Zugzwang

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Chapter 11

Lexie woke up as she heard the floor board squeak in the hall. She didn’t open her eyes, she controlled her breathing, but her mind raced. Her lazer was an arm’s reach away, all she had to do was roll over and grab it.

Another floor board let out a tentative squeak as someone made their way down the hallway. Probably following the sight of the flames, Lexie mused to herself.

She counted the steps by the squeaks of the floor boards. Lexie rolled over slowly, letting her arm hang over the bed. She felt her finger tips brush the lazer, the cold metal sending shivers up her arm. She counted. They were almost to the door way of the room.

She forced herself to breathe deeply, she felt her emotions drain away. She would hear them once they got to her, she was surprised Dmitri wasn’t awake already. She could grab her lazer and fire before they even knew she was awake. She shifted a fraction. Another squeak from the floor boards, they were in the room.

Lexie forced her muscles not to stiffen; she forced herself to calm down. All she could think about was getting to her lazer and firing. She heard the shifting of cloth against cloth as they neared her bed. They must not have spotted Dmitri but that didn’t matter. She heard their breath. Lexie readied herself. Finally she felt a chill as whoever it was blocked the heat of the flames as they came to her bedside. Now.

Lexie’s eyes snapped open, the lazer was suddenly in her hand as she turned. She was met with the barrel of another lazer. She didn’t flinch. She didn’t gasp and pull back. Those were a sign of weakness. Those could get her killed. She did study the callused hand that held the lazer.

The lazer was a school issued weapon. Given the state of the school she wouldn’t be surprised if you could walk into the armory and simply pick out any weapon of choice. Any number of people in the city could have school issued property by now if they didn’t fear stepping on its grounds. But Lexie knew that hand. She had worked with the owner of that hand every morning for the last year. Working to survive. Lexie followed the arm up to the face that she knew she would see. “Hello master,” she said calmly to the master of the floor.

He nodded down at her, “Sloppy work,” he muttered not lowering his weapon; she didn’t lower her’s either.

“I wasn’t expecting anyone to come to the grounds so long after dark,” Lexie snapped.

A strange gleam came to his eyes, “I never left the grounds.”

Lexie found herself wishing the Dmitri would make a sound, move, do anything that would make the master look away. He slept like the dead. That wasn’t a pleasant thought. “Then you must have heard us last night,” Lexie murmured, “You could’ve killed us then why now all of a sudden?”

“Even I have to sleep, Ms. Gladmare, you should count yourself lucky.”

“For what,” Lexie snapped loudly, praying for Dmitri to move, “For looking into the eyes of the person who’s going to kill me? Yeah, thanks ever so much for that master.”

The master of the floor actually smiled one of his rare smiles, Lexie’s hand clenched the lazer, “That I count you as a daughter more than a student, it’ll be quick.”

“I’m flattered.”

Dmitri groaned. Lexie’s heart leapt as the master of the floor slightly turned towards the sound. That was all she needed. Lexie grabbed the master’s lazer hand and twisted it away from her as she crashed her own lazer into his head. A loud crack sounded in the room and echoed down the hall. Dmitri sat bolt upright looking. The master only fell to one knee.

“Go,” Lexie yelled at Dmitri, “Hide.”

Dmitri quickly jumped up, grabbing his lazer in the process he bolted from the room. Lexie kicked the master of the floor off of her bed and rolled onto the floor. “You should count yourself lucky, master.”

The master grunted as he stumbled to his feet, as he looked up at her Lexie noticed a trail of blood dripping from where the butt of her lazer had cut into his skin just above his hairline. Lexie smiled, “I usually kill on sight when people threaten me, I’m giving you a chance to leave--or follow us and die.”

Lexie dashed from the room, barely able to hear the clicking of Dmitri’s heels on the tiles she went the opposite direction, careful to ensure her heels didn’t echo about the halls. Coming to the second story she heard Dmitri on the floor below, she stopped and looked about at the destroyed classrooms. She quickly stepped into one of them, ignoring the charred corpse that sat at the master’s desk, and hid in the shadows of a tumbled wall. She eyed her exit. She was certain that he would come.

The classroom had three exits: the hole in the tumbled wall, the door that barely clutched the wall by its hinges, and the window. She really didn’t like the last option. She readied her lazer and waited. “The moment you see him,” the voice inside her head said, “kill him.”

