Chapter 3:

His Lordship, Lukas Lee

City of Flowers

By the time Alex Lilja has arrived at Lee Enterprises, the sun has already travelled three quarters across the sky. Neither the bodyguards nor the AI stop her at the doors, but the bodyguards do whisper.

Alex does not care for what they whisper about. It could be about her Cirsium legs, weapons that have seen—and will see—violence for as long as they remain grafted to her thighs. It could be regarding her relationship with his Lordship, whether it is romantic or if it more closely resembles a bounty hunter and their bondsman.

The rumours about her run thick, and all the dangerous ones are true.

Alex takes the sky elevator up to the topmost floor, where the height makes the divide between the district of Fontanelle and the tunnels painstakingly obvious. The integrity of the buildings do not degrade gradually—instead, the difference is like night and day. In the west: the pristine shell of an ION tower, and its adjacent forest of factories. Resting next to the tower: low roads that wind like snakes between tin houses and concrete apartments.

She watches Fontanelle fade into mist and smog through the glass. It pleases her to know that, despite the grandeur of Fontanelle and the grime of the tunnels, everything returns to mist in the end.

When she steps through the elevator, Marianne—a tight-lipped stick-in-the-mud of a secretary—steps back. Shock glosses over her features (Finally! thinks Alex, finally, some emotion!) before she quickly straightens her tie and returns to her resting face; a terrible scowl.

“You’re early, aren’t you?” she says.

“Really?” Alex returns.

Marianne’s reply comes through clenched teeth and fists. “His Lordship will not have you fucking waiting on him every time you need to wipe your ass, Lilja.”

“Personally, I don’t think the Lordship cares.”

The secretary shouts something, but Alex has already walked away. His office is the second-to-last door on the left—not the last door, because that would be too obvious, and not the first, because that would also be too obvious. No, the young head of Lee Enterprises despises being expected; to be obvious is to lose the game, and he would rather impale his chin on a spike than be obvious.

Alex enters his office, legs clicking against the mirrored tiles as she steps past a single, long table and three chairs. His Lordship sits in his own chair facing a large window that extends from floor to ceiling. His desk is carved from black marble, and on that table rests a black and gold plaque. The name, Lukas Lee, has been etched into it.

She sweeps an arm over the chairs and table. "What's this?"

"Gallows humour." Lukas does not turn to look at Alex.

"Your life is not in danger," she says. "You literally have like ten bodyguards ready to wipe your ass at any given moment." And you have me, she thinks, but does not say.

"Not my life, no." At last he turns; Alex is not shocked to see the quirked smile that is plastered on his Lordship's face. "I'm hosting three incredibly "esteemed" figureheads from ION, The Bank of England, and the Wisteria Corporation within the hour, and you've arrived just in time."

"Cool." Alex shrugs. "What's my role?"

Lukas leans into a propped-up arm and sinks his hand into his straw coloured hair. It is his only visible weakness; even someone as politically illiterate as Alex knows that the young head treats his waist-length locks like gold. It must be in the way it catches the light from the air. Or in the way his father had sported a similar hairstyle all those years ago.

"Stand in that corner and look dangerous," he says simply. “Muscles tensed, etcetera, etcetera. Look like you’re ready to pounce.”

"I'm just a glorified bodyguard these days, aren't I."

"If everything goes tits up, you'll be doing far more than standing around and looking dangerous."

"Should I rip off my top and lie down mid meeting, then?" Alex asks. "Because that's the only way anything'll go tits up in this room."

"I am sure that the representatives would appreciate that gesture very much, Alex."

"It's a meeting, Lukas." Without further ado, Alex jumps into the second chair and throws her legs over the third. "A meeting between the four most boringest people in all of New England, about the most boringest topic ever conceived. Like stocks. There's no way you're slaughtering each other over tax returns, or whatever you're talking about."

Lukas knits his hands together, and suddenly, the air is crisp and cold. Alex is about to ask for more information, but the Lordship's somnolent smile makes her hesitate.

"The last man standing needs only to snap his fingers thrice," he says. "I'm sure that you'll find this meeting most entertaining."

