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5th of Uktar - Kaber & Ashara - Dagadar

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5th of Uktar - Kaber & Ashara - Dagadar

Post  Penelope on Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:10 pm

Ashara left the temple of Moradin with her head filled with new and exciting information about the process of creating magical items. She was grateful that two of the priests had taken so much time away from the funeral preparations to work with her, though she was quickly dismissed once her questions were answered.

She walked leisurely down the all-too-familiar corridors towards the tavern. It would be a few more days until their armor was completed, and while she desperately longed to be out in the open air again, at least she and her companions were able to get some much needed rest and relaxation.

The Mithril Keg was currently accommodating only a handful of patrons, due to the amount of work that needed to be done throughout the city and the mines. In the corner of the room, sitting by himself was the shaggy, gray minotaur, his fur still matted with blood. It pierced her heart to realize that most of the blood was probably his own...

The priestess couldn't tell if he was simply being his usual stoic self, or if he was feeling a bit melancholy as he stared at the stone wall taking swallows from his mug of ale. Still, after all this time traveling together, she found it difficult to read his expressions. She moved over to Kaber's table and sat down across from him, placing herself directly between the minotaur and that apparently fascinating spot on the wall.

Ashara reached a hand across the table and placed it on his, concern for her friend etched on her face.

"Kaber? Is everything okay? You in particular have been through so much these past few days..."

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Kaber sat at the tavern, as he had basically done the day before. It was difficult to get comfortable in the place, after all, it was a dwarven tavern. They had been kind enough to build him a seat that would hold him, but it wasn't enough to make him comfortable. It had been a couple days since the climatic battle for the dwarven city, and now, with the dwarves freed and life trying to return to normal, the mighty minotaur was lost.

Battle was not something that he lived for. He was good at it, but after what felt like a lifetime of fighting in the mines, he felt as if he had nothing to do. Even moreso since the others in his party all had tasks they wished to complete before they returned to the surface again. Kaber had spent some time the first day walking the city and the mines. He had also spoken with the smiths about armor and weapons. Now all he could do was wait, alone with his thoughts.

Lost in silent contemplation, he was only partially aware of someone entering the tavern. He nearly jumped when Ashara sat down across from him. He relaxed, expecting some update from her, but froze when he felt her touch. His hand tingled where she placed it upon his. For all his strength, he couldn't move from her light touch as she spoke to him.

The priestess had always held power of the minotaur. Kaber was never fully sure why this small soft human female could affect him so. He knew it wasn't because of this love business that he'd have thrust upon him, but something else. It could be that he'd never truly known a female, especially one as strong in resolve as her. She actually put many males to shame when it came to battle, not due to her prowess or strength, but determination and will in the face of danger. It could also be that he was now beginning to see the power she possessed, granted to her by a being her really knew nothing about.

Snapping out of his reverie, "I'm fine, at least I believe so. All my wounds seem to be healed and I don't feel any different. How are your studies?"

---------------------------------------------------------------

"I've learned what I can here it seems. I'll have to speak with others among my own priesthood to learn more of the specifics needed. I hope to create some items that could give us an advantage in the coming battles. For my part, all I have left to do here is attend the funeral tomorrow and then wait a few more days for the armor to be completed."

Ashara squeezed the minotaur's hand once before releasing it, then, placing her elbow on the stone table, she rested her head on three fingers while searching the minotaur's cryptic face.

"Kaber..." She began hesitantly, her eyes fixed on his. "The others have told me how you watched over my body while I was being kept in the coma. You took care of me then, please give me an opportunity to take care of you now..."

Ashara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She didn't want to offend her proud friend, but she was worried for him, and didn't think that spending these vital hours alone, lost in his own thoughts would be healthy for him in the long run. The priestess took his hand again, this time in both of hers, and while more confident now, she couldn't completely keep the pleading tone out of her voice.

"There is more to healing than simply stitching up physical wounds. Yes, it seems that the injury to your flesh has mended nicely, but if you don't let me see if there has been any damage to you emotionally or mentally, those wounds will simply fester. My own emotional injuries are still healing, but thanks to your love, and that of Lathander and the rest of our friends, I feel that the night is finally coming to a close, and the sun is rising."

Ashara's brow furrowed in frustration as she searched for the words to make him understand.

"What I'm trying to say, Kaber, is that I hope you will talk to me about the things that have happened to you. It is not weakness to share a burden with a friend. That's the purpose of friends! Josiah used to tell me that it was better to have a friend, for if you fall, your friend can lift you up, but only suffering can come to you if you're alone when you fall, with no one to help you. You are not alone Kaber! Whatever you need from me, I am here for you, I hope you know that."

---------------------------------------------------------------
...the coming battles...

Those words rang in Kaber's head and he let out a slight sigh.

He patiently listened to her words. She spoke of feelings and emotional wounds and other such words that had little place in minotaur society. His first instinct was to brush it off, to not even acknowledge this 'lesser' instincts. Yet, something deep within halted him. The warrior had come to these lands and people to learn, and he was finding that there was more to learn and understand than he thought.

The priestess, the small, soft, human priestess, wanted him to speak of what was in him, thoughts and feelings, yes, and fears, which he had long kept to himself. These were the things that separated him from his clansmen. And now, here was someone who called him 'friend' and cared about his well being.

