Chapter 7:

My Viceroy is a CEO

Draconia Offline

“No way! You’re THE Laura Richter?” Fefnir opens his mouth wide and stares at her.

And he’s not the only one—who wouldn’t know about AstraTech’s mysterious owner who is known to be adamantly rejecting all attempts for interviews and hates to be photographed. I think I once saw a rare photo of her on the Internet but I hardly ever pay attention to these things so her face wasn’t familiar when we met in the restaurant.

“Yep, that’s right,” Liana simply nods.

She acts nonchalant about it but I can feel she’s a bit nervous. I wasn’t able to identify such subtle nuances before but with my levelled-up telepathy I can tell that she’s afraid we won’t see her in the same light as before—as one of our gaming buddies. I guess rich people have it tough as well, just in different aspects of life.

“B-but… why would someone like you play VR games?” he shakes his head in disbelief.

“Why wouldn’t I?” she raises her eyebrows. “CEOs are people too, you know. And come on, you make it sound as if VR games are only for losers with no life.”

“W-well… of course not,” Fefnir admits because it’d mean he’s one of those losers. “I just didn’t think have-it-all people would play hardcore RPG games.”

“It’s my means of relaxation,” Liana says, “to become someone else and forget about the mundane at least for a while. Isn’t it the same for all of you?”

I get it; someone like Laura Richter must be constantly facing unimaginable pressure and unending workload. She probably plays Draconia to escape it in a similar way I use VR to escape the unending avalanche of emotions from other people.

“So,” Fefnir’s expression brightens and his emotional state changes. The shock is digested, now he’s amused. “You started playing Draconia and ironically end up being the Celestial viceroy. How is that relaxing?”

“It… got a bit out of hand,” Liana sighs. “I’m a workaholic and an over-achiever and it seems I can’t help it even in the virtual world. I never planned to be the viceroy but as that title automatically goes to the second best Celestial player, I inevitably became one.”

“And then you saw how hopeless Aefener is at planning anything that isn’t combat-related,” Fefnir chuckles, “and just couldn’t ignore it?”

“Pretty much,” she shrugs. “Once a manager, always a manager I guess.”

“I’ve always thought you must be some kind of manager in real life,” I smile. “Don’t worry, you’re still Liana to us.”

She smiles back, looking grateful. It seems like a big deal for her and I suddenly feel the urge to explore her mind. There’re so many contradictory things in her that I can’t help but to be fascinated.

Erik clutches my hand. Is he jealous that I’m so interested in her? But it’s not like I can seriously fall for my viceroy, being a woman and all, so I send that reassurance telepathically to him together with a thought: Don’t be silly, I love only you.

“Anyway, I’m perfectly capable of giving Aefener asylum,” Liana continues with the original topic. “My mansion has its own security service and I can accommodate even you guys if you want. Not Ingri, though, she goes back to her parents.”

“Oh, come on,” Ingri finally speaks up as she’s been silent for a while. “Don’t treat me like a kid, I’m seventeen already. I want to go with you. What do you think will happen when my parents find out? They’ll send me to hospital for sure.”

“Your symptoms are slow, your immersion level wasn’t that high, right?” Liana opposes. “Aefener needs protection because they’d most probably treat him as patient zero but you’re just one of million other players. Doctors won’t be particularly interested; they’ll go after high-levels.”

They start to argue but their heated debate is paused by my cry. The swellings start to itch all of a sudden and it’s almost unbearable.

“No, don’t scratch it,” Erik catches my hand.

Fefnir quickly examines my back. His touches mitigate the itching a little bit but he’s not scratching my back either. I whine and beg but nothing softens them to allow me some relief.

“I suspect your wings are getting ready to come out,” Fefnir observes.

“From under the skin?” I gasp. “H-how?”

“I’m afraid they’ll have to split the skin,” he says slowly. “They can’t stay inside for much longer considering how fast they’re growing. Probably the sooner they come out, the better for you. It shouldn’t hurt so much if they grow outside your back.”

“Were your ingame wings big?” Erik is curious. “Or just symbolic?”

“Huuuuuge,” Fefnir smirks.

