Zugzwang

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Chapter 15

Alexander flew through the mansion. He ignored the stares of the other butlers and maids that he passed. He shrugged off the questions that were shouted in his wake. He burst out of the halls and took a deep breath of fresh air. He turned his face to the sun and chuckled to himself. Three days locked in that room, it had felt like an eternity.

The familiar sound of the yard came back to him. The horses to his left nickered at the wooden fence. The fountain in the entrance courtyard bubbled to his right. He almost couldn’t look before him to the city that he had watched, the city he had always admired from a far. But he had to; he had to convince himself that it was all a lie.

He looked down the hill at what used to be the great city the Lords ruled over, now it was nothing but rubble. Black smoke still rose from the ashes. The districts that had been so pristine that day he walked into the gaming room now lay crumbled amongst the grey disaster. Alexander swallowed. It had all been real.

The shuffling of feet broke through Alexander’s thoughts. He knew who it was. He took a breath and waited for the steps to stop. Once they had he turned towards her with a smile. A shadow stood before him. Her once beautiful blonde hair was now soot stained and falling about her shoulders in a tangled mess. Her uniform was ripped, stained with blood, and burned to reveal patches of white skin underneath. Her once sparking blue eyes now stared dully, all hope gone from their depths. Her lips were cracked and bleeding, her nails either ripped away or chipped into claws. She stood before him with her back straight and her jaw set.

“Hello Lexie,” Alexander nodded, smile still plastered to his lips.

“Are you one of them?”

Alexander shook his head, “I’m like you. I’m a butler.”

Lexie stared at him. He forced himself not to fidget and returned her gaze. “I didn’t want to come here,” she said softly, reluctantly.

Alexander nodded, “I know.”

“Why am I here?”

“The Lady wants to see you,” Alexander motioned behind him.

He watched Lexie’s jaw clench and her eyes sparkle threateningly for a second before the disinterested stare settled back. She slowly came forward and entered the mansion. Alexander shut the door softly behind them, watching as Lexie’s eyes scanned the entrance room. It’s high ceiling seemed to stretch for an eternity until it finally ended in a doomed peak. Bright light streamed into the room and cast light down the marbled halls from the tall windows. Alexander remembered entering for the first time. He remembered the wonder, the curiosity, and the fear that had played through him. Lexie didn’t seem to feel any of that.

He cold dark eyes turned back to him. She cocked an eyebrow, waiting. He shot her a quick smile and rushed before her, “Please come with me,” he muttered.

Their heels echoed off of the marbled floors as they past through the various hallways back to the gaming room. Servants stopped in their tracks when they past. Some stared, others turned on their heels and pretended they had never seen the two before. Alexander tried to ignore them. He tried to tell himself that they didn’t understand what had happened, they were all ignorant. But the silent footsteps of Lexie’s ruined boots frayed his nerves, quickened his steps, and had him wishing for the day to end. He just wanted to get back to the kitchens, he just wanted Ole Sally to tell him one of her stories and say that it will all go away tomorrow.

The great doors of the gaming room loomed before them. Alexander stopped and turned to Lexie. He didn’t know what to say. Lexie met his gaze for only a second before brushing by him and slipping into the room. Alexander caught the door before it could slam, quickly stepping in behind her.

Anya hadn’t moved. Her ice blue eyes regarded Lexie with a cool stare as she approached, the knowing smile still playing across her lips. “You’re her,” Lexie croaked, Alexander tensed.

Anya’s eyes sparkled as she nodded. Lexie’s shoulders slumped slightly, her hands forming white knuckled fists. “Why am I here?”

Anya’s cocked a delicate eye brow, “You came here of your own will,” she said gently, “Why don’t you tell me.”

Lexie’s shoulders had straightened once Anya had spoken. Her right hand flying to her ear as if to make sure the earpiece was truly gone. Anya laughed at the gesture when Lexie glared at the betraying hand and let it fall to her side once again. “I assure you, child,” Anya purred, leaning back in her chair by the gaming table, “I’m very real.”

“Why the fuck am I here?”

Anya shrugged, “I assume you are here for the same reason everyone else comes here after. Answers,” she let the word draw out, curling her delicate lips about the letters, wielding it as gracefully as an assassin wields a dagger, “I’m sure you have questions.”

“Hundreds-“

“And I know you have one request,” Anya gently grasped a goblet that had been placed on the table and took a sip, “If I do recall that is what kept you going.”

