The Chalice of Jord

The warrior had entered the caverns shortly before nightfall and before the moon had risen, he found himself surrounded by draugrs and ghosts. Creatures of death, radiating a terrible light and hiding in the surrounding darkness, came at him in two and threes. The draugr moaned through decayed throats as they approached. The ghosts screamed and pled. The tunnels became increasingly tight. Breeze that entered as casually and incidentally as the warrior, became panicked and harsh as it search the tunnels for its own exit, repeatedly extinguishing any attempt to be keep a torch lit.

Lost, the warrior followed the path of greatest resistance, following his swing axe as though it were a beacon light. The axe was not slow in banishment both bane and apparition, but there was much danger offered to him and by the time the warrior reached his goal, a large recess some unknown measure beneath the ground. The sun had begun to rise again, light pouring into a narrow cavity, passing through blue crystals just above the alcove, casting the room in a gentle moving texture, like a brook.

At the foot of the altar, dead in the center of the space, stood a grand figure. He was transparent and still, unclear like the cast picture from a stained glass window. A modest crown sat upon his head, chainmail hung from outstretched arms which were as motionless as they had been for generations. The kingly figure had been waiting.

Tearing through a curtain of moss and vines, the warrior entered the chamber. He was covered with the scent of old and rotting blood and in ears he still heard the agony of the ghosts. Faced with the king now, he did not seem to realize he had reached his destination. The warrior’s charge was forceful but not rushed, taking long strides as he raised the axe once more to strike down the king.

“Warrior, Chosen One…” the ghost king said, “you are here.” The warrior stopped but did not lower the weapon. “At long last… you are here.”

The king moved like a morning sigh. His steps fell without sound as he approached the slight incline that led down to the altar. “I am Vidar, leader of the Brethren. It cost me much to find this place. I assume you are one of great valor to have reached this location while retaining your mortal value. Now that you are here, you may at last deliver the Chalice of Jord to the Brethren and at long last lift our curse.”

The warrior lowered his axe and eased his stance. He walked past the king and plucked the cup, a humble piece of old clay. He looked back as though the king might have misled him, but the king nodded with a permissive smile. The warrior stepped down from the altar and began to leave.

“And now,” the kind said, “I may be left to an eternity spent with souls of the other great Brethren who reside here, to enjoy peace with old friends and kinsmen.”

The warrior stopped, “Wait, what?”

“For centuries, the spirits of the great members of the Brethren who have died in the hunt or been lost on the battlefield have come to reside within these caverns. Here we find the peace that escaped us in life. Now that you have reclaimed the Chalice, I am unfrozen. No longer alone, I can be reunited with those I knew in life.”

The warriors eyes grew. He pivoted, turning back to the ghost king, “Oh, man… I killed, like… I killed EVERYTHING on the way in here.”

“You killed evil draugr who menace these paths in torment.”

The axe smacked against the ground, the handle falling against the high-waist of the warrior. “Yes, but… See, that’s sort of the thing. Because I didn’t really realize there was a distinction until now.”

“Between the vile draugr?”

“Yeah, well… I killed all your friends on the way in.”

“What? Why?” the ghost king demanded. The warrior raised his lower lip and shook his head without answer. “Didn’t you hear them speaking to you?”

“I heard them speaking, yes. But I thought it was… like, crazy ghost talk.”

“You killed my friends.”

“There was a lot happening at once.”

“You killed my ancestors?”

“I feel really badly about it.”

“How is such a thing even possible?” the ghost king asked.

The warrior raised his axe, “The blade is enchanted. Anything the blade strikes it sends to Hell. Living or dead. Just…” the warrior mimicked his swing with great ease, blowing a sound effect from between his lips, “straight to Hell.”

“Oh, Jesus… oh, Jesus Christ…” The ghost king became to tremble in his stance. “The Chosen One was meant to reunite the Brethren.”

“Oh, I’m not the Chosen One,” the warrior said. The king looked up, confused. “I just met him in a tavern.”

“And he had you come in his stead?!”

“Uh… no? He actually sort of ran into me and I thought he said something, which… I learned later her probably didn’t. But… I didn’t realize it at the same, so…” The warrior mimicked his swing again, repeated the sound effect.

The king fell to ground, his back to the altar. “It’s all ruined…”

“How much do you think I could get for this Chalice?” the warrior asked.

“Not much,” the king said. “It’s a useless lump of clay outside of its ability to free the souls of the Brethren trapped here.”

“Oh,” the warrior said. “That’s okay.” He dropped the Chalice, allowing it to burst into many pieces with a single dry crack. He turned to leave the chamber.

“Warrior, please… before you go… Turn your axe against me. Send me to my kinsmen.”

“Yeah… honestly, I would feel… somehow wrong? I mean, I didn’t know your friends weren’t bad guys when I killed them. If I did, I would have said something.”

“What could you have possibly said?”

“I would have said… hey, man… Hey…! You better not come fucking near me. Or I’ll send you to Hell. And your friend is going to cry if that happens. And no one wants that.”

The ghost removed his humble crown and pressed his face against the stone beneath him. “I doubt that would have made a difference.”

“Yeah… maybe. Maybe. But, I can’t do that to you. It just feels wrong somehow.”

“I’m all alone,” the ghost king wept.

“Hey, man…” the warrior said, pointing the eye of the axe at him, “I’ll never forget you, dude.”

The warrior turned and wandered out of the caverns, seeking a nap.

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