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The Golden Chalice

Some of ya got the wrong idears ‘bout me. You hear ‘bout people, they come in the bar, some of ‘em don’t go out. Others, they leave, but not the same as they went in. Then ya hear that I was the man with the rag behind the counter that day, that they might have gotten some kinda libation from me, that maybe that’s what messed up their day.

But ya see, yer puttin’ the blame on the wrong shoulders when ya blame the barkeep for his patron’s woes. See, they all come in here lookin’ fer somethin’, but they usually confuse what it is they really want. And ain’t that the way of it – most people’re lookin’ fer something, and most folk just don’t know what it is they really want. Anyway, those who come in here, into The Wonderland Bar, they’re usually desperate. They want to make deals fer things, and don’t care if it come cheap or no. Me, I just give them the thing that’ll make that dream come true. Just so happens it usually don’t happen the way they thought it would.

Take this guy who came in a while back, fer instance…

* * *

Max was a manly man. He did things that manly men did. He rode a Harley, drank beer, and chased any skirt he came across until he could get it up over her hips, preferably with him hanging on for the ride. He lifted weights, only shaved on Tuesdays, and punched idiots in the face. And he wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything. For him, life was all about the open road and being a man.

It was rare to find him out without his club, and Friday night was no exception. This particular one started with him showing a SQUID the ropes, flying low down the slab along the coast, on their way to church. Maybe it was paying too much attention to making sure the kid didn’t come down with a severe case of road rash, or maybe it was the setting sun in his eyes, but somehow, despite riding tail gunner, he lost the pack, and the two completely missed the turn, finding themselves outside their backyard and rolling through unfamiliar territory.

“What the f-“ Max started to mutter to himself as soon as he realized they were completely lost. Then, bringing his sled to a full stop, he put a booted foot on the ground and looked back down the lane, completely perplexed.

Blue pulled alongside him, and asked, “What’s up, man? Why’d you stop?”

“Because we’re fuckin’ lost, that’s why!” Max snapped at him. “Shit, okay. We’re going to roll back a ways and see if we can’t get back on the right road. Man, I know these roads like the back of my hand, don’t know how we got here.” And with that, he turned his hog around, and got back on the highway heading the way they’d come.

Within minutes, they came across something he’d sworn he hadn’t seen on the ride past. There, on the roadside, sat a lone building, rows of two-wheeled chrome and steel lined up in the dirt patch between it and the asphalt. The grungy wooden structure’s front door was swinging wide, and above that door glowed in blue neon the words “Wonderland Bar.”

“What the hell? I didn’t see that place on the way by. Man, looks like a RUB joint. Fuck it, let’s go in anyway, maybe we can figure out where the hell we are without lookin’ too much like posers,” Max thought to himself. He pulled into the dirt lot and parked at the end of the row of bikes, next to a dirty half-rusted rat bike with decaying leather seat. He didn’t have a helmet to take off like Blue did. He was a manly man, after all, and he didn’t need any brain bucket keeping the wind out of his hair.

After watching to make sure the kid parked his bike right and didn’t wreck anything, Max headed in through the open door, making sure to try to puff up and fill the frame as much as he could – had to give the right impression. And he stopped dead in his tracks, completely dumfounded at what he found inside.

This wasn’t any clubhouse he’d ever seen. He didn’t know anyone who’d be caught dead looking the way half the people in this bar did. In one corner there was a group of guys in frilly lace and puffy pastel-colored clothes, with powdered wigs on their heads and heavy pale makeup. In another, three dirt-encrusted men with bedraggled unkempt and uncut hair and wearing little more than loosely fitting animal skins stooped over a table piled with hunks of poorly cooked looking meat. Gathered around a dimly lit pool table were three guys in old 50’s fashion – wife beaters under black leather jackets, blue denim jeans and greased back black hair. They seemed to be engaged in a game with three other individuals wearing assless chaps and nothing on their upper body but studded leather suspenders.

Trying to ignore them, he started to make for the bar, behind which stood a diminutive yet physically imposing individual. The barkeep appeared to stand about a meter and a half tall, and had shoulders broader than Max, even with his 2 meter frame. The dwarf clearly worked out, as was evidenced by the heavy muscles bulging beneath his bright red shirt. Upon that shirt, in a black gothic script, were letters spelling the words “In Infinitio.” Max had no clue what that meant. He dug the guy’s tat’s, though, the more prominent of them an iridescent snake coiled around his right arm. Spiked green purple and black hair topped his head, and he chewed on the stub of burned-down cigar.

“What can I do ya for, bubs?” He drawled as Max approached.

The biker stepped up to the counter, leaned forward on it, and whispered conspiratorially, “What’s with the fags, man?”