She didn’t need the prompting. The halls were silent. Lexie deepened her breathing so the sound wouldn’t carry, she ignored the slight cramping in the legs as she knelt in the debris, and she kept her eyes alert for anything moving in the dim light of the school. Just like the eliminations.

“I know you’re still here, Lexington,” came the call, “I know you would never run away from a fight…and you know I won’t either. Always the smart one.”

The voice seemed to travel but she could hear no footsteps, no clicking of the heel to suggest where the master was. Lexie bit back a curse; the bastard had wanted her to wake up. He had wanted her to be ready when he stepped into the girl’s dorm. Purposefully stepping on the squeaking floor boards to wake her up. Anger burned within her. Slowly she stood from her crouch, careful to remain in the shadows, and readied her lazer.

“Usually,” a sharp pain burst in Lexie’s head. She doubled over, dropping her lazer. She fell on the floor as her leg were pushed out from under her. The master of the floor stood behind her in the hole of the tumbled wall holding what appeared to be a long metal pipe, “You were usually the smart one,” he clarified as he kicked her lazer out of reach.

Lexie glanced at the lazer in the master’s hand, moving slightly away from him. He pointed it at her; she stopped, “Watch all the exits Gladmare, always watch all the exits.”

Lexie nodded, blinking away the pain behind her eyes, “That was my mistake, master, but you forgot to count yours.”

The master of the floor cocked an eye brow, “Mine?”

Lexie smiled sweetly, ignoring her pained head. She sent a kick swiftly into his crotch. The master of the floor yelped dropping both lazer and pipe, nearly falling on Lexie. She sprang up, “Never underestimate your opponent.”

She leapt out of the room but didn’t run down the hall. She hid in the shadows beside the door frame and picked up a large sized cement rock and waited for the master. She heard him grunt, she heard the clanking of metal as he picked up the pipe, and she heard him limp towards the door way. She readied herself and all emotion drained out of her. She took a deep breath as she saw the master’s shadow pass before the doorframe. He took a step out into the hall, she swung. “If you two keep hitting each other on the head like that none of you will be any good for anything but drooling in the corner,” snapped the voice.

Lexie ignored it and glanced at the master of the floor, who had fallen in a heap. For the first time she noticed something shining in his ear, an earpiece like the ones issued to every Citizen, she could’ve sworn she had never seen him wear one before. But that was when she noticed something else that made her blood run cold. He wasn’t holding a lazer. “Shit,” Lexie breathed as he started to stir, she grabbed the pipe instead.

She peered into the dark classroom, pondering if she should go back. She would have to search for a lazer that would be lying in the rubble. But the master could wake-up and attack her before she found the damn thing. But then again if she just ran off he could just go back and find one, leaving her open to be shot, possibly before she found Dmitri. Lexie took a tentative step forward. The master of the floor grabbed her ankle. She didn’t have time to so much as gasp before he rolled, sending her sprawling to the floor.

She clutched the pipe until her fingers hurt, as she hit the floor her breath rushed from her lungs. It took her a moment to react, shaking her head to clear it; suddenly the master of the floor was on her. Straddling her with his legs, he grasped the pipe only to slam it down on her chest. Another breath escaped as her fingers loosened their hold. She refused to let go. Lexie kicked at the air, struggling to get any kind of leverage on the master. She tried to find any kind of opening. Getting up was the only way of surviving.

With her loosened grip the master brought the pipe up to her throat. Lexie pushed against him, gasping for air. “You really were my favorite student, Lexington,” the master murmured as he pressed harder, “You had the drive, you could’ve won.”

Footsteps sounded throughout the hall, echoing off of the tiles and sounding loudly in their ears. The master paused, tensing slightly, but slowly a wide grin played across his lips, “It’s the boy, isn’t it?”

Lexie continued to kick the air, with the master started sway more vigorously. She kicked until her slamming feet started to become numb, still she forced herself to continue. “Yes,” the master mused, “I believe it is the boy…should we show him how his pretty little toy is going to die? Did you enjoy it, Lexington?”

Lexie didn’t understand, but he shifted so he pinned her legs down with his own. The master bent low towards her ear, “Did you enjoy your last fuck?”

