Chapter 3:

Level Up

Draconia Offline

Morning comes too soon but I’m used to it. I’m definitely not an early bird but school starts at ten o’clock so I have to get up. To my annoyance, I find out that proper sleep didn’t help at all and my back hurts even more now.

I’ll have to ask one of my lovers to give me a massage as soon as possible and maybe find some stretching routine online. I can’t pay a professional masseur to do it; I’d probably go crazy to read thoughts of someone I’m not used to for an hour.

I quickly wash my face, look at myself in the mirror and sigh. I’m too skinny, Erik was right. Even my virtual avatar, that is really slim, has more meat on its digital bones. I’ve been making a New Year’s resolution to eat better each January but I’ve always failed. I’m just too busy.

I check my phone—an unread message from Erik: a pissed one. I start typing a response.

Erik (7:23)
Moron, you left again.

Ryuuto (8:45)
Sorry, but you know I’m like that.

Erik (8:50)
I’ll lock the door next time.

Ryuuto (8:51)
That sounds ominous. Please don’t.

Erik (8:51)
Seriously, can’t we have breakfast together?

Ryuuto (8:52)
I don’t do breakfasts.

Erik (8:52)
You don’t do many things. What are you so afraid of?

What am I so afraid of? Well, people finding out that I’m a freak, for one.

I scratch my hurting back, upset. For someone who doesn’t have any extraordinary sensory powers, Erik sure is perceptive. I always have to be extra cautious around him which is part of the fun but at the same time it can be exhausting.

But Erik is special to me, I really like him. He thinks I treat him like any other of my lovers but that’s not true. I’ve known him for over a year now and I’ve never been seeing anyone for that long. I always leave when things start to get too emotional; when my lovers’ feelings start to drain me. Erik’s feelings don’t do that for some reason. Maybe I like him more than I realise.

My phone starts to ring. Talking about early birds…

“Send me a taxi, will you?” the old lady on the phone blurts at me.

Grandma. She looks annoyed as always when she has to call me because of something.

“Where to?” I ask and I’m trying to sound kind.

My sweet Gran is totally capable of calling her own taxi, she does send me the requested address via messenger right away, but she prefers I pay for it. Her philosophy is that she was taking care of me for fifteen years so I’d better start paying her back now that I’m independent. I have no problems doing her favours—she’s my only family after all—if only her attitude was better.

“Great, and I’ll send you my medical bill when I return from hospital,” she mumbles and ends the call abruptly.

I sigh. How long does she expect me to pay for any extra expense of hers? It always starts like this in autumn. Her mood gets really bad when weather worsens and she starts visiting various doctors, demanding that I pay for everything. I guess I’ll get her a spa retreat for Christmas again. It ends up being much cheaper and she treats me nicer after that. Or maybe I should send her to see a psychologist so that her bipolar disorder is finally diagnosed properly? New medicaments would really help her. If only she wasn’t so stubborn about it.

Her neighbours think she must be pure evil but she’s just miserable. One doesn’t have to be a telepath like me to know when a person feels deeply hurt. Gran has never gotten over the death of her daughter in Japan where she couldn’t reach her. She’s never forgiven the unknown man who took her daughter away so she decided to punish the child of such a man—me.

The Social Services are always trying to find any close living relative if parents untimely die and since they couldn’t trace by biological father, they entrusted me to my grandmother. If she refused, they wouldn’t give her any pension from the social system so she had to comply. Her coping mechanism was that she hated my guts with burning intensity. A tough situation for a 4-year-old who could literally feel all that hate telepathically.

Shit, school starts at ten! I quickly put on some clean pants, a hoodie with a logo from the classic game series Mass Effect and a black face mask.

I miraculously manage to find an empty seat on the train and yawn. Weird, I’m always aiming for at least four hours of sleep each day, more at the weekends, but lately I feel really tired no matter how long I sleep. Is my haemoglobin too low or something? I know next to nothing about biology. Maybe I really should just eat better.

What I really need right now is coffee so I stop by a local bakery that’s on the campus grounds. My head starts to slightly hurt which is strange. Sure, the train was pretty much full as every morning but the day is just beginning. I shouldn’t be overwhelmed so soon.

“Well, look who’s here for fucks sake,” a familiar voice suddenly calls to me. Turbulent emotions, not good ones.

