Aerri kicked some dust from the path as she travelled towards her destination. She may have been a barbarian, but she definitely wasn’t stupid. She had asked the Adventurer’s Guild for some serious quests so she can grow as a fighter, and in return she had been given this task: collecting some stupid barnacles from a stupid cave for some stupid wizards. She collected a rock from the side of the road and chucked it as far as she could muster, her acute goblin ears picking up the soft thud of stone on wood as it collided with a distant tree.
“Man, I hate wizards.”
And hate them she did. Growing up, Aerri was never any good with magic, instead settling to use her brawn to solve problems. Sure, words can be tricky and convincing, but for her nothing was more convincing than a good pummeling. Her strength had served her well, allowing her to dominate her foes with ease. But there were times when magic users would get the upper hand, either levitating objects out of her reach or that one time with that bard…
No, she wasn’t going to think of that humiliating experience. She huffed and gathered her attention back to the task at hand. She was asked to gather unique mollusks from a nearby cave, something about them possessing latent psychic tendencies. Aerri had spent plenty of time collecting clams in her youth, so she posited that this should be no different. After all, how psychic could a clam be?
Finally reaching the entrance to the cave, Aerri allowed her eyes to adjust to the growing darkness within. The embers of previously used torches still burned in their sconces as she delved deeper into this place. The path proceeded downward as the temperature began to cool comfortably. At last, she came to a large open portion of this cave, a low hanging purple mist dancing around her ankles. Letting her eyes adjust even further, Aerri could make out hundreds upon hundreds of small barnacle-like creatures affixed to the walls around her. A low chittering hum reverberated throughout the room as she took in her surroundings, not enough to be a bother but audible enough to pique her interest for a moment. Using her honed senses, she curiously concluded that the sounds were being produced by barnacle movement, the creatures opening and closing portions of their shell for reasons unknown to Aerri.
With a shrug, the goblin barbarian lifted her pail and chisel, a defeated yet smug smirk crept along her face.
“At least this will be the easiest gold I’ve ever made”, she said with a sigh, brandishing her “weapon” as she bounded towards her quarry.
Beads of sweat dotted her smooth emerald skin as Aerri pried another of these shelled creatures free from the wall.
“By the gods, how are these things so tightly stuck here? Is this the magic the Guild had mentioned?”
Aerri was strong, having defended townfolks from a bear on her first outing as an adventurer. Yet she was puzzled as to the difficulty of her current task. She looked down at the measly handful of these strange creatures in her bucket, wiping the sweat from her brow as she calculated just how much this effort was worth. The chittering had grown louder as she started, the buzz in the air starting to annoy her. Shifting her back so as to readjust her blade, she contemplated the likelihood of these things surviving a sword swing. Suddenly the chittering grew quiet around her, the cavern becoming eerily silent save for her own labored breathing. Could these creatures sense her intention, silencing their movements to avoid an unseen predator? Aerri stood motionless in the placidity of this space, confused as to how she should continue. Then from above came a quiet pop that startled the goblin back to her senses.
Aerri blinked at the sudden oddity that floated above her, the air overhead starting to become littered with strange pink bubbles. Squinting her eyes, she could see that the crustaceans were the culprits, their shells slightly parting to allow for these bubbles to grow and release. The barbarian couldn’t help but smirk at the unusual situation she found herself in. She was a long way from being a child easily amused by bubbles, but the thought of this being a creature’s defense mechanism made her chuckle. What predators would be scared off by pink bubbles? In fact, Aerri took a moment and wondered what creatures would hunt for these barnacles? So absorbed in thought she was, that Aerri didn’t react before one of these bubbles landed atop her head.
In that instant, Aerri was thrust back to her childhood, back when she would happily partake in bubble baths. She remembered laughing and giggling as she would blow bubbles up into the air, doing her best to catch them on her sudsy hands so they wouldn’t pop. She would stay in that bath far longer than she should have, her mother scolding her for wasting time. The sweet scent of lavender and fruit were so vivid in her mind that she swore she could smell them in the cave itself.
Aerri shook her head in confusion, unsure of what she had been doing moments before. The bubbles floated gently in the air around her, the goblin’s dazed expression turned to genuine confusion as she pondered why there were bubbles. Surely these harmless orbs couldn’t be a threat, she wagered as she extended a hand to catch one. As is fell daintily on her palm, Aerri’s mind was once again thrust backwards into her memories, this time to when she first decided on her barbarian training. The young goblin had always been strong, lifting longswords and spears with relative ease. Her parents, impressed by her strength, encouraged her to find her own path. So, she trained, day and night, in the ways of martial prowess. The sting of sweat in her eyes caused her to wince in pain, the weariness of tired muscles made her shift her position as she stood amidst the mist. She could hear the clash of steel, taste her blood in her mouth has she brawled with the other initiates. This was her life; this was her livelihood. This was who she was.
Aerri shook her head as a wave of tension simply vanished from her body, leaving her with nothing but a soft floaty sensation. Looking around her, she questioned why she was here. Yes, she knew she was on a quest from the Guild, but why had she accepted the quest? What did she need the experience for? Aerri’s body slacked as she tried to remember her reasons for coming, racking her brain for anything she can use for justification. But try as she might, her reasons escaped her, lost amidst a growing fogginess in her mind. Surely there was a reason for her to be here, some excuse other than collecting barnacles from cave walls. Creeping doubt began to work its way towards Aerri’s attention, these lapses in memories starting to unnerve her.
“Perhaps I should leave”, the goblin woman announced to no one, turning back towards the entrance. “This might be more than I can handle.”
The sounds of shuffling footsteps echoed throughout the cave, growing louder as hushed whispers accompanied them. But Aerri didn’t mind them. In fact, Aerri didn’t mind anything at all. She stood among the bubbles, slowly swaying back and forth as two figures approached from behind.
“Oh look Godrey, seems we’ve got another one!”
“Indeed we have, Windred. Let’s take a look at this specimen.”
The individuals before her were dressed in fabulous robes, each adored with armaments of the wizardly arts. Aerri stood silently as the two began to inspect her, a vacant look in her eye as a bit of drool began to roll down her chin.
“Another simpleton it would seem, nothing on her that would prove valuable to us, except for the barnacles she had collected.”
“Now now Windred, while she might not be of use to use magically, she does appear to be one of those martial types. Perhaps she could be of use to us in other ways…”
The wizards looked to one another and then back to Aerri, the mindless expression across her face causing the two to smirk. Aerri was stripped of her sparse belongings, left standing nude in the chilled cavern without a care in the world. Her two would-be saviors studied her like a piece of prime cut meat, their licentious intentions laid bare yet unnoticed.
“Now that you mention it, I do believe you are correct. We may yet find some use for our sturdy green apprentice here. The question for now is which of us shall she ride home with?”