Lexie smiled at his second mistake, his second opening. Using the floor as leverage she pushed the master off the ground, sending him sprawling onto the floor next to her. She jumped up, even as her numb feet threatened to give out from under her, she grabbed a crumbled wall to steady herself. She vision swam with the sudden air that filled her lungs. Taking deep breaths she heard the master’s quick shuffling behind her. She took off at full speed down the hallway towards the stairs, the pipe firmly in her grip.

She fell down the stairs; her numb feet slowly gaining feeling but not enough to dodge the debris on the stairwell. Reaching the ground floor, Lexie did the only thing she could think of to do: she raced for the entrance. Outside she would have a chance to stand and fight, outside she could win but she could just as easily die. It was a chance she was willing to take.

Slipping on the fragmented drone she reached for the door, barely gripping it with her finger tips she thrust it open. Blinding light streamed into the entryway, Lexie shut she eyes at the sight of it but didn’t dare slow her pace. She gasped as the smokeless air reached its cold fingers into her lungs. The smoldering city about her stood quiet and without the slightest trace of smoke or sound.

Lexie stopped when she was half way to the front gate. She turned, raising the pipe as she did so, and faced the master. Blood matted his hair, his eyes were shining and wild, and he looked too pale as he regarded her with animal like fury. Lexie felt her emotions slowly fade as she shifted the pipe into a defending position. “This ends now, Lexington,” the master snarled.

Lexie found herself smiling, “I thought you would never say that.”

They charged. Lexie swung her pipe at the master’s knee, hoping to shatter it with a single blow. He jumped out of the way, grabbing her elbow as it flew past him. He twisted; Lexie lost her solid hold on the pipe but stomped on his foot to send him off balance. He released her elbow with a growl and swung at her. She hit his swing away with the pipe. He swung again and again and again until his knuckles were bloody and raw from the contact with the metal.

Lexie took a deep breath after one of the master’s swings and swung her pipe with all of her might. She didn’t care where it hit, just as long as it would hurt. She could fight him if he was hurt. The master instinctively brought up his arm to block. A loud crunch sounded as the pipe made contact with his elbow. He screamed as he fell to his knees.

Lexie readied the pipe in her hands and swung again; she hit his back with a loud bang and sent the air out of his lungs. The master gasped, his eyes bulging out of his skull and his face turning purple with the effort. With his good arm he reached out to Lexie in a pleading gesture as Lexie got ready to swing again. But she stopped when she looked into his eyes. She saw fear.

Lexie paused, slowly emotion started to evade her senses. Real fear knelt before her; she had never considered the master to have fear. The two always seemed polar opposites. And yet here right before her knelt the master of the floor paralyzed with fear. Lexie glanced at the pipe in her hands and steadily tightened her grip.

A far off noise interrupted her thoughts. It sounded almost like a whistle. Lexie stiffened as she realized what it was-- lazer beam. The master of the floor jerked forward as his chest exploded spraying Lexie with his blood. She closed her eyes, against the gory sight. She heard the master thump to the ground. She slowly opened her eyes, unsure of what she was going to see. There at the front doorway of the school stood Dmitri with a smoking lazer held loosely in his grip. He wasn’t breathing hard or pale at the prospect of killing, he just squinted into the daylight as if regarding his shot. He wasn’t looking at her.

Slow clapping sounded in the empty yard. Lexie slowly turned around. There leaning against the front gate stood a tall man in a long tattered coat with rags wrapped about his hands. His cold green eyes sparkled with madness, his dirty blond hair stood on end as if he continuously ran his hands through it, and he was smiling. Behind him stood about ten Citizens all holding random objects. Kitchen knives, cleavers, metal pipes. “Well done,” the strange man cheered, “Well. Done.”

He took a casual step into the yard, shoving his wrapped hands into his pockets. Lexie rotated the pipe in her hand, ready to swing if the opportunity came. She heard the man chuckle, “Students,” he said the word like a curse, “I always knew you were horrible, but this,” the man gestured to the Master behind Lexie, “This just proves it. Doesn’t it, Citizens? Do you now believe what I told you is true?”

The Citizens murmured in agreement, the man never looked back at them. Lexie never took her eyes off the man. “You, boy,” the strange man called out towards Dmitri, “Come here lad, you act as if you don’t trust us,” the strange man burst into laughter.

Lexie heard Dmitri’s boots crunch as he approached. Lexie shifted, ready to spring forward as the strange man slowly came closer. “I wouldn’t do that,” the man smiled over at her, he nodded towards the Citizens, “how do you know they don’t have a lazer? How do you know they won’t kill you the second you make a move,” suddenly he laughed again, “Don’t you two talk?”