Kaber sat for a minute, a blank stare on his face, as he gathered his thoughts. He would try, especially for one who put so much faith in him.

"I...," he frowned and tried again, "I wanted to make sure that if you woke again, you wouldn't harm anyone. I knew I could hold you, because I knew that you wouldn't want anyone to get hurt, even if it wasn't your fault..."

He looked at her expectant face. Not sure what else to say he looked away for a moment before speaking again.

"In our fight, against the dwarf, we were not doing well. We were slowly being beaten, and I could see it. I knew something must be done, else we all fall. I charged into the shadow, not to destroy the beast, but to protect you. After what Gwilly had told me about you and Elric," he stammered a little and wondered if his faced turned red like the pixie's did when he was embarrassed, "I knew I had to give you a chance. I don't fully understand 'love', but if it is anything like what the little one has told me, then you and Elric must live for it."

His voice didn't sound like his own. He wasn't even fully sure if that had been what drove him. Now he looked to her, as if looking for approval that he had spoken correctly.

-----------------------------------------------------

The priestess' mouth dropped open in shock.

She hadn't known what to expect. In truth, she hadn't expected him to open up to her at all, and when he did...well...she could never have predicted THIS... That he would sacrifice his own life to give Elric and herself a chance at something he didn't even completely understand?!

When she was a child, Ashara's parents read her many stories of heroic deeds, terrible dragons...and gallant knights who would give everything of themselves for a cause they deemed worthy... As she looked at the minotaur with new eyes, she had to bite her lip to keep it from quivering.

"Kaber, I..." The priestess choked back her tears as she tried to control the swell of emotion. She was afraid to cry, fearing that her friend would misunderstand.

Ashara rose from the small stone stool, moved around the table and wrapped her arms around the minotaur's neck, hugging him tightly. "That is one of the most noble, chivalrous, SELFLESS things I've ever heard... Thank you, Kaber...," she sniffled into his fur.

"I'm so grateful that Lathander rescued your soul from that hideous axe! Our family just wouldn't be complete without you..." As the words crossed her lips, Ashara realized how true that was for her. The Champions of the Red Dawn were bound by blood; by a thousand wounds that each had suffered in defense of the whole. Since entering the refining fire that was Dagadar, it seemed that the bonds they shared had been strengthened. She felt that these people WERE her family and when, Lathander willing, the time of trouble had passed, she wanted nothing more than to be with them always. She desperately hoped that she was not alone in this sentiment.

---------------------------------------------------

The minotaur's eyes grew with shock. Had he spoken wrong? Did his misunderstand what she wanted? Was she offended? He desperately searched for something to make it right. When the priestess rose, he had no idea what she would do. He tensed, wondering if she would lash out at him, or perhaps run for the door. He would prefer she struck him rather than run.

Kaber did not expect the embrace he received.

It was nothing like the nearly daily ones, which Ashara passed out to the group, ones that she hid her healing in. He had long ago figured that she cunningly used the hugs as a way to heal him, so that he wouldn't be offended by her use of magic on him, something else he had come to begrudgingly accept. He hadn't the heart to inform her that he knew the secret.

Once again, this fragile creature surprised him with the strength in which the small arms wrapped around his neck. The warmth that flowed into him had nothing to do with magic. This was a closeness, a companionship he had never known before.

She spoke words to him that he didn't fully grasp, but he knew enough, and her tone confirmed it, they were good.

He gently lifted his arms to encompass her, not caring what the bartender, or anyone else for that matter thought.

Kaber closed his eyes and smiled. He was happy. He was at peace.

-----------------------------------------------

Ashara was pleasantly surprised when Kaber wrapped his huge arms around her. This was the first time since CoRD was founded that he actually had returned one of her hugs, and she felt that just maybe they had broken though a barrier.

The priestess held her position until the minotaur's fur started tickling a little too far up her nostrils to withstand. Pulling away gently, she smiled brightly at Kaber and dragged her heavy, stone stool next to his before excusing herself momentarily. She walked over to the barkeep and ordered another ale for her friend and water for herself. Ignoring the inevitable comment about her lack of constitution, she moved back over to their table and set the mugs down.

Ashara leaned heavily against Kaber's shaggy arm as she took a swallow of water. She had always felt comfortable around the minotaur, though she never truly understood why. He was an imposing and at times terrifying figure, whose power and fury were unmatched when he was riled. The priestess always felt that there was something deeper in him that perhaps even he wasn't yet aware of. A strength not only of body, but of character. She had told him as much at the entrance of Dagadar, when she gave him the pendant she had created for him. The leaping fish symbolized a person who is honorable for who he is, and not just because of his heritage. She couldn't pretend that she understood him, but at times like these she saw glimpses of who he could be, and perhaps of who he was becoming.

"I ran in after you, you know...when you entered that globe of shadow. I heard the crack when you broke his arm and was afraid it may have been you. When I entered to heal you, only to find that the Heal did nothing to patch up your wounds...," Ashara shuddered visibly at the memory. "That was just before that strike that sucked the soul from your body."

She took another sip of water before continuing. "Kaber, do you remember anything after that strike? Do you remember what was happening around you or where you went?"