“Look bubs, the Wonderland Bar don’t discriminate. Ya got a problem with ‘em, take it up with them, not me,” perhaps the swinger of swill should have thought that one out before he spoke those words to this particular dirty rat bastard.

“You know what, I think I will, “ Max replied, then pushed himself off the counter with an unnecessary display of force. He then turned, pulled his vest up tighter, then made for the pool table and the group gathered around it. Noticing the menacing countenance he was baring before he made three strides, the greasers fanned out around him as he approached, ready for him to make trouble.

He stepped to within inches of the one of the three he presumed to be their leader, and, while trying his best to not look in the direction of their leather-clad play-partners, he spat out, “What’s with the fags, man? I mean, why you treatin’ them like straights and not kickin’ them outta this joint?”

Blue tried to get his attention and pull him aside, but he shrugged the kid off.

The grease-haired individual he was addressing closed what little distance there was, and, somehow without touching faces, angrily replied, “I really don’t like the way your lips are flappin’ about my friends, dude. I been playin’ pool with these guys for years, and they’re alright cats. If anyone’s going to cut out of here, it’s you, unless you take that back, you dig?”

“I don’t take shit back, man. And nobody kicks me out of nowhere!”

He started to raise a fist, but before he could even draw his arm all the way back, Max heard a metallic *snick* and then felt cold fire piercing his left side. He looked down just in time to see one of the other greasers pulling back a 6-inch switch blade covered with his blood.

“Shit,” Max said as he dropped to a knee. He reached for Blue, but the panicked young kid was already out the door.

In shock, the big man struggled back to his feet and staggered back towards the bartender, leaking a trail of bright red blood behind him. His adversaries left him to his struggles and returned to their match upon the beer-light illuminated green felt. Shakingly, he reached the bar, then, resting heavily upon it, begged of the stout dwarf, “Ya gotta help me, man. Call a doc or something.”

“Won’t come here,” was the only response he received.

“Whataya mean, ‘won’t come here?’”

“Exactly what I said, bubs. Now, I might be able to give ya somethin’ that’ll help, but it ain’t goin’ to scab that over right away. It’ll just help show ya the way,” said the crimson clad purveyor of palliatives, who, as he spoke, was reaching underneath the countertop. He produced a short, round crystalline bottle, the contents of which were a deep pitch. In his other hand, he produced a slender shot glass, which he placed in front of the gape-jawed bleeding man. Then, with a flourish, the cap was unscrewed and the inky fluid began to tumble into the cup. The punkie dwarf slid it towards Max.

“Toss that back. It’ll help ya find the guardian of the chalice.”

“Wha?” The biker was unable to manage anything more intelligible given his current situation.

“Look, everyone knows about the Golden Chalice. Cures all ills, restores youth, yada yada yada. Just drink up. You’ll be seein’ Faerlin soon.”

Not exactly in his wits at the moment, Max did as he was told and consumed the opaline liquor.

Then he blacked out.

He was sure of it, having experienced it before. There was that moment of the voices starting to seem further and further away, then returning with full force, and that sensation that something was awry. Somehow, he felt stronger. He was able to stand without wobbling, and he found his thoughts much more lucid. Reaching down to his side, he found he was still bleeding quite profusely, however. Then, almost of their own volition, he found his feet leading him one step at a time towards the exit. Not quite sure why he wanted to leave, he started to turn his head to say something, but cut himself off in mid-speech once he crossed the threshold into an environ completely NOT what he’d left outside when he’d entered earlier.

In the place of the rocky coastal highway he’d left behind there was instead a vista of lush rolling green hills, with not a single road in sight, and certainly no vast ocean just past the now non-existent cliffs, nor any scent of salt-water wafting on the honeyed breeze. Perplexed, he spun around to take in all of his surroundings, and found the same pleasantly grassy knolls spreading out in all directions around him. The rickety wooden structure that was the bar seemed quite out of place in this rather pastoral setting, but there it was, the door swinging wide and the blue neon sign buzzing away as it announced the tavern’s name.

He turned his back to the bar again and spied a lone figure standing atop the nearest rise. Pressing a beefy hand to his side to contain his bleeding, Max made his way up the hillock, a completely surreal sense of calm overtaking him. As he neared, he began to make out the features of the creature awaiting him.

