Zugzwang

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Chapter 14

Alexander watched as the players ran through the streets of the city. He watched as one killed while the other hid. He watched as the mob dispersed into the shadows. He watched as the players ran toward the outskirts of the city. He watched it all. From the beginning to now, the very end. He glanced at his masters. Neither said a word now, both stared at the board. It was the end and there had to be a winner.

Lexie sprinted through the shadows of the city, forcing one foot in front of the other. It was all she could do to keep from collapsing, all she could do to keep from shutting down. Ash swirled around her feet as she moved, she only cared about one thing. Getting out of the city.

She burst out of an alleyway and turned down a street. She remembered the street from a long time ago. She vaguely remembered a man walking her down the street on the day she went to the school. Her father. Something stirred within her. Hate? That seemed too strong of a word. Resentment?

The air seemed cleaner on this street, fresher. As if a breeze was breaking through the haze of smoke that seemed to have permanently settled over the city. Lexie slowed and took a deep breath. It was definitely fresher. Lexie ran faster.

Was that a speck of green? Did she even remember what green was anymore? It seemed like years sense she had seen anything but grey and black. She turned down another street. The road led to the green hill. Green.

The breeze coming from outside of the city tasted sweet and fresh. Clean. It was cool, welcoming. Suddenly all she wanted to do was jump on the grass and sleep. She wanted to forget. She wanted to disappear and never think. She slowed as she neared the grass as if afraid that it was all a dream, afraid that is was something else that could be taken away from her.

She took a tentative step towards the grass and knelt before it. Holding out her hand she brushed up against it. It didn’t disappear. The cold blades tickled her callus hands. She laughed and threw herself down upon it. The smell of dirt, the feeling of cold grass blades under her cheek reminded her of old days. She stopped the memories from flooding. She closed her eyes to the smoldering rubble behind her.

“Lexie?”

Lexie stiffened and sat bolt up right. Her lazer still firmly in her grasp. She hadn’t thrown it into the rubble of the city. That would have felt like betrayal. Lexie looked towards the voice as Dmitri walked out of the shadows. His uniform was torn, stained, and dusted with ash. He was bleeding. The blood had dried from his ear, but his lip was split and his right shoulder was torn, revealing another wound. Lexie could only guess what she looked like. Probably worse.

Dmitri smiled as he walked closer, holding out his arms to her. She smiled back and walked into his embrace. As his arms encircled her, her emotions came flooding back. The anger she felt at Vex, the fear in the mob, everything. She trembled as she held him tighter. Dmitri tightened his grip also, “It’s alright,” Dmitri muttered, kissing her forehead, “It’s over.”

Lexie pulled away sharply and held him at arms length. She looked into his eyes for a moment before she laughed. It wasn’t long before Dmitri joined her. Stepping away to look out over the smoking remains of what had been their home. It was over. Lexie felt herself gasp for air. It was really over. The lazer still hung loosely in her grip, there was a comfort in the familiar way the cold metal pressed into her hand. The way it reminded her of what she had done.

She refused to acknowledge the trembling of her fingers and the shaking of her breath. She could still hear Dmitri’s winded gasps as he looked out. She didn’t glance at him. She clenched her hands into fist to keep them from shaking.

“Lexie,” she tensed and the voice purred into her ear again, “turn around.”

She obeyed, feeling her stomach drop as her hold on her lazer tightened. Dmitri had frozen, his breath caught as he tilted his head to the side as if listened to something. Slowly he turned towards her, eyes wide as he began to slowly shake his head, “No,” he murmured to his invisible companion, “I won’t!”

Lexie stepped forward but paused once the voice purred, “Kill him, or he will kill you.”

Lexie understood. She remembered a slight hesitation when she had pushed him into the crowd. She remembered him holding her back at the school. She thought of his smile only seconds ago when he stepped out of the shadows. Had that been relief? Had that been real passion? She looked at him and felt nothing. He was only a person to take away the loneness- her love had burned with Ari’s body, her passion had died with Vex in the square. She looked in Dmitri’s wide eyes and felt absolutely nothing. She breathed in, her hands steadied, she breathed out, she felt her thoughts begin to fade. She raised her lazer.

She took another deep breath. Dmitri met her cold eyes; his were lined with terror. He ripped off his ear piece and threw it towards the rubble of the city turning back to say something. She fired, the familiar heat of the lazer burning into her hand. The beam piercing through his skull. For many seconds it was like nothing had happened. They still held each other’s gaze. Lexie still pointing the lazer at Dmitri’s head. Dmitri’s eyes stopped shining as thick trails of blood ran from the wound in his forehead. He crumbled to the ground.

“It’s over,” the voice said, “It’s done. Well done, Lexington.”

Lexie lowered the lazer and put it in her pocket. She ripped her ear piece off and threw it into the city. Taking a deep breath she turned away from the smoking remains and began walking.

Victor slammed his hands on the table and stood, knocking his chair to the floor. He stared at the board with a mixture of puzzlement and bewilderment. Alexander sat stiffly still in his seat, waiting. “It seems I win again,” Anya purred, slipping the earpiece off of her ear and placing it on the gaming table.

Victor said nothing, his mouth set in a grim line. “It would be time to alert the others, my dear, it is custom.”

Victor slowly raised his eyes from the board, “Right,” he said softly, “I apologize, your majesty,” he stood stiffly, “Long live the Queen.”

Anya nodded and waved for Victor to leave. Victor nodded, and left the rooms. Alexander stood and pulled his chair away from the gaming area, He paused once it was placed and looked back at Anya, “May I ask a question?”

Anya looked up from putting the gaming pieces away and nodded, “Of course.”

“This game--what was the purpose?”

“To choose the next ruler.”

“And if…he…had won?”

“Then he would be king. But, my dear Alexander, I have never been beaten.”

Alexander paused, “Never?”

Anya smiled, “Never. He’s tried every century; he is the only person that ever challenges me.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why a game?”

“Would you prefer a war? A game is much more tidy…for some of us. Why kill hundreds when you can control the amount of people involved.”

“But your husband-“

Anya held up her finger, “He’s not my husband,” she said coldly, “He is just a man who lives in my house because I let him. He is a child compared to me and an ignorant man at that. I can try to teach him,” she smiled at the last comment, “anyway, you better be running along. I can’t imagine how Ole Sally is going to have my head for leaving her short handed for three days. And Ella must be worried sick,” Anya gave him a knowing glance.

Alexander blushed and bowed, “Your will, My Lady,” he started to head towards the door.

“One more thing,” Alexander paused, his hand on the door handle as he turned to look back, “Please alert the weapons master, he’ll have another recruit before the day is out. When she arrives please bring her straight to me. I’m sure she’ll want to discuss somethings.”

“She?”

Anya smiled, the wicked glint sparkling in her eye, “Lexington, of course.”



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