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kaber felt better than he had ever felt. This new experience was grand and mysterious and not very minotaur like, which didn't bother him. A strange strength coursed through his veins. It was a wonder that it had taken him so long traveling with these people to find this deeper understanding. Not that he had even a clue as to what this understanding was.

He accepted the strong bitter ale and took a long drink. He sat with Ashara, not as a beast, or a humanoid, but as a companion.

When she spoke again, this time, of her actions in battle, he looked at her, concerned. The battle was over, but she had ran blindly after him, trying to protect him, as he ran in to protect her. Laughter nearly erupted from his lips.

Then it was there. She asked him the questions that he had never bothered to ask himself, yet were always waiting at the edge of his mind. He had now 'died', and been brought back, twice.

The muscles in his brow knotted up as he forced himself to remember.

"My thoughts aren't clear about it", he spoke with a slight strain in his voice, "In fact, I care very little that it happened. I'm here now, and that is all that matters. But I shall tell you if you wish."

"It seemed more of a dream than actually happening. I felt the blow. It hit deeper than anything I had ever felt. Then it was...it was like removing armor from yourself, but forcibly. No, there was pain, a great pain." He paused, rubbing his arms. "It was as if my skin was being removed from my body all at once. Then for a brief moment, I had perfect clarity of the battle around me. After that, nothing."

His head lowered for a moment as he stared into his ale. "You know when you sleep and it is dark, then awake, and it is light? There is that change you are aware of. A passage of time that you don't remember happening, but you know that it did. That's what it was like, nothing, till a light. Then I was briefly on fire, my whole body, till I realized that I wasn't, but that I could actually feel every muscle and hair. I saw the godspawn and rose to attack it again. It wasn't until after the battle that I learned I was 'dead'. Yet, this was very different from, what I was told, was the first time."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"...the first time."

The priestess didn't like to think of that battle in the temple of Shar, much less about the first time she'd ever had to Raise a friend. Kaber had been surrounded by six heavily armored dwarves and a shadow fiend. He sustained so many wicked blows so quickly, that Ashara had no chance of getting there in time. Many minutes later, when the bloody battle was finished, she had to WADE through the minotaurs entrails to get to his body. She had never seen so much blood...

She shut her eyes tightly trying to banish that horrific mental image. The priestess looked down at her mug of water and wished in that moment that it was something stronger.

"Can you tell me about that first time?"

----------------------------------------------------

He turned his head to regard her. Why was she this curious about what happened to him? It was over, he was alive now. She was a priestess, a representative of her god; she may naturally want to know about what happens after death. Yet, deep down, something about it frightened the large minotaur to his core. The second time was different, unnatural, but the first...

He wanted to shut it and her out, as he had always done. Looking at her though, he saw someone he could trust. He had never trusted anyone. Even the rest of the Champions, he never let them too near, never revealed too much. Much had changed. He had been helpless several times now, and they had all taken care of him. He could trust them, if he would let himself. He was beginning to feel a new strength within himself when he was with them. Perhaps Ashara was right, he could share his burden and be better for it.

"I try not to think of the first time. It sits uneasy, like a bad dream, you can't remember much but feelings that were not pleasant. I remember the blows coming at me, too many to block, each weakening me a little more."

He took a deep uneasy breath, remembering every hit.

"Then, my body broke, it just stopped working. I knew I was dead, I had fought and lost, and there was nothing I could do. The world faded to black." The minotaur looked uneasy as he told the next part, "I think there was an overwhelming grayness. I can't tell how long it lasted. It seemed as if for only a moment, but at the same time it was as if I lived a lifetime there. I could have sworn that there were others around me, people, thousands of them, yet I was alone with my own thoughts."

Kaber stroked the hair on his muzzle, as if to remind himself that he was flesh and blood. "Then I awoke, as if from sleep, and you were all there, watching over me. I felt more exhausted than I ever had before, and my head hurt too." Looking to the woman he regarded as friend, "I'm sorry, that's the best I can describe it. I just don't have the right words for it."

---------------------------------------------------------

The priestess listened in rapt attention to Kaber's tale. Hearing the story first-hand from someone who had experienced the aftermath of death, was completely different from reading about it in books.

Death was not something she feared. In fact, the thought of being in Lathander's presence in the lofty mountains of Eronia was something that truly excited her, and fueled her onward when all hope seemed lost. Any strength she felt that she possessed hung solely on that truth. Ashara could not imagine...simply not knowing what awaited her...

She laced her arm through the minotaur's, squeezing him gently in both sympathy and thanks for recounting the harrowing tale.

"You were in the Fugue Plane...", she said softly. "It's the place our souls are drawn to when we die. Eventually, the soul's patron deity, the one that he holds in greatest esteem, will escort that soul to the god's home plane."

Ashara took another sip of her water before continuing.

"It's no wonder you're unsure of how long you were there. I've been told that in that place time is...irrelevant...even nonexistent. You left us for only around ten minutes I think, before Lathander's power brought you back." She looked up at him apologetically. "I know it's confusing. It is for me as well... It's hard to imagine a place so different from the one where we've lived all our lives."

Kaber pondered her words for a minute. She had tapped something that he had wondered about ever since his life was restored to him. A question that he wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answer to.

In a quiet voice, he asked it, "What if soul follows no god?"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

There was no doubt in her mind when she asked that initial question, that it would eventually lead them down this path. Ashara feared for her friend, for such a valorous soul deserved more than oblivion...

