Zugzwang

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Chapter 2

Lexie stood and waited in the cold tiled room as the water slowly began to pour from the head. It started slow but soon began to blast. Steam swirled up into the air as sixteen shower-heads turned on at the same time. She sighed and slipped out of her uniform and behind one of the curtains.

“Fuck my life,” she swore as the searing water splashed onto her skin. She jumped back and glared at the water.

“You’re classy,” came a sly comment from the next shower, “Isn’t that saying like old?”

Lexie scoffed, “Not as old as you Ari,” she punched the curtain connecting the two showers and was rewarded with a squeal from the opposite shower.

Suddenly the curtain was pulled aside in a quick motion, revealing Ari’s glaring gaze, “So not fair!”

Lexie laughed, “you asked for it,” she stood proud, holding her head up high, making sure her friend took all of her in before she continued, “you called me old fashioned!”

“You called me old!”

They stared at each other for a moment then broke into a fit of giggles, “Well that’s one way to start out the day,” Ari sneered going back to her own shower.

“What? Being boiled alive by the shower system?”

Ari let out a loud laugh, “No I was talking about seeing your tits jiggle at the thought of another fight.”

Lexie playfully hit the curtain again but didn’t stop her laughter from echoing about the tiled room. Any self-conscious notion she might have had in her life had been forgotten a year ago. It was a year ago that her father had sent her away to live with the people in the school. She could still see his smile as he left her on the school’s doorstep. ‘We’ll be back to get you before you know it,’ he had promised.

He had even kissed her forehead before he left. She felt the familiar boiling of rage as she through back to that bright day on the stoop- the last day she had felt free. It was a year ago that her family had moved away ‘forgetting’ to tell her where they were going. In that year she had learned a lot, sometimes she really hoped that they turned up one day she knew just the kind of welcome she would give them.

Lexie forced herself to walk under the stream of boiling water. She felt the hot water soak into her hair and flow down her skin. She closed her eyes and drew in deep calming breaths. She smiled wider and turned her face up to the flowing water.

“Whatcha doin’?” Ari practically sang from the next shower.

“Playin’ with dolls,” she snapped, “what do you think I’m doing?”

“Just tryin’ to make conversation.”

“Yeah? Well make a conversation with that rats nest you call a hair cut! If I have to hear another pity party about it not being a pretty as everyone else’s I might shoot you myself,” a chorus of chuckles rang through the showers.

It was almost time to step out. Lexie ran her hands through her hair and about her body to get any sweat that might have lingered off then stepped away from the stream of water. Her body was red from the heat but once outside of the flow of water she shivered. She bit back a moan that crept to her lips and ducked out of the curtain, ignoring her discarded clothes on the floor she went straight to the drying station.

Lexie placed her hand on the scan pad, a few beeps and the drying door opened for her to step in. The heated air blew across her skin and vaporized the water that had been left over from the shower, she stepped out with her golden hair flowing to her shoulders once again and skin as dry as when she had entered the shower. “Good day to you Lexington,” said the dryer’s mechanical voice.

She had grown accustomed to ignoring it. She grabbed a uniform from the rack and started shoving her way into it. It was a routine; she did this every morning for the past year that she hardly cared that she walked about the room naked. She hardly cared when the other girls made crude suggestions and jokes about the male students of the school. She no longer blushed, cried, or thought about anything she said. It was invigorating. It was her life now. So when Ari bounced up to her in no clothes and still soaking wet from the shower that had ended only moments before Lexie did nothing but spank her ass. Ari yelped in surprise but a cheering fit exploded amongst the girls. She smiled over her shoulder as her friend winked back at her.

She was still smiling when she slipped out of the bathroom. She heard the drying machine start up but she was already putting the events of the bathroom out of her mind. She had to warm up before the start of the day, she might hate the early shower time but at least it got her awake enough to start her warm up before everyone’s day officially began. She moved through the dark halls of the school and stretched her muscles with wide deliberate movements meant to awaken limps and quicken steps. She moved from one windowless hallway to another, from darkened rooms to brightly lit classrooms where teachers polished guns and grunted a greeting.

