The Dark Protector of the Barrel makers
copyright 2013 by Edward C. Stalker

This is a Work of fiction. Any resemblance to people, places and events in the real world is totally coincidental.

This story is inspired by a Facebook Challenge;

You're in a fantasy epic. Go to your profile and look at the 9 Friends in the box. Go in order from left to right and record your Friends as each of the following:

Sword-wielding barbarian: Carola Eichwurzel Wilhelm - chain-mail bikini time? (Smiles innocently, then ducks and runs for cover) Somebody whose name literally means "Oak Root" in Swedish is not someone to trifle with lightly.

Thieving rogue with a heart of gold: Queue Palmer - WAAY too accurate!

Mysterious fighter who needs no weapon: Chartorrian Lowmack - been eating beans and kimchi again?

Wise and powerful wizard: Danielle Oliver - Wizardess? Yes, fairly accurate. NO trouble believing this...

Fairy princess: Samantha Ford - OK, that is TOO FUNNY for words... A Feisty Fairy Princess on the lines of, say, Fiona on a good day...actually, Fiona in the last Shrek, leading a guerilla rebellion seems more like Sam's style

Dark Lord; Raymond Cooper Jr. . I am glad I had nothing in my mouth when I typed THAT...

Evil Sorceress: Joseph Bauder - make it Evil Wizard and I can SO see this...no, not evil, so much as "Pychotic Good"

Lone hero who takes on the dark horde: Michael Stallker - he always has...

Peasant orphan who is actually the hero: Jaimie Kyler - uhmmm...OK, we've definitely gone into Fantasy Land here...

The Grey Hunter - mysterious old man, a wizard of the Great Council, with a Staff and grey robes, who knows ALL sorts of things, arcane lore and forgotten stories.

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Chapter 01 – Help me, Obi-wan, you're my only hope

It had been a long night. Ed Hunter looked at the rising sun as he drove down the I-990, and wondered how his life had come to this.

With a freaking Master's Degree in Management and degrees in Electrical Engineering and Medical Technology to add to it, the economy was in such a state of suckage that the best job he could get was as a night security guard - and damned glad to get it.

His morose thoughts continued until he got home and went to bed.

At that point, things got - strange.

He was asleep, and a glow woke him up. He had pulled the black-out curtains on his bedroom windows, and the room should have been totally dark.

However, there was a glow beyond his eyelids. He sighed, and opened his eyes. There was a glowing figure standing in the room, dressed in robes, and sufficiently androgynous that he could not tell if it was male or female.

"Edward Hunter, you are my only hope." said the figure.

"Oh geeze." muttered Ed as he pulled his CPAP mask over his face and hit the button to shut the suddenly noisy machine off. "Can you be any MORE cliché?" he asked sarcastically.

"What?" said the figure; it's beautiful but generic face suddenly showing consternation.

"Yeah," smiled Ed, "you're under attack by an Imperial Battle Cruiser, you expect your ship to be boarded at any moment, and you have hidden the Secret Plans to the Imperial Battle station in an innocuous drone that I have to find, so the Rebel Alliance can destroy it."

"What in the WORLD are you nattering on about?" crossly stated the figure. "An Imperial Battle-what?"

"Sorry" said Ed. "Wrong dream." he stared at the creature. "OK, so what do YOU need?"

The figure took a second to compose itself and its mouth moved a few times with no sound coming out.

"Let us start over." it said. "Edward the Hunter, son of Carl, my world is in peril and needs your help."

"Yeah, creature." replied Ed. "What the HELL kind of danger can your world be in, that it can even possibly be saved by the efforts of a broken down and sick old man?". He slapped the side of his head. "Damn, I forgot to take my Zoloft before I went to bed again, didn't I? No wonder I'm having this dream." he threw back the covers to get out of bed.

"I am real." stated the figure imperiously. "We are in a bubble of not-time. You cannot step out of it to retrieve your - Zoloft? - whatever that potion might be."

"It's an anti-psychotic drug, not a potion." he replied, "and taking it keeps silly dreams like you from haunting my dreams, creature."

"A being from this world - The Dark Counselor of the Barrel makers - has come to our world and is wreaking havoc. You must stop him and return the world to its proper balance."

"The Dark Counselor of the Barrel makers?" questioned Ed. "What the HELL kind of title is THAT?" he said in a strident tone. "This guy needs a decent PR agent."