“We know nothing so far, they might not be as big here,” Liana objects.

“They must be if you really want to be able to fly,” Fefnir insists.

“Birds have different bones than humans,” Ingri remarks. Is biology her hobby so she chose to play as an Earthborn? “Can’t it be the reason why your whole body is hurting? You might need to get hollow bones to make your skeleton lighter for flying.”

“Oh, hollow, haven’t thought of that,” I clutch my chest. “I do feel weak, you may be right.”

I shiver and Erik hugs me more tightly. I’m scared shitless and I don’t freak out only because I have no energy for that right now. Erik keeps comforting me by sending me lots of love.

Whatever happens, I’m staying with you, he says in his thoughts and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him.

“Did you come up with some theories why it’s happening when I was passed out?” I ask to distract myself and stop from developing a panic attack.

“Sure, one theory crazier that the other,” Fefnir says. “I’m in favour of a massive genetic experiment done by some super secret organisation tinkering with VR while Liana’s theory is more mystical.”

“It’s not really if you think about it,” she shakes her head. “I proposed some kind of rapid evolution. Our brains are spending lots of time in VR and who says another evolutional leap cannot happen in accordance to what our brains believe in?”

“That is quite mystical,” I say, “but it doesn’t sound so far-fetched considering the circumstances. I’m prepared to believe anything at this point.”

“I proposed aliens,” Ingri boasts but she suddenly sniffs and furiously looks around. “Aefener, do you have a plant in your apartment? I smell something… green.”

“A small cactus near the window in my kitchen,” I reply, confused about the off-topic question. “It was a present.”

Ingri behaves as if she’s almost in a trance. She runs off and brings the plant with her. She gently pats it, totally mesmerised.

“Ingri’s Earthborn powers are awakening I bet,” Fefnir comments.

“They probably are, I can feel something,” Ingri whispers, charmed by the little succulent. “You don’t give it enough care, Aefener. Shame on you.”

“Sorry, I know nothing about plants. I’m surprised it was able to survive at all in my care,” I say guiltily. “You can have it if you want.”

“Thanks, I’ll nurse this poor thing,” Ingri nods.

“Another breakthrough discovery,” Liana coughs to clear her throat. “But back to the main topic. We should move Aefener immediately before he’s not able to travel at all. Fefnir, any idea how long does he have?”

“Hmm, hard to say,” Fefnir thoroughly examines my swellings again. “There’s no way of telling but unless the transformation is meant to kill him then judging by the speed of the growth I’d say a day or two?”

I stop breathing for a moment. Could I be killed by my own wings? Bleed out when they try to come out? If it’s some sick government experiment, who says the first test subjects have to survive it?

“Don’t even say that word out loud!” Erik berates him. “Ryuu is going to be fine.”

“Aefener,” Liana sits next to me and speaks softly. “I know that you don’t want to leave your home but they’ll certainly come for you when they put one and one together. Maybe they already did and are just looking for ways how to circumvent your confidentiality contract and get your address from the developers. It won’t take them long I’m afraid.”

“Aren’t you just too pessimistic?” Fefnir opposes. “Sure, they might take him to hospital and run a few tests but it’s not like they’re going to dissect him. He’s an EU citizen and has his rights.”

“We might lose our human rights if the EU government decides we’re not technically human anymore,” Liana frowns. “Human rights are a fragile thing.”

“Give us a few minutes alone to think it through,” Erik asks. “Can you wait in the kitchen?”

“Okay, I need to eat something anyway,” Liana nods.

“God, me too,” Fefnir agrees and his stomach grumbles as if in response.

“You ate just,” Ingri denounces him. “Two whole meals that were meant for Aefener and Erik.”

“So what, I’m a growing Dragonkin,” he states proudly. “I need energy for my tail, horns and scales.”

Everyone leaves my bedroom and it’s finally quiet.

“So do we have a conventional discussion or your special way?” Erik winks.

“My way,” I hug him firmly. “I need to feel you all the way.”

“I’m flattered, just don’t get lost in it, okay? We really have to think this through,” he says, all serious.