"Those who choose not to venerate any deity become part of a living wall around a great city on the plane called The Gray Waste. Eventually, that soul will be dissolved by a greenish mold that holds the wall together."

The priestess could have danced around it a bit more. She could have packaged it more pleasantly, but Kaber appreciated it when a person could get right to the point. The blunt truth of it... She gave his arm another squeeze, in an attempt to soften the harshness.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

A look of shock crossed the warrior's face. Emotions clashed inside of him. Fear and disbelief and sorrow and anger. Anger had long been a safe emotion for the minotaur, and now he fought to keep control of himself. His fist clenched tightly, nails digging into his palm. He spoke his words calmly and carefully; he did not want to scare his friend, for it wasn't her that his anger was directed at.

"What do you mean? If you don't follow one of them they punish you to a slow death again?"

--------------------------------------------------------------------

She felt the minotaur's arm go rigid as she spoke, and she wondered if perhaps she should tread more lightly.

"THEY, as a collective do not punish, no... The Lord of the Dead, currently Kelemvor, is the god in charge of judging the souls of those who are not collected by another deity. The Wall itself is thought to have been created by Myrkul, or perhaps Jergal, malicious deities, who each held the position of Lord of the Dead before it was given to Kelemvor."

"The church of Kelemvor believes that the Wall is vital to the order of the universe. That it is part of some sort of covenant...a binding agreement...between gods and mortals. That is why, they say, that he has chosen to maintain the Wall."

"You're right though, Kaber. In my opinion, there is nothing fair about it... "

Ashara brought the mug of water to her lips in an effort to stop herself from expounding on additional theories. It was unlikely that he would care about the details anyway. After a long swallow of the lukewarm drink, she set the mug down again.

"Most people pray to many of the gods, depending on the current situations in their lives, but choose one deity in particular, whose principles are most akin to their own, as their patron."

----------------------------------------------------------------

Kaber relaxed greatly, though a vein a tension still ran through him. He was eager and curious to learn, and that held his rage at these superior beings in check, for the moment.

"But why must anyone follow a god? I understand why you do, and the position you hold. But why should any of the rest of us? What is the point? Choose a god who is similar to what I believe? Why should I pray to him because we think the same? Why don't they pray to me by that thinking?"

Confusion crossed Kaber's proud face. He knew there were many things that he did not understand. He tried to learn them as best he could, but this felt beyond him, so different was it from anything he knew. That confusion both frustrated and worried him.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Ashara smiled brightly at her friend and got to her feet. "Could you walk with me while we talk? It's a little cramped in here, and I find I think better on my feet." Kaber stood, and after nodding thanks to the barkeep, they walked out the door into the tunnels of the city.

Heading nowhere in particular, the priestess looped her arm around his, and rested her hand in the crook of his elbow.

She was silent for a few moments before continuing their conversation. "The way I look at it is this... Perhaps our souls, without godly intervention would normally have a finite existence anyway. If that is true, than honoring a deity is not a requirement, but an opportunity for personal growth and continued life after we leave this world. The gods are not like us. They are beings of wisdom, understanding and power that is truly unfathomable."

"The decision of which deity to choose as a patron, if any, is very personal, and one that each of us must make on our own." Ashara pulled her jeweled pendant from beneath her shirt. "For my own part, though I was basically left on Lathander's doorstep as a child, I had to choose if that path was mine to follow. At first I think I followed because I thought maybe that's what my real parents had intended for me. As I grew though, and Josiah taught me of the other gods and what they stood for, I realized that the Morninglord epitomized not who I was, but who I wanted to be."

She had a faraway look in her eyes as she recited the charge given her. "Strive always to aid, to foster new hope, new ideas, and new prosperity for all humankind and its allies. Perfect thyself, and guard ever against pride, for it is a sacred duty to foster new growth, nurture growing things, and work for rebirth and renewal. Be fertile in mind and body. Consider always the consequences of thine actions so that the least effort may bring the greatest and best reward..." Ashara's voice cracked with emotion before she could finish. Frustrated, she brushed the moisture from her eyes.

"Some choose a god that will give them power they long for, some choose one that already suits their personality and lifestyle, some follow out of fear... others choose a deity that represents qualities that they admire greatly and strive to attain in their lifetimes."

She absentmindedly ran her fingers through the fur on his forearm as they walked. "Certainly minotaur society has gods that they venerate?"

--------------------------------------------------------

Kaber walked with Ashara, finding it odd, yet comforting.

...others choose a deity that represents qualities that they admire greatly and strive to attain in their lifetimes...

Something about this struck a cord within him. Perhaps there was another way to look at it. He would have to ponder this more later. The minotaur returned to the question at hand.

"Some clans do have gods they follow and shamen or other such beings that speak for their god. Many tribes of orc, bugbear, and goblin do as well. Ours did not. They may have at some time in the past, but not when I was with them," he sighed, reflecting back on how long he had truly been away. "We actually look at those who follow gods as weak and beneath us. Many warring tribes were crushed with them praying to their gods to aid them. Some could channel the magic of their deities, but they fell as the rest did."

