak bows their head in reverence, once the visions have resolved in the book. Their hand closes the book with a snap. The book fades into the gauntlet and Collingwood perches upon their shoulder.

“I thank you, Dugmaren Brightmantle. The vision of the past confirms my suspicions and is greatly appreciated by my own person. The vision of the current is of dire import, and will be appreciated by my own person and the company I now keep. The vision of the future is bleak, empty. This is a vision of the stakes for the Covenant and the forces they muster, I know it plainly. I will strive to prevent it from passing.” Kromrak rises from the bowed position.

“Elders, Mordinsamman, I thank you deeply from deep within my soul. You have heard my words, and my request, and answered me truly. I know this to be no small happening, and this I swear. My convictions grow in strength.

Knight of the Book you have named me, so Knight of the Book shall I be. Brightmantle’s warmth will be shared. His kindness will be known by those far and wide who suffer in shackles, and hide from the huntings of our foes. His generosity will be known by those who hunger or thirst, those who have want of a home, those who crave freedom. The flames of Brightmantle will sear those who act out of evil, who out of greed for wealth and power enslave others, those who serve the True Enemy, and all that the True Enemy creates. So has the power been granted to me, so shall the power be used. I thank you.”

Kromrak stands up, straightens, and their werebear bulk emerges. “Kromrak, warrior of the Clan of the High Pass, brother of the Brotherhood of the Better Book, warlock of Dugmaren Brightmantle, sergeant of the Unbroken Tide, second in command liaison of Raptor Blue, and now, Knight of the Book. Our allies will have succor, and the True Enemy will find none.”

Author Sielic
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