I nod but I still initiate it with kissing as I found out it’s the fastest method that works for me. I do get lost, just for a moment. Then I hold back and we start discussing. It’s still very new to me—this two-way highway. And it turns out that also much more effective. We don’t need to formulate our thoughts into sounds and our emotions add another layer of meaning.

Do you feel she can be trusted? Erik’s mind is anxious. What if she’s part of it somehow? I mean… AstraTech’s owner playing as your ingame viceroy? What’s the chance of that?

There’s no cheating in Draconia, she really is the second best Celestial player, I defend her. I’ve known her for six years now. Do you think someone would be willing to spend so much time in the game if they wouldn’t enjoy it?

Well, AstraTech doesn’t do business in VR, but still…

I trust her. Even if we have known each other only ingame, I consider her my friend.

Do you trust her based on your ingame experience or did you check her telepathically?


Oh, Ryuu, it’s still crazy. What’s going to happen to the world?

I have no answer for that. He gently touches my wings under the skin. He doesn’t feel repulsed which is a good sign? Will he love me when I become a completely different species?

“Of course I will,” he answers aloud. “I love you as you are, wings or not.”

I shiver with happiness. I’m so scared but with Erik by my side I feel like I can overcome anything. If I survive the transformation and Erik still finds me attractive, I can do this. Come what may. I kiss him again and our connection deepens. I bathe in his generous love and give him my love in return.

“Ehm… love birds? Are you talking about it or doing something entirely else?” Liana’s irritated voice takes us back to reality. She’s standing in the door and we’re lucky that from her standing point it simply looks like we’re cuddling. “You’ve been at it for half an hour and I see you’re not even talking.”

“He’s going,” Erik says quickly. “I hate to admit it but you’re the best option under current circumstances. So does it mean we’re going to Berlin?”

“That’s right,” she nods.

“I’m going too,” Ingri pushes her head under Liana’s forearm because my viceroy is blocking the door. “I’ve made Liana talk to my parents and after some negotiation they agreed.”

“They did?” I’m astonished. “I thought they’re super strict?”

“As every teenager, Ingri was exaggerating,” Liana rolls her eyes. “They’re quite reasonable.”

“And they’re scared shitless,” Fefnir finishes. “They’re glued to the news and totally against sending Ingri to hospital when they saw how overcrowded they got with the panic. Liana has better access to healthcare.”

“Okay, they aren’t so bad,” Ingri admits. “They’d rather let me go to Germany than face unforeseen complications or be tested on like some experiment.”

It’s surprising to me that they let her go but on the other hand it’s not like Liana is some evil corporate overlord. And if she has private doctors she can call, it would convince even Ingri’s parents.

“Start packing,” Liana concludes. “We don’t have that much time considering your condition and we need to stop at everybody’s place for their stuff.”

“I’ll pack for you,” Erik offers because I’m too sickly. “Just tell me what you can’t live without and point me in that direction.”

It’s really hard to decide. I’ve never been on an actual packing holiday or a long trip so I have no idea what I’d need.

“I’ll provide all basic stuff so no need to bring things like a towel and toothbrush,” Liana reassures me.

“Do you have anything other than geeky clothes?” Erik shakes his head when he opens my wardrobe.



He packs two t-shirts, my favourite hoodie and enough underwear for a week. Liana tells him that one week isn’t only optimistic, it’s blatantly naïve. So he packs some more.

“And my phone and laptop, of course. And don’t forget my e-reader. And my Nintendo handheld. And…”

“You’re not going on beach holiday,” Liana intervenes when Erik gets desperate because my backpack is full already. “You’re growing wings, stupid. I doubt you’ll have time or be in a mood for anything else besides that.”

“I know but playing games or reading books helps me with anxiety and might help me not focus on pain that much,” I murmur. “I really can’t live without these four things and who knows when I’m returning.”

“Possibly never,” Fefnir remarks.

I look at him, horrified.

“Don’t scare him more than is necessary,” Liana slaps him over his back. “We just need to hide him until his case isn’t that super rare anymore. When all players start visibly growing extra limbs, he’ll be safe again.”