"Our clan saw little point to it. Why follow a great being who was never there. You could not see them, they did not directly influence us day to day. As far as we were concerned, they were made up, visions, delusions that were used to explain behavior, or to blame for bad luck. We lived a strong existence, why should we waste time with them? To do what for us? Give us more strength? Give us good weather? To tell us what to do and when to do it, no matter how bizarre or useless it was?"

"No, we did well without. If we won a battle, it was due to our prowess, strength, or wisdom. If we lost, or were driven out, or couldn't find food, it was because we did not try had enough, or take the right course. We were masters of our own actions. We did not need another being who was not beside us telling us how to behave."

He fell silent, reflecting on what he knew then, compared to what he knew now. The logic was sound, as far as he could tell, yet, perhaps, there was more to it then what they had reduced it to. Once again, the words came back to him...

...others choose a deity that represents qualities that they admire greatly and strive to attain in their lifetimes...

He had left to search for something more. Perhaps a new direction for his people, more than the endless wars for meaningless parcels of land or continual dominance over others.

---------------------------------------------------------

Her friend had a lot of things to process...possibly life-altering things, and she knew that sometimes merely the presence of someone who cared was enough to help that process along. Sometimes words just mucked things up.

Ashara let the silence linger for quite some time before she spoke again.

"Why did you leave them, Kaber? I hope I'm not being too forward, but you don't speak of them often... Do you intend to return to them someday?"

----------------------------------------------------------------

"Yes", he replied, without too much conviction. Did he really intend to return? His original intention was to, once he found what he was looking for. Now though, so much had changed, would he even be able to, let alone try to convince the clan of...whatever he found. One thing at a time, he would have to understand what he was searching for first.

"My people are very war-like. We basically live to fight and conquer, we are made for it, and we are good at it. We are what most humans and elves consider us monstrous races to be. There are actually many minotaur clans, just as there are orc and goblin tribes, that have a more peaceful structure based around a working society. They, like humans, only go to war when they feel it necessary."

Kaber's eyes glazed over as he searched his memories; absently he continued to let Ashara lead him as he remembered.

"At some point during a raid on a bugbear village I stopped and looked around. I was covered in blood and gore, none of it mine, and I saw relentless destruction. Did we need the food and other items we took from them, possibly, but more likely we could have done fine without. I realized that I was sickened by what was being done. Not from the bloodshed, but by the senselessness of it!

"I wanted more. A reason, rather than take what you want because we are stronger. I tried to figure out a way to justify what we did. There was no way to talk with my clansmen without looking weak. Thus, I left. Set out to try to find a better reason. I needed an answer, and I had no idea where to find it, or even what to look for."

The warrior grew quiet, reflecting upon what he told her, things he never fully revealed to anyone. He wanted to make sure she understood what he barely did.

"I've seen many types of people since I set out. I don't want my people to be farmers or craftsman, for there is no difference. They do what they know and are good at; they don't seek a better reason to do what they do. Yet in our group, we do not fit into these molds. Are we different? Do we want more? Are we being unreasonable seeking this? Will I ever find my reason if it even exists?"

Though large, the minotaur slumped slightly as he walked. A weight rode on his shoulders. He realized he wouldn't mind the burden, if he only knew what it was for.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Ashara was shocked as Kaber opened up in a way she couldn't have anticipated. She sensed his pain and frustration, and held more tightly to his arm wishing she could lighten that burden a bit.

"We are different I suppose. Most people wouldn't choose the life we're leading. Though I can't speak for the others, I know that yes, I do want more. I wanted to experience more than a life of farming or tending to the needs of a rural community had to offer. At least for a time. I don't think that the life I've chosen is better than the lives my family chose, it's just a different path. I felt a need to do something bigger with my life, as you did, I believe."

"I don't think it's unreasonable to want something different. It's a very personal choice though, and even when you do find the answers you seek, the rest of your clan may not choose to take that path. Perhaps they are content to live as they are. You WILL find your answers, Kaber, or they will find you. I have no doubt."

"I think my reasons for doing what we're doing have changed since we first started. Even if Lathander had not set me on this path, I believe I would have chosen it. I feel now that we're fighting to give people a choice of how to live, as we had a choice. Cyric, the Shade, those priests that are cutting up the bodies with that shadow magic...they are all seeking to take that choice away from people and bend them to their own will. These dwarves were cursed and turned into some mockery of their former selves. The army of gnolls had their minds controlled by an item created with that shadow magic."

Ashara fingered a braid with her right hand. "My choice was taken from me as well...as you know..."

The priestess paused for a moment to look up at her friend. "It is very noble of you to search for a new purpose for your clan. To do this not only for yourself, but for them. You must care for them very much! Do minotaurs have friends in the same way as humans do? For my own selfish reasons, I'm glad you left your mountains to seek another way of life. If you hadn't, I would never have had the pleasure of calling you my friend and ally."

She smiled at him, squeezing his shaggy arm once again.

------------------------

"The minotaurs had no choice from the dragon...", he mouth absently.

Kaber stopped walking. He carefully chose his words as thoughts formed in his head.

"I have recently been feeling much the same as I had with my clan. One endless battle after another", he sighed. He didn't want to hurt Ashara, but he had to tell her this so she would understand. "We go and do great things, free people, battle evil. But they have not been my fights. I go because I know all of you, and want to keep you from harm. Even Dagadar was your quest that the others took on as their own, to fight evil."

