Zugzwang

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 8

Alexander stood looking at the gaming board. He wasn’t aware of standing from his seat, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. Couldn’t bring himself to look away or close his ears to the horrified screaming that arose from the board.

Neither of the Lords had even moved. They hadn’t flinched as the explosion had wrecked over half the gaming board. They had scowled. That wasn’t the same. Flames were still swarming about the various districts and the square--the square was completely destroyed. If they continued on like this there would be no society left to rule.

That’s when he heard it. It was faint beyond the roaring of the flames but it was still there. “Why won’t they help us,” came one of the faint cries that reached his ears.

“Will you help them,” Alexander found his numb lips asking, not really expecting an answer.

“It is part of the game,” Victor replied, his eyes glued to a point on the board that Alexander couldn’t discern, “Everything will be straightened out after.”

More people were going to die- that was the only way to end the game. Alexander watched as a riot started to form on the streets of the once peaceful city.

Somewhere in the maze of streets, a glass window shattered. The sound echoed followed by shouting of angry Citizens. Lexie stopped walking and turned in the direction of the noise. Of all the things that could be running through her mind one thought continued to repeat: it was too soon. It didn’t make any sense.

It was too soon for a riot to start up. Citizens lived in peace, they weren’t like the students in the school, they only knew peace. They wouldn’t result to violence unless forced. Or persuaded. A thought suddenly struck Lexie. The voice.

Lexie clenched her fists but kept her expression indifferent. “Come one,” Dmitri said pulling on her sleeve, “We don’t want to be out here when that panic spreads throughout the city.”

Lexie rounded on him, “Where do you suggest we go? That explosion probably destroyed half the districts from the square from the Lord’s hill.”

“The school,” he said evenly.

“Did you not hear the part about the explosion?”

“The school isn’t on the square. It’s only near it.”

“That’s comforting.”

“You have a better plan?”

Lexie glared at him, her mind racing. The buildings around them would never do, the mob would probably destroy everything in its path if past histories were to be relied on. The flames were heading in the general direction of the home districts- that was out. The one place the mob would never go was the school. The Citizens feared it. Lexie dared the voice to give her another idea. It didn’t. “No,” she said finally.

Dmitri nodded, “Alright then,” he turned on his heel and led the way back.

The sounds of the mob got louder as they moved through the blocks. They picked up their pace, as they continuously glance about the street for signs of the mob. “Wait,” Lexie called reaching out for Dmitri, “Let me go first.”

“Lexie,” Dmitri sighed, “I know where-“

“I have a lazer and we’re heading towards the mob, not away from it. Let me go first.”

“Or you can give me the lazer.”

Lexie smiled, “You’re not much of a shot.”

Dmitri blushed slightly but stepped back to let her pass. Lexie pulled the lazer out of her pocket and began to cautiously continue the walk.

“I didn’t think you noticed,” Lexie heard Dmitri mutter.

“What?”

“That I was a bad shot.”

“You almost killed the master of the floor.”

Dmitri sighed, “The one time I do that, you notice.”

“You’ve never hit the target.”

“Okay,” Dmitri snapped, “I get it! You’re observant!”

Lexie immediately felt threatened, she swallowed the stiffness. Instead she forced herself to relax, “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it.”

She heard Dmitri start to mutter something else, but then part of the mob rounded the corner of the street they stood on. “Shit,” Lexie whispered, grabbing Dmitri by the arm she dragged him to the nearest alleyway, “Keep up I don’t know how big the mob is,” she called over her shoulder as she started to jog down the alleyway.

Lexie didn’t look back as the angry shouting of the mob filled her ears. She rushed out of the alley only to quickly dart into another, lazer still firmly held in her grip. More shattered glass echoed, people shouting, pleading, screaming for the Lords to come. Lexie tried to close off her mind to what they were doing but soon the screams of crying children started to fill the air. Lexie abruptly stopped, Dmitri slammed into her sending them both sprawling to the ground.

She groaned as she pushed off the cement, she had stopped in the middle of a street. She hadn’t even realized, but the screams still filled the air. “Mama,” screamed one, it sounded like a little boy. Lexie’s stomach recoiled with the possibilities. Bile threatened to rise to her throat as her father’s smiling face appeared to her minds eye. Lexie growled, shoving the image from her mind.

“We have to keep going,” Dmitri panted pushing to his feet, Lexie followed.

“Students!”

Dmitri and Lexie froze, looking over their shoulders. A Citizen, covered with soot from the nearby fires, stood glaring down at them from the other side of the street. Her eyes glaring and her mouth twisted in a snarl as she pointed at them. Other Citizens stopped to look. None of them looked happy or pleased. They all held various weapons, from clubs to kitchen knives. Lexie’s grip tightened on the lazer.