Lexie entered the underground gym and spotted the master of the floor. She received the usual grunt and then he turned away. She smiled, and turned to view the whole floor. Sometimes the master would be in a talking mood and would insist on telling her a tale of the old days when the high lords of old didn’t rule over the domains and guns were the only lethal weapon of choice. She glanced over at the master, making a note of something on his board- what could be on his mind today? She walked up to the rope dangling from the ceiling in the middle of the room, she studied it for a moment then in a sudden wave of motion she began her climb.

Everyday she tested something different. Sometimes she would try to climb as fast as she could, other times she wouldn’t use her hands, sometimes she tried carrying the rope up with her, today she decided to not use her legs. It was a fast exercise and by the time she descended the training master nodded at her approvingly before turning back to his well oiled cross bow. She smiled at his approval; she had come to think fondly of the older man. She didn’t think of him as a father, she didn’t hate the man after all, but she thought of him fondly.

Smiling as he turned away, she turned on her heel and began another exercise. In what seemed like minutes that clock struck 7:15, breakfast. Lexie suddenly became well aware of her empty stomach and it’s loud grumblings for food, dropping her throwing lance into the container, she rushed off to the mess hall.

Everyone was already there, she sighed. Which meant she got the cold food. She groaned as she got in line behind one of the larger boys of the school. Eli, as the boy was so fond of calling himself, rocked back and forth on his feet as if he was a breath away from falling over and sleeping right there. Lexie eyed him uneasily before clearing her throat loudly, “I’m not a genius or anything but you look like you could use some sleep there, friend.”

Eli tensed and whipped around to face her. he saw her and relaxed considerably, Lexie wasn’t sure she liked that. He sighed, “Sorry,” he mumbled grudgingly, “everyone in this place could use some sleep.”

Lexie laughed, after her shower she had no warm thoughts of her bed just warm thoughts about the next person she would have to face in the basement gym. “Maybe if you’re a newbie,” she gave Eli a hard poke in the ribs, “but I know for a fact that you’re not! So suck it up!”

She thought she saw Eli grin, “thanks for the pep talk.”

“Any time,” she said cheerfully and plastered a big grin on her face. The moment he turned his back it disappeared. He was a large boy and might have even been her age, but he stooped when he walked and had less brains then a fish. She sighed and went back to fantasizing about her cold food, she grimaced with the thought.

The line of students went fairly fast compared to some mornings when one of the food machines had stopped working. But the machines that day decided to serve at mild pace, producing heaps of sludge on the glass plates in an orderly manner. Lexie wasn’t the most patient of people but she watched as the first few individuals in the line got steaming plates of the mystery food and then saw again how the food slowly got colder as the line progressed. Sometimes she really hated it when the machines decided to reward the people that got to the room the fastest. It was another reward for being the best- one that she never got.

She watched as Ari danced to one of the tables and waved to her. Ari’s steaming plate of food was more of a slap in the face then a friendly greeting, still she smiled back and continued to wait in the line. Once she finally got her plate she turned on her heel and quickly walked to Ari’s table. She wasn’t embarrassed about getting the last dish of food, by now it was practically. Lexie set her plate down at the table and slid into the seat opposite of Ari. Ari’s usual hair was still in a mess of tangles, Lexie held in a chuckle as she wondered, not for the first time, how in the world Ari could manage to tangle it in such a short amount of time. The bloody drying machine was supposed to take care of that factor all together. “Eli,” Ari asked in an amused tone, snapping Lexie out of her thoughts.

Lexie shrugged, “He hardly has the skill, the only reason he lasted this long was because he isn’t afraid to run up to someone and beat them to death and he’s good at taking orders. He hardly has a brain the size of a pea.”

“Have you ever seen a pea?”

Lexie cocked an eye brow, “I don’t tend to look in the bathroom while others piss, thank you very much.”

Ari smiled and went back to her mystery meal while Lexie flinched away from hers, taking little bits and hoping they would stay in her stomach. Ari sighed, “Why don’t you get here early for once in your life? I know you hate the cold food, and you get dressed faster than anyone else! Take one day off will ya?”

