Barrel!

"Gyoro, get your head out of that barrel."

The serpentine scaly head of a tiny crimson dragon emerged, dripping wet, from the rain barrel it had been drinking from. It whined and gave Ashton a look like that of a scolded puppy.

"I'lll get you a bowl of water in the inn." he promised it. Seeming to understand, the dragon wrapped itself back around Ashton's neck and contented itself with chattering to Ururun in its own language. The adventurer continued his way up the path, pausing briefly to look in the window of a sword shop.

He stopped again. He had definitely heard something in the direction of the barrels. It sounded like movement. Both dragons were whining now, a little bored. He ignored their protests and looked at the barrels closely. They looked like ordinary water barrels. He could still hear movement in one of them. He watched it closely. Probably a cat, he thought. Maybe it was a lost cat. Some people paid a lot of money to adventurers for returning lost cats. Or it might be a magic sword that could move by itself. Or a pixie that granted adventurers aid in exchange for being freed from barrels.

Gyoro screeched. With an effort born of frustration, hunger and thirst, the two dragons pulled hard and managed to drag him away from the barrel. He surrendered and went to the inn instead. However, he still couldn't stop thinking about the mysterious barrel. He told the entire party about it. When he finally got to sleep, he had a nightmare about monsters in barrels chasing him down the path.

The next day, he woke up early and went to see the barrels again. He stood in the courtyard, watching the rain drip into the barrels. There was nothing here today, no movement, no noises. Maybe he really had been imagining it, he thought. After half an hour, he wandered down to the grocer's where the rest of the party were stocking up on blackberries and blueberries. He bought some for himself then they all walked to the town entrance, excitedly discussing the Cavern of the Red Crystal. Just then, he stopped.

The barrel outside the weapon shop was following him.

He had noticed it because he had spent half an hour watching those barrels and that particular barrel was unusual; it had a small red mark painted on the side. He kept seeing it all down the path, even in places where no barrel should be. He pointed it out to Rena, who said he was obsessed with barrels and should be quiet. However, when they left North City, Ashton couldn't help but look back at the suspicious barrel parked outside the gate.

His suspicions were confirmed when they were traversing the darkest depths of the dungeon, slaying a XINE. He had developed a hatred of XINEs, the ultimate embodiment of evil, those bizarre corrupt unnatural birds that dwelled in the stygian abyss below the world twisting the minds of innocents. He roared a battle cry as he ran at the XINE, his twin blades flashing like lightning. It was over quickly, the foul beast falling to their combined might. But in the heat of the battle, he had seen it out of the corner of his eye, sitting innocuously next to a chest. The barrel. A light flashed from it and he heard a voice; a human voice, yelling in success.

"Eyes on the enemy, idiot!" yelled Dias, his katana cutting the XINE in half. Blood splattered all over Ashton's back, annoying Ururun, who hissed and bit Dias.

"The barrel..." muttered Ashton.

"For Tria's sake, ignore the damn barrels!" yelled Rena as she healed Dias.

"It won't leave me alone." he replied.

Ashton formulated a plan over their long dungeon run. He was going to prepare an ambush for the barrel. He sneaked out in the middle of the night, while everyone else was in bed regaining their health, and found the red barrel. He lifted the lid of the barrel opposite it and hid inside it, carving eye holes with his sword. Then he lay in wait. He would catch the thing inside the barrel; after all, it was alive so it had to come out to eat, drink, mate... it couldnt be a self contained world in there.

Hours passed. Nothing happened. He fell asleep, cold and wet and still injured from the dungeon.Then he heard it. Grabbing his sword, he jumped out of the barrel, attempting to grab it.

The thing screamed and hit him with what felt like the force of an avalanche. He almost flew clean across the yard from the first punch, then it kicked him again while he was down. Then it emitted a bright light that blinded him.

"AAARGH! MONSTER!" he screamed.

"Don't call me that!" it yelled, a female voice, then hit him over the head with something. He stood up and opened his eyes but the woman had already gone.

The next morning, the front page of the Nede Chronicle said 'ADVENTURER MOLESTS JOURNALIST'