“Get them,” the Citizen yelled as their group broke off from the larger mob.

Lexie pulled Dmitri into a sprint. Through an alley, down a street, they ran never once looking back but sill hearing the frantic foot falls of the following Citizens. The roaring of the flames grew louder, the screams grew more frequent, and the mob’s insistent chanting seemed to hang in the air. Lexie found herself wishing the voice would say something, anything to get it all to stop. But it never did.

Dmitri cried out and fell to the ground with a thud. Lexie halted and glanced back. He lay sprawled on the ground as the first of the Citizens came upon him, weapons raised in the air ready to strike. Lexie’s breath caught, for many seconds she could only watch she the first few Citizens struck Dmitri as he struggled to get up. “Lexie,” he called, trying to block another blow, “go!”

For a minute she was tempted the small mob that had followed them was so focused on him there might just be a chance. She raised the lazer, “Back off,” she yelled at the Citizens, firing at one of them whose weapon was coming down for another blow.

The Citizen fell without another sound. Lexie fired again, this time taking off a Citizens head, “I said BACK OFF,” Lexie yelled again coming toward Dmitri.

The Citizens snarled as the reluctantly backed away from their prey. Dmitri struggled to his feet, spitting blood as he came to stand behind her. “That’s better,” Lexie snarled, before she quickly glanced at Dmitri, “You good?”

“I’ve been better. I’ll live.”

Lexie nodded, glaring again at the Citizens before her, “If either of you follow,” she growled at them, “I’ll be very pissed off. You don’t want me pissed off. Trust me.”

With a final hard look she lowered the lazer and waited for one of them to charge her. None of them did, a few even shifted uneasily under her gaze. Good. Lexie spun on her heel and took off, Dmitri limped behind her. There was no time to stop and check his injuries; he would have to live with it for a few blocks.

Lexie began to feel the heat of the flames. Sweat trickled between her shoulder blades, her legs felt like iron as she struggled to keep going for a least one more block, and the burning smell of smoke assaulted her senses. Dmitri’s labored breathing added to the cacophony of sounds rumbling about the city. One more alley, one more and then they would be in the square. At least now I know where the hell I am, Lexie thought to herself.

They turned down the alley, it wasn’t long before they were greeted with flames. “Shit,” Lexie panted as flames erupted in front of her.

“There are other alleyways,” Dmitri grasped, “We can use one not blocked.”

Lexie turned to him, the intense heat of the flames burned their skin as if they were touching, “All the alleyways might be like this,” Lexie murmured, catching her first clear glimpse of Dmitri.

One of his cheeks was beginning to swell, possible broken cheek bone then, a split lip dripped blood down his chin, and he was favoring his left leg, probably from when he tripped. That was only what she could see; Lexie guessed there would be multiple bruises under his uniform. Dmitri wasn’t looking at her, he glared at the flames, “No,” he murmured, “The flames are dying out, look.”

Lexie looked where Dmitri pointed and just barely made out the square--what used to be the square. Faint flames flickered in shops shattered windows, buildings where scorched with soot and ash, and what appeared to be corpses fell where they tried to get away in charred remains. But Dmitri was right. “Then we can go through,” she muttered.

“What?”

“If there is just this wall of flames we can jump through.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“No, it’s what I said,” Lexie snapped, “I don’t want to waste time wandering around for hours looking for another alleyway. Come on, a little heat never hurt anyone.”

Dmitri eyes the wall of flames, “This is more than a little heat.”

Lexie backed up, sizing up the flames before her. Taking a deep breath she readied herself to sprint. “Lexie,” Dmitri began uneasily.

She ignored him as she sprinted towards the flames. “Lexington!”

She didn’t stop. She jumped through the flames, covering her face with her hands as she did so. Unbelievable heat scorched her hands and licked her ears but it only lasted seconds. Suddenly she landed on the hard ground. Tentatively she looked up. If she was in the flames she knew she would be screaming, but she also didn’t know what else could be beyond the flames. Ash. Soot. The overwhelming remains of smoke chocked her. She coughed some of the ash out of her lungs and sat up, looking wide eyed around the square.

The flames had all but died down leaving hardly anything in the square. It had been crowded just hours ago, Lexie thought to herself as she pushed to her feet. The smell of cooked meat met her at the wind caressed her face. Lexie resisted the urge to retch glancing at the charred remains that littered the square. A thought occurred to her, she turned towards the great house up on the hill. It was as spotless as it had been hours before. The green grass was untouched by the soot and smoke from the fire. Everything was still as perfect as it always was outside the city. Lexie glared at it.