He turned to look at her, gently pulling her of his arm. His large hands engulfed her shoulders. She was not pinned by any means, but held at length, so that he could look her in the eye as he spoke.

"I am not like you. I cannot fight evil because it is evil. I still do not know what evil is. This is not my purpose, and I cannot continue this way. I left my people and found a comradeship I have never known before. People who look past my exterior and trust me as I trust them. But I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I am back to what I left, though it eases the frustration being with you all."

He tried to smile at her, but felt as if he failed at it. His face returned to a stoic look.

"Minotaurs do form bonds of comradeship. But I had never been that close with any of them. I wanted more for them, because they were who I knew. I don't know if I want to change who they are now, to take away their choice..."

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"I am back to what I left, though it eases the frustration being with you all."

Ashara's hand clutched at her chest as she reached for the hilt of the dagger her friend had buried there. She was angry, but didn't know how to express it properly, and she fought back the tears as she spoke to him.

"I'm sorry if you feel that all I want to do is seek battle for battle's sake," she managed to choke out, "but I can assure you that isn't true..." She shrugged away from the minotaur's hold and slumped against the wall of the tunnel, to sit on the floor.

The priestess put her head in her hands, trying to conceal the tears that she lost her fight with. She thought back over the last few days beneath the mountain. Dagadar, in her own life at least, had been a turning point. She had expected to find darkness, blood, hate...those things were here in great quantity without doubt, but to her amazement she had also found light and life...and love.

"I want peace, Kaber. I've seen enough blood and death to last me five lifetimes! I want a chance at a life surrounded by those I love. A chance at happiness..."

Memories of those peaceful lives that she had stolen at the point of a murderous blade flooded into her mind. "Though I don't deserve such a life, I cannot help but to desire it."

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Horror filled Kaber's eyes. This is not what he wanted, not what he meant.

"Ashara, I..." Words failed him. Looking down on her, he felt as if he had struck her. He balled his fist, wanting to slam it against the wall. Wanted the pain to course through him, to punish himself for his words that had hurt her. He stayed his hand though, not wanting to frighten her.

The tears that streamed down her face were like blood to Kaber. He had never seen her like this. What could he do, what could he say to make her stop. At that moment he felt like a great dumb brute. His understanding had come so far, and now, he had undone it all. He had faced demons and god-like beings, but the mighty minotaur had been brought low by his own ignorance, and the tears of a woman.

"I only meant that you had a purpose, a reason to continue fighting, and to drive you to your next battle. I...I do not..."

Unsure what to do, he turned and began walking away. It would be better if he left her for now, he had done enough damage.

-----------------------------------------------------

She saw Kaber turn to leave, and scrambled to her feet, roughly brushing the tears off her face.

"Kaber, please...," she quickly moved to catch up with him, "I'm sorry, I didn’t' mean to upset you! It's just been a very trying few days, and I let my emotions get the best of me." The priestess smiled at him, her face still slightly red from the minor breakdown. "You must think me so weak! I'm sorry for that. I think I just need a few good days above ground."

Ashara walked beside him for a few moments trying to calm herself, and gathering her thoughts. "I don't think that if you returned to your clan that you would be taking away their choice. It seems to me that you'd be giving them a choice, that maybe they hadn't recognized before. They would be able to make the decision themselves whether they wanted to take that opportunity. Not like the minotaurs with the dragon and the priestess of Xvim. You're right...they had no choice, but we freed them from that bondage."

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He looked down at her again. She had been struck, and regained herself in a matter of moments.

"You are the strongest person I know."

Kaber smiled to himself. If only he could convince his clan to find companions like her, what would they be then?

"What drives you so Ashara? Is it fighting in the name of your god? Is it your hope for a better world? How did you find a purpose that guides you so? It doesn't control you, but I've seen you, your direction always seems so clear. Your decisions, right or wrong, so trusted."

It came to him, finally, after years of dancing outside of his reach. The reason he left his people and traveled to these lands that were not his. He was looking for a purpose. Before he had thought he would discover his purpose when he found what he was looking for. But he was wrong, it was the purpose that he truly sought all this time. A reason to continue, a reason to fight for what he believed in. What did he believe in?

--------------------------------------------------------

Ashara looked at the minotaur quizzically. She was fairly sure he was incapable of giving false compliments.

"I've been called a lot of things in my life, Kaber, but 'strong' was never one of them." She chuckled and rested her hand on Kaber's arm again.

"What drives you so Ashara? Is it fighting in the name of your god? Is it your hope for a better world? How did you find a purpose that guides you so? It doesn't control you, but I've seen you, your direction always seems so clear. Your decisions, right or wrong, so trusted."

She considered his words for a moment before responding. "Yes, I fight in the name of Lathander, because I believe in what he stands for. I fight so that people can have hope for a life that's their own, and not live in fear that their future will be stolen from them...even if that means that I may forfeit my own life in doing so. I feel that I also fight for my family and friends. The people of Impresk may seem to be isolated, but it will only be a matter of time until the humanoid armies reach them as well."

The priestess stopped and stepped in front of the minotaur to look into his eyes.

"I believe that people have a right to choose a path that would lead them to being the best they can be. I believe that everyone has a right to hope for a bright future, and those that would take that right away need to be stopped. I believe that there are beautiful things in this world that need to be protected, and I feel that it is a sacred duty to do so."