It stood about the same height as the dwarf he’d left behind, but, beyond it being bipedal, the resemblance ended there. Supported by shaggy backwards-bending goat-shaped legs, it was completely naked. Ending partway up a mostly human torso, its wiry fur was a dark brown in color, and completely failed to conceal anything about its gender. The creature was most decidedly male. To call it a Satyr would be inaccurate, at least by traditional descriptions of such fair folk, for its face did not bare any similarity to a man’s. Instead, the jaw was puckered, like a mole or a shrew, and it had close-set eyes like faceted topaz. Where ears might be, in instead had two rear-sloping structures which seemed to combine auger shaped horns with an auricular organ. Its head tilted sidewise as it considered Max upon his approach.

It squeaked.

Reaching the crown of the hill, Max gave the creature a perplex look, and, at a complete loss for words, rather mutely stood staring. This went on for some few minutes, blood still seeping past his fingers, and it even slipped through his mind at one point that he really had oozed a rather inordinate volume of vital fluid. Then, breaking the silence, the creature finally spoke in a near-painful high pitched squeal.

“Greetings, mortal. I am Faerlin, the cup-holder. I would normally inquire as to your reason for visiting me, but I see it is quite obvious. Know that all may partake of the cup, and through it, all may be restored. But you must return the chalice to me immediately upon finishing your draught.”

It waved its hand before him, and the air between them shimmered momentarily. Suddenly, the creature’s three-fingered hand was grasping a rather heavy looking featureless golden goblet which brimmed with a delightful looking amber fluid. Wrapping its other hand around the base of the vessel , Faerlin proffered it towards Max, who reached out and readily received the offering. Greedily, the big man messily gulped the contents, dribbling much down his chin and onto his chest.

Immediately his wound began to burn and itch. Quickly this became near intolerable, but, just as rapidly, the burning and itching faded away. Lifting his hand, Max found only a torn shirt stained with blood, and absolutely no indication otherwise that he’d ever been stabbed. Then, having a suddenly brilliant, to him, revelation, he spun and sprinted down the hill, chalice in hand.

“No, come back! Bring it back! It is for others!” the curious creature squealed. As the distance grew, its cries became incomprehensible and filled with pain. Realizing he wasn’t being chased, Max slowed his strides, then pivoted to espy what the howling Faerlin might be doing.

The poor fleecy fellow was holding its arms up above it in a defensive posture, as if it were warding off some invisible attack, and indeed, to Max’s on looking astonishment, it appeared that indeed that was just the case. Long gouges appeared in its arms and torso, like some phantom was harrowing Faerlin, rending great gouts of flesh from it. Screaming in terror, it barely managed to gasp intelligibly:

“Please, I beg you, bring it back. I shall die should my charge remain separated from me by far.”

But then, when Max failed to return, his shrieks resumed incoherence as lash after lash cross his skin. The big biker stood and watched as Faerlin’s blood flowed profusely and fed the verdant grass of the knoll. It didn’t take long before the feral looking creature collapsed in a heap, quivering, and its screams faded to whimpers. Soon after that, it ceased moving all together and silence once again reigned across the hills. Max grunted, then turned and reentered the open door of the tavern.

“Gonna get me some payback,” he thought to himself as he did so.

He tucked the goblet into his belt, then strode straight for the pool-playing party, who all rose from their stooped positions around the table. Max yanked a pool-queue from the nearby rack, and, before anyone could react, swiftly brought it down upon the head of the greaser who’d stabbed him previously. The stick snapped with a splintering crack and the somewhat shorter boy sprawled insensate to the floor.

“Now that’s more like it!” Max bellowed and he spun to face the others, only to find himself twirling into twin blades thrusting into his gut, each held by one of the two remaining greasers. Dropping the broken shaft, he laughed and coughed blood, then made a wobbly about-face to head towards the bar. Withdrawing the goblet from his belt, he slammed it onto the counter.

“Fill ‘er up!” he demanded, spraying blood towards the backpedalling barkeep.

“No can do, bubs.”

Sputtering, Max thrust the chalice towards the dwarf, “I said. FILL! HER! UP!”

“Love to, but no can do. Only Faerlin can fill up the Golden Chalice. And since yer holdin’ it right there, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say ya stole it. Which means Faerlin’s dead. Yer screwed, bubs. Hope it was worth it.”

Disbelieving, Max thrust the cup underneath one of the taps and pulled the handle. Amber beverage flowed, but none entered the vessel. It splashed aside as though some barrier prevented its entry. Desperate, he thrust it under another spigot, pulled another handle, to yet the same results, then another, and another.

Becoming weak, the goblet tumbled from his hand and clattered across the counter. His knees buckled, and he fell between two of the barstools, clawing at the counter to remain standing. Then, in an encore to the very tragedy he’d so callously witnessed upon the hill, he too curled up in a heap on the floor as his life-blood fled his form, spilling out in a spreading crimson stain upon the tavern floor.

Told ya I'm just the facilitator. They do it to themselves.

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