A Second Task
When Elissa’s consciousness returned to her, she found herself sprawled out on her back in a most unusual position. For arms were crossed behind her head, and her legs were bent and opened wide, with her feet numb and asleep from her butt resting on them. She’d been sitting on her knees and when she’d passed out, she’d simply fallen backwards. Her feet and legs now tingled and protested as sensations of pins and needles throbbed in them, and her lower back ached and throbbed from being arched in such an unusual position for so long.
The discomfort in her lower extremities was so great that it took several moments before she realized that her head was otherwise clear and her thirst, hunger, and exhaustion was gone. Except for the ache from her body protesting the position it’d been trapped in for so long, she actually felt okay now. She felt dirty, sticky, and covered in grime and filth, but she more or less felt better and more refreshed than she had in several days. She’d come here already suffering from the effects of hunger and exhaustion, and those conditions had only worsened as she wandered the ruins under the hot sun the day before, but now she felt fine.
Stretching her arms slightly, she felt an unusual touch between her legs and against her groin. Startled, instinctively she struggled to sit upright and see what was almost molesting her. Oddly enough, she had somehow been moved – slid forward from her previous position in the room – and was now sprawled directly in front of The Darkness and the chair in which it sat and rocked. Befuddled, it took a few moments before Elissa realized that it was The Darkness’s bare foot which was rubbing up and down against her as it rocked back and forth in the chair.
For several moments, she sat half upright, resting on her elbows, and stared. For the first time since coming here, she was alert and close enough to get a close look at the creature before her. After a close observation, Elissa had trouble believing that The Darkness was human; nor could she identify what race it might descend from. It was roughly the height of a human male, but it looked impossibly skinny and malnourished, with skin hanging tight against a ghastly grey white skin. Bare chested, she could see and count every rib on the creature; it looked as if it hadn’t eaten in months – or even years!
Its face was almost impossible to make out from under the mass of tangled, dirty hair that sprouted unkempt over it. The hair on its head was long and tangled, flowing down the back of the rocker and almost dragging the floor as it rocked backwards. Its beard was shaggy and branched out like a tangled bush, concealing its mouth and most facial features. Most disturbing of all was the creature’s eyes – or its lack of eyes. Where normally one would have an eye with iris, pupil, and such things, The Darkness had only two deep swirling pools of blackness on its face. Seeming devoid of light…
No, Elissa corrected herself, they didn’t seem devoid of light. They seeming to absorb all light that touched them, pulling warmth and color into their endless depths, leaving nothing but shadows and darkness behind. Staring into them made her feel tiny and inconsequential, a mere speck of dust lost in the nothingness that was the darkness between stars. Shivering, she tore her gaze away from its eyes and forced herself to inspect the creature completely.
Its arms were the same pale grey-white, and just as emancipated as the rest of it. Its hands had long, boney fingers, and ended in short black claws that appeared to naturally sharpen to a peak like an arrow tip. How strong or sharp the claws were, she had no way of knowing. All she could tell by looking was that they appeared to be functional more than ornamental.
Over its legs, The Darkness wore pants of some unknown black material. At first, Elissa thought the pants might be silk, but after staring intently for a few moments, she convinced herself that she’d never seen any material like it. Perhaps no one had ever seen a material like the pants before. Having no stitches, nor any discernable weaves, the pants looked as if they were made of a single piece, much like a second skin that The Darkness wrapped to cover itself from waist to calf.
And The Darkness’s foot, which was probing her most private of places so intimately, resembled its hands. Pale, grey-white skin stretched over boney toes, which had the same blackened nails at the tip of them. Staring and watching the sharp black tip come so close to slicing her most sensitive of skin, Elissa trembled slightly before forcing herself to lie back on the floor once again.
Slowly, she crossed her arms back under her head and closed her eyes and tried to ignore the painful discomfort in her lower half as she worked on sorting things out.
She had proven herself and became the first amongst her class of knights. Given the most essential of tasks, she was tasked with traveling and serving The Darkness for a period of not less than ten years. Upon arriving, she’d discovered that things weren’t at all as she could’ve ever imagined, with The Darkness apparently living in a ruined city of garbage, trapped inside an unscaleable wall. Tasked with her first duty, she had failed to complete it and exhaustion, dehydration, and hunger had overtaken her.
And yet, here she was now, sprawled out naked and helpless before the darkness, yet no longer feeling that thirst, hunger, or weariness. She couldn’t fathom how she’d regained her strength. All she could imagine was that somehow The Darkness had healed and tended her somehow, helping her regain her strength. Apparently, The Darkness didn’t want her to die or released from her duty so easily. It must’ve been responsible for healing her, though Elissa couldn’t figure out how or why it did so.
“The dawn breaks anew,” The Darkness uttered coldly, breaking Elissa from her inner thoughts. “Are you going to lie there all day and simply let me indulge in the look and feel of you, or are you going to complete your task?” The Darkness asked, seemingly not to care one way or the other. Its voice was cold, harsh, and unemotional.
“I’ll complete my task. Somehow,” Elissa answered, stretching her arms lightly once again. Attempting to move her legs, they were numb and unresponsive from how they’d been trapped and positioned under her all night long.
“Then, as this is your second day, I give you a second task,” The Darkness chuckled. “This one shall have a limit to the time and will be one you can fail, should you not meet its conditions.”
“And what task is that, my lord?” Slowly and against the painful protest of her hips and body, Elissa forced herself to roll onto her side. The moment her weight moved off from her lower legs and the blood flowed back into them freely, the muscles cramped and screamed in agony.
Seemingly uncaring about her pain, or perhaps even amused by it, The Darkness chuckled coldly and lightly. “Be back by the sun’s fall and prepare to entertain me as you did yesterday. If what we did was indeed not a punishment, as you assert, then it must not be something which you would object to doing again.”
“It wasn’t a punishment, my lord,” Elissa asserted stubbornly, as she tried to rub and work feeling back into her legs. “It’s my duty to serve you, and if that’s what you wish from me, it’s your right to demand it.”
“I’ll be back before the sun sets to entertain you again, my lord, if that’s your wish,” Elissa promised.
“It is your second duty,” The Darkness replied, before leaning back and rocking in its chair once more.
Unblinking, the endless pools of darkness stared relentlessly at her as Elissa struggled to work feeling in and pain out of her legs so she could try once again to – Heaven help her, it was so absurd – find a beer for The Darkness.