It almost doesn’t seem real but Fefnir turns on the 3D projector and it’s on all news channels. Silent and horrified, we stare at a live footage of the military occupying streets of American cities. Fefnir then finds a debate programme.
“It’s just a precaution,” an American politician claims vehemently and looks pale. “We want to avoid any violence… possible racial riots.”
“It’s supposed to protect the transforming players,” her colleague seconds. “There were already some cases of Draconians being attacked... so far only verbally, fortunately.”
“Hospitals are full and people are buying food rations like crazy,” the first politician adds. “All we want is to prevent panic.”
“But you strongly recommend that Draconians don’t go outside unless they absolutely have to?” the commentator asks.
“We implore them,” the politician nods. “For the time being… until people get used to it a bit.”
I look at Erik and he clutches my hand. We were expecting some kind of escalation soon but a state of national emergency?
Fefnir switches the channel and it’s the EU representatives speaking. Although they didn’t announce the state of emergency, they also strongly advise players not to leave their homes for now. Allegedly, for our own safety.
“Our safety!” Liana spits. “They’re afraid of us, that’s all.”
“It’s understandable, Miss Richter,” Dr Stein speaks up. “We still don’t know what’s really going on and people are losing their nerves. I mean… we know WHAT is going on. But we have no idea HOW and WHY.”
“They can’t limit our freedom of movement like that,” Fefnir protests and angrily hits the chair.
He just wanted to release some steam but the wood doesn’t withstand the pressure and breaks. Fefnir opens his mouth wide and looks at the damage he’s done.
“S-sorry… I didn’t mean to… I…,” he’s shocked by his own strength.
“And that’s exactly why people are afraid,” Dr Stein gulps. “Four new races on the planet, each with abilities far exceeding humans.”
“We have to prove that we’re still us,” Liana says. “We’re still their friends, colleagues from work, family…”
“How?” Ingri is on the verge of panicking and looks back at the projection. Now it shows a footage of people protesting in front of the White House.
“You two specifically might be able to help,” Liana points at me and Erik.
“Huh?” we both blink, confused.
“First of all, you’re a VR celebrity, Aefener. You’ve already had millions of followers and you keep getting more by the minute. That means that we can reach a lot of people with whatever you post online. We potentially have a huge audience.”
She breathes in.
“Secondly, your boyfriend is human. The public will accept us better if we show that we’re still friendly with them so there’s no reason to fear us.”
“I can’t involve Erik,” I violently shake my head. “What if someone hurts him because of me? There will be many haters.”
“You-are-so-cute-but-stupid,” Erik pauses every single word. “I’m not leaving your side which means that I’ll be perfectly safe wherever you’ll be.”
“I have a third point,” Ingri brings up, trying to calm herself. “Think about the majority of your fanbase, Aefener. Giving them an eye candy by presenting your handsome human boyfriend will make them even crazier for you. That’s more positive publicity.”
“B-but… Erik… I don’t want to involve him…,” I’m hesitant.
“Ryuu, I mean it when I say that I’m okay with it,” Erik insists. “I know that you want to protect me but let’s face it. Your wings aren’t going anywhere and the world is never going to be the same. I’m not leaving you even if you are a new species now. Besides, I agree with Liana—I can really make a difference just by being openly by your side.”
“What about your publicity, Li?” Fefnir asks. “Aefener is just a popular streamer of one VR game but your name is universally known.”
“My publicity won’t help,” Liana sighs. “On the contrary, it’d only harm us. I’m a super rich businessperson, quite eccentric, and people can’t relate to that. Aefener is, on the other hand, still a student leading a normal life. He’s liked by his fans and has a lover who stayed human. Many people, transformed or not, will easily sympathise with that.”
“And he’s beautiful,” Ingri adds.
“Also that,” Liana agrees, amused. “He’ll make a perfect public relations figure. Of course, other famous Draconia streamers and former race rulers will hopefully help as well and… ouch,” she whines because she became too excited and tried to sit up.
“Don’t strain yourself, Miss Richter,” Dr Stein pushes her down.
“Li, you’ve done more than enough already,” Fefnir says. “Now it’s time we work while you rest. Go to sleep, we’ll brainstorm some ideas in the study.”
“I’m not presenting myself as the Celestial Emperor,” I refuse.
“But you technically are one,” Ingri insists. “You look the part so let’s use that.”