Erik packs a few more items and I’m good to go. Although, go isn’t the right word for it, I have to be carried. I’m too weak to even stand at this point so Erik has to carry me like a princess. If it was in a normal situation, I’d thoroughly enjoy it. To ease the pain, he puts a pillow between his hand and my back.

“Now it’s handy that you’re so light, skinny. You okay?” he asks me because I twitch when we come out of my apartment.

“Erik, what if I never return here?” I shiver. “I do consider it my home.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you’re going to return. Why wouldn’t you?” he smiles at me.

He’s not sure, though. And he knows that I feel it from him. But he says it anyway.


It turns out everyone lives in different parts of Prague; Ingri actually lives in a village twenty kilometres away. We first stop by Erik’s place and wait for him to pack. I feel uneasy without him—do I crave him that badly or is it because I feel so vulnerable right now?—but he’s really quick about it. Unlike me, he knows perfectly well where his things are.

“What about your work?” I realise.

“I have lots of unused holiday,” he says. “I’ve never had a reason to take it. Now I do.”

“You’re sacrificing your precious off days for me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, you’re the best reason.”

Fefnir takes much longer. We wait for him in the car outside of his university dormitory. When he comes back with two camping bags, he looks pissed.

“My flat-mates are jerks,” he grunts. “They know that I play Draconia so they treated me as if I was infectious or something. If that’s how they treat me now, how is the world going to react to us when people find out the whole truth?”

At last, we arrive at Ingri’s place. Her parents have a traditional rural house with a huge garden. They greet their daughter on the porch; Ingri’s luggage is already prepared because she called her mom in advance. They keep hugging her and talking for several minutes. They must really love her. At least someone has a nice family.

The trunk is overstuffed now. It’s fortunate that Liana chose such a spacious model or five people with baggage wouldn’t be able to fit.

“Are your parents gardeners?” Liana asks.

“My Dad is a botanist, my Mom designs gardens,” Ingri says and keeps my cactus on her lap. “I love plants too, obviously. That’s why I chose to play as an Earthborn in the first place.”

“Makes sense. Scared of becoming a plant yourself?” Fefnir asks bluntly.

“Fefnir, don’t be a prick,” Liana reproaches him.

“What? I just prefer direct questions,” he shrugs.

“Actually, I’m not,” Ingri replies calmly. “There was an initial shock but when I felt Aefener’s cactus, something in me moved. I look forward to being able to connect to nature even if it means my body is going to change significantly. And we’re not plants, geez! We just overtake certain vegetal characteristics that are beneficial for us. Why is it so difficult for other races to comprehend?”

“The Earthborn are quite peculiar,” I explain to Erik. “The simplest definition would describe them as genetic engineers. They can analyze genetic information and alter their bodies.”

We finally depart. I’d prefer to clinch to Erik and not push my hurting back unnecessarily but Liana insists on seat belts again. This time for a different reason.

“I don’t want to be stopped by the police for some nonsense,” she says. “The world is panicking and the EU government might want to control the movement between states.”

She has a point so I stop arguing with her. The pain in my back is getting worse and worse but I take another painkiller and the cushion helps too.

When we finally leave the extended Prague district and hit the highway to Germany, I fall asleep on Erik’s shoulder, comfortable under a warm blanket.


“Ryuu, wake up,” Erik gently shakes me.

“W-what?” I blink, perplexed where we are.

“We’re here. You’ve been sleeping the whole journey,” he explains.

“C-cold,” I shiver. “Oooh, I need the bathroom!”

“Oh, right, maybe we should have woken you when we took a break, sorry,” he wraps me in the blanket and takes me into his arms again. I silently hiss—my wings kept growing during our travel so Erik’s touch is very painful even if he uses the pillow for support.

I look around and find that we’re in an underground parking lot. It’s not that big but then I realise all these expensive cars must belong to Liana only. Damn, why would someone need so many of them? Simply because they can? In Liana’s case, I guess she really must love driving.

Liana, or rather Laura Richter, is talking to her employees a few metres away. They’re already taking out baggage to the elevator. They’re wearing butler, maid or security uniforms. Wow, I’m seeing actual maid uniforms! So these things still exist?

