Chapter 6:


City of Flowers

"Georgie was right," Iris says to herself. Back in the comfort of her own room—she had been unable to properly relax on her commute home—she snaps open her phone screen and stretches out the screen until it is as wide as her shoulders. "Messing with this was wrong. Everything is wrong. I shouldn't have—"

She drags the daemon over to the trash can, but she stops herself from dropping it in. An entire night’s worth of feverish work, gone in a wink.

She tries again, but her finger still does not budge.

Exasperated, she flops back into the comfort of her bed. Though she is loath to admit it, this daemon is the closest she’s ever gotten to anyone’s state of mind. She thinks of Georgie’s notebooks, of her mother’s presence at a book burning—of the decimated, metal world, shown to her by the Blumen. She shudders as she recalls that last thought, because it’s not a memory she can do away with so easily.

Iris slides her daemon over the trash can again. She still cannot bear to drop it in. When she closes her eyes to sleep, she is chased into the darkness by visions of war, of a rose sinking its teeth into a slab of bloodied meat.

A trained sort of violence, one of a soldier's, not a predator's.

That night, Iris does not dream of anything in particular. But she wakes up knowing that her sleep had been fitful.

She doodles the eyes as she takes notes in class by hand. Nobody in her lecture observes her; it is the seventh week, and they have all gotten used to the strange girl in their 203 Architectural History class who cannot use the thought relay system. The lecturer concludes her lesson, and Iris realises that she hasn’t taken a single note.

Her mother’s voice remains etched into her mind: “When are you actually going to be better?”

“Help me then, on God,” Iris mutters to herself as she makes her way to the library to rewatch her lecture. When she is crafting daemons, her world shrinks to an infinitesimally tiny point; when she is studying anything pertaining to her degree, she feels as if she is taking leaps in the dark.

No one makes a living out of creating daemons, however. For one: it isn’t legal.

Even when she is in the library rewatching her lectures, she finds that she cannot focus. More so than usual—her mind cycles through memories of her visit to the institution: the Blumen’s teeth, the rustle of biological matter against biological matter, the roses again. There is something humanely inhumane in the way the Blumen exist and move. She finds kinship in them, much like how two rotted rats will flock to one another in times of need.

She grits her teeth and tabs off her lecture. In the search bar, she types one word: warfare.

Only articles relating to fantastical worlds pop up, with the occasional description of a battle taking place over a thousand years thrown into the mix. Of course; wars are a product of the Age of Metal. Wars are a primitive nonsense best left alone to rot in history.

She'd give up, if it weren't for her insistence. Instead of consulting the library computers first (and engaging in a five minute long struggle with the thought relay interface), she opts for a more hands-on approach.

The strangest thing about university libraries is the constant presence of dust—there is dust in the air, dust under the shelves, dust between the suspension bars hanging from the ceiling. It must be attributed to the lack of visitors that the library receives weekly; it's as if the place has been abandoned in favour of better ventures, those better ventures namely being online articles and long winded videos Iris doesn't have the time for.

For Iris, having a physical book in her hands is the only time she's ever allowed to feel normal. No thought relay, no grades—only ink stamped on paper and words bouncing comfortably around in her head. She picks up an architecture hardback on her way to the history section, admires the way the cover glosses up under the noon sunlight.

She's still tracing the outline of the brutalist slab on the cover when she realises that there's nothing in the history section. Even by today’s standards, this is odd—usually there is the odd autobiography from a prolific CEO on the shelves, or a recount detailing the founding of another megacorporation Iris doesn’t care about. To make sure, she crosses the empty racks over to the next section, then back again.

Still nothing.

Ten minutes later and she's pressing her mouth against her phone's receiver. "I mean, isn’t this really bad? What if I’m trying to write about the history of some famous white architect from the 17th century?" she hisses to Georgie. "Where did they all go? Isn't this supposed to be really important?"

"Iris. I'm in a lecture," her friend whispers back.

"Yeah, but this is important, Georgie."

A sigh. "They probably just needed to clean the books. They haven't automated it yet, and they probably never will."

"When do you think they'll be back?"

"Iris, I don't know. Look, call me in an hour, and I'll take a look with you. I really need to get back to this lecture. Try checking the catalogues, see if that comes up with anything."

As if the catalogues would say anything of use.

The line goes dead. Iris stares at the empty shelves before her—she runs a finger through the light sheen of dust before leaving the library.

She sends a single text to Georgie:

Do u know anything about any recent wars?

Her friend replies with the obvious a few seconds later:


This, here, is Georgie’s second and final warning to Iris. She turns off her phone and slouches on a nearby bench.

Though it is currently in between periods, students criss-cross between the plaza. They blur into an undulating checkerboard of cloth and leather—it is easier for Iris to stare into the skyline than straight ahead through the crowd.

It is here in the silence of her own head does her mind begin to wander. She recalls the vision in striking detail; the mushroom cloud in the distance, blooming like a spreading bloodstain on a swatch of cloth; the field of metal, the aeons of decimated cities, aflame and in shambles—as flat as a field of wheat levelled to the ground. She opens her eyes, and the alabaster city of Fontanelle seems a little less clear, a little less crisp.

There’s only one place where she’ll find the answers she wants. And it’s not in the library.

Iris stands and heads to the nearest tram station.

And of course, the moment Iris’ steps through the sliding doors and into the first exhibit she is stopped by a very familiar, very unfortunate face.

“Weren’t you here yesterday?”

The employee greeting her is indeed the same woman from yesterday, which makes the encounter all the more awkward. When Iris looks towards the first Blumen enclosure, she realises that her hunch is correct; underneath layers of dirt and stone hides the shy head of yesterday’s talkative Blumen friend.

