Zugzwang

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Chapter 10

Dmitri gently brushed stray strands of hair from Lexie’s face. She looked at him, cocking an eyebrow. They lay in a mess of tangled limbs not yet willing to break contact. Dmitri kissed her forehead, “Why were you crying,” he asked as his encircling arms drew her closer.

The image of the smiling man suddenly appeared before her eyes. Lexie stiffened before she could stop herself. She silently cursed as Dmitri pulled away to look down at her, “Lex, what’s wrong?”

She sat up, busying herself with looking for her uniform, “Nothing,” she murmured, digging through the scorched blanket.

The bed shifted as Dmitri sat up, she grunted as he pulled her onto his lap, drawing her close, “Tell me,” he whispered into her hair.

“Tell him,” the voice cooed.

Lexie took a deep breath and leaned against Dmitri, “I don’t know what to do now,” she whispered into the darkness, silently cursing the voice, “This was my home, where do I go now?”

“Lexie,” he breathed, holding her tighter, “We’ll find a place, we’ll find something.”

“I was so angry when he left me here; I thought I would die. But now I think--I think I’m just angry that he didn’t have the balls to tell me the truth,” She felt her eyes start to brim with tears, she couldn’t stop the words now.

“Who?”

“He just smiled and told me lies- lies I was stupid enough to believe.”

“Lexie,” Dmitri said softly, turning her to face him, “Who?”

“My father,” she spat the words, wincing as they echoed.

Dmitri’s eyes grew uncertain. Lexie’s heart froze. “Your father left you at the school,” came his whispered reply.

“It’s probably happened to everyone, no use crying about it. Probably happened to you,” she didn’t wait for him to answer, sliding off his lap to look for her uniform.

“Lexington, I-“

“Don’t us that name,” she sneered, “It’s Lexie.”

“Lexie,” Dmitri caught her arm as she attempted to shrug into her uniform, “No one’s parents did that.”

Lexie scoffed, shaking off his arm, “Like you would know. You weren’t exactly Mr. Popular.”

“I wasn’t,” he agreed, “But that doesn’t mean we didn’t talk. Compare. Compare life before.”

“Fine,” she snapped, rounding on him, “What’s your story?”

“My parents died.”

He was frank about it, a little too frank about it. “How-“

“Mining accident,” he said quickly, his first sign of any emotion, “I used to live in a small mining village next to the mountains. They weren’t the only ones killed. The Lords rounded up all of the children left behind and split us into two groups. Younger and older. I was told the younger ones would probably go to another family but…we’re not easily rehabilitated.”

“So they sent you here to die?”

“Or win,” Dmitri shrugged, “I’m told that never happens though.”

“Everyone?”

“Is an orphan,” he nodded, “That I’ve talked to, yes,” he paused not sure how to go on, “Lexie-“

“Don’t,” she whispered. Ari, she thought¸ why didn’t she tell me? Lexie stood from the bed, “I’ll go get some food,” she muttered as she picked up a discarded lazer and hurried into the darkness before he could see the blood drain from her face.

Her heels clicked off of the tiles as she hurried, willing her eyes to rapidly adjust. “He left you to die, Lexington,” the voice cooed inside her head, she instinctively tightened her grip on the lazer, “he left you to rot in your own personal hell.”

Lexie quickly descended the stairs to the lower level towards the kitchens. The smoke had almost completely cleared out, yet the smell of burned flesh still clung to the walls. She glared down at the floor. “What are you going to do about it, Lexington?”

She didn’t know. Lexie didn’t know what she could do to the man who had left her to die. Shooting him in the head was too good a release for such a man. It would be too quick, it wouldn’t show him what he had made her become. “How are you going to take your revenge, Lexington? He is miles away, you may never find him…but there is something else.”

Lexie stopped walking. She looked up as if the owner of the voice was standing before her; she looked up to see the answers written on a face. But only the dark hall looked back at her, the dark empty hall stood before her hiding the destruction of the day. “You could live.”

Lexie released a breath that she hadn’t known she was holding and glared. That wasn’t much of a plan. That wasn’t much of anything. “Think of this Lexington,” the voice cooed softly, “Your father sent you to this place to die. Wouldn’t the ultimate revenge be not doing that very thing he sent you to the school to do? If you live, you defeat him, do you not?”