“P-Peter,” I’m startled when I turn around and recognise that person. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m actually studying here, my first semester,” he’s staring at me intensely. “You’ve never told me you’re a student at Charles University.”

“I don’t remember us having a proper conversation,” I answer accordingly. “What do you want?”

“Why so cold?” he smirks and leans towards me to whisper. “You were so hot for me last time.”

“Only because I was drunk,” I step back instinctively.

I’m usually very careful when choosing my lovers—I always check their true intentions—but that evening at the bar I was quite drunk which clouded my judgment. When I sobered up, I realised that behind the passion I experienced with him are much darker and unpleasant urges. So I ran away.

“Are you leaving again?” he grimaces and grabs my hand.

His intense emotions paralyse me for a few seconds so he manages to get me away from onlookers. To other people, we probably seem like a normal quarrelling couple.

“Let-me-go,” I hiss through my teeth but he’s much stronger than me.

I have no chance of winning this wrestling game. He pushes me towards the wall and forces a kiss. I struggle but there’s no use. A telepathic connection kicks in whether I want it or not.

His mind is even worse than I remember. It’s all jumbled, full of selfish intentions and narcissistic tendencies. He doesn’t like me, he just wants to wreck me as a revenge for dumping him.

I want to call for help, we’re not that far from other students, but he won’t let me take a breath for more than one second between forced kisses. He clutches my wrists and pushes his knee between my legs. His hand tries to undo my belt.

NO! I’m not delving into his ugly mind for a second longer. OUT! I WANT OUT! So I push… somehow… with my mind into his. And something breaks.

My brain explodes with pain and it’s as if an invisible wall falls down. I’ve never experienced anything so painful before and it blinds me for a moment. I can feel his emotions much stronger now and his thoughts are crystal clear to me. Like there’s no filter anymore.

I have no idea what happened but all of a sudden he lets me go and collapses to his knees. He’s gasping for breath, his eyes widened. I’m not waiting for him to recover and run.

My head is now pulsing with a proper migraine and I see little stars all around me. The world is spinning, I stagger and must look drunk to people I pass. Their emotions are stronger than ever before which makes me nauseous. I hide in a nearby park and throw up behind the bushes.

Thankfully, I didn’t drop my backpack so I take out my water bottle and painkillers that I always carry with me, just in case. I gulp two at once. My body is shaking, I’m still in shock. I try a breathing exercise that usually works when I’m overwhelmed but it’s hard to calm my wildly beating heart in the worst phase of a panic attack.

There’s no way I’m in shape for classes and I’m not returning to campus while Peter can still be there. What the hell happened anyway? Did I give him some kind of telepathic shock? It was as if I forcibly entered his mind, not only silently ‘listened’ as always. Did he feel it? What if he did? What if he deduces that I’m a telepath? But… I guess nobody would believe him anyway.

Crap, my panic attack won’t get any better when considering such things. I hug my legs and, to distract myself, I look up to the sky. How I wish to have wings here! I’d just fly away and nobody would bother me anymore. I wouldn’t feel anyone if I was far enough from people on the ground. True silence also in the real world and the freedom of the sky I’ll never have.

My back suddenly tickles again as if to remind me that such fantasies are pure waste of time. I scratch it but the sensation refuses to go away. I scratch and scratch and eventually the tickling fades away but the areas under my shoulder-blades stay somehow warm and weirdly pulsating.

Yes, I definitely play too much, I should cut back. My body is obviously confused because I spend too much time as my virtual avatar. There were cases of people who stopped differentiating between the real world and the virtual one. They basically went nuts. I bet it also started with something minor like tickling around non-existent limbs. What if I’m prone to psychological disorders after my Gran? Mom also had mood swings in the last stage of her tumour.

Spinning and shaking eventually gets better but my mind is still a mess. I actually know and occasionally practice some basic meditation techniques to clear my head but I’m too anxious for it right now. I need to rest in a mind I really like, that always helps. Erik’s face is the first one that pops up.

I hesitate. I’m seeing two more lovers and they’re fine but Erik… He’s the best fix. Can I bother him, though? Isn’t he on duty? His work is pretty irregular.

I dig out my phone.

Ryuuto (10:14)
Hi, I kind of changed my mind. You free? I mean… right now?

My hands are shaking when I’m waiting for him to respond. Fortunately, he does almost immediately. Thank God for Erik being so approachable and checking his phone without delay, unlike me.