The fire in her eyes softened. "What do you believe, Kaber? To answer that question, is to find your purpose."

-----------------------------------------------------------------

"I..."

He looked into her eyes, and then hung his head. She had read his thoughts and given voice to them. There were things he knew, and things he didn't. Some felt right and some felt wrong. But what did he believe in? The question tore at him more than the blade that stole his soul had.

"I don't know..."

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Ashara smiled and lifted her hand to brush the soft skin on his muzzle. He looked so crestfallen, it tugged at her heart.

"It's okay, Kaber, it's okay for you not to know, and wise of you to admit it. Learning about ourselves is all part of the journey! We'll figure this out, I'm sure of it, and I will be there to help you if ever you need."

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Her gentle touch warmed his troubled spirit. Once again, he wondered how he came to this point. How he could be gentled so easily. He didn't care.

"Where do I start? I have traveled this far, and this long. I feel closer to something, but I still cannot reach it. You are all so driven, and I still do not know why."

---------------------------------------------------------------------

"You've already started the journey, Kaber. You started it when you left your home, knowing that there was something bigger you were meant to do in your life."

Ashara took his arm and continued walking the perimeter of the city.

"I can't tell you what your purpose is, or what you believe, but I can tell you what I see in you. You are quick to defend your friends, and are a protector for those who are worthy of protecting. You are strong and powerful, but don't use that power to needlessly harm others. You are brave and just. You are living proof that people should be judged by actions and not just what is seen on the outside."

She beamed up at him. "You're like the knights in some of the bards' songs. Just a bit...furrier than most."

-----------------------------------------------------------------

A knight?

Kaber had heard the word before, in song and passing. He assumed that they were great warriors or something near that. To be compared with one though... He would have to ask more about them later. Perhaps Elric or Eddick could tell him about them.

"You speak of aspects of me that I do not strive for, but are merely what I do." The minotaur's wide brow scrunched in confusion. "It is as asking one to breathe. You just do it, there is no act of thinking about it."

He tried to think of anytime that he had acted beyond what was needed. He has always done what he thought right at the time, even when he pulled the dryad's tree from the ground. The others were horrified by what he had done, but he knew that the course was right in order to protect them all. He didn't see what was special about anything he had done.

"If what you see, you consider to be good things, how can I use that to guide me?"

-------------------------------------------------------------------

"Well... knights always have some sort of Code they follow. A list of virtues that they strive to attain. Bravery, sincerity, humility, courage, strength, loyalty, incorruptibility... Things like that. It's very hard to achieve all of those goals, but a knight will always try to become the embodiment of those qualities which he admires so much."

Ashara smiled to herself as she continued. "So you can choose those qualities you someday hope to achieve, then do your very best to work toward those goals that you have set for yourself. That list or code you decide upon, will serve to guide you throughout your life. When you come to a decision, you choose the best option that fits within your guidelines."

"I'd imagine it's not an easy life, but definitely a worthy path to follow for one who is so inclined."

----------------------------------------------------------

He looked at her, dumbfounded for a minute. Had he really had a purpose all this time and never realized it?

Kaber walked with the priestess for some time. He said nothing, but rather listened again to everything that she had said to him. After a time he spoke to her.

"Ashara. Thank you."

-----------------------------------------------------------------

The priestess smiled and squeezed his arm.

"Thank you for talking with me like this! It's nice to be able to be so open with you. You've put a lot of trust in me, and I'm honored."

Ashara was surprised when she realized that they had almost walked the entire distance around the city, to take them back to the tavern where they started. She hoped that her friend would find the purpose he was looking for, and she especially hoped that that purpose would continue to lead them all down the same path. A CoRD without Kaber would more easily be broken.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Kaber looked at the tavern. He wasn't sure how long he had spent walking with Ashara, but it had been time well spent. There were things he felt he needed to do now, before they left the dwarven kingdom. Looking at the priestess, he knew he should let her be on her way, he had taken up much of her time and was sure that she had other things to attend to as well. However, a new question ate at him. One that he hoped was much safer, yet still as confusing as the others.

"Umm..."

The minotaur stammered, unsure where to begin. He had met with different reactions thus far and wasn't sure what her's would be.

"About Elric... Why do you love him?"

----------------------------------------------------------

The priestess blushed fiercely at Kaber's question. The feeling itself was still new to her, and she had only spoken aloud the truth of it once, and only to Elric. To give herself a chance to calm down a bit, Ashara pulled the minotaur into the tavern where she ordered another ale and water and sat down at the same table they had been at a half hour before. She sat across from him, staring down at her tepid water for a few moments before speaking, not knowing where to begin.

"I love him because of who he is. Because of who I am when I'm with him. I feel like his spirit complements mine...completes it." After hesitating a moment, Ashara laughed a little too loudly from embarrassment. "It sounded less silly in my head," she said, looking up at Kaber apologetically, "but nonetheless, it's how I feel."

----------------------------------------------------------------

Kaber patiently tried to process what she had said. He was curious about this subject, but he didn't want to offend her. He also didn't want her to have to walk him through another thing he did not fully understand. One was enough for today. A couple questions would be fine though, he had a new ale to finish anyway.

