Chapter 7:

Long, Blond. Sagacious.

City of Flowers

When Lukas Lee is called to meet his father at two in the afternoon, he does not expect to see him hanging from his neck, just several inches off the surface of his desk.

At first, Lukas does not know how to react. Just shy of turning twenty-four , the boy has already seen many bodies, though he only remembers two of them fondly. The first had been from an assassin, sent to kill his father while he and his son were over at a rival corporation’s ostentatious dinner party. He’d been thirteen at the time. Two bodyguards had held the assassin by the arms, and when his father snapped his fingers three times, the assassin promptly dropped dead.

It was no coincidence that within the same month, that same corporation had their assets seized and their Lordship dead in his own bed. They were small and easy to exploit. Lukas had learned a very valuable lesson then; to never bite upwards, only down.

The second had been his own bodyguard. Three snaps from his father again, and the rest of the bodyguards had him surrounded and killed. And though Lukas had asked over and over where the bodyguard had come from, who had—and would—send for Lukas’ death, his father did not respond in a way that answered his question.

“Allow your father to resolve this, Lukas,” he’d said. To this day, Lukas still does not know which corporate behemoth had been behind the bodyguard attempt. His father, strong and kind, unphilosophical and steady in his values. A mastermind pretending to be two steps behind.

His father, hanging from a rope above his gold-gilded desk.

There is a slip of folded paper resting by his shoes. Keeping the paper folded is a waxy, golden seal, and on the seal is the visage of a lion in front of several striped sun beams.

He breaks the seal, reads the note. Traces a fingernail along his father’s loopy signature.

He reads the note again.

Sometimes, masterminds have no ulterior motive. Sometimes, a mastermind is just a man who is just tired.

Lukas folds the note and presses his thumb into the seal so that the note remains folded. His eyes are wet, but his tears do not spill down onto the rest of his face. It is his turn to wear his father’s mask, and he will not cry. Not while he still has so much lying to do.

Instead, he reaches towards the digitalised pad on his desk and prods in three numbers.

“Hello, Lee medical services?” he says. “His Lordship was found dead in his office from a heart attack at approximately 9:46AM. Could you send a team up?”

“...Understood,” says the voice.

He wakes from his dream, cold sweat caking his forehead like film. His instinctive action is to use the duvet to wipe himself down, and he does. His hands shake as he does so.

It has been a year and a bit more still his father’s suicide.

So why is Lukas Lee still plagued by his dreams?

He goes through all the motions of his morning routine—check his company’s stock value, brush his teeth, shower, dry off, apply moisturiser, breathe in, breathe out. Run a comb through his hair, feel it catch on a tangle; apply rosehip oil, comb through again.

When he is done, he leaves his high-rise in an ironed suit that is the colour of dying leaves and steps into his private transport—a shiny car with two seats in the back and two in the front. One of his bodyguards is already sitting inside.

The driver is newly employed and eager to make conversation with the esteemed Lordship of Lee Enterprises, but he shuts up when he sees his visage reflected in the bodyguard's shades. Besides, Lukas would rather stare outside in silence as they travelled, where white and grey skyscrapers stretch towards the atmosphere and the people traverse the streets in checkerboard coloured lines.

…It is difficult to separate Saturdays from Mondays in Fontanelle. Nothing ever changes—nothing will ever change.

Not on the surface, anyway.

The moment Lukas steps off the car and into the lobby, Marianne rushes up to him and leans into his ear.

This is odd, because Marianne doesn’t usually meet Lukas in the lobby, where the eyes of many potential sellers and buyers and slimy representatives from offshoot businesses linger on every detail for far, far too long. And yet here she is.

“Urgent?” Lukas whispers.

“The Alabaster Union reported something yesterday. Come to the tech room as soon as you can.”

“As soon as I can? They’ll talk, Mari.”

“Lukas, I am fifty-nine and turning sixty within the fortnight. This is serious.”

“I’m no ageist.”

“I’m serious.”