Erik (10:17)
Who are you and what have you done with Ryuuto? Impostor! o_o

I nervously chew my lip. Yeah, that’s totally out of character for me.

Ryuuto (10:18)
Sorry, I know that I can be a jerk. So do you?

Erik (10:18)
Hmm… you’re in luck. ;)

Ryuuto (10:19)
Coming then…

Am I being selfish right now? I’ll seriously try to make it up for him later.


Erik doesn’t live near the campus but his place isn’t on the other side of Prague either so I arrive within forty minutes. Painkillers kick in and mitigate my severe headache to a tolerable level but I still almost puked three times in the train when someone got too close to me.

Erik opens the door almost immediately when I ring the bell. I was never happier to see him and I realise all those things I love about him. Like he’s here for me even though I ran away from him last night. Like he’s not judging me even if I must look really shitty right now. He genuinely cares.

“Well, that’s a visit I’d have never expected,” he smirks and his mind is full of fondness.

The familiarity and power of his emotions take me by surprise. Normally, I’d feel such strong feelings only during sex. I stumble and fall into his arms.

“Ryuu, do you feel okay?” he touches my forehead in concern.

He shouldn’t have done that—the sheer volume of his thoughts almost knocks me down. In an attempt to keep my sanity, I tear down my face mask I forgot to take off and kiss him urgently.

I get lost in his mind and come back only after he pushes me away.

“I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy this new wild you,” he says, surprised but grinning. “But at least come inside first, will you?”

I allow him to manoeuvre me into his hallway and wait impatiently for him to close the door behind us. The second we have privacy, I seize him.


I see everything; Erik is like an opened book. I can browse all his memories and access his inner desires. I can also see the things he isn’t even aware of, all his subtle tendencies and suppressed emotions. And everything is lovable about him.

It’s not just sex anymore, we’re making love. Our connection has deepened to the most intimate level.

“Ryuu… I… I love you,” he whispers between moans.

It’s impossible to resist such a pure feeling. All my defences fall. And for the first time in my life, I’m not afraid to say it.

“I love you too,” I whisper back and shower his mind with my affection.


I wake up with a twitch. Erik is sleeping but it’s still only afternoon. I feel his emotions as sharply as during our sex but I’m able to think rationally again. I’m finally able to differentiate between my feelings and his so I can start thinking things through.

I did something horrible and unfair to Erik. I… used him. He’s the last person in my life who deserves that and I hate myself for it right now. I might have hurt my one precious person. Does it make me a bad person? What should I do?

I love you too. I caress his wavy hair. Have I loved him before? Was I just too scared to admit it to myself? I don’t do boyfriends, my own rule. I mean… what if they found out? That possibility frightens me the most. It frightens me being called a freak. Especially by people I like.

You’re special to me, Erik. But what now? I got consumed by you and at the same time I consumed you. What if I hurt you? So far I’ve been only catching other people’s emotions, thoughts only upon touch, but now I’m sure I entered your mind. I don’t want to hurt you like I hurt Peter.

I sit up and quietly put my feet on the ground. This time I feel guilty to leave without saying goodbye but it’s better this way. I don’t deserve him and he doesn’t deserve to be used by a freak. I have to disappear from his life to protect him from me.

“Don’t you dare!” Erik’s strong arms suddenly twist around my stomach and pull me back. I gasp for breath, startled. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice he woke up.

“You jerk, what did you want to do? Leave like that? After what just happened?”

He’s furious which is an honest reaction to what I did to him. I deserve his wrath; he has every right to be angry at me. To detest me.

“You have some explaining to do,” he traps me into his arms. But even now he stays gentle with me which makes me feel even guiltier. I invaded his very mind, his most guarded privacy. He must think I’m a monster.

“I-I’m s-sorry,” my eyes start to water. “D-did I h-hurt you? I’m s-sorry… so… s-sorry.”

His expression softens for some reason. His emotions get calmer.

“I was angry because you wanted to run away,” he says slowly. “As for the other part, I simply demand an explanation.”

I start to shiver uncontrollably, my breathing gets erratic. I feel another panic attack coming. How am I going to explain something like this? How do I get out? Then he does something I can’t quite phantom. He pulls me even closer and clutches me in comfort.