"Regardless of his title," said the figure, "We of the Great coucil have decided to come to this world to seek others to fight him, and his legions of Darkness."

"You have GOT to be kidding me?" stated Ed flatly. "I need to stop eating Jamaican pizza before I go to bed." he shook his head sadly. "Either that, or someone secretly replaced my Zoloft with acid-laced meth, and they want to see if I notice the difference."

This time, the figure did not respond to his comment, and ploughed ahead with its spiel. "Time runs differently in this space, and we can control it here. So, you will go forth on your quest, defeat the Dark Lord, and return, but only a second will have passed in this Universe."

"Geeze." replied Ed. "You seem to be forgetting something, creature." he stated flatly. "Why the HELL would I come to your world and fight this guy?" he sneered. "Out of the goodness of my heart and the greatness of my soul?" he snorted. "Not much of that left, sorry." he stated.

"If you succeed, we will grant you one wish." stated the figure.

"Only one?" Ed replied sarcastically. "Not three?" he snorted. "You guys are so CHEAP."

The figure looked surprised at Ed's reaction. "It is a great gift."

"Yeah, right." sneered Ed. "Go to some place I've never heard of, fight a battle - or, hell, a War, for people who I've never heard of, to fight some guy I've never heard of, for some nebulous promise that may or may not come true." he laughed. "Been there, done that."

"What?" said the figure.

"Did that for 28 years in the US Military." replied Ed. "And look where it got me." he waved at his bedroom. "A cluttered bedroom and sleeping by myself in an empty house."

"We CAN do better than that." stated the figure.

"Ah well." stated Ed, "Not like I have much of a choice, right?" he sighed. "Greetings and Salutations and all that." he frowned. "Let's get going, creature."

/|\

The creature waved its hand, and Ed was enveloped in the bubble of not-time as he whirled into the other world. He noticed his body apparently still sleeping in his bed as he was swept away.

"Perhaps," said the creature, "we should simply take these people to our world without letting them know that they are going?"

"False memories?" said the other.

"Possibly, with their memories of this world awakened when the Grey Hunter finds them."

"Ohhhh." said the Other. "I always enjoy that particular plot device. Let's go for it."

"Our ratings are going to go through the roof." said a third creature.

"I don't know." said the first creature. "It seems wrong to be manipulating them like this." it shook its head. "I mean they ARE our ancestors"

"Our 30 Million years-removed ancestors." said the second one. "Anything we do in this time frame will be cancelled out by entropy."

"It still seems, I don't know, wrong."

"You developing a conscience, bubelah?" asked the third creature. "This idea is Ratings GOLD, I mean GOLD."

"And, after all, it WAS you that discovered this ancient concept of "reality shows"" said the second creature. "Even if you returned to being a University Historian, these shows would still keep on being produced. The Public LOVES them."

/|\

Ed woke up in a pleasant mountain meadow. He looked at himself. He seemed to be dressed in Grey flowing robes, and there was a gnarled staff in his hand, with a crystal ball set atop it.

He sighed. "Cliché city." A cold breeze blew up his robes. "I am SO getting some pants made, first chance I get." he decided. "This is like wearing a long kilt with no skivvies."

/\

He found a small pouch tied to his waist, with coins of gold, silver and bronze. "Eh." he commented. "Perhaps I'll just fashion a proper sporran, instead of pockets. I don't know how long I'll be here."

He examined his footwear, a pair of rawhide boots. "Geeze." he said. "They apparently haven't figured out the concept of right and left boots yet. This is SO going to suck."

He rubbed his chin and found a bushy beard. What he could see of it looked grey, but some of the beard hairs were white. "Oh well," he said with an air of resignation. "If they can't make pants or right and left boots, shaving is going to be a pain anyway, is my guess.

He had a backpack, more like a duffle bag with rough - VERY rough - straps. In it, he found some hardtack and a clay flask of water, along with a blanket.

Apparently, the idea of spare clothes - or even socks! - had not yet gotten to this place.

He looked to windward, and noted a mass of dark clouds approaching. He stood up and nearly stumbled over a sword and baldric in the long grass. "Nice." he exclaimed as he drew the sword from the wooden sheath. There were actually two swords - the daisho of a Samurai, with a smaller tanto to complete the set.

The swords were perfectly balanced and sharp as he could hope. He could not read the letters on the blade - they were not kanji, or even Norse runes, but something else.

