“Come on, breathe, Ryuu,” Erik is comforting me and lets me rest on his chest. My wings are trembling, mirroring my jarred emotions. Celestial wings are extremely sensitive according to the ingame lore and it seems they’ll be super sensitive even here.
I’m with you, he adds in his thoughts.
I hug him even tighter and try to adjust my erratic breathing to match his calm breath. I do believe him but at the same time I can’t help it—all I feel right now is dread. My two videos went viral and now my real identity is out as well which means that literally the whole world knows me. I imagine lots of people would be ecstatic about such a thing happening to them but there’s nothing worse for a hiding telepath than crazy public attention.
“Does he have a history of panic attacks?” Dr Stein asks, worried.
“Maybe?” Erik answers, uncertain. He did experience my panic attack once before when my telepathy was revealed to him.
I always panic when people might find out, I explain to him in my thoughts.
That’s understandable, don’t feel ashamed, he gently pets my shivering wings.
“Anyone would be panicking if that happened to them,” Ingri points at the 3D projection which is still showing my photo next to the commentator.”
Soft knocking at the door.
“Miss Richter,” Hana warily peeks inside. “I’m sorry to bother you but the EU representative is calling again.”
“Time for work,” Liana sighs and gets up. Slowly, with evident effort.
“You should rest,” Dr Stein advises her.
“But I can’t, can I?” she shakes her head. “Unless we want the government to storm my place.”
I feel a surge of gratefulness towards my reliable viceroy. It’s only thanks to her that I’m not locked in some lab and being experimented on. My panic gets better a little when I realise I shouldn’t be that focused on myself. We’re in it together, it’s happening to all Draconia’s players.
“Can we do anything to at least ease your burden?” Fefnir asks.
“Sure,” she nods. “We need to establish a network for all transforming players where we can share information and cooperate. Right now all that matters is to survive the ordeal but we have to prepare for what comes next. Well, I have to go to take that call.”
She leaves while Dr Stein stays. She makes me nervous and thinking about our future doesn’t help much. I bet my friends had quite some time to ponder what happens when we all transform while I was passed out but I didn’t have the chance to give it much thought yet. One thing is certain, though: Nothing is going to be the same.
“Better now?” Erik kisses me when he makes sure I’m breathing normally again.
“Y-yeah,” I say. “It was a shock but I feel safe with you.”
“The government needs information, it’s understandable,” Dr Stein shrugs, walks across the room and sits on our bed. I feel that Liana trusts her but she still makes me anxious. Is it simply because of her occupation—my phobia of doctors? Or intuition?
“But locking high-levels against their will is horrible,” Erik frowns.
“What would you do in their situation?” she purses her lips. “As a doctor, I understand them perfectly. Imagine there’s a mysterious disease and people are panicking. You have to start the research immediately and do whatever is necessary to uncover it.”
“Are you implying Ryuu is acting selfishly hiding from them?” Erik gets angry.
“I’m saying his case could tell us a lot about this phenomenon,” she answers calmly but I feel she’s aggravated inside.
“Doc, I want to help,” I try to be cooperative. “I’m just panicky about hospitals, that’s all. You have my permission to publish whatever you find out about me.”
Are you sure? Erik is doubtful. He’s getting really good at talking to me in his thoughts.
It’s not like she has a tunnel here, I reply. Only my brain is abnormal and she has no way of performing magnetic resonance at Liana’s mansion so I’ll be fine. She’s right about uncovering what’s behind the transformation as soon as possible and I might be able to help.
“Well, thank you for that permission,” she smiles, more content now. “Miss Richter must be facing a lot of pressure from the government but if we at least share information with them and they know it comes from an actual doctor, they should stop pressing that much.”
“Ryuu’s case won’t be that special much longer, right?” Erik reminds us. “Liana said she’s about five days behind so we need to withstand that pressure only for a few more days.”
“I don’t want to spoil your hopes but Ryuu became kind of a world-wide celebrity,” Fefnir speaks up. “Even when all of us transform, people won’t forget his face any time soon.”
“Sucks,” Ingri puffs. “Still, won’t that give you more followers? Check your Vortex.”