Lexie tensed, “Request?”

“Do you wish to know what happened to your father?”

Lexie let out a harsh laugh that sent Alexander jumping, Anya simply smiled, “I know what happened to my father, Vampire. You made that very clear.”

“Did I?”

“Yes. Why the fuck am I here?”

“Because you won the game,” Anya set the goblet on the gaming board.

Silence pierced through the room more deadly then a knife. Alexander wished someone would speak, but they only stared. He shuffled his feet nervously. “What,” Lexie croaked, “Game?”

“That’s everyone reaction,” Anya said gently, “But it is the only way.”

“Only bloody way for what?” Lexie snapped, Alexander could see her clenched fists shaking with rage as she took a threatening step forward, “Do you know how many people have died because of you?”

“Yes, the exact number. Do you?”

“I know how many I killed-“

“But you don’t know about the thousands of other people who were casualties? Don’t pretend to lecture me about the death in that city, child, I know more then you could imagine.”

“Why?”

Anya shrugged, “others are not as merciful as I am, but I can’t look like a weak one. You of all people should understand that.”

Lexie stopped walking forward, her back was perfectly straight, her hands loose at her sides, but she said nothing. Anya smiled gently; all of the mischievous sparkle had gone out of her eyes, “I thought you might.”

Anya stood and walked around Lexie, approaching the window that over looked the stables. Lexie stared at the game board, ignoring Anya. Alexander looked between the two in the silence that followed but could read neither of their faces. “Your father,” Anya said softly, not looking away from the window, “was a business man. He was a happy man, but he was also a smart man. No one ever gave him credit for how smart he was.”

Lexie’s head snapped up, her eyes glaring at Anya, “I don’t care,” she growled.

“You should,” Anya turned back to her, “My father drank himself to death in the sewers of a city long since dead. He didn’t love my sister or me. He didn’t care for her when she was sick and couldn’t care less when we were penniless on the street. He was not a smart man. I wish my father was half the man yours is,” Anya took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, “But even the wise stumble.”

Lexie’s eyes found Alexander’s. He knew something was wrong when their stares met. He wiped his sweating palms on his pants. “What did he do,” Lexie asked, her eyes once again fixed on Anya.

“He was handed documents of a smaller Lord not far from here,” Anya smiled sadly, “I’m sorry to say that this Lord was much like my father. Took more then he gave, fucked more then was wise, and drank enough to be a glutton,” Anya shrugged, “He wasn’t a great loss. But I couldn’t have your father knowing.”

Alexander swallowed. This all seemed familiar, but he didn’t know why. Had he heard of the unrest of a nearby city? He heard Lexie take a deep breath, “Knowing what?”

“What color are my eyes?”

“What?”

Anya laughed, “I promise there is a point. What color?”

“Blue,” Lexie shrugged.

“Almost white, wouldn’t you say?”

Lexie paused, looking closer, “yes, I guess so.”

“No one in the world has eyes this color. Not any of the Lords, no human, no one.”

Lexie bit her lip, suddenly unsure. Alexander thought he could see a sparkle of life finally reach her eyes, “Are you one of the firsts?”

Anya smiled, “You have heard my story from Vex. I’m Anya.”

Lexie’s mouth dropped open, she snapped it shut a second later. Anya chuckled and stepped away from the window, “The bullet was killing me when I was being turned. I was also the first one to be turned. Maximilian was born out of ice and darkness, he was fumbling at his first attempt,” Anya scanned Lexie’s face, trying to see if she understood.

Cold dread swept over Alexander as understanding took hold. Anya gave Lexie a sad smile, “Your father knew I wasn’t a full Vampire. Human blood still runs through my veins, much like yours. My heart still beats, child. But the other world still has its hands in me. Humans can never know.”

“Then why tell me?”

Anya glided over to her and placed one of her pale, delicate hands on her shoulder, “you were my general, you won the game for me. You helped me keep what is rightfully mine. You deserve to know the truth, if no one else. You also get to name your reward.”

“What happened to my family,” Lexie blurted, a hand flying to her mouth as if she hadn’t mean to say anything at all.

“Your mother couldn’t live, I’m sorry. Your brother was young enough to be rehabilitated. We sent him far away to another family. Your father sent you to the school, he knew once we got ahold of you we would have to kill you. You were too old.”

