Zugzwang

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Chapter 12

Lexie felt her teeth creak as she stared down at Ari. The last time she had seen Ari she had been wounded, yes. But now she was covered with bruises, one of her eyes was swollen shut, and looked as if she hadn’t slept for a week, which would account for her crooked nose. Lexie felt her finger on the trigger. Not yet. “What did she do to you?”

“Why does that matter,” Vex purred, a strange smile coming to his lips.

“If she did nothing to you and you kill her, how are you any better than the Lords,” Lexie’s eyes never left Ari’s.

“She’s a student-“

“So are we, and yet you offer us sanctuary and not her. Why?”

“Some people you can’t help,” Vex laughed as he took a step forward, “some people would rather scratch your eyes out.”

Yeah, Lexie thought, that sounded about right. Ari’s gaze didn’t waver; she didn’t condemn or glare. She was the calmest Lexie had ever seen her. That made it worse. “Plus I have no use for the wounded; if they can’t keep up we can’t help them. Double edged sword,” Vex shrugged.

“You have to do it, Lexington. Take your revenge through living; you can only live if you kill. Do it,” that was the first time Lexie heard the voice sound anything but completely in control, “This man is just like your father. He will sacrifice anything to save himself, you can take him down.”

She bit back a retort and continued to meet Ari’s gaze. She barely noticed the strips of cloth Dmitri had bound around her shoulder what felt like a life time ago. Lexie could still see Ari smiling over at her in the showers. Could still hear her laughter in the halls. But that wasn’t the girl that knelt before her now—that Ari knew she was about to die. This Ari held her gaze with her chin held high, her one open eye gleaming with determination, and her jaw set. She nodded, it was subtle, only someone who was looking would have seen the motion. Lexie swallowed the bile that threatened to raise in her throat as she felt her emotions slowly drain away.

“There are a thousand Ari’s; there are millions of people to love. This one doesn’t matter, does it? Ari doesn’t matter; she is only here to die.”

Somewhere, what felt like very far away, someone laughed, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to,” Lexie barely recognized Vex’s voice as she raised he lazer. Lexie placed the barrel of the lazer against Ari’s head. She felt Ari’s weight as she leaned into it. She looked at Lexie one more time before closing her eyes, letting out a relieved sigh. Lexie pulled the trigger, feeling the familiar heat as the beam shot through Ari’s forehead. Her head jerked back slightly as a spray of blood shot out of the back of her head. Lexie could practically hear the voice sigh.

She didn’t wait to see Ari’s body fall, she turned and pointed the lazer at Vex. He took a step back, his eyes bright with uncertainty. Lexie laughed before she saw the lazer the other man in the corner held pointed at her. Vex laughed as he saw he gaze shift. “You made a mistake,” Lexie growled.

“And what was that?”

“You gave me a weapon.”

Vex slowly clapped, stepping closer. “Impressive,” Vex cheered not giving the lazer a second glance, “Very impressive.”

He turned away and strode back to the sofa, throwing himself on it he regarded Dmitri and Lexie for long moments. Lexie lowered the lazer, but didn’t take her finger off the trigger. “Would you like to hear a story,” Vex mused, motioning for the man in the corner to lower his lazer as well.

Lexie cocked an eye brow, “you don’t look like the story telling type.”

He laughed, “I’m not. Please sit,” he motioned to the two chairs, Lexie pretended not to hear Ari’s body being dragged out of the room as she took a seat, “But I think this story would be of great interest to you.”

Lexie laughed, “How so, exactly? I never liked bed time stories.”

“That’s…clear, to say the least,” Vex made a show of looking where Ari had kneeled only moments before, Lexie stiffened, “But nevertheless, it is going to be a true story claimed from the most reliable to sources.”

“What sources,” Dmitri murmured his eyes suddenly uneasy as he regarded the mob leader.

“The most reliable a Citizen can have, an ambassador of the Lords- a clerk of sorts- revealed the whole truth to us.”

“An ambassador?”

Vex shrugged, “you would be surprised what people would reveal when put to certain…pressures. I am the only one who knows this secret, this story, and now I’m going to allow you to hear it.”

“And why would you do us that honor,” Lexie mocked, “you about ready to shot us a second ago.”

Vex leaned back, pondering, “Maybe I just like you.”