They were not really the daisho - the blades looked somehow - different. They did, however, show the wavy line of folded steel, and had the forward thrust of the armor-piercing sword point.

He fastened the baldric to his belt, and set the swords in the ring attached to the belt. He fastened the tanto to the baldric, on his left side, so he could cross-draw it with his right hand.

"OK." he said to no one in particular, "I'm dressed. Let's see what the people of this world are like."

In the valley below him, he could see the lazy smoke trails of a small village. He looked behind him at the gathering storm. There should be an inn of some sort down there. He might be able to learn some information, and at least get in out of the rain.

/|\

The boots were far more comfortable than he expected. The walk down the mountain was not too bad, and he strode purposefully down the main "street" of the village.

The place stank of dung - mostly horse and cattle dung, but there were pig styes, chickens running around underfoot, and the occasional cry of "ware below" as chamber pots were emptied onto the street from second floor windows.

He sighed. "Medieval Village, one each. Check." he mutterred to himself. "Now where is that confounded inn?"

"Do ye seek directions to the inn, good wizard?" asked a small boy.

"Aye, that I do." said Edward. "Christos," he thought to himself. "It sounds like I've bloody well stepped into the Lord of the Rings or something."

"Who is the Lord of the Rings?" asked the boy, "there is the Dark Lord Raymond of the Barrel-makers - is that who you seek?"

"I seek no one, my boy," said Ed, "save a pint of good ale and a decent meal, and maybe a warm place to sleep where I don't have to worry about being robbed in my sleep."

"Well, they say the Prancing Pony is the best Inn in the Five Counties." said the boy brightly, "I can take you there - my Uncle is the owner."

"Sounds like a good start" replied Ed. "here my good lad, will a copper help us find this place faster."

The boy's expression showed him he had overpaid, but he was also mercenary enough to recognize a rich sucker when he saw one. His Uncle would be pleased.

Ed followed the chattering boy, taking in the sights and smells of the village, and listening to the boy with half an ear.

For all that, the ale was passable and the meaty stew and the slab of rye bread went down well.

There was no entertainment - this was a place where most folk went to sleep soon after sunset. Ed had arrived in the Village just before sunset, and the storm had followed him. The thatch roof of the inn leaked, and Edward was glad he had not spent the money for a separate sleeping room - not judging from the amount of water leaking down through the plank ceiling of the main room.

People began bunking down all over the main room, using backpacks for pillows, and spreading blankets over themselves. Ed did likewise.

Somewhere in the night, he awoke to find light fingers in his robe. Not a terribly surprising event - this was not the first time he had slept in such a place. He grabbed the wrist of the man searching him and hissed "Make no sound if you wish to live."

"That's MY line." complained the man, but then he felt the point of the Tanto on his jugular. "Ah." he said, "right."

In the dim firelight, Ed realized he was holding the wrist of a very dark-skinned man, a young man, probably in his mid-twenties.

"What is your name, Pilgrim?" he growled.

The man gave a start. "How did you know my name?"

"I didn't, Pilgrim." replied Ed, "Unless your babbling would mean that your name really IS Pilgrim."

"Aye" said the man, "my name is Caquan, though almost everyone shortens it to Queue - and in this land, where they speak Murrican, my name literally translates to "Pilgrim".

A terrible thought struck Ed. "Pilgrim?" he asked. "What is your name in your own land, and where is that?"

"Could you move that sharp little knife a bit away from my throat, old man?" asked Queue. "I can feel blood coming out of the nick already, and I'd hate for you to accidentally cut my throat and end this scintillating conversation."

Ed sat up and picked up his staff in his left hand, while the tanto stayed in his right hand, but now in his lap, hidden in the folds of the blanket.

"I was born Caquan Palmer, on an Island to the south and east of here, called M'nhata."

"Really?" said Ed. "This is beginning to hurt my head."

"Why?" said Queue, tilting his head quizzically. "My family actually lived along the shore of the Great River, in an area called "Thebron"

"Let me guess." said Ed, "your ancestors moved here from an island far to the South, called "Jamaica", right?"

Queue looked at him with some surprise. "Yes, yes we did."

"OK" said Ed. "I'm starting to get the idea." he shook his head. "Are there huge ruins on the island of - what did you call it? - M'nhata"

"Yes," said Queue, "Very old ruins." He looked at Ed curiously. "You don't know of this?"

Ed sighed. "I'm not from around here."