“Come on, breathe, don’t go panicking on me, there’s no reason to,” he says soothingly. “Do your thing if it helps you. It helped when you came, right?”

And he kisses me on my forehead.

I enter his mind again. Erik is full of questions, anxious to get proper answers, but, surprisingly, I don’t feel any repulsion from him. The word ‘freak’ doesn’t cross his mind even once. On the contrary, he’s excited that he found something extraordinary.

I’ve never thought of myself like that. I’ve never considered the possibility that someone might actually be okay with it. He generously gives me a few minutes to slow down my breath.

“Feeling calmer now?” he touches my chin because I’m still afraid to look him in the eye.

“Y-yeah,” I mumble but my voice remains shaky.

“You’re obviously scared to share your secret so I’ll make it easier for you,” he says, extremely softly. “Based on what I’ve just experienced with you and while thinking about all those previous instances when you knew too well what I’d like… well… are you some kind of telepath?”

“Ehm, I-I…,” my voice fails me.

He knows… he actually knows. And he can’t be shaken at this point by some quickly made up lies. He felt me inside his own being. I can’t make myself to say it aloud so I touch his mind and finish the sentence by sending my thoughts to him. I was never able to do such a thing before but now it seems easy.

Yes, I am.

He lets me rest in his arms for a while without saying anything because my breath gets erratic again. I guess, as a medical pilot, he must have some experience with panicking people. He’s really good at it.

“You don’t mind?” I whisper when I finally manage to put together a proper sentence.

“If I mind? Ryuu, you dummy, that’s just... well… fantastic!” he says excitedly.

Oh, certainly not the reaction I expected. I look up to meet his eyes. They’re actually smiling, full of tenderness.

“You’ve offended me a little bit, though,” he looks at me pointedly. “You were so scared of how I’m going to react. Have I ever given you a reason to? Couldn’t you read in my mind that I’d accept all sides of you?”

“S-sorry,” I apologise again. “I’ve never told anyone; it was always my worst nightmare. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“You kidding? It was the best sex of my life,” he smirks. “But how is such a thing as real telepathy even possible? I always thought such things were science-fiction fairy tales or conspiracy theories of crazy people who believe in UFOs.”

“No idea, I was born like this,” I say truthfully. “Maybe my Mom knew something, but she… she died when I was four and still living in Japan.”

He doesn’t say anything, realizing how painful this topic is for me and that I don’t have the capacity to talk about it just yet. I love that about him.

I love you.

It takes me a few seconds to realise I’ve sent the thought together with an emotion to him. I turn red with embarrassment.

“Well, I love you too,” he pokes my nose. “I’m glad we’re finally on the same page about it. And it took you only a year to admit it.”

He tries to play it as a joke but he’s painfully right.

“I know I’m horrible at proper relationships,” I sigh. “And you were so patient with me.”

“Because I think you’re worth it, skinny,” he tickles my ribs. “Are you still afraid of committing? Even with me?”

“A bit, yes,” I can’t lie to him anymore. “I have some… trust issues. My telepathy often makes it very hard for me even if it sounds counterintuitive.”

“We can take it very slow,” he assures me. “But I’m not letting you go now that I know that you love me as well. I’m quite possessive, you know? Oh, right, you do know.”

“You’re the first person who found out the truth about me and you’re fine with that. There’s no way I’m letting you go either,” I finally manage to smile.

“So,” he becomes stern. “I can give you all the time you need but there’s one condition: I seriously don’t want you fucking other guys from now on. I want you for myself. Can you deal with that?”

“I…,” I hesitate but only for a moment. “I think I can now. My other lovers were just acquaintances with benefits. Only you are special… always been,” I set things straight. “No real feelings with them, just sex. I don’t need that anymore.”

“Have you before?” he asks, tilting his head.

“Well…,” I feel embarrassed to say it.

“No more secrets, Ryuu.”

“I might be… hooked on connecting to my lovers telepathically during sex,” I admit reluctantly. It feels weird to say it aloud. As if I’m at some addicts anonymous meeting.

“Fascinating,” he caresses my hair. “Not that I would mind, that sex was amazing. Of course, provided I’m enough for you. Am I?”

“Yes, definitely,” I nod wildly because he looks insecure for a moment. “I’ll have to see you much more often or I’d go crazy with a telepathic craving, though. Is it okay with you?”

“You could have in the past,” he reminds me. “You were the evasive one, not me.”