Lexie shook her head, “the moment I take a day off is the moment I think of something else that could make my life easier. Not many people survived by taking it easy on the battle field.”

“You’re a fuckin’ cheery fairy ya know that?”

Lexie smiled and took another bite of the gruel before her, “I try.”

“You know the rules of the game my dear,” Victor laughed as he sat on the opposite end of the table from Anya.

She smiled mischievously back at him, “Always, my love, but our guest would be quite confused if you didn’t explain,” she motioned to Alexander, who stood motionless by the door, his face a sickly pale color. Ella and Ole Sally had told him nothing. Not even begging had softened their pale features enough for them to shed some light onto what was going to happen. He could only listen and pray.

“Quite right,” Victor motioned for him to come closer to the table.

The game board stood in the middle of the room. It was one of the more modern pieces in the grand manor, it displayed anything the players wished and, at the moment, it displayed dozens upon dozens of people. Alexander felt his heart sink as he approached, bowing respectfully to Victor. “The game starts simply,” his master began, “We choose our players.”

Anya nodded, “Six players each, and they will all have different motives during the game in which only either one of us will know,” she smiled delightfully, “Do you remember that one glorious game we played all of those years ago?”

Victor returned her smile, “My dear that was about three thousand years ago! Of course I remember,” he laughed loudly, Alexander felt more blood drain from his face at their cheery recollection, “You completely fooled me with that old fool in the wheel chair, I never saw it coming.”

Anya chuckled, “Well your little man with the strange patch of hair on his face wasn’t very subtle was he? He just went out and almost killed a whole race!”

Victor shrugged, “It had to be done.”

“You still lost,” Anya smiled wickedly.

“So I did,” Victor paused for a moment, a strange look came to his eye but was gone the next second before Alexander could comprehend what it was, “let us choose.”

Alexander watched as the Lords examined each of the people displayed on the board. It took a while, they both picked up certain people and either set them aside for later examination or discarded them completely, everyone was on there. They didn’t limit themselves to just adults but children, infants, and animals were examined to their full extent. Alexander gulped as he watched the display of individuals grow thin.

Anya picked up a girl. The girl wore a black uniform with a strange symbol on the back, her golden hair was cut off at her shoulders, and she held a grim expression. Anya examined this one the closest but Victor wasn’t paying any attention to his wife. Slowly Anya smiled, glanced at her husband and slowly set the girl down with the other players she meant to keep.

Victor discarded quickly without examining most of his options, very different from his wife’s methodical calculations. He chose people that seemed the strongest and discarded one’s his wife might have used such as a tiny girl with a wide grin and tangled brown hair. One’s he hardly glanced at. The Lords hadn’t told him the actual point to the game but Alexander was willing to bet that it wasn’t anything mundane like a simple game of chess.

In about half an hour the Lords had six people in front of them on their side of the board. They said nothing for a long time, just stared at their players as if contemplating what they were going to do next, wondering if they made the right decisions. Suddenly Victor turned to him, “the objective of the game, my dear boy, is to defeat or kill the opponent’s players. But there is a catch, each player is given the ability to think and feel. One must deal with these emotions in order to have the player do what they want. Do you have any questions?”

Alexander thought about shaking his head but stopped himself, “What would be the difference in defeating and killing?”

Victor smiled but it was Anya who answered, “Killing is the same as defeating but you can defeat a person in many different ways. For example putting a player in jail is the same as defeating them because they can no longer accomplish what we want them to.”

Alexander nodded, “I understand, ma’am.”

Anya smiled turning to her husband, “Shall we begin, my love?”

Victor smiled at his wife lovingly, “I’m always ready, my dear.”

And so it began.

This class was always boring. There was nothing wrong with that particular class except for the fact that it had no guns to demonstrate, no strategies to go over, and the master of the classroom could lull anyone to sleep. Other than that it was not that bad of a class, or so Lexie tried to tell herself as she forced her eyes to stay open.

She tried to tell herself that people had lived through this history. She tried to tell herself that, for the people of old, it wasn’t a boring class but their everyday lives. People had lived and died throughout these wars but that didn’t help that fact that her brain really just wanted to shut down and let her take a nap on her desk and to hell with the consequences. She refused to give in. If she wanted to become a serious threat she would have to know everything about all of this, not just the things she found fascinating.