Lexie bit back a scoff. She doubted it could be that easy but she was willing to hear what he had to say. Vex snapped his fingers, one of his men came out of his corner to kneel where Vex could whisper in his ear. The man nodded and quickly left, Lexie forced her fists to unclench. “So,” Vex clapped his hands and sat up, “to the tale. According to record there was a time when Citizens were not Citizens. They weren’t assigned duties to complete for the good of a city, but worked for positions that fit their hearts desire. The story I’m going to tell you both apparently happened before even this was established. A time when wars were fought with long sharpened bits of steel instead of lazers. A time when women did the healing and caring for a household. It was thousands of years ago according to the records.

“It was during this time when greed could overcome anything, even death. During this time a man, by a name that has been destroyed by the Lords, came to love a sickly woman named Eva. It seemed like true love, even to Eva's older sister- Anya- but one night Eva’s sweet heart didn’t return. It was the same night that Eva fell deathly ill.”

“I thought you said this had something to do with the Lords,” Lexie snapped, ignoring Dmitri, who was on the edge of his seat.

“It does, you just have to be patient. Eva fell deathly ill, she lasted for a few days and on the day that Anya was certain was going to be her last the lover returned. He swooped in like the valiant man that he was and demanded Anya meet him in the woods for a little chat. He appeared different, according to record, he was strange somehow- but it doesn’t give details. So Anya met the man in the woods and he revealed to her what he had become, what the devil himself had granted Eva’s lover so he could once again come back to her. He had been turned into a Vampire.

“Anya was so shocked she never even heard the pistol go off until she was falling into the man’s arms, dying. The Vampire did the only thing he could do, Eva would never forgive him for letting her sister die,” Lexie scoffed, Vex cocked an eyebrow but didn’t remark on it, he continued, “she was filled with this strange hunger this strange need to feed. But not on blood, on spirit.”

“What,” Lexie blurted before she could stop herself.

“Got your attention now, didn’t I?” Vex smiled, “According to the record the first Vampires: Anya, Eva, and the man didn’t drink blood. That was only a way in which to turn individuals into Vampires. In fact, the first Vampires were kindly folk, bright blue eyed, pale skinned, and creatures of the night. Not killing, but feeding on the ghosts of ancestors who willingly came to them to be set free of their purgatory. It was only through mutation that they changed into what we think of now: with their auburn eyes, pale skin, deadly smile, dangerous creatures that can rip out your throat without much thought. That is what they have become. That is who we are fighting against.”

“I feel like I’m back in the Master of History’s classroom again,” Dmitri groaned softly.

Lexie cleared her throat, “Did the records say anything about the First generation being inhumanly fast, emotionless and cold?”

Vex looked at her sharply, “The ambassador didn’t mention it, why?”

Lexie shrugged, “They call it a school for a reason. What about the other generations? Did he say anything about them mostly focusing on their desires compared to the others who might have had more human in them then the later genetic abnormalities allowed.”

Vex sat back on his sofa, “It seems someone paid attention in school.”

“We talked about the Vampires before hell decided to break loose.”

Vex threw back its head and laughed, “That’s a cleaver way to put it, I like that.”

Lexie waited for Vex to calm himself. “Seeing as you seem to know so much about them, why don’t I put you in a scouting unit?”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“Oh, I would send you in a group about the city. Bringing in Citizens or anything we could use and finding out any useful information about the Lords. You can figure out how their minds work.”

Lexie cocked an eyebrow, “You may as well demand me to move the moon while you’re at it.”

“Hmm, maybe later,” Vex purred with a sly smirk, “For now Hydson will show you to your room,” Vex snapped his fingers, one of the men came forward.

Lexie eyed the large man wearily as he stepped into the dim light. His thick jaws were clenched shut, his eyes seemed to glare, and his shoulders seemed to be three times as large as Lexie’s and held only muscle. The man, Hydson, nodded to Vex then motioned for them to follow. Lexie took a deep breath and quickly obeyed. “Oh, one more thing,” Vex called, “We don’t take kindly to traitors. If you see one report it, would you? I would hate for something to get around.”

Lexie regarded Vex. He hadn’t turned around to speak so she only saw the back of his head, her eyes slid into a glare but she answered, “Of course.”

She spun on her heel and walked into the dark hallway closely behind Hydson. The man led them both out of the quiet house and down the street. He never said a word as he quickly stepped through the crowd, leaving Dmitri and Lexie to scurry after him.