“Okay, follow me, please,” Liana waves at us.

The employees are eyeing us. Did she tell them at least vaguely what’s going? Do they even know their employer plays VR games? I capture their suspiciousness. Our visit must be out of character for Liana.

I try not to stare but I probably do. Liana’s mansion is unbelievable. How can someone even accumulate this much wealth? The house has a modern minimalistic style, almost no excess stuff, but it still manages to appear super luxurious. It’s not a mansion, it’s a palace.

“I never host guests in my house but, thankfully, I do have two guest rooms. Hana insisted,” Liana says.

“Who’s Hana?” Fefnir asks, also staring at everything around.

“My most trusted housekeeper,” she says. “Ah, here she is. Let me introduce you.”

Hana turns out to be a lady in her sixties with sharp eyes, hair tied into a bun and perfect maid visage. Liana must have called her about our situation when I was asleep because Hana doesn’t look that surprised. Her emotions are mixed. On one hand she’s totally devoted to her employer, on the other the prospect of us soon turning into completely different species frightens her. A genuine reaction, to be honest.

“Let’s get this young man into bed,” Hana goes for the most practical solution in front of her. I feel she’s trying to suppress anxiety by making herself busy with tasks.

Even guest rooms, according to Liana never used, are luxurious and spacious. I’d expect nothing less from such a mansion.

“Okay, Aefener and Erik obviously stay together,” Liana instructs us. “Ingri, would you mind sharing a room with Fefnir? Hana will separate the beds, of course. We can make better arrangements later.”

“No problem,” the girl shrugs.

“Bathroooooom,” I beg.

Erik smirks and takes me there. Everyone is busy unpacking when we return.

“Food is ready, Madam,” Hana reservedly looks inside. “Should we bring it here?”

“Yes, please, Ryuuto is too weak for the dining room,” Liana agrees and uses my real name with her.

Three servants come in and bring numerous plates on food trolleys. Liana says thanks in German and dismisses them. Hana stays a little longer just to put a table sheet on the bed in case we make a mess and then leaves.

Everybody sits down and we dig in, not worried about appearances. It’s food for at least ten people but I think we’ll finish all of it.

“Our transformation must require a lot of calories,” Fefnir contemplates. “We’re super hungry every few hours.”

“Something tells me you’re always super hungry,” Ingri teases him while she’s pouring olive oil on the salad.

“I do lots of sport,” Fefnir goes for roast beef.

“Oh, come on, Ryuu, have some protein,” Erik is trying to force me to eat baked chicken. My hands are shaking so much that Erik decided to feed me. “You can have a dessert after a proper meal.”

“I don’t want to,” I struggle with him.

“You really do have a horrible diet,” he frowns. “Your body needs protein now more than ever. You’re growing wings, for God’s sake.”

He puts a fork with a chicken piece under my nose.

“Oooh, I think I’m gonna puke again!” the smell irritates my stomach immediately.

“Erik, don’t!” Liana stops Erik from trying to force a fork down my throat. She hits her forehead as if she’s just realised something. Judging by her excited emotion, she has.

“Everyone, stop for a moment and look at the meal you’ve chosen,” she tells us.

“Whut?” Fefnir’s mouth is full of beef.

“Oh, I get it,” Ingri is the first one to understand. “We’ve instinctively chosen food according to our future races.”

“Some explanation, please?” Erik implores.

“I took salad,” Ingri starts explaining. “Earthborn are vegans in the game. You went immediately for meat, Fefnir. You didn’t even bother with potatoes or dumplings because Dragonkin are carnivores. Liana chose pasta with lots of cheese, Celestials are vegetarians.”

“Oh, right!” Fefnir nods furiously. “Aefener, what were the meals that upset your stomach?”

“Hmm,” I start thinking. “I had Thai at Erik’s, it had fish in it. Later I had some lasagne which contained ham. At the restaurant, I ordered pancakes with eggs and spinach but there were pieces of ham again. Before we left Prague, I had cheese pizza. My stomach was okay after that. So you think…?”