It still wasn’t as satisfying as watching him beg for her mercy as she twisted a blade deeper into his thigh muscle, but it was a start. She burst into the kitchens without answering the voice. The first thing she saw was Eugene, still lying on the floor. Flies had come to the body since the smoke had cleared, his eyes no longer stared up at the ceiling, Dmitri must have closed them. He might as well have been sleeping, at any moment she almost expected him to swat away the flies and roll over. But he didn’t, the large blast hole in his chest prevented him from doing that.

Lexie turned away, the food was stacked on one of the nearby tables. She grabbed a few of the cans, not even looking to see what the contents where, and grabbed the knife.

She paused for a moment. The school still stood silent. She still couldn’t hear the mob outside, nor could she hear anyone moving about the halls. She didn’t hear Dmitri’s clicking heels on the floor, so he didn’t follow her this time. Good. Lexie regarded the body that lay on the opposite wall. She watched the flies’ burro into the flesh of its cheeks. She could only imagine what they were eating off the corpse. “How many more are there,” she asked the voice softly so her words wouldn’t echo in the empty halls.

“Three.”

“Three,” she repeated, testing the word on her tongue as she continued to stare at the corpse before her, “and then what?”

“Then it’s over.”

“What does that mean?”

The voice chuckled inside her ear, “Whatever you want it to mean.”

Lexie quickly walked out of the kitchens with the food under her arm. She watched the dark halls for any signs of life. Just in case. Walking back to Dmitri, she couldn’t help wishing that there was another way to stay alive. She doubted she would find one.

When Lexie entered the room Dmitri was sitting on the bed dressed in his uniform. He had moved the flame closer to the bed and had added some wooden debris to make a descent sized fire. Lexie hurried in, kneeling by the fire she started trying to pry the cans open with the knife. She felt Dmitri’s eyes on her as she worked. “I’m sorry,” Dmitri muttered over the cracking of the flames.

“You didn’t know,” was all Lexie returned with a shrug, sighing as the lip of the can finally gave way.

Another uneasy silence filled the room as she popped the rest of the lid off and handed Dmitri the can, “here, it’s better than nothing.”

Dmitri peered into the can of mystery sludge. He sighed, “I had hoped that they had actual food in the kitchens,” he muttered with a grimace.

“It’s not so bad.”

“Yeah, but have you ever had it cold?”

Lexie looked up at him and cocked an eyebrow, “It’s not so bad,” she repeated.

He laughed, “Right, I forgot,” he quickly fell silent again as Lexie went back to opening the other can, “Can I ask you a question?”

“You just did.”

“You know what I mean.”

Lexie glanced up at him as the lid of the other can came loose, “Sure, go for it.”

“What happened?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific.”

Dmitri sighed, “You’re doing this on purpose.”

“And if I am?”

“Then I would have another question for you: Why?”

“Did it ever occur to you that this might be a touchy subject?”

“Yes, but you permitted me to ask a question.”

“I didn’t say I was going to give you an answer.”

Dmitri smirked into his can, “I guess not.”

Lexie scooped a bit of the sludge into her mouth, she stomach leapt with joy at the prospect of food. The horrible mystery meat tasted wonderful on her tongue and glorious as it slid down her throat. She didn’t realize how hungry she was until that first bite. She slowly turned it over in her mouth before giving in to the desire of swallowing it. She wanted to shovel the rest of the can into her mouth, she wanted to go back to the kitchens and open another until her stomach was bursting. Instead she set the can to the side and regarded Dmitri with a guarded expression, “You aren’t acting like a man who just had sex.”

“Oh,” Dmitri said looking up suddenly from shoveling his own food in his mouth, “And how am I supposed to act?”

Lexie shrugged, “Elated, maybe. I have heard that some people come back from the sterilization buildings very…pleased.”

Dmitri’s face flushed, “What makes you think I’m not.”

“Why else would you be constantly going back to the subject of my father?”

“Because it upsets you,” he said defensively.

“So you want to make me upset?”

“No,” he nearly shouted, “That’s not what I want!”

“Then say what you mean,” Lexie growled, “Tell me what you want, then leave me alone.”

Dmitri looked at her as she glared back, daring him to press farther. Slowly his shoulders slumped. He set his can of sludge aside and took a deep breath, “I want to know you.”

“Why?”

“Does it matter?”

“To me, yes.”

“Because I don’t understand.”

Lexie cocked an eyebrow, “Is that supposed to be some grand insight to my mind? It might need some work.”

“Fine,” Dmitri sighed, picking up his can, “Live in mystery, you seem to be great at it.”

“I don’t live in mystery,” Lexie snapped, shoving one more bite into her mouth.