The people paid them no mind as they slipped through the street. The same strange joy and laughter that Lexie had first noticed when entering was still there, but she noticed the little things she had ignored before. The laughter came from the children with blood on their knives and the silence came from those that kept their eyes to the floor, their skin grey and their knuckles white from where they held their burdens too tightly. Hydson suddenly turned up a set of stairs that led to a building very much like the one Vex lived in.

He opened the door and entered right in without looking to see if they followed. Dmitri looked back at her with a questioning look, Lexie just shrugged. The entryway was dark and smelled of mold. Lexie’s nose twitched but she stopped as she noticed was lay in the hallways. People of all ages lined the hallway, sitting in the floor, sleeping in the dark doorways. They all wore soiled clothing. Some clutched metal bowled full of something resembling food. Hydson paid the people around him no mind as he all but sprinted up the stairs. The second floor wasn’t much different from the other but one room was open, one room held a faint breeze and didn’t smell of mold. “Jez,” Hydson called as he slipped into the fresh room with Lexie and Dmitri behind him, “Two others that need rooms.”

A woman sat behind a well polished desk with stacks of papers all around her. Lexie thought she was a tall woman, but it was difficult to tell with her sitting behind a desk. She was thin and had long blond hair that was clean and tied out of her face. Upon hearing Hydson, she quickly looked up, her bright green eyes were red from reading to long in the dim light, “What does Vex think I am? A miracle worker! We have more people then cleared buildings! Does he want me to will a building up out of the bloody ground?”

Hydson chuckled, “Now that would be a convenient power! Yes, please do that!”

“Out!”

Hydson laughed as he slipped out of the room, leaving Lexie and Dmitri alone with Jez, who was rubbing her temples and grumbling under her breath. “I don’t supposed you know what you would be doing do you?”

Lexie cocked an eyebrow, “He said something about a scouting party.”

“Well at least that helps,” She sighed and started shifting through papers.

“How have you organized so quickly,” Dmitri murmured as he stared at the woman scribbling something on one of the papers.

“Was a landlord before, I have papers for the whole block. Wasn’t difficult to start handing them out to people. Here,” She handed Lexie the paper she had been writing on, “Number 2324. It’s next door. 232 is the building number and 4 is the room. Shouldn’t be to hard to find. Now excuse me while I figure out how to telepathically build a building,” she grumbled turning back to her papers.

Lexie nodded to Jez’s bowed head and led Dmitri out of the house trying to ignore the staring eyes of the people of the hallways. “Well I liked her,” Lexie grinned at Dmitri, “at least someone here has a hint of spark.”

Dmitri cocked an eyebrow before turning to the houses scanning for numbers, “So that’s what it was.”

Lexie elbowed him before pointing to the numbered house and leading the way, “I’d rather her be snappy then realize we are in a mob of lunatics.”

“Point taken.”

Lexie and Dmitri entered the house. No one was sitting in the hallway of sleeping in the dark doorways. It was silent. Lexie felt the hair on her neck rise. She clutched the paper Jez had handed her not sure what to do with it if someone came at them with a lazer but it was better then nothing she assumed. Lexie took a tentative step into the hallway and peered at the first door on her left. It read ‘Number 1’. Lexie shrugged, “She was right. It should be easy to find.”

“Great,” Dmitri mumbled, slowly shuffling behind her, “This place gives me the creeps.”

Lexie grunted in agreement, slowly stepping farther and farther into the house. The floor boards didn’t squeak under their weight and Lexie was careful to make sure her heels didn’t click as they moved. Something didn’t seem right, compared to the noise outside this house was ghostly quiet. Lexie came to the last door on the floor. It read ‘Number 3’. She sighed, “It must be upstairs. Come on.”

They back tracked and rushed up the stairs. The first door on the right read: ‘Number 4’. Lexie gently set her hand on the knob and leaned close to the door. Silence. She slowly turned the knob and eased the door open. The hinges let out the finest squeak. Lexie tensed. The sound of boots hitting the floor echoed through the empty hallway. She could feel Dmitri freeze as she slowly eased her hand into her pocket. The cold steel of the lazer slid into her hand easily. She held her breath and she felt her emotions slowly drain away. Cool determination filled her as the steps grew closer.