“Yeah, afraid so,” Liana says. “Our digestive systems are changing as well. For me, Fefnir and Ingri it seems to be starting with mild taste preferences but I bet you can no longer digest meat. Now you can’t even bear to smell it.”

“Okay, got it,” Erik comes to terms with it quickly and changes baked chicken for pasta, following Liana’s example. “Still no sweets for you as the main course but we can forget about meat.”

I finish the whole plate under five minutes and even ask for a second helping.

“So? Does your stomach feel alright?” Erik asks me, concerned.

“Seems so,” I nod. “Can I have some dessert now, please?”

My gaming friends are giggling at our interaction which brightens the otherwise tense atmosphere.

“I’ve never seen anybody eat so poorly and unbalanced,” Erik shakes his head. “I’ll keep checking your diet from now on.”

“That sounds menacing,” I’m almost worried what it entails.

“Try this one,” Liana points at one of the cakes.

I give it a try and….

“Heavenly Lemon Cake!” I exclaim, astonished. “But how…?”

“Many attempts and errors in the kitchen,” Liana grins. “I asked Hana to replicate it and just two months ago she was finally successful. I was thinking about posting the recipe online for all players to enjoy, but that was before all this.”

When servants take away empty dishes, Erik helps me to lie down on my left side. I was acting cheerful during our meal but it exhausted me completely.

“Fever doesn’t go away no matter how many pills he takes,” he’s worried.

“It might be a good thing,” Fefnir says. “When ill, high temperature helps the body.”

Liana chews her lip and looks at me. “So… do we post it? It’s your decision, Aefener.”

I’m really glad that she’s not forcing me. Being given a choice is always nice even though I feel I have to do it—like I somehow owe it to other players. Funny, do I think like the true Emperor now? I do feel obligated to my fellow gamers.

Not wanting to go to hospital because they would find out about my telepathy is one thing but this is a safe method how to convey important information without endangering myself. We need to document it. What if I’m going to need help with the process but some players will go through their transformation alone and die? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if a few videos could prevent it.

“Yeah,” I say firmly. “The players and doctors need to know what to expect.”

“How do we go about it?” Erik stays sceptical. “I don’t want Ryuuto to suffer any negative consequences by making his case public. Being labelled as patient zero is never a good thing.”

“That’s why we brought him here in the first place,” Liana assures him. “I’ll shelter him for as long as necessary. And it’s not as if Aefener’s condition is infectious so there shouldn’t be negative consequences, only extreme publicity.”

I gulp, ‘only’ she says. It sounds so simple. I should be used to publicity, being a famous streamer, but I’ve never shown my real face. I don’t want to start with it now so we decide that I’ll be lying on my stomach, not facing the camera, and Fefnir will try to describe my condition to the audience off screen. Liana won’t be connected to the video at all.

“Uff, my back looks like this now?” I’m dazed when we review it. Unless someone argues our video is a total fake, there’s no mistaking what’s going on.

My wings got so big that their bone structure is super visible under the skin. No wonder I can’t sit leaning back without a pillow. And that’s not all, feathers kept developing as well and areas around the swellings are now covered with tiny fluff. White, of course, so everyone will probably get the same colour as ingame. And instantly recognise it’s me.

“Can you really post it so that the source can’t be tracked, Li?” Erik asks, still not fully comfortable with the idea, but he perceives my determination and why I feel obligated to do it.

“Don’t worry, I own some of the best encryption protocols.”

I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.


A heated argument wakes me up. I blink, confused for a moment. Then I remember that I’m lying in Liana’s guest room so I calm down. I feel weak. So weak. My whole body is hurting as if thousands little needles were piercing every cell of my body.

“You’re too loud,” I whisper a complaint. “Take it to another room, I’m still sleepy.”

“Aefener,” Liana is furious.

“Did something happen?” I’m wide awake in an instant. “Did they track it to you? How long was I sleeping?”

“Two hours and they didn’t have to,” Erik sighs and carefully caresses my fluffy feathers.

“There’s a leaker in the mansion,” Fefnir clutches his fists. “Now the whole world knows where you are and that Laura Richter is also involved.”