Lexie clenched her jaws tightly shut, her eyes slid into a glare. She wouldn’t take the chance with the mob standing there, no matter how few they were. She felt a hand gently on her shoulder; she steeled herself from shaking it off. Dmitri stood behind her; she could still see the lazer in his hand. “Not yet,” the voice inside her head cooed, “gain his trust, let his suspicion fade.”

Lexie to a deep breath and forced her limbs to relax. The pipe went limp in her grasp and she forced herself to regard the smiling stranger with curiosity instead of hostility. Slowly she placed her hand on Dmitri’s lazer and shook her head slightly. He squeezed her shoulder in acknowledgement, slipping the weapon in his pocket seconds later. The man laughed again, “Smart students,” this time he did turn to regard his small mob, “Interesting turn of events, wouldn’t you say Citizens?”

The man strolled closer to them, his smile never wavering, Lexie’s stomach started to churn. “I’m Vex,” the man said sketching a mocking bow, “I am the leader of the mob, I hope that doesn’t prove to intimidating for you.”

“Doesn’t seem like much of a mob,” Dmitri murmured, glancing at the cluster of Citizens.

“This is just a scouting party, looking for leftover food, people, or enemies such as yourself,” Vex smiled, “and you are?”

“I’m Lexie, this is Dmitri. You say we’re enemies but we’ve just met--surely there is a misunderstanding.”

“You wear the uniform of the Lords; there is no ‘misunderstanding’ as you put it. There is merely you against us.”

“It’s not like we had much choice in the matter.”

“You could choose to lay down your weapons,” Vex purred sounding almost too much like the voice in Lexie’s ear, “You could choose to be an actual Citizen.”

“And then die ourselves,” Lexie asked cocking an eyebrow, “I was thinking someone like you would understand- but I guess I was wrong.”

“Hmm, understand what exactly?”

“That if you didn’t do every fuckin’ thing the Lord’s said then you would die and they would get someone else to do the job. Until yesterday,” Lexie snapped, Vex smiled.

“I like you, you make me laugh.”

“Doesn’t seem like a hard job.”

“I was going to kill you,” he said shrugging, “but I think you might be better suited for another purpose.”

“You flatter me,” Lexie rolled her eyes, Dmitri’s hand tightened on her shoulder. A warning, she placed a reassuring hand over his.

“You can bring your lover with you,” Vex called as he turned on his heel and strolled back towards his tiny mob by the front gate, “If you try to escape, or fall too far behind we will kill you. And that would be a shame, wouldn’t it? The mob parted to allow Vex to stride through. “Come on,” Lexie breathed, stepping out of Dmitri’s grasp to follow Vex.

As they entered the little mob the Citizen’s closed around them. Lexie tightened her grip on the pipe again and only forced herself to relax after she realized they presented no threat, no matter how tattered, dirty, and shockingly frightening they looked. The Citizens forced their step to quicken as they followed Vex deeper into the city.

They traveled farther into the city then Lexie had ever been. They had passed the square, which still had the lingering smell of smoke, passed the twisting alleys in the resident districts and came to a set of guards. Lexie eyed the guards; they held knives which meant they could only fight in close combat, a lazer would quickly outmatch them. If only she could fire it without the Citizens around her suddenly deciding she was too much of a threat and just killing her where she stood. Worse she would alert Dmitri if she thrust her hand in his pocket, he would surely make a noise. She ground her teeth.

The guards stepped away with one glance at Vex. Lexie and Dmitri were quickly forced into the street. Unlike the other streets of the city this one was bursting with life. Lexie was sure she had never seen even the square teaming with this many people, but she bit back her surprise as the Citizens about her surged forward to follow Vex. Dmitri was not as subtle; he gaped openly at the throngs of people carrying supplies about the street. He stared at the giggling children who had knives clipped to their waists. He watched as people kissed, laughed, and joked openly as they had before. Not one Citizen had an earpiece in their ear. Interesting, Lexie noted.

Her gaze was fixed on Vex, wondering where he was leading then, wondering if she was going to have to get creative in planning an escape. It was a slight surprise when he suddenly turned to one of the houses at the center point of the street. He strolled casually up to it and practically bounced up the steps only to stroll into the darkness beyond. The tiny mob pushed them through the doorway but didn’t enter. Lexie glanced back at them only to realize that two of the mob guarded the door way while the rest had disappeared into the throng.