I feel better after eating so I successfully manage to grab my phone she kindly passes me. Erik still has to hold me, though. Not that I’m complaining, I enjoy being held by him.
Aren’t you tired of me already? I ask.
I realise I love talking to him purely telepathically but we can’t overuse it in front of others. It probably looks weird when we don’t talk for too long but our expressions keep changing.
“Nante koto?!” I swear in Japanese and my head spins when I finally open my profile.
“Damn, Ryuu,” Erik widens his eyes, staring at my phone. “54 million followers and counting? For real?”
“I used to have 8 million,” I gulp.
“Even that is impressive,” he’s astonished. “You could have mentioned you’re so popular.”
“My avatar is popular,” I set things straight.
“But you’re becoming your avatar, right?” he softly tickles my wings.
“Oh, exhausted,” the phone slips from my hands and lands safely on the bed. I can’t hold it anymore, I’m still not strong enough. “Ingri, can you check for me?”
“Sure, I love social media,” she nods happily and seizes my phone. “You don’t mind me managing your profile?”
“I name you my manager,” I shrug and accidentally move my wings again. “Shit, it hurts,” my eyes water.
“Please, let me do my work,” Dr Stein squeezes closer to us, doesn’t wait for my permission this time and touches my back. “How did it work in your game?” she asks, hungry for answers. I sense raising ambitions from her.
“It usually took players several weeks to get adjusted but then we just moved our virtual limbs by just thinking about it,” Fefnir answers for me. “Later it became automatic like you don’t think hard about using your hands or legs.”
“So it’ll probably be the same here,” the doctor nods and makes a mental note. “It’s not only about wishing here after all, you need to move all those new muscles. And exercise I imagine?”
“Great, I love exercising,” Fefnir smirks. “I play as a Dragonkin, doc, we’re naturally very strong but I think we’ll definitely need to weight-lift if we want to build all those muscles here.”
“And your race, Mr Rehak?” Stein tilts her head.
“Just Ryuuto is fine,” I mumble. I don’t like it when people use my surname and address me as Mister. “Celestials exercise only by flying.”
“Hmm, which won’t happen for quite some time,” she takes my left wing and stretches it.
I whine in pain and Erik slaps her hand.
“Doing my job, just doing my job,” she sings and runs away, saying: “I need a measuring tape.”
Do you feel ulterior motives from her? Can’t she be the leaker? Erik asks.
She’s eager to analyse every centimetre of me, I sigh even in my thoughts. But that’s no ulterior motive, she doesn’t really hide that intention, right?
She comes back very quickly, holding a borrowed measuring tape and a medical tablet. I flinch but she doesn’t waver.
“Please, let me do my job, Ryuuto,” Dr Stein smiles. “We need to give the EU government at least something so that they don’t bother Ms Richter that much.”
“She’s right,” Fefnir surprisingly agrees with her. “I was already checked by her while you were sleeping. Dr Stein is a professional, don’t worry.”
I give in and tell Erik to lay me down on my stomach. She takes a lot of photos of my back and even shoots a video commenting on an apparent layout of my new bones.
“The wings don’t grow out of original shoulder-blades,” she remarks. “Rather it seems the patient developed additional shoulder-blades a few centimetres under them. The body might be more balanced for future flight that way as it won’t interfere with normal usage of arms.”
She takes a tape, carefully stretches my wings to the sides and measures them.
“The current length of one wing is thirty centimetres,” she notes down. “I’ll keep measuring them every day to estimate how quickly they grow outside the body.”
Then she switches off the recording and asks Erik to weight me.
“Nope, scales hate me,” I use all my strength to evade him.
“Ryuu,” Erik rolls his eyes and easily catches me into his arms.
Because I’m not able to stand yet, he steps on the scale holding me, then puts me back on the bed and the doctor takes off Erik’s weight out of the total sum.
“Fifty-six kilo,” Dr Stein notes down, frowning. “The patient is underweight.”
“You’re even worse than I imagined,” Eriks shakes his head. “I’m going to stuff you from now on, do you understand?”
“If Aefener’s bones are getting hollow, isn’t he going to lose more weight?” Ingri worries.
