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Retreating back to the kitchen, Elissa tried to fight back tears. Born a daughter of one of the High Lords of the land, she had been raised in a lifestyle of wealth and pampering. Wanting to prove her own strength and choose her own path in life, she decided to devote herself to the law and the people and join the Order of the Rose. And now? Now she was stuck running around as good as naked, living in a house of filth, and sworn to serve some drunken fool who was willing to wench her out just for a beer! And for at least ten years!

Never had she imagined such a nightmarish turn in her life. Devastated and with her heart rocked, she tried to pull herself together as much as possible. No matter what happened, she still had her duty to fulfill. If she just clung to it, she assured herself, she’d manage to be okay somehow. She’d pull through – somehow.

After all, ten years was only about a tenth of her lifespan. She’d still be young enough when she got out of her service to The Darkness to have children and raise a family. Trying to cheer herself up, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hands, refusing to let the tears that oh so desperately wanted to escape, out.

Looking around the kitchen, the place was an absolute horror. To compare it to a pigsty would be an insult to the sty! Holding one hand up around her face and mouth to help stifle the odor of the room, she gingerly tiptoed around and tried to look for anything that even resembled a bottle of beer. Dozens of bottles were scattered and intermingled amongst the mess, but all had been opened and discarded; not a single one held anything that even slightly looked drinkable.

As she rummaged through the garbage, Elissa tried to tell herself that her current predicament had to be nothing more than a test of some sort. A trial of humility, perseverance, or fortitude. Surely the great race destroying darkness wasn’t just some slobbish drunk, intent on simply shattering her self-worth. She had fought, and earned, the Trial of the Champion! Surely there had to be some higher purpose behind it that she just didn’t realize yet.

At least, that’s what she was trying to convince herself.

After nearly a half hour of searching the kitchen – and having to fight with her stomach so she didn’t lose to the rancid nausea that the odor and mess generated – sunlight finally began to weekly attempt to break through the gunk and grime over the window. She’d spent most of the night preparing to travel, and since she’d gotten here and met The Darkness; or ‘Dark’ as he seemed to be calling himself; the sun had finally risen and was casting its predawn light upon the world.

“There’s nothing in here except trash, garbage, and shit,” Elissa mumbled into her hand in disgust. “If I’m going to pass this test, I’m going to have to seek almighty beer elsewhere, it seems. I suppose, in its own way, it’s to be expected. Mentioning wenching for beer wouldn’t have been necessary, if there was already some around to be scavenged up.” Sighing deeply, she reluctantly worked her way out of the kitchen and back into the room where The Darkness… Dark, she reminded herself. To where Dark now slumped low in the rocking chair, looking as if he’d passed out.

For a moment, Elissa argued with herself and had to resist the impulse to try and get closer to the figure and get a better look at him. She had the next ten years where she was going to be staying and ‘fulling his every whim’. She was certain there’d be plenty of chances to see him better in that time. For now, she only had one single task – find and retrieve a bottle of beer somehow – and chances are she’d probably need to complete her mission before Lord Dark awoke.

Glancing around, she was tempted to put her pants and shirt back on before going out – or at least her shirt, if nothing else – but then she stubbornly shook her head from side to side. She had her uniform now, and even if it was barely enough to be considered scraps, it was what she was ordered to wear. Duty and honor said it was all she was going to get for foreseeable future; may as well start to adjust to it now. Besides, she had to ask herself, was she really prepared to face the horrible consequences invoked in the letter, if she failed in her duty? To think that wearing a shirt or pair of pants might destroy her family – or even the whole of humanity!

Shaking her head resolutely from side to side, she was determined not to let that happen. She had wanted to serve and protect the people by joining the Order of the Rose and even though that wasn’t possible now, it didn’t change her determination on bit. If she had to sacrifice her modesty to keep her family and the rest of the people safe, then she’d simply sacrifice her modesty. A person can do amazing things when they have to, she reminded herself – but that still doesn’t keep them from being embarrassing!

Blushing, and half trying to hide her top with her arm, Elissa slowly tiptoed across the hazardous minefield that was the sitting room. Broken glass, garbage, and all sorts of rusted, twisted, or broken junk were scattered haphazardly around; a danger to her soft bare feet. She hadn’t even been given a pair of slippers or sandals to wear!

Cautiously, she finally worked her way to the open doorframe leading outside. Breathing in the fresh air of freedom, Elissa took in her first look of her surroundings. She was in hell; or at least, it was what she’d consider a hell, if it wasn’t the hell. Garbage was scattered all about the depilated and rotten porch she was now standing on. A yard of thigh high weeds and trash lead out to a broken and rusted iron fence. The gate had been broken and leaned half against the fence, where it had probably laid for years!

Outside the fenced off area that was apparently home of The Darkness, were other broken down shacks that appeared to be in just as retched of a state of disrepair as the home she’d just come out of. Thin, ragged looking dogs roamed the dusty dirt street, searching for a meal to fill their empty stomachs. Glancing left and then right, Elissa was afraid that she’d been deposited in some sort of forgotten wasteland. She had heard of the slums back home where the truly poor and destitute lived. With the knights, she had even traveled to there a few times to offer aid to the people – and never had she ever seen any place that looked so utterly run down.

Honestly, Elissa couldn’t imagine that anyone would live in such a place. She could hardly believe that The Darkness, which was supposed to somehow be a threat to all of creation, could be found in such a place! Honestly, she was even having trouble believing that such a place could even exist.

And, worst of all, somewhere in this hell, she was going to have to find beer before The Darkness woke up!

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