The doors slide open, and three finely dressed people march in. Lukas beckons for Alex to come stand by his side.

Once a glorified bodyguard, always a glorified bodyguard. At least she can do her job of glaring down the three representatives better when she is standing next to Lukas. The location of his desk serves as a sort of vantage point.

They each take their seats. The first representative on the right—he is dressed in a tight-fitted, shiny black bodysuit that goes over his similarly black boots—is quick to fold his arms and proclaim, "and the refreshments, Lee?"

Alex is unsure of what he means until he waves a hand over the empty table. Then she realises that this man not only wants wine, but he also has offered no greeting, no name, and that Lukas Lee's likeness must be akin to a gnat in his eyes.

"I prefer white wine myself," says the second representative—a woman with her hair cropped short and her white suit completely ironed. "Though red will do if you find yourself short."

"Not to worry." Lukas snaps his fingers, and the doors slide open again. Three trash can-sized AI wheel into the room, each carrying a polished bottle of wine and an empty glass. Another snap, and the three AI begin pouring from the bottles.

None of the representatives react—the woman even seems to stifle a scoff. Alex clenches her fist—she has no idea how Lukas can stand this level of snobbery everyday without needing to deck someone.

"Excellent." The man takes the glass from the AI and brings it to his lips for an obnoxiously long sip. It is only when he places the glass back on the table does he say, "Now we can talk like the civilised beings that we are. Where were we?"

The third representative, who has been silent until now, raises his glass in a mock toast but does not drink. He is hiding his expression behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses—were he to look down, his reflection would bounce infinitesimally between the tiles and his glasses. Alex does not trust a man who brings reflective shades into a tower of mirrors.

"I believe we are here to discuss the specifics of the Proprietary Act," he says. "Your father made sure to inform you of the Lee's stake in all of this before he passed his role to you, I hope?"

"With all due respect, he inherited that role, dear. Given it like candy to a child." The woman taps her nails against the glass before taking a deep drink herself. "I'm rather sorry that I couldn't make it to his funeral while the occasion was still ripe. We missed him at the congregations that followed, and the social outings, and the private dining affairs."

The tight-suited man picks at the dirt beneath his nails. “I hope that the service we have received today did not reflect the pleasures offered at the funeral luncheons.”

"The funeral was a year ago," says Lukas. "The negotiation is now."

“Of course. Grief affects us in mysterious ways.”

Alex doubts that any of these representatives have felt any grief for anyone beyond themselves and the integrity of their legacy. These people come from money, not from kindness.

But unlike the girl from tunnels, these people know how to play the game.

Lukas sighs and leans back in his chair. Alex knows this move: he is attempting to feign disinterest, but the representatives know better, have played the game better for many more years.

He says, “Thank you for your sympathy. Now what are you here for?”

The woman leans over—her pristine suit does not crinkle. “Alright then, young head. No games, no moves, no pieces. Here is my proposition; you are in no position to manage the Ancestry Hall and the vessels as you are now—”

“That’s not a proposition, that’s an insult.”

“You didn’t let me finish.”

“I already know what your proposition is. There’s no need for you to finish.” Lukas’ voice is lazy. Alex chews on the insides of her lip.

The woman nods as if she is praising a child for correctly reciting his multiplication tables. “Good, good. Then what will your answer be?”


A smile stretches over the woman’s features, wicked and bright red. It is obvious who among them is their ringleader now, as the two men beside her have fallen silent. “No?” she asks. “Perhaps I do need to clarify what our terms are—we are not taking the vessels, all we intend to do is split the ownership of the Ancestry Hall temporarily within our respective companies until you come of age, so that we might keep it safe—”

“No.” Lukas stands, his hands fisted against the desk. “No. No offshoots, no dividing, the Ancestry Hall is my asset and my asset alone.”

One of the men snorts. “Everybody in this room knows that that right there is horseshit. The Ancestry Hall isn’t yours—not with the government’s legislation fisting your balls like that."

“And I don’t need another three CEOs fisting my balls along with that said government, thank you.”