“I’d love to X-ray you, Ryuuto,” Dr Stein says longingly. “Won’t you reconsider? My clinic is private and I would treat you as my most precious patient. Miss Richter can send some of her bodyguards with you, I have no problem with that.”
“No, thank you,” I flatly refuse. “Erik, can you wrap me in a blanket again? I’m cold.”
“Your thermoregulation might have changed as well, the room is warm,” the doctor notes down another piece of information.
“Celestials are weak towards cold, that’s why they were wearing such complicated multi-layered attires,” Ingri recalls the game trivia. “Aefener, will you let me adjust your clothes?”
“You can sew?” Fefnir looks up from his tablet where he’s constantly checking the news.
“Sure, I adjust my lolita clothes all the time,” she nods proudly. “I’ll ask Hana for a sewing kit, be right back,” she runs off.
I don’t want to offend her but what if she ruins my favourite gaming clothes? I say to Erik.
Your wings aren’t going anywhere and you can’t stay under the blanket forever, dummy, he laughs. I love how he’s able to do that in his head. It makes me laugh as well, only I can’t help it and giggle for real.
“Something funny?” Dr Stein raises her eyebrows because she catches it. Shit, I need to be more careful with my expressions!
“I-I just though how I’m going to look like,” I quickly come up with a lie. “An angel in gaming clothes. Ridiculous, right?”
The doctor shrugs indifferently, too busy finishing her report.
“Back,” Ingri returns and enthusiastically shows us an advanced sewing kit with all kinds of tools.
She takes my favourite t-shirt, measures it, draws two lines with a crayon and pulls out scissors.
“Don’t worry, I’m actually good at this,” she smiles confidently when she notices how nervous I am. “I’m not a professional tailor obviously but this is no big deal.”
I watch in horror as she cuts two huge holes into the t-shirt that was part of a unique promotional event and can’t be bought again. Then she does some sewing so that the fabric won’t start ripping out.
“Done, easy,” she throws the first t-shirt at me, continuing with the rest of my wardrobe.
Erik pulls the t-shirt over my head and helps me push my wings through the holes. It hurst but we manage.
“When they get too big, pushing won’t work, not enough space,” Erik concludes.
“I’ll think of something,” Ingri says confidently. “Buttons should do the trick.”
“Not my hoodie!” I shake my head violently when she grabs my absolute favourite piece. “I can still use it, at least for some time. The hoodie is two sizes bigger, I can hide my wings under it if I fold them.”
“No hiding, Aefener,” Liana suddenly enters the room. “We shouldn’t need to hide.”
She looks and feels pissed but when she sits on our bed, she whines and collapses on her left side.
“God, I’m tired,” she sighs out. “Dealing with the government is exhausting.”
“How did it go?” I’m almost afraid to ask.
“Not well,” she says truthfully. “They want to get their hands on you and the only thing that’s stopping them is the fact that they can’t risk going against me. And they suspect I’m changing as well. Until your identity was still secret, they thought you’re a son of some kind of rich businessperson I was asked to hide. Now that they know you’re not, they deduced we must know each other from the game.”
“But your wings will be out soon anyway,” Fefnir remarks. “Does it matter that much?”
“It does, stupid,” she rolls her eyes while Dr Stein measures her temperature. “I can’t show any weakness, now more than ever, but looking at Aefener’s state it’s evident I’ll be unusable for quite some time.”
“I feel better now, we should recover quickly,” I try to sound positive. “I even managed to hold my phone. Look,” I stretch my hand but the phone is lying too far from my reach.
Come on, I say to myself and stretch a little bit more. Still too far, though. All of a sudden, the phone jerks violently by itself and… falls down on the floor.
There’re ten seconds of solid silence. Erik is so shocked that he’s silent even in his mind. Dr Stein is staring with her mouth open wide.
“M-magic!” Fefnir is the first one to exclaim. “Must be! How did you do that, Aefener?”
“I-I… I have no idea,” I gulp. “I couldn’t reach it so… a strong wish I guess?”
“Do it again!” Liana sits up and her expression is mad.
“Come on!” Ingri grabs my phone off the floor and puts it in front of me again.
“Not with my phone!” I shake my head violently.