Iris needs to find some way to get this person out of the first enclosure before she’ll get to talk with the Blumen again. She swallows and racks her head for something to say.

When she realises that she and the employee have been staring at each other for far too long, she stammers out a meek, “Hi.”

“Hi,” the employee answers.

“Yeah. Hi.”

“Do… you need anything?” There is a smile on the worker’s face, but even Iris can tell that her patience is waning.

“Um, no.” Her face heats. The tips of her fingers tingle with sweat. “No. Wait—yes! Actually, yes, I do. Yeah.”

The worker motions to Iris slowly with her free hand. “Go on?

Shit! Think, Gui-Hua!

“Um, well actually, I was wondering if you wanted to go and grab lunch at the cafe nearby t-together? Like, just the two of us…” She forces a smile. She feels as if she might overheat and crumple.

“Oh. Oh, no. That’s what you meant.” The employee raises her left hand, where a band of silver rests on her ring finger. “I’m a bit old for you, no? And I’m afraid my husband wouldn’t enjoy that very much.”


There is a salient pause. Iris shifts her eyes towards the Blumen in the dirt, towards the woman in front of her, then at the ground. She thinks about coming back tomorrow.

But then the woman lets out an awkward chuckle, and she takes a step backwards—towards the next room. “Ok, I’m gonna head off; those exhibits won’t feed themselves, hah…”

Iris is not entirely sure of why she chose to verbally say “hah,” but as the woman leaves she decides that she is happy with whatever she can get. Once the doors click shut, she presses one hand to the glass and another against her phone. Her muscles tense, her lungs become uncomfortably tight. She prepares herself for the worst.

“Please let this work,” she whispers. Mostly to herself, but she would like for the Blumen to hear part of her sentiment as well.

For good measure, she also shuts her eyes. She keeps them shut for an indeterminately long time, until her irises have adjusted to the darkness behind her eyelids.

And then, when all seems lost, she reopens her eyes and finds that she is in a stark white room with walls so bright that she cannot see them.

She calls, but her voice remains lodged in her throat like a cork. A voice—palatable, like the sound of wooden planks dragging over cobble—rumbles from somewhere:

"You're not supposed to be here."

Iris spins wildly, but the white is everywhere and everything; it's all she can see. She calls out again; again, she can make no sound.

The disembodied voice speaks again: "You can't be here."

At last, she figures out where the voice is coming from: her head. For the third and final time she opens her mouth to speak. It still does not work.

"Your thoughts, girl." The voice is agitated, restless. "I can hear your thoughts, surprisingly. Speak there."


"Alright, this isn't going to work. Just… just keep quiet and listen to me."

Iris nods, and she tries her hardest to will her thoughts into submission. Judging from the way that the voice grunts, she supposes that she hasn't done a very good job.

"Right—better than nothing, I suppose. I'll cut to the chase: your life is in danger."

Iris struggles to stay silent. Questions like, "What are you?" and "Who's after me?" are rushing through her head so fast that she can hardly comprehend them, can hardly separate one clause from the other.

"They're after you. Them. The other Blumen won't say anything else about who they are—they're a bit simpleminded, see—but they're adamant about it. They want you, not dead, but alive and talking. So go. Run."

Iris wakes from the vision, her mind reeling, her heart squeezing, her lungs desperate for air. She steps back, bumps into the wall, slides down until she meets the ground with her hands.

There is a rose in the display and it is looking directly at her.


No, it couldn't be—what would the Blumen know about anything? She glances at the Blumen, then back at her phone. A familiar error message graces her screen, and when she taps away the message—


Slowly, but surely, she gets back up.

Slowly, but surely, she manages to make her way to the front lobby, where the area is decisively more populated than before. Good, Iris thinks. It'll be safer.

She avoids everyone's gaze, keeps her eyes trained on the ground, counts the steps between each tile of concrete. One, two, three, four. One, two, three. Anything to stay calm. No—not possible. There are eyes pinning her down from every direction, and when she spares a glance across the room she sees a woman in a big white overcoat. Her arms are folded; her line of sight is obscured by her dark sunglasses. Iris walks faster.

She ends up bumping into someone on her way around a slab of ottomans.

"Woah, woah." The man steadies her by the shoulders; the touch alone is enough to make Iris flinch. "You alright, kid?"

"Y-yeah," she answers. She thinks about breaking down right then and there, about pointing out to this stranger that she's being watched, that glorified sentient plants have told that her life is in danger and that she can talk to the Blumen through an illegally crafted daemon and that she’s failing her architecture papers, but it all sounds like a really, really bad fever dream so she keeps her mouth shut. She ducks her head and passes the stranger instead.

Now that she is looking properly, she realises that there are eyes everywhere: through the windows, boring into the lobby from the outside; in the crowds, piercing through the riff raff like scissors into paper. She instinctively places a hand against her phone, and the thoughts come flying in;

I wonder what the lunch special is today?

Brown hair. East Asian features.


Lee is down 0.16% Wysteria up 1.5% what's my budget for today's lunch?

Girl with beret. Blue cardigan.

Iris nearly stumbles. There are so many thoughts, so many images. She sees a poor rendition of a cut of grilled cheese. She sees the visage of a girl, no older than ten and with two of her front teeth missing. She sees herself.

Two men stand to block the entrance.

The woman in the large overcoat flexes her leg, a prima donna before her debut. Iris looks back at the window, where the reflection of a Cirsium prosthetic glitters like an obsidian knife, then vanishes under the hem of her overcoat.

Iris freezes.

The woman unfolds her arms and takes a single step, letting her heel click into the concrete like a chess piece against a checkerboard.

Iris turns.

And runs back towards the exhibits.

Kya Hon
Steward McOy