Alex struggles to keep a straight face.

"Your father always enjoyed entertaining the idea of societal reform." The woman slides back into her seat, her eyes never leaving Lukas'. "I see you've decided that you want to continue his legacy. I know what you're thinking. You want to have a slice of history all to yourself, to be a name tomorrow's kids are going to have to learn off by heart. But I'll tell you this right now: that's how you sink your company under. Leave thinking beyond your quarterlies to the politicians."

"I'm doing this because it's the right thing to do," says Lukas. "My final answer is no."

The woman presses her lips together. Alex senses a change in the air; it reminds her of a cheering crowd that has suddenly fallen silent.

And suddenly, Alex realises why.

The woman is clawing at her throat in silence, her mouth open in a perpetual scream as she huffs for air. The man in the bodysuit is suffering similarly, only he has already toppled to the floor. Their skin bruises purple, their eyes bulge and spill with blood, and then with one final spasm, they are dead.

Only the third man remains. He adjusts his gloves and watches the bodies of his fallen comrades twitch. "I suppose I was right to abstain today."

Alex has many questions; they are all drowned out by the incessant desire to slap Lukas silly. But then she sees the third man unholster his gun, and she knows why Lukas wants her by his side.

He fires.

Alex is faster. The bullet drills a few millimetres into the ankle of her Cirsium prosthetics, but no further. Behind her foot, Lukas hardly blinks as he delivers his order:

"Kill him."

In a heartbeat, Alex has leapt over the table and slammed her heel into the man's head. There is a crunch, a sickening impact that makes her wonder if she'll need to dismantle her prosthetic to clean it better tonight, and then the man's headless body drops to the floor.

She wipes the blood from her cheek with the back of her hand. Lukas walks over to her position and leans down to examine the woman's body.

This time, Alex actually does slap Lukas.

"What the fuck have you done?!" she shrieks. "ION, Wisteria, the fucking bank? This country's entire fucking bank is gonna want your head on a spike! Why did you do that?"

Lukas does not say a word. He rolls the woman's body over and pats the back of her vest—an imprint. He reaches under the vest and brings out two things: a gun, and a thin stiletto. The blade shines a dull green when he brings it up to the sun and allows the light to grace it.

"Some type of venom," he muses. "They wanted the Ancestry Hall rather badly, didn't they?"

Alex grits her teeth. “Three corporations—all wanting you dead. These representatives must’ve meant nothing to their CEOs if they were willing to send them right into the hornet’s nest… without a single soldier to back them up. These reps were meant to die taking you down.”

She bends over the man’s body and pats his suit down, afraid that she might find the remnants of an unignited explosive on him. Sure enough, she discovers a tiny, blue cube in his breast pocket; she hisses and searches the rest of the bodies, before calling in Marianne to deal with the incendiaries. When the older woman enters the office, she raises her eyebrows but says nothing else as she swipes the bombs from Alex’s hands and leaves again, her pointed heels tapping into the marble.

"It seems that those three have already declared me as their enemy were I to decline their offer. The least I could do was return the favour." He stands and kicks over the woman's body again so that her bulging face faces upwards. "They made it painfully obvious. "Until I come of age"...I'm twenty-five, for fuck's sake. My father was expanding his corporations to the Copper Countries when he was nineteen."

Alex debates shutting the two corpses' eyes, but decides against it when she sees the expression on Lukas' face—there is no mercy, only stone-grey rock and white, polished blade. He would rather see his opponents dishonoured than to give them a human death.

"What now?" she asks instead.

"Indeed." Lukas folds his arms. "I believe that our next action in this great game would be to ship the bodies back to their respective headquarters. Packaged, wrapped, and ribboned. Perhaps I'll keep the stiletto and handgun for my own purposes."

“Stilettos and guns aren’t going to keep you safe.”

“I know.” A smile plays at the corners of his lips.

She looks at the headless corpse, and she makes a face—today, she is glad that Lukas Lee is not her enemy and instead her superior.

Kya Hon
Steward McOy
Ana Fowl