“It’s a good thing that I made you buy that screen protector, right?” Erik laughs but it’s the kind of nervous laugh that precedes a mental breakdown.
He somehow successfully came to terms with me being a telepath and having wings but now he’s facing another unbelievable phenomenon. Poor Erik. And there doesn’t seem to be an end to strangeness any time soon. I hug him and now it’s me comforting him.
“DO IT!” Liana and Fefnir shout at me at the same time.
“Use this instead,” Ingri readily positions a pillow in front of me.
“E-ehm… okay,” I say timidly.
Still, I have no idea how I did it in the first place. I try focusing on the pillow and sending a strong wish to move it but nothing happens.
“Well? Don’t you feel anything? Mana?” Liana nudges me.
“I’ve been feeling something pulsating inside me but I thought it’s my bones getting hollow,” I say. “Mana… I’m not sure, Li. I can somehow accept DNA changing even if it’s stretching science too far, but mana? Magical energy?”
“But you did magic, we all saw it,” Liana insists. “Right, doc?”
Dr Stein finally closes her mouth and simply nods. I guess it must be much harder for her and Erik to accept such a thing as magic because they’ve never played virtual games where it exists. As for me and my gaming friends, we were experiencing magic every day in the world that was almost indistinguishable from reality so we got used to it. But still… in real life? Seriously?
“Heyaa,” out of the blue Fefnir takes the pillow and throws it at me.
I know it can’t really hurt me but I flinch on instinct and the pillow changes its trajectory, hitting the wall behind me.
“Magic confirmed,” Fefnir grins and his teeth flash for a moment. Did I just see… small fangs?
Erik must have seen it as well because he blinks, dumbfounded again.
It’s real… it’s real… it’s happening… they’re… my Ryuu is…, he’s thinking frantically.
I’m still me, I assure him and try calming him with lots of love. It does seem to work as he gets his cool back.
“Real magic,” he speaks aloud and caresses my face. “How is the world going to react to that?”
“We have to keep it secret as long as possible,” Liana says resolutely. “The world is panicking already now that it’s been proven we’re really changing into our avatars. I’m afraid we can even expect violence and limiting our human rights if it comes to the worst scenario. Confirming magic isn’t wise at this point, we have to keep our people safe during the transformation when we’ll be utterly vulnerable.”
Our people, she says. I shudder at what it might entail—dividing the population into ‘us’ and ‘them’ is never a good thing. But what else is to be expected? Soon there’ll be five races on the planet. Everything’s going to change. And now that magic is confirmed, it’s only logical to expect that other races will get their abilities as well.
What does it all mean!? Erik starts freaking out again. I calmed him just a moment ago but because he can perceive my emotions and thoughts, he can also catch what I’m pondering about and get nervous as a result.
“I agree, we have to keep it secret for now,” Fefnir nods. “We’re lucky to be safe at Liana’s place but many others won’t be as lucky. I imagine there’re already people who fear us and if they find out we can do magic… well…”
“Dr Stein, I forbid you to make it public,” Liana turns to the doctor. “You can publish the rest but don’t you dare mention magic. At least not yet.”
I’m catching all sorts of conflicting emotions from the doctor. Julia Stein… she seems to be just a simple private GP for rich people but I can feel her ambitions go much higher. She wants to skyrocket her career on me. Still, would she betray Liana, her employer? And the Hippocratic Oath?
“I understand,” she says with evident self-denial. “But I want to be the first to publish it when the right time comes.”
“Deal,” Liana agrees.
“Try something else,” Ingri pulls my sleeve now that I’m properly dressed.
“Sorry, Ingri, I’m dead tired again,” I take a deep breath and Erik carefully lies me on my right side. I try to stretch my wings to rest them properly on the mattress.
“If magic here is based on mana, whatever that is in reality, it might be connected to one’s overall energy,” Fefnir thinks out loud. “In the game, you could take a potion when your mana was exhausted but I’m afraid there’ll be no such shortcut here. It’s most likely Celestials will have to sleep and eat to refill mana.”
“Mana… magic…,” Dr Stein shakes her head. “It sounds like a fairy-tale. If I didn’t see it myself, I’d never believe it. Or it might be scientifically explained after all? Some ability of a human brain we still know nothing about that was awakened? Did you have other abilities apart from telekinesis?”