Lukas takes one good look at Marianne and realises that, yes, she is indeed very serious. He turns on a heel and says, “Escort me to the tech room then, Ms. Dubois.”

They enter the elevator, and the skyline sinks into the ground. Marianne looks staunchly through the windows, but occasionally she takes off her glasses and rubs her thumb and a swatch of silk across its surface. Whatever her news is, it seems to have impacted her morning quite a bit.

Lukas makes no effort for small talk in the elevator.

When they make it to the tech room, the temperature immediately hitches several degrees; Lukas rolls his sleeves up his forearms, but Marianne keeps her suit firmly untouched. Sitting under the eaves of a particularly hefty personal computer’s water cooling system is a man—no younger than eighteen, but no older than twenty—in baggy black pants and fluffy, unstyled hair. Thousands of bright little screens light up behind him, illuminating the veins on his hands and his in his eyes.

The man blinks, and the screens fade into a less offensive colour—a deep grey.

Marianne’s perpetual scowl turns disastrous when she sees what the man is wearing, but she doesn’t say anything. For now.

“Alright, spill it Jax,” says Lukas as he pulls into a seat; is it surprisingly warm and not at all comfortable. “What’s got my poor secretary in a panic?”

“You’re just in time.” Jax snaps his fingers. The singular big screen in the middle of all the small screens lights up, fizzles into meaningless static and then shows a still from a security camera.

The timestamp in the corner reads: 15:30. A girl stands, peering into the darkness of a display.

A Blumen enclosure, Lukas realises.

“You want the good news first, or the bad news, your Lordship?”

“Let’s not ruin my morning so soon. Good news, please.”

Jax nods towards the screen. “You know the Alabaster you sent to work at the Tiergarten a few months back? His bug got us some footage.”

“This is just a girl,” Lukas says. A very eccentric girl at that—she is wearing an earthen toned skirt and a hand knitted cardigan—but a girl doing absolutely nothing nonetheless.

“That’s what the physicals say.” Jax winks, and the colours in the still saturate deeply. The walls burn various shades of blue; the girl is now completely white.

Lukas raises his brows. “Didn’t know they used energy sensors at institutions. It wouldn’t catch anything from the Blumen, would it?”

“It’s probably there so the employees don’t text on the clock, blergh.” Jax makes a face. “Dystopian as all hell. Now you'd let me text on the clock, right? Using my brain like that is literally my entire job.”

Marianne folds her arms. “Jackson.”

“Right, right.” He flicks a finger and the colours begin to move. The white from the girl springs forward, tethers to the display like spider thread. The timestamp in the corner reads: 15:31.

Lukas leans closer towards the screen. "What on Earth is…?"

The creature in the display glows similarly, forming the outline of a silken bud and razor-sharp leaves; though it is covered by overgrowth and decorative weeds, Lukas can see the Blumen clearly.

Every so often, it twitches. Responding.

The video fast forwards to 15:39, and suddenly the girl is stepping backwards with her fingers digging into her arm. He notes the blood forming at her fingertips and raises a brow. The video ends when the girl hastily leaves.

Finally, he asks, "It talked to her. Communicated. This footage could shake our society to its core. But how did she do it?"

"An illegal custom daemon on her phone." Jax flicks back to the physical recording and points at the phone in her left hand. "The Blumen don't even have any energy readings normally. Strap a thought relay mechanism on them, and they'll print out greys for days. Those things aren't alive. Or so we thought."

Marianne cuts in, "All of this is trivial. Do we know what it is that she saw?"

Jax shrugs. "Some eldritch shit, I dunno. I'm not a fucking mind reader, hag. I was just explaining it because I thought it was cool."

"Oh, yes. Very 'cool' that you decided to waste his Lordship's time on 'cool' occurrences. Very 'cool' indeed."

"Come on, it's like finding out one of your eyelashes has sentience! How is it not cool?"

Lukas beckons with a hand, and the two immediately stop bickering. "My secretary is correct. How is any of this my problem?"