“In the times of old, no one believed that they existed. Everyone thought that they were tales told to scare children or tales told to entertain but we now know that they were wrong, so very wrong,” the master of the class said in her most spooky sounding voice, Lexie blinked hard to keep from rolling her eyes, “Studies have shown us that the first generation of Vampires came into being around the eleventh century and over time they have morphed and changed. The first generations of Vampires are still strong like newborns, are still unbelievably fast, and yet can be impossibly civilized. That is why we let them rule over our societies as the lords of old.”

This was a lie. Everyone knew it, even the master of the class knew it, but it was something that she was forced to say. Lexie knew all about the War, it was a war that could end all wars. It nearly wiped out the human race and left the Vampire’s standing with hardly any food left to eat. Lexie also knew that the only reason the humans had been allowed to live after this fact was because of the sacrifice that the humans were required to make to the Vampires every so often. What that sacrifice was, however, the restricted book in the back of the library had been very sparse on that topic. It was amazing what one could still find in a book.

Lexie forced her mind out of the daydream and made herself listen. “The Lord’s and Lady’s of old have been very good to the human race,” continued the master, “When human society tore itself apart the Lord’s helped build us up again. When the humans fought them they forgave and took them under their protection.”

She let out a silent sigh and blocked the rest of the lecture out of her head but continued to stare at the master. She wished the bell would ring soon. She was already taking stock of her muscles, making sure they were still warmed up from her exercises. She would be lying if she said that they hadn’t grown a little stiff but she was sure she was better prepared than most of her classmates. She allowed her lips to twitch upward at the thought. “So tell me,” the master of the classroom said in an eerily cheerful tone, “What is wrong with this history?”

Lexie’s attention snapped back into focus, what? The room grew deathly still but the master of the classroom just leaned against her desk and waited for an answer. No one dared to move. Was this a test? What were they supposed to say? Should they plead ignorance? “If no one answers then I’ll just start calling on people to answer,” the master smiled again.

Lexie held her breath, something didn’t sit right. She felt her eyes slide into a glare as she studied the master who continued to lean lazily on her desk. The master shrugged, “Dmitri,” she said suddenly, “What is wrong with the history I gave the class?”

A boy from the right side of the classroom stiffened, Lexie could see him in her peripheral vision. He had shaggy mouse brown hair that barely stayed out of his wide brown eyes. He was tall and lanky, not as large as Eli who sat right behind him, and his full lips opened a little in surprise. He quickly collected himself; if Lexie hadn’t been keeping stock of everyone around her she would have missed his surprise. The boy sat up a little straighter, “I don’t believe I understand what you mean, master.”

The master of the classroom rolled her eyes, “yes you do,” she snapped, “now answer the question.”

Dmitri looked worried, “We didn’t let the Vampire’s take us over…they forced the human race to subside in order to take them over.”

The master nodded, “Good start, anyone else or should I chose more victims?”

Lexie chuckled at the choice of words but quickly bit her tongue when the master’s gaze swept the classroom. “Did you have something to add, Lexington?”

“I don’t believe so, master.”

The master cocked her eye brow, “I think you have something to say. Out with it, Lexington, despite what you may think we don’t have all day.”

Lexie felt a tense sensation rise up her spin, she swallowed, “I believe that War caused most of the human race to essentially disappear, in order for the Vampires to survive, and therefore preserve life on Earth, they had to stop the killing. They lead the humans into different societies, like one might lead the sheep of old into pastures for slaughter, and gave certain Vampire’s rule over each of these societies. For this protection, if we can be so bold as to call it that, the human race is required to provide a sacrifice to the Lords of old.”

The master’s eyes sparkled and a wide smile came to her lips, “Interesting,” she murmured, “Would you mind telling the class how you came up with such a situation?”

Lexie ignored the nervous tremors that threatened to overtake her body and shrugged her shoulders, “Intuition?”