I realise my stupidity. “I guess… I was afraid of getting too attached to someone.”

“Get attached to me,” he proposes and kisses me again.

And I do. Our telepathic connection deepens and I get lost in his mind. His consciousness is so comforting. I bathe in it.

“Huh, how come I didn’t notice it sooner?” he gasps for breath. “It’s so intense.”

“Because my telepathy wasn’t this strong before,” I say. “It got much stronger a few hours ago. There was… ehm… an incident at school.”

“What kind of incident?” he raises his eyebrows.

“An ex-lover found me, a very bad choice for one night,” I say. “When he caught me and I couldn’t free myself, I started panicking and did some kind of telepathic shock to him. I’m not sure what I did but immediately after that my telepathic ability got sharper.”

“It must have levelled up,” he scratches his chin, thinking.

I smile to myself; his game analogy is spot on even though he’s a non-gamer.

“But seriously, how can you choose so poorly when you can read other people’s minds?” he rolls his eyes. A good point.

“I got drunk that evening,” I avoid his gaze because I feel totally embarrassed about it.

“I thought you never drink?”

“I’ve made that resolution after that.”

I’m all red with shame so I push my head into his chest. I hug him tight to test whether I gained more control. I’m overwhelmed again but my control certainly gets better with every attempt as I manage to pull my mind out much sooner.

“Now you do the penetrating—the mental kind,” he chuckles and squeezes me around my back.

A sudden sharp pain explodes under my shoulder-blades. I let out a short cry.

“W-what?” Erik is startled and loosens his grip right away. “Too much?”

“It’s not your fault,” I say quickly and push him back a little. “I’ve been only gaming or sitting at school recently and my back is sore as a result. It’s been like this for a few days. I seriously have to do some yoga.”

“You are one of those VR gamers, aren’t you?” He’s not surprised because he must have noticed that I wear only geeky clothes with pictures from videogames. But I’ve never talked about it with him before because it isn’t something we have in common.

“Well, yeah,” I nod and my eyes meet his alarm clock. “Shit, it’s 16:20 already?”

“So what? Let’s cuddle some more, my cute telepath,” he wants me back in his blankets but I resist entering his mind this time. A little success.

“I have a raid at six,” I explain to him. “I know that you probably think of it just as a game but for me actually… it’s important.”

My words aren’t that convincing but because we’re still touching each other, I send my feelings to him. This time a feeling of urgency. I could ditch my party, but… I consider them my friends, even if only ingame.

“Okay, fair enough,” he says after a brief consideration. “I’d love to develop more crazy theories about your astonishing telepathy but it’s probably better for me to digest what I already know for now and I should get some rest before my next shift anyway.”

“Is my telepathy draining you?” I worry.

“A bit,” he admits. “But I think it’s only because I’m not used to it.”

“I’ll impose on you until you get used to it then,” I smile.

“Counting on it,” he makes the last attempt to pull me back but I jump out of bed on a quest to get dressed.

He’s watching me, amused, as I’m frantically looking for my clothes all over his apartment. We must have been really wild when I got lost in his mind; I hope his neighbours won’t complain.

“Game hard, psychic nerd,” he kisses me goodbye in front of the main door. He didn’t bother to put on even his underwear. “And remember: No fuc---“



The train is cramped at this hour which is a double hassle with my levelled-up telepathy but I just don’t care. I feel happy as never before. Erik knows and he’s okay with it. I’d never imagined that telling anybody and being accepted can be so fulfilling.

My phone beeps.

Erik (16:52)
Hey, I forgot to ask for your address. Don’t you think I can finally visit your place now that I know? ;)

I hesitate for a minute. I’ve never had a visitor at my place. Shit, I need to clean up. Seriously. Erik’s place is so tidy. What would he think of me if he saw my messy gaming den? But then I smile to myself and my chest gets warm. I send him my address, wondering how things have changed in just a couple of hours.

Erik (16:54)
Sweet. Can we have lunch together? Soon? I’ll drop by.

Ryuuto (16:55)
Sure, what about Thursday after 12:30? I don’t have classes then. ;)


When I get home, it’s already quarter to six. I quickly eat a pre-cooked lasagne from the box, my only meal today, lie down on the bed and put on my VR helmet.

Checking compatibility…
Compatibility: 87%

87%? WHAT???!!!

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