Jax scowls. "I'm getting there. I managed to pull some data from this transcript about the daemon she used. It's custom made, uses parts from the thought relay system… but I think the way the parts have been weaved together changes how they work. I can't tell for sure—but either way, that daemon's cracked into a method of communication between humans and things we’re not supposed to communicate with. The Ancestry Hall could use something like that. Could be the key to getting some of those soul vessels to talk proper again."

Something flashes in Lukas’ eye, a spark—then it is gone like a glass of ice that has melted too fast. A similar glance from Marianne’s direction indicates that she has thought the same thing.

Jax smirks and swivels his chair back towards the screens. “Ok, I’ve caught your attention. Want the bad news now?”

“Ah, yes,” Lukas says. “The bad news. Continue.”

"So I actually got this footage from the bug's emergency signal. Notice how I said that I couldn’t tell exactly what the daemon was made out of? Couldn't find where the bug went though." Jax leans back into his seat and rubs a palm over his mouth."But that's not the worst of it. I tried to contact the Alabaster assigned to Tiergarten and I couldn't get through. Now, I don't like assuming the worst, but a dead bug and a dead Alabaster?"

"Someone's also got this footage," Lukas finished. "Someone who doesn't like us very much, I'd wager."

"It may be difficult to pin down exactly which megacorp did this," Marianne says, her voice low and sardonic, "considering that you've just killed three representatives from three separate corporations."

Jax coughs. "Woah! You did what?"

“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.” Lukas stands, adjusts the creases on his vest. “That girl is a walking possible future. We need to get to her before this mysterious ‘other corp’ does.”

For the second time that day, Marianne polishes her glasses. “I’ll send an Alabaster out right away, your Lordship—”

“No. Not an Alabaster.”

Jax perks up. “The Hare? Can you put in a good word for me? Was she there when you killed those reps too?”

Marianne looks to the side. “I still cannot believe that you entrust that tunnel rat with all of your sensitive information, Lukas.”

“She’s good at what she does,” Lukas responds. “Send the footage to Alex Lilja, please. And make sure she’s got the resources to send out her own rescue team.”

His boots tap into the floor, the doors to the tech room slide open again. He senses that his secretary may have some choice words for him later, but for now, he knows his commands are final.

Lukas Lee is their Lordship; nothing more, nothing less.

Alex Lilja wakes at eleven in the morning to an alarm that buries itself deep into her ears and worms into her brain. She grits her teeth; lets out a groan. Then she slams a hand onto her phone and goes back to sleep.

The alarm rings again. She debates turning off her phone but decides against it when she realises that it would entail more work. Again, she slams a fist into her phone, and again, it falls silent.

By the third time the alarm has rung, Alex has already deduced that the alarm is not in fact her alarm but is instead a phone call. She picks up the phone and sees that the call is coming from Marianne Dubois herself.


She answers. “Yeah? You’re speaking with Alex. Sup?”

Marianne speaks with the exact register of someone watching a donkey take a crap at the zoo. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Do NOT hang up on me again, Hare. This is your final warning. Understoo—”

“Um, actually, only Lukas can make that call. But yeah, what’s up?”

“Check your company mandated phone. We’ve sent a job for you, and you’ll need to read the brief and watch the footage before you get started.”

“What? I told you guys, I can’t take any jobs this month because I’m contracted to deliver pizzas now. Like, maybe next month, I could try and get myself fired, but—”

“That is all,” says Marianne. “Good riddance.”

The line dies off. Alex sighs, unlocks the drawer under her bed frame, and retrieves her Lee Corp™ mandated mobile phone. Whatever it is that Lukas has to show her, it better be good.

She corrects herself; whatever it is that Lukas has to show her, it better be worth waking her up before noon for.

But then the footage flashes on screen.

She watches a girl in a beret and a knitted cardigan step away from a Blumen display, her hands shaking, her fingers digging into her arms so deeply that the force alone is enough to draw blood.

And Alex Lilja, the undisputed and deadly right hand of his Lordship Lukas Lee, feels her blood slow to a stop.

Kya Hon
Steward McOy