Lexie had gone paler then before, Alexander hadn’t been sure that was possible. He stepped forward, preparing to leap if she fainted. Lexie’s hand shot out, “Don’t touch me,” she spat at him, “Don’t you fuckin’ touch me!”

She fell into Anya’s seat, panting. Her eyes had gone wide but were fixed on the floor, not willing to look at either of them. Alexander stood between them, his mind trying to search for what to do, not knowing how to comfort, how to reassure. Lexie’s shoulders started to shudder. Anya stepped back, gazing down at her sadly, “He loved you, Lexington.”

“Stop.”

“He knew the school would be your only chance. It wasn’t hate that made him take you to that school. It was love. Love that gave him hope that you could win the school’s trials and have a normal life as a Citizen.”

“Stop it.”

“He watched. He watched the whole thing. He saw you kill, he saw you fuck, he saw you love. He never left. His eyes never wavered.”

“Stop it, stop it, stop it,” Lexie slapped her hands over her ears, her shoulders shaking with sobs as she squeezed her eyes shut. Alexander stepped forward as a sob escaped from Lexie’s lips; he paused and turned back to Anya. Their eyes met. He knew. The tears came on suddenly; the sorrow in her face displayed his own dismay. The dark fingers of dread started to sink in all about him.

“Why,” he asked as the wet tears traced his cheeks.

“Victor needed you to see even if you couldn’t understand. He needed you to see that no one can hide from us. He didn’t expect me to claim her as a general. He didn’t see what I did in her.”

Alexander’s eyes drew back to Lexie, still weeping before him, “Why can’t I remember?”

He felt her hand on his shoulder, she squeeze reassuringly, “It was the only way to keep you here, you would have tried to go after her. You would have rebelled. Your memory may return with time,” she said gently, “I won the game, you both may stay here. You can be my personal servant and she can be my guard, she’s proven herself enough for that. You will be safe under my care. My gift to you is life.”

“Until the next game,” Alexander heard himself say.

Anya laughed, “If you both live out the century then you are both more stubborn then I give you credit for.”

Alexander nodded to Anya. Her hand slipped from his shoulder and he knelt before Lexie. Her eyes were open but unseeing, tears flowing freely from her eyes. Her breath wasn’t racked with sobs as it had. Alexander gently tugged her hands away from her ears. They came away without resistance. He folded her hands gently in his and looked into her eyes, “Lexington,” he said gently, “Lexington, please look at me.”

She sniffed and blinked some of the tears from her eyes. Her gaze cleared as she turned her eyes to his. “I hated you.”

He nodded, “I saw.”

Fresh tears began to fall onto her cheeks, “I wanted to kill you.”

“I know.”

Her lip trembled, “I killed a lot of people.”

He smiled despite the sob that threatened to tear out of his throat, despite the constant tears on his cheeks, “I was with you,” he managed to whisper.

A sob broke through her lips, “I didn’t know.”

“You weren’t supposed to.”

He took a deep breath, looking down at their interlocked hands. A vague memory flash before his eyes of a little blonde girl that looked so much like her mother when she smiled up at him. The little girl held onto his hand tightly, always trusting he would be there, never letting go. Alexander looked up at Lexie and saw that little girl again. The tight grip she had on his hands was suddenly a wonderful lifeline. The sparkle of her eyes was enough to lift his heart. “I understand if you still feel that way,” he choked out, his trembling lips betraying him as he tried to smile, “If you still want me killed, if you still hate me I won’t stop you. Do what you must but promise me this,” he took Lexie by the shoulders firmly, “Live. Do you hear me, Lexington? Live. If not for me then for your mother and your brother. Live.”

Lexie shook her head, wiping snot away with the back of a soot stained hand as fresh tears fell down her cheeks. “Daddy,” she muttered as she slipped off the chair and into his arms, holding him tight enough to break his back.

Alexander encircled his arms around her, burying his face in her blonde hair. He smelt the ash and sweat that still caked her skin. He felt the torn uniform under his callused hands as he attempted to sooth Lexie. He heard Anya’s heels click as she slowly glided towards the door of the gaming room.

Alexander turned his head slightly and caught a glance of Anya as she was about to slip out of the room. She met his gaze and flashed him her sad smile. He nodded. She shut the door on them leaving both in the empty room filled with sadness, joy, and painful memories.


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