The master laughed and turned her gaze back to the rest of the room, Lexie relaxed slightly as the attention shifted away from her. “Arianna,” the master said again, “What is the sacrifice?”

Lexie couldn’t help the widening of her eyes; her mouth fell open ever so slightly. Ari squeaked as the question left the master’s mouth, she slowly shook her head eyes widening with every back and forth motion, “I-I don’t know, master,” she stammered.

The master nodded, she said nothing nor did her smile waver. Another uneasy silence settled over the classroom, “Do you know Elijah?”

Eli looked up at the master lazily, he only shook his head. “Dmitri?” another head started to shake, “Clemington?” A girl with bright red hair from the back of the classroom shook her head.

The master smiled, “Then that is your assignment. Figure it out,” with that the bell rang signaling time for the basement gym training.

The students of the classroom reluctantly stood from their desks and started to file out of the room, passing the smiling master of the classroom as they did so. Lexie felt a shiver crawl up her spine.

Ari slipped up behind her in her usual silent way, “What the hell was that,” Ari whispered to Lexie urgently, “Does the master want to get us all killed?”

“I was under the impression that was why we are all here,” Lexie murmured under her breath, “Was there ever a question?”

Lexie practically heard Ari roll her eyes, “Fine, but I still don’t like to be reminded of it all day, every day.”

“Is that why you refuse to brush your hair?”

“Would you lay off my hair?”

Lexie shrugged but refused to show her amusement as they made their way through the halls. Her mind wandered back to the master and her questions. Most, if not all, of that history had been destroyed when the Vampires took an interest in the education of the human children. Lexie had always thought that their goal was to have the whole history erased, to have the human race believe that everything had always been the way they were.

The master of the floor stood in the center of the room and eyed the students as they entered. The students formed a circle around the floor master and waited for him to make the first move. Lexie took another stock of her muscles, checking for and tension left over from the conversation in the classroom. Her eyes never left the floor master and a secretive smile crept to her lips. The floor master swept his gaze over the circle of students, nodding to himself occasionally.

He pointed to Ari, who groaned, and then motioned to the rope that hung from the ceiling, “Quickly!”

Ari jumped into motion and threw herself on the rope. Lexie watched as her friend made her way up the rope as quickly as she could, which wasn’t very fast. Lexie flinched when her friend slipped, and touched the ceiling only to scurry down much quicker then she ascended. Lexie released a silent breath as her friend sprinted back to her side, the floor master didn’t look pleased.

He pointed to a well muscled black boy by the name of Eugene, “Show her how it’s done, son.”

Eugene was more than happy to oblige. He ran to the rope and started his ascend up to the ceiling; he was better than Ari, but not by much. He touched the ceiling in record time, but speed isn’t always everything. He wore himself out trying to climb fast and practically fell the last few feet to the floor. The floor master frowned again as Eugene ran back to his spot in the circle. He went through some of the other students, only smiling at one. Dmitri reached the ceiling without incident and quietly found his place back in the circle nodding respectfully to the master. Then the floor master finally pointed to Lexie, “What you did this morning,” he murmured before she took off towards the rope.

Her footsteps didn’t sound off the walls; she slipped silently up to the rope and quickly made her way to the ceiling not using her feet to help her climb. She touched the ceiling in a matter of a few moments and started her descent without a slip or a fumble. She came down as quietly as she ascended and took her place in the circle. The floor master smiled and nodded his approval as she took her place again. “Speed isn’t everything,” the floor master said, not raising his voice in the least, “silence and perfection is key,” he pointed at two of the students, “over there, first one to stay down loses.”

He paired off the students. Finally only Lexie and Eli where left. The floor master pointed to the two of them, “off in the corner,” there was a strange gleam in his eye as he regarded Lexie, but then he turned on his heel to observe the other groups. Lexie obediently went to her corner, hearing Eli’s stomp behind her.

She turned to face him and studied his position, Eli grinned misunderstanding her examination, “No holding back, girl,” the grin didn’t reach his eyes.

Lexie cocked her eye brow, “wasn’t planning on it,” she crouched and waited.