“Right.”

They spent several moments in silence. The cracking of the flames filled the air, Dmitri smacked his lips greedily as he shoveled the remains of his can into his mouth with outstanding speed, and Lexie only folded her arms across her chest and stared into the flames. Those several minutes seemed to take years, finally Lexie rolled her eyes, “I grew up not far from the city,” she murmured at the flames, Dmitri stopped eating, “I remember looking out the window of our house and seeing the tops of some of the buildings from over the hills. I always wondered what it would be like to live in the city. I guess I know now, right?”

Dmitri didn’t reply, nor did Lexie look up from the flames. “I was happy once, ya know. I had a mother, father, even a little brother.”

“You had a brother,” Dmitri blurted, Lexie glanced at him.

Yes,” Dmitri paled slightly, Lexie turned her attention back to the flames, “We were a family. I loved my brother, I loved my parents. Until they came. One day we had a knock on the door and my father answered,” Lexie paused, “That’s when everything changed. I don’t remember much about that day, exactly, but I remember there was a lot of yelling and crying. I was upstairs with my brother; my mother had locked us in the room when she saw who it was.

“But after that day my father was…different. He stopped laughing, he became almost sickly, he stopped sleeping. My mother wasn’t any better off. But then one day he came into my room, smiling like nothing had happened. I remember smiling back. I remember hugging him and laughing as he joked. I remember believing when he said that everything would be okay again. That,” Lexie said turning back to Dmitri, “was the day he left me on the doorstep of the school.”

“Very good,” the voice inside her head purred, “Very. Good.”

Dmitri slowly slid off the bed, “Are you sure that’s all?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Dmitri shrugged, “It just seemed like there’s something else…something you don’t want to tell me.”

“Suddenly you turn into a psychiatrist.”

Dmitri looked at her skeptically, “I don’t think they have those anymore.”

Lexie rolled her eyes, but didn’t dare meet Dmitri’s questioning gaze. She bit the inside of her cheek as she mused what to say next. “Lie,” the voice whispered.

She reached for her can and began eating again, “I don’t know why they came to our house. There were a lot of families on our street but they choose us,” she stopped eating and turned to Dmitri, “I want to know why.”

Dmitri nodded, “that’s a reasonable question.”

Lexie scoffed, “Reasonable…that’s the word for it.”

“Lexie,” Dmitri shifted closer, “Let me help you-“

“How exactly would you do that?” She snapped, “Walk up to the Lord’s house and strike up a conversation? ‘Excuse me I know you’re very busy ruining other people’s lives but I was wondering why you had to tear apart this family’! You’ll get your head ripped off before you get another sentence out.”

“At least I would try-“

“And who is that going to help, Dmitri? How, exactly, is that going to help us in a city where we have a bloody mob on the loose, no shelter, no allies, and hardly any way to fight to begin with! Explain to me how demanding answers is going to help us!”

Lexie jumped to her feet and stormed away from the fire, leaving Dmitri alone with his mouth agape. “I just thought-“

“No, Dmitri, you didn’t think. That’s the problem, you don’t understand, so stop acting like you do. Please!”

Dmitri slowly got to his feet, holding his arms out in surrender, “Alright, fine,” he said gently, “I’m sorry.”

Lexie felt her eyes slide into a glare.

“Won’t you come back by the fire?”

Lexie shook her head, “No, we should get some sleep,” Lexie turned on her heel and marched to one of the beds.

“Should we set up a watch?”

Lexie glanced up at him with a cocked eyebrow, “We could, but I hardly think that people will come by here at this time of night if they haven’t already. Just…keep your lazer handy.”

Dmitri nodded, returning to sit on the bed and pick up his discarded lazer from the floor. Lexie fingered her lazer for a moment but for she quickly placed it under the bed within easy reach. Lexie heard Dmitri shift on his bed into a comfortable position, as she put her head on the burned pillow she heard his breath deepen with sleep. Still she waited, several minutes later he turned over and murmured something. Only then did Lexie dare to speak, “You’re one of them, aren’t you,” she asked the voice, not really expecting an answer.

The voice laughed, “I always thought you were smarter then you appeared to be.”

Lexie lay awake, the voices quiet chuckles still echoing in her ears, until she finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

A thunderous laugh burst forth from Victor. “I think I understand you, my dear, I finally have caught your game.”

Anya cocked her delicate eyebrow, looking up from the gaming board, “have you?”

“Of course! It’s so simple.”