“It’s you isn’t it,” she growled at the house, “You’re the one’s behind this aren’t you? Or are you even there anymore? Did you die and someone forget to tell us?”

Nothing answered her, not even the voice inside her ear. Lexie unconsciously adjusted the ear piece as a screaming form came bursting through the flames. Lexie jumped out of the way with a startled gasp. Dmitri leapt to his feet and spun around, “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen a person do! Are you trying to kill yourself?”

“You followed, who’s stupid now?”

“What was I supposed to do? Leave you alone to fend for yourself?”

“So now I can’t take care of myself?”

“That’s not what I said!”

“Yes it is!”

A lazer beam exploded by Lexie’s head. They both ducked as the soot and dust rained down on them. Lexie whipped out her lazer and glanced around. “Which way did it come from?’

Dmitri shook his head, “I don’t know.”

Lexie let out a slow breath; she let her emotions drain away. She forgot about the smoke burning her lungs, about the heat of the flames on her back, about the distant sounds of the mob, of the crying children, and waited for something to move. She heard the next beam before she saw it. “Duck,” she muttered as she dropped to the ground.

She aimed and fired into one of the broken shop windows. Someone cried out. “Stay here,” Lexie breathed as she quickly advanced toward the shop, weapon held at the ready. As she approached Lexie heard muttering coming from within.

“Hello,” Lexie called, readying herself.

A pair of eyes peeked over the shattered window seal. They regarded her curiously, Lexie never wavered. Slowly a little girl crawled over the shattered pane, a lazer held loosely in her hand.

The little girl couldn’t have been more than ten. She wore a summer dress, her long brown hair was a tangled mess, and her wide eyes never left Lexie’s. They regarded each other, that was when Lexie saw the girls hand. It was bloody, like it had been hit with a lazer beam. Lexie never lowered her weapon; she just waited. But the child simply stood there and regarded her with that wide eyes curious expression. “Kill her,” the voice said in her ear.

Lexie didn’t think, she immediately pulled the trigger. Feeling the heat of the lazer burn as the little girl fell to the ground with only half of her head intact. “Hmm,” mused the voice, “I would have thought that would have been a perfect hit. You’re slipping, Lexington.”

Lexie took a deep breath and slipped the lazer back into her pocket, “I thought you were done with me.”

“Done?” The voice chuckled, “Oh my dear, we won’t be done for some time. So much to do!”

You mean so many to kill, but Lexie didn’t dare say the thought out loud. She turned away from the corpse and slowly made her way back to Dmitri, who still sat on the cemented ground blankly staring at her. “Every time I think I know you,” he croaked, “you go and do something like that.”

For several minutes the other noises of the city filled the square as they regarded each other. The mob was a distant buzz, the flames were almost completely dead but continued to roar, birds cried out as they searched for a place to land in the destroyed city. Dmitri was the first to look away, “Come on, let’s go.”

“No, check your injuries-“

“Don’t pretend you’re a nice person,” Dmitri spat back, “Just don’t fucking do it.”

Lexie watched as he struggled to his feet; she noticed he still favored his left. It was best to ignore it, best to leave him alone. She turned on her heel back towards the corpse of the little girl. She knew Dmitri wouldn’t follow.

The blast of the lazer beam had knocked the girl backwards; her single remaining eye stared up at the smoky sky. Lexie disregarded her face and glanced at her hands, one of which still held a lazer. She knelt by the body and gently released the girl’s grip on the weapon, checking the energy level as she did so. Green. Lexie sighed with relief- at least it was charged. She pulled out her own lazer and examined the energy level. The green light had started to fade to yellow, but it was still green. Barely.

Slipping the girls lazer into her pocket she returned to Dmitri. “Here,” she said holding out the lazer to him.

“I’m not a good shot, remember?”

“Point it away from yourself and me and you’ll be fine.”

Dmitri scoffed, “Like that’ll work at the school.”

Lexie glared, “At least you’ll be more protected then a drowned rat. Now take the fucking gun.”

Dmitri looked at her for a long minute, then finally grabbed the lazer, stuffing it into his pocket. Lexie nodded and, once again, began to walk towards the school.

Alexander had thrown himself into a chair somewhere between the murdering of a screaming infant and the bludgeoning of one of Anya’s players, he wasn’t really sure of the actual time. It all had become a blur, panic that was spiked by Victor’s whispers to an already angry man swept through the city like a tidal wave. Anya’s players didn’t fight back.

Anya glared at the board for the first time, Victor smiled, “Apologies, my dear,” he purred over at her, “but you weren’t using that one were you?”