"So, you are connected with him? Did this happen suddenly or has it been growing? I did not see any difference in the two of you until recent."

------------------------------------------------------------------

"I feel that we are connected in some way, yes, though I will not presume to say if he feels the same. When Elric returned to Impresk after twelve years, there was no possible way I could have recognized him. He was only seven when he left. When I saw him that day in the cemetery though, I knew him. I'm not sure how. The name on the headstone he stopped at confirmed it for me."

Ashara didn't know why she was going on like this, but Kaber had been so forthcoming, it was only fair that she trust him as well.

"While I believe I'd been growing closer to him for some time, it wasn't until I woke up in Waterdeep that I realized how I felt. Eight months under a murderous curse will change your perspective on life, I can tell you that!" She smiled wryly as she took a sip of her water.

"In Waterdeep, he was, as I'm sure you remember, attacked by assassins, and then told us of his relationship with the elf maid in Evereska and why they were after him. Well, when I heard that, all thought of revealing my affections for him flew out the window. How could he possibly have feelings for such a flawed, human priestess with fish breath after being in love with an elf! I didn't hear the truth of the story until much later..." Her jaw clenched in anger as she thought of what Syrlynna had done to him.

"I was a fool and a coward for waiting so long to say anything, but I'm glad that I finally gathered up enough courage to tell him. Even though it took the threat of looming Dagadar to do it!"

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They loved each other. They cared for each other. Kaber followed everything she said, though it still seemed foreign to him. He understood the concept of friendship now, and even affection. This deep need and longing for was new to him, as he had never had the chance to experience it before. Knowing what was happening to his companions helped.

"So you wish to be together. For the rest of your lives? What do you do then?"

Another thought struck the minotaur then, something from another confusing discussion.

"Is there a ritual now? Gwilly tried to tell me about it, but she is hard to follow at times. Some sort of joining? And then offspring?"

-----------------------------------------------------------

She choked violently on the swallow of water she had just taken, and an image of the minotaur crushing her spine while trying to get her to breathe again, flashed through her mind. After taking a few moments to recover, Ashara grabbed a braid in both hands and raised large, childlike eyes to meet the her friend's.

"Kaber...," she started slowly, "it's only been two days since I told Elric how I feel about him! You should have seen the shock on his face when he heard...I doubt he's even processed it yet. These things take time!" The thought of ritual, joining and offspring, caused her face to turn a shocking shade of scarlet.

Upon looking down to hide her embarrassment, she realized that her braid was hanging into the mug, soaking up all the water. She pulled it out quickly, and shook it, flinging drops of water everywhere, before knocking over the mug and spilling the rest of the water into her lap. Ashara gasped in surprise and launched to her feet, but the heavy stone chair didn't move, causing her legs to buckle. She fell in slow motion, backwards over the chair and cracked her head loudly on the tavern wall.

"Ow."

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The large minotaur watched his friend's behavior. It seemed to him much like that of young human children. She lost the presence and confidence that she usual possessed. Was this part of love?

He watched as she tumbled back, and it was a couple seconds before he realized that she had hit her head.

Going to her, Kaber cradled her head, "Are you alright?"

Looking down on her, resting her small head in his large hands, he was struck by the absurdity of it all. Combined with the mixed looks of frustration and embarrassment on her befuddled face struck the usually stoic warrior. At first there was a smirk. Then a quick laugh, almost sounding like a cough. He tried to hide it, saving her further embarrassment, but the harder he fought, the more it wanted it. His body shook a couple times as the grin on his face grew.

Then he could withhold in no longer, Kaber let out a great bellowing laugh.

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Ashara stared up incredulously at the minotaur. He was laughing at her! She tried and failed to remember having ever heard him laugh before. She would've smashed her head on a thousand walls if she had only known it would incite this reaction! The priestess couldn't help but to start chuckling along with him, until the pain on the back of her skull shocked her into a wince.

Untangling her legs from the table, she rose carefully to her feet. A good sized lump was forming on the back of her head, but at least there was no blood. She could have healed it, but decided that there must be a lesson to remember in this, so she left it alone.

She stood before him with one dripping braid, soaking wet vestments, a lump on her noggin, and an abashed expression on her face. "Will you ever be able to take me seriously again, Kaber?" Ashara sighed as she realized that her spare cassock was on the ship. It was time to retire this pink one anyhow. There were some stains that were NEVER going to come out...

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The bartender had to be terribly frightened by now, as did anyone else nearby. A minotaur laugh is very rarely heard by other races. Kaber couldn't remember the last time he had let loose this way.

"Will you ever be able to take me seriously again, Kaber?"

He regained his composure and looked at her, wet and pathetic looking. It was hard to imagine all the power and strength behind her that he had been complimenting her on not a half hour before. Unable to think of anything to say to her, and not wanting to hurt her feelings, he merely smiled.

The warrior looked at the priestess. She would need to change, and he now wanted to speak again with the dwarves making his armor. Wrapping Ashara in his arms, as one would an injured animal, he gently spoke to her.

"You best get out of these wet clothes and rest. I shall meet with you later. I have things I must do now."

With that he let her go and walked out of the tavern. He walked with purpose and his head held high. As he walked, the last image of Ashara flashed into his mind. He couldn't help but chuckle...

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