Alexander shook as a slow smile spread across Anya’s face, “Really? Do explain it to me, dear one, what have you figured out?”

Victor sat back in his seat, a wide smile still plastered on his face, “You’re using your pawn to make my player to fall in love, making it harder to kill, but when I finally do kill your pawn you will have another then kill my player.”

Anya leaned back and regarded her husband, her small smile never wavering, “You seem to have it all figured out, my love.”

Victor belted another laugh; grabbing his goblet, “It seems we may have a new winner this year. Wouldn’t you like that?”

Alexander’s hands shook with the need to do something, the need to hold something. He glanced to the small table he still sat by, and slowly picked up the goblet to keep from pacing. “It would truly be a change of pace, I must admit,” Anya purred, her eyes turning suggestive.

“We could only imagine,” Victor laughed.

“Alexander,” Anya called, not taking her eyes off of her husband, “It seems that we have come to the end of another day. How do you take to the game?”

Alexander took a deep breath choosing his words carefully, “I believe…I believe I’m following it, my Lady.”

Anya tore her eyes away from her husband and regarded Alexander with an almost caring gaze, “You’re not tired, bored, hungry?”

“No, my lady.”

Anya smiled, “That is what this room is for, Alexander. It is almost like this room stops time, outside of this room it has been two days but inside it only feels like a handful of hours, does it not?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Such a well trained boy,” Anya laughed, “And…very observant.”

Alexander met Anya’s gaze as a mischievous glint shone in her eyes, a small smile played across her lips but it was all gone in an instant. Alexander gripped his goblet until his knuckles turned white and forced himself to remain silent. “I grow hungry,” Anya purred, turning back to her husband, “Would you need another?”

Victor suddenly looked uneasy, “No, my dear,” he flashed a smile, “I still am fine.”

Anya nodded, Alexander jumped up to go and call another maid from the hall. “Alexander,” Anya called, he turned back, “I can go myself.”

Gracefully Anya stood from her place at the gaming table and slowly walked toward Alexander, “I’m no longer a child,” she smiled at him, “Thank you for your concern.”

But still she made no move to walk toward the hallway door, Alexander shifted on his feet. Anya raise one of her hands, palm up as if she was escorting someone into the room, “My lady,” she cooed towards the wall by the hallway door, “Would you be so kind?”

Alexander glanced back at Victor, who was staring down at the gaming board not daring to even glance up. Slowly Alexander took a step back, unable to take his eyes off her. Anya’s eye never left the wall. Out of the corner of his eye, Alexander saw something moving.

He quickly turned to the wall just in time to see an older woman step into the room. The woman smiled kindly at Anya and reached out as if to take her hand. The older woman was dressed much like Anya, in plain clothes that might have been in tatters. It was difficult to tell, the woman was transparent.

The woman’s steps didn’t make a sound as she stepped closer, if anything her smile grew wider, “My pleasure, ma’am,” the woman said in a quiet but strange voice that seemed to be an echo.

Alexander’s breath caught as they grasped hands. Anya closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The woman began to disappear-flow-into Anya. Alexander’s mouth fell open as Anya opened her eyes. Her once sparkling eyes now glowed with a sudden life that made her crystal blue eyes seem unusually bright. “Thank you, dear,” she murmured, turning back to her husband and resumed her seat at the gaming board, “The night grows light, it seems.”

For the first time since Anya stepped away from the game board, Victor looked up and cocked an eye brow, “so it seems, are you ready my love?”

“Whether I am or not,” Anya smiled, “the game must come to an end.”

Alexander still stood where Anya had left him. In the middle of the room with his mouth agape. Slowly, he turned toward the gaming table. Victor had been drinking sips from his goblet all day, always replenishing when it went dry. He looked pale but healthy, energetic, and his amber eyes held a glow. But Anya hadn’t eaten anything all day. She had looked pale, and worn, but her spirits were as bright as when he had first seen her. The only difference now was her eyes glowed with new life, her posture was just that much straighter, and her sly grin was that much more readily on her lips.

Alexander slowly came back to his seat, pondering. Anya had fed off of that woman, that ghost of the past. Anya was something Alexander had never before heard of, for some reason that made him more uneasy than anything else he had witnessed in that room.

Alexander came back to himself as he saw the sky started to quickly brighten on the board. Anya’s newly brightened eyes sparkled with new mischief, Victor set his goblet down and licked his lips, “Let us continue,” Victor said drawing his hand to his ear piece to mutter instructions.


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