Eli held her eyes and squared his shoulders; they held that position for many moments. Then all of his weight shifted to his left, Lexie barely had time to grin before she kicked him square in the jaw as he lurched forward. Eli grunted as the impact sent him stumbling back, but he didn’t fall. Lexie held her position, eyeing him uneasily, she could never assume she held the upper hand, assuming was dangerous. Assuming anything could get you killed. Eli snapped back around to Lexie, a bruise was already forming on his lower jaw, and his eyes gleaming.

Lexie sized him. He was a large boy, which in itself was dangerous; he could kill her without breaking a sweat. He could, that is, if he had any brains. Instead he lunged wildly at her; she dodged easily and elbowed him sharply in the back. With another grunt he was sprawling on the floor and climbing back to his feet within seconds. Eli’s foot shot out before Lexie saw his shift in weight, catching her in the chin. Blood flowed into her mouth as she bit her tongue, growling in frustration she spit the blood out.

Eli had gotten to his feet while she had been distracted, Lexie’s eyes narrowed but Eli didn’t look as sure of himself as he had. Lexie dived, hoping the sudden movement would make him hesitate, she was wrong. Eli caught her arm and twisted sharply. Lexie cried out as blinding pain radiated through her shoulder joint, she felt the pop as she leaned forward to tumble the large boy to the floor.

Eli rolled over with a snarl on his lips but Lexie was already waiting for him. She straddled the boy and placed her knee on his windpipe. With just a little more pressure she could crush it and he wouldn’t get up ever again, no amount of emergency laser surgery would be able to bring him back. But the floor master didn’t say she had to kill him. She paused and looked down at the boy that was struggling under the weight of her knee; he couldn’t get a good grip on her otherwise she would probably have already been thrown against a wall. She felt his hands tearing at her clothing, searching for a way out of this; his body had already gone into the instinctual fight mode. She smiled at his feeble attempts to save himself, but then she felt the dead weight of her arm against her side. She tasted the blood on her lips. Her smile slowly changed into a growl, she put a little more weight on Eli’s wind pipe and he stopped struggling. She felt the crunch rather then heard it.

Lexie got up and started to pull her shoulder back into place. The floor master was a few feet away, she glanced up at him and he nodded, “Need the generators?”

Lexie shook her head, “No,” she gave her arm a sharp pull and heard the satisfying pop. She flexed her arm just to make sure, then looked at the master with a cocked eye brow.

The floor master nodded and walked away to inspect the other remaining groups in the basement gym.

Victor’s hand came down on the table, but instead of a scowl he gave a hearty laugh, “Starting the blood bath a little early aren’t you, my dear?”

Anya looked over at him innocently, “Whatever do you mean?”

Alexander thought he was going to pass out. He had seen children attacking each other in cold blood without a second thought. He had heard of the schools, but he hardly went into town. He had grown up at the mansion, away from society, and that was where most servants stayed. But the school--the school was something out a nightmare he wasn’t aware he was in. Alexander watched the board as the blond girl stood looking down at the body without the least bit of emotion on her face. Alexander thought he saw her distant eyes look up at him like she knew that he was thinking.

Victor snapped his fingers, Alexander jumped and bowed slightly out of respect, “Yes, my Lord?”

“Bring the hand maid in here,” Victor purred, “I find myself in need of a refill.”

Alexander nodded and rushed to the room’s entrance. Alexander escorted the young maid, Christine, into the gaming room. Christine was one of the maids that was kept for one purpose only. She wasn’t one of the servants that was born on the grounds but came from society. People like her always made Alexander feel uneasy.

Christine smiled at the Lord and Lady, bowed respectfully, and then offered her hand to Victor. Victor gently took it and sniffed, a tremor of pleasure radiated through his body as he produced a knife and slice into her palm making sure every drop of her blood poured into his cup. Alexander bit back the need to retch. The maid offered her hand to Anya who only smiled and handed the girl a bandage, “You are too kind, my dear.”

The maid blushed, bowed and then hurried out of the room as she wrapped her bleeding hand in the offered bandage. Alexander eyed Anya; as she watched her husband take a hearty gulp from his goblet.

She smiled when he place his goblet back on the table, “Shall we continue?”



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