Lexie let out a long breath and whipped around, lazer firmly in her grasp as she pointed it at the man who had come around the corner. The man froze, his eyes widened slightly at the sight of the lazer but he was smart enough to keep quiet. The man looked as if he had just showered, his hair was dripping and he looked clean which was not something you could say about his Citizen uniform, which hung about him in rags. Lexie cocked an eye brow, “Had time to shower but no time to change.”

The man’s eyes glanced down at himself for a split second, “Woman’s apartment,” the man murmured, “was going to get commissioned some. Scouters?”

“So we’ve been told,” Dmitri growled from behind her.

The man nodded and slowly lowered his hands, Lexie reluctantly lowered her lazer. “Me too,” the man nodded to Dmitri, “got into a bit of a scrape a couple of hours ago…hence the uniform.”

“Scrape?”

The man glanced at Lexie, unconsciously straightening his uniform, “A few of us got trapped in a collapsing building and had to dig our way out.”

“Survivors?”

“A few, we tried to get them out by they were—” the man’s eyes slid into a glare, “Why?”

Lexie shrugged, “Curious,” the lazer was heavy in her hand, it’s coldness pressed firmly into her skin. She could imagine it heating with a ready beam to kill the man before them, it was tempting. One less minion of Vex’s.

“Careful,” purred the voice as Lexie involuntarily tensed, “bide your time. Earn his trust.”

Lexie took a deep breath, feeling her emotions rush back she turned back to the man. “Lexie,” she nodded to him, “This is Dmitri.”

“Charles,” the man nodded in turn, “I guess I’m your neighbor.”

Dmitri let out a weak laugh, “If you can call it that. Are there any others.”

Charles shook his head, “Not many, most are at the assignment house waiting to be put into a category and put to use,” he sighed, “Well best go find clothes. Catch ya at the next scouting party?”

“Most likely,” Dmitri called as the man took down the stairs and through the halls, “Well…that was pleasant.”

Lexie cocked her eyebrow at him, he rolled his eyes, “Well at least as pleasant as it could be with you pointing a lazer at his head.”

Lexie chuckled as Dmitri pushed the Number 4 door open. The room beyond was as dark as the halls and sparsely furnished with the uniform furniture provided in every apartment. The walls were bare and there was a faint smell of jasmine hanging in the air. They slowly stepped in, it felt empty. Too quiet. Dmitri slowly made his way over to one of the chairs and gently put his hand on the soft fabric, he sighed, “Someone lived here two days ago,” he whispered, “this was someone’s home.”

Lexie quickly went to one of the windows that lined the far wall. Grabbing hold of one of the drapes she pulled it back. Light streamed into the room, blinding them both for several seconds. Lexie blinked the light out of her eyes and looked down at the busy street, looked down at the newly freed Citizens as they hurried about their new tasks. “It’s had new tenants before,” she muttered, “We are just another in a long line of people who have lived here.”

“That’s a grim way of looking at it.”

Lexie shrugged, turning away from the window she glanced around, “That’s the only way to look at anything now. Grimly.”

There was the sound of running footsteps on the stair. Lexie and Dmitri froze, staring out their door that still stood open. Seconds later one of Vex’s body guards slipped in, locking eyes with Lexie, “You are requested. A scouting party is being formed.”

Lexie shot Dmitri a hard look then nodded for the man to lead the way.

Anya sat back looking at the board with a sly smile. Alexander watched her. He knew what was going to happen would not be good, nothing up to this point had been ‘good’. But something in her smile made him particularly uneasy, especially because, though she was not touching the board or even talking into her ear piece, Victor’s hand flew round his side of the board. Every now and again he mumbled something into his ear piece or snapped another command. Every time Victors frustrated exclamations broke through the air Anya’s smile grew just another fraction wider.

Anya turned to Alexander and beckoned him closer with her delicate hand. Slowly Alexander rose and knelt by her side. “Move closer to the board,” she whispered smoothly, “it is almost time.”

“Time?”

Anya smiled her beautiful smile. It was almost as if she was a mother smiling as the foolishness of her beloved child. A spark of hope erupted in Alexander’s stomach. “Time for it all to end. All we have to do is sit and wait.”

He forced his stiff legs to stand and push the chair he was been sitting on for hours, days, closer to the board. Then he sat and waited. He waited for the end to finally come.
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