“Of course, all sorts of abilities,” I say. “But simple telekinesis is the only one that didn’t require complicated spellcasting.”
“Miss Richter, do you feel something already?” Dr Stein asks, fascinated.
“I’m not sure… uhm, dizzy,” Liana massages her temples.
“Li, you need to rest, seriously,” I say sternly and manage to touch her because she’s sitting close to us. I want to check up on her.
As I suspected, she’s totally exhausted and just putting on a brave front. She’s not worse than me five days ago but she was working the whole time. I don’t want to invade her privacy so I only peek into her fresh memories. I knew it! She didn’t sleep since we came here!
“Aefener’s right,” Fefnir supports me. “Go to bed, Li.”
“And eat something, Miss Richter,” Dr Stein adds. “You might lose weight otherwise.”
“We’ll keep monitoring the situation,” Ingri says confidently. “I’m still at least two weeks behind you so I can be of use in the time you’re too weak.”
“Okay then,” Liana sighs in resignation and finally leaves. Dr Stein goes as well, mumbling she has to publish new information.
“Your compatibility was 80%, Ingri? That’s very impressive,” Fefnir is amazed. “What was your ingame level?”
“Thirty-seven,” she says and continues adjusting my hoodie. “It’d be much higher but my parents didn’t let me be plugged in VR for too long. But I started with VR as soon as I could so I guess my brain got used to it nicely.”
“When did you start, Aefener?” Fefnir is curious. “Also at fourteen?”
“Well, not exactly,” I say slowly. “I started gaming seriously at fourteen, yes, but I was testing VR when I was four.”
Ingri stops sewing, Fefnir looks up from his tablet and Erik frowns.
“My Mom was a VR developer,” I explain. “Or not really a developer, a researcher rather. I don’t remember it that well to be honest but I was testing some experimental stuff for her.”
“So that’s why your compatibility is so freaking high!” Fefnir claps his hands victoriously. “Your brain got a chance to adjust at a very early age.”
“Yep, most probably,” I nod.
“I thought testing VR on children is forbidden by the law?” Erik is shocked.
“It is. Not that my Mom cared I guess. But I really enjoyed it, she didn’t force me or anything.”
I’ll tell you the details later, I add in my thoughts. In fact, my Mom had a very good reason that relates to my telepathy.
It should better be good, Ryuu, because it sounds like abuse, he’s concerned.
“What is she doing now?” Fefnir asks.
“Huh, who?” I’m confused.
“Your mother. If she’s a VR researcher, didn’t it occur to you to go to her for answers?”
My chest gets heavy. It’s been so many years and I don’t remember her that well but it still hurts talking about it.
“My Mom died when I was a child,” I say simply.
“S-sorry,” Fefnir flinches. “I… I didn’t realise… I mean… you used the past tense but I thought she just changed jobs or retired.”
“Moron,” Ingri kicks him under the table and glimpses at my phone in front of her that started vibrating. She must have put it on silent because of countless notifications flooding my account.
“Oh, your grandmother is calling you,” she announces and hands me my phone.
Grandma. I freeze seeing her name on the screen. She never calls me just to wish me a pleasant day so either she needs something again or… she saw me on the news. I bet it’s the second option.
“Guys, can you leave, please?” my voice cracks. “It’s private.”
“Sure,” Fefnir and Ingri nod and leave for their guest room. Ingri takes the hoodie and the sewing kit with her.
My fingers tremble when I’m about to hit ‘answer the call’ button.
“Erik, it’s probably going to be nasty,” I warn him beforehand. “We don’t exactly get on well.”
He’s known nothing about my Grandma until now so it’s going to be embarrassing. He feels my anxiety and fear and clutches my hand in comfort.
“We don’t choose our family,” he shakes his head and gives me a quick encouraging kiss.
I touch the button and all hell’s fury breaks out.
“I’VE TOLD YOU THOSE DAMN VIDEOGAMES WILL BE THE END OF YOU! DO YOU EVEN REALISE WHAT KIND OF FREAK YOU HAVE BECOME?!”
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