Alexander watched as another of Anya’s players slowly began to vanish. It had been an old woman. The older woman had made her slow way towards the leader of the mob, but before she could act she had her head caved in by that same angry man. Now her mangled image faded. As suddenly as the glare slid onto Anya’s face it disappeared, only to be replaced by a beautiful smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

Before she could say anything a chant rose up from the board. Victor and Anya snapped their attention back. “They’ll have to listen if we destroy the city,” came the clear call, “loot the houses, break the windows, enough noise and the Lords will have to notice us!”

Anya cocked an eyebrow, “Was that your doing?”

Victor held an amused expression but shook his head, “I’m afraid it is not,” he chuckled, “It appears things are now rolling on their own.”

The Lords broke out into delighted laughter.

“Fuck me,” Lexie breathed when she saw the school. What was left of the school.

By her best guess Lexie assumed that the explosion had come from here. The roof looked to be blown off and most of the windows shattered, littering the street with broken glass. The front doors were hanging on half the hinges giving way to the blackened interior beyond. Smoke lazily drifted on the wind from the ashes inside the building, Lexie watched it rise as her heart sank.

The school had been her home for the past year. She remembered hating it, not fitting in with the others. Not knowing what to do with herself as the other girls joked and glared and fought. Then she grew to love it. The routine, the training, the strategy, everything that kept her alive was now lying before her in ashes.

She squared her shoulders and approached the front doors. Lexie was faintly aware of Dmitri gasping, “Lexie,” he gently called, “I don’t think we should-“

But before he could finish Lexie grabbed one of the doors and gave it a sharp pull. The hinges gave way; she threw the door to the ground. Cautiously she entered the school, slipping the lazer out of her pocket as she went. Dmitri he went after her, “That’s not the danger I was talking about,” he muttered.

“I know what you were talking about,” she said not taking her eyes off the dark entryway as she continued to ease her way in, “But these walls are reinforced with cement and I’m not taking any chance that we are the only lunatics with this idea.”

Dmitri fell silent, but Lexie heard him draw out his lazer as well. Their heels clicked on the tile as they crept farther and farther into the school. The smoke rising from the walls, the floor everywhere stung Lexie’s eyes and burned her nose but she refused to take her eyes away from the expanding darkness before her. Any sign of movement Lexie was ready to fire, nothing moved.

“We’re going to need light,” Lexie murmured to herself risking a glare up at the ceiling.

“Doubt they’ll work.”

Lexie shrugged, “Probably not. Don’t happen to see something that can be used as a torch do ya?”

“You’re joking right?”

Lexie gave him a hard look, “have any better plans?”

Dmitri’s jaw clenched but he glanced about, “I don’t see anything.”

“Brilliant. Just bloody brilliant.”

Lexie glanced back toward the darkness, thinking. Search for danger or food would go faster with light, but it wouldn’t be impossible without light. That is until the sun went down. A dark lump caught her attention from just beyond her vision. Squinting at it Lexie suddenly got an idea. “Hold on,” she muttered to Dmitri and stepped farther into the darkness towards the shape.

Charred remains of what looked like a student lay before her. Lexie thought it was a boy, someone she wouldn’t know. She turned the remains over with her foot, ignoring the pieces that broke off as she did so. The back was completely intact; this person had died before the explosion. She bit back her curiosity and began tearing the uniform way from the flesh.

It was gruesome work, Lexie had to keep herself from retching multiple times as the smell of burn flesh rushed into her senses but finally she held most of the uniform in her hands. She sighed with relief as she regarded the fabric but now she needed something to wrap it on. The darkness encompassed too much of the room for Lexie to see anything clearly. Stuffing the strip of uniform into her pocket she began crawling about the floor, looking for anything that would work. Her outreached hand quickly grasped something cold and long. Raising it up until the dim light from the outside gleamed off of the golden surface, Lexie recognized the color. A drone, it was a pipe from a drone. It would have to work.

Wrapping the uniform about one of the ends of the pipe Lexie returned to Dmitri. “What are you doing?”

Lexie didn’t answer him. There was once a lock pad by the front doors. She had noticed that it had blown off, probably during the explosion, and the wires were exposed. Shoving the pipe under one arm she grabbed two of the wires, “Please still be connected,” she muttered more to herself then to anyone else.

Pushing the two wires together sparks flew off from them, Lexie thrust the pipe into them. Smoke arose from the uniform; Lexie dropped the wires and blew into the uniformed pipe. Flames soon raised enough to give off a little light. “There,” Lexie said surveying her work, “light.”

As Lexie turned back towards the darkened entry hall. the darkness shrunk back from the flaming light.



Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.