“Come in,” Vex called cheerily.

Lexie glanced at Dmitri and shrugged. She stepped into the darkness and followed the sounds of Vex’s footsteps. She tentatively went through hallways, up a flight of stairs when she heard footsteps over heard and then came to a sitting room were Vex lounged on a plain sofa. “Welcome,” he smiled up at them from where he lay, “So good of you to join us.”

“So good of you to lead us up,” Lexie growled eyeing the room before stepping out of the hallway.

The room was not large, just big enough to comfortably set a sofa and two arm chairs in. In two corners of the room, in the shadows cast by the window, stood two large men. Lexie did not doubt they were both armed. Vex chuckled, “Where else could you go? But come,” Vex jumped up from the sofa, “I brought you here to offer sanctuary.”

“What,” Dmitri blurted out before Lexie could laugh in his face.

“Sanctuary,” Vex said simply, “Back many thousand years ago I’m told that it was granted to witches, or some such, in a church. The church then protected-“

“Yeah,” Lexie growled, “We know.”

Vex laughed, “Then why ask for an explanation?”

“Why would we need sanctuary,” she glared, “We seemed to do just fine until you came along.”

“Ah,” Vex held up a finger, “There’s the rub isn’t it?”

“The what?”

Lexie glared back at Dmitri, Vex just sighed, “Here I thought the two of you were actually intelligent. Do you say anything else?”

Dmitri tensed but said nothing else. Lexie turned back to Vex, satisfied that Dmitri would shut up for the time being, “What is the problem?”

Vex smiled, “So one of you is intelligent, interesting. You were fine until I found you, who’s to say that you’re going to be fine after? Things can happen if you don’t make the right friends. Would you like to be friends, Lexie?”

“If I don’t?”

Vex shrugged, “then we won’t be enemies for long.”

Lexie heard the clicking of a lazer from one of the men, she didn’t take her eyes off of Vex, “You would do that for us…for nothing in return?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Every Citizen has to do something to help the whole, if we are going to take down the Lords we will all have to work together. I would have to know you could do that.”

“What are you suggesting?”

Vex shrugged as if thinking but Lexie could see he already had something in mind, “A test, perhaps?”

“Fine,” Lexie snapped, “What do we have to do?”

“Not the both of you, just you.”

Dmitri opened his mouth, but thought better of it and snapped it closed. Lexie cocked an eyebrow, “And why is that?”

“Your lover already showed his disdain for the city. I believe it was he that pulled the trigger. Would you have been able to kill that man if he wasn’t there? Or would you be dead and that man be standing in my sitting room?”

Lexie glared again, “Point taken, what do you want me to do?”

Vex snapped his fingers and a door that had originally been obscured by shadows burst open. Two Citizens emerged dragging someone between them. Lexie couldn’t make out who, but they wore the school’s uniform. Lexie felt her emotions drain away as she regarded the limp figure. The two Citizens thrust the figure before Vex; eventually the figure stirred and managed to get to all fours. From its groans Lexie’s guessed it was a girl.

Vex motioned to one of the men standing in the corner and a lazer was passed to him. Vex then turned to Lexie and presented the lazer, “Kill her,” was all he said.

Lexie stepped up and grabbed the lazer, instinctively checking the charge level then aiming at the figures head. The figure shifted and looked up at her with unfocused eyes. Lexie felt her emotions start to rise as Dmitri gasped behind her. “Lexington,” Ari said from the floor, lisping around a swollen lip, “Do it.”

“No,” Alexander jumped out of the chair.

He regarded the board with wide eyes. How the city could have fallen into ruins? How the Citizens could have possibly thought they could beat the Lords when it was the Lords how were giving them the ideas? How Ari could have ended up on the floor of that house with Lexie’s hand on the trigger of a lazer pointed at her head?

His brain went over the facts quickly, playing back all of the events that he could remember.

“Something wrong, lad?” Victor asked, smug emotion played across his face.

Alexander glanced at the board once more before slowly sinking to his seat once more, “no sir.”

Anya paid him no mind, she was murmuring into her ear piece as her hands flew across the board. Victor just laughed as he peered at the scene before him.



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