I roll my eyes. Calling myself the Emperor ingame is one thing. That’s just role-play. But transferring that into real life? Ridiculous.
“I’m not doing it,” I purse my lips, pissed.
All of a sudden, a glass of lemonade falls down the table and breaks. And it wasn’t unstable or anything.
“Aefener?” Fefnir raises his eyebrows. “Did you do that?”
“N-no?” I twitch. “I mean… not willingly.”
“We have to train our new abilities or we can potentially become dangerous to our surroundings,” Ingri says and looks at the glass shards. “Can you levitate them?”
“Hm? Sure,” I focus on the shards and they fly up. I think she just wants me to clean the mess but something else is bugging her.
“Celestial telekinesis wasn’t used in combat much, right?” she asks, thinking hard.
“Not really, it’s too weak for that,” I confirm.
“Well… but in theory… you could throw the shards at someone, right?” Ingri ponders.
I shudder at the thought. In the game, throwing small objects at players didn’t really do any damage but here if used inventively… I get distracted and the shards fall down.
“Damn,” Erik shivers as well. “A lethal weapon, another reason for people to panic.”
“Excuse me,” Hana looks into the study. “The IT department just let me know that the secure network is ready and asks where you want to install the command centre.”
“Excellent,” Fefnir appreciates. “I guess… here?”
“What’s that?” Hana frowns at the broken glass.
“A small accident with telekinesis,” Ingri explains. “Sorry, Mrs Hana.”
Hana sighs and sends a maid for cleaning. The maid has seen us several times already but she stares at my wings and Fefnir’s forming scales again. Thankfully, she doesn’t ask what happened, cleans the mess and leaves immediately after that. I catch her anxiety, she feels uneasy around us.
Do we really look THAT weird? I ask Erik.
Well, yeah, he doesn’t deny it. To be honest, what’s weirder is the fact that you’ve come to terms with is so quickly.
I suppose it’s because we’re used to having these bodies from the game.
“G-good afternoon,” two IT technicians enter the study.
They see us for the first time so their stares are really intensive. They freeze completely for a few seconds, astonished. Even though they must have seen me on the news, actually encountering real angel wings must be mind-blowing.
“Can you set it up here?” Fefnir steps in front of them and points towards Liana’s huge study desk.
The technicians flinch. Fefnir looked impressive even as human and now he has scales and seems somewhat bulkier. It is a bit terrifying.
“T-three c-computers will do?” one of the technician answers with a stutter.
I don’t need my telepathy to see that these poor guys are scared of us. We’ve done nothing intimidating and they don’t know I can do telekinesis, yet they’re terrified. I deepen my connection to Erik and try to see us with his eyes but it doesn’t work. He got used to us by now and him being telepathically connected to me almost nonstop is a contributing factor.
I can take any weirdness you throw at me, Erik chuckles in his thoughts because he knows I’m searching his mind right now. I don’t think anything can truly surprise me anymore since my boyfriend is a telepathic angel.
The technicians start bringing computers and screens and plugging them. Fefnir is trying to help them but they’re too nervous around him and almost drop one of the computers. In a few minutes, Liana’s desk is transformed into a decent IT corner.
“You can continue working with Vortex but now everything goes through our security protocols,” one of the technicians explains. “For a fee, the platform allows users to connect their own private servers so we took an advantage of that. Naturally, AstraTech has some of the best encryption protocols and servers and you can set your passwords without us just as Miss Richter ordered.”
“Great, thank you,” Fefnir nods.
“If you need anything, don’t hesitate to contact us,” the other technician says politely but, in reality, he hopes we won’t need their help that often.
“Gosh, they didn’t have to be that scared,” Ingri sighs when the IT guys leave.
“They weren’t scared of you… yet,” Fefnir shrugs. “They were staring at me.”
Ingri is at least two weeks behind me with her transformation so nothing obvious is visible yet. She was complaining about needing more sun and switched to vegan diet but that’s it so far. The Earthborn bodies are very intricate, though. I bet she’s changing rapidly inside.
I notice she’s rubbing her chest a few centimetres above her stomach.
“Are you okay?” I ask, worried. “Did Dr Stein examine you?”
“Y-yeah, I just feel a bit weird,” she says slowly. “I think my wallascula started growing.”
“Wallascula?” Erik tilts his head.
“It’s a special organ in which we can process new genetic information according to the game lore,” she explains. “We’re not plants even if we look the part a bit because we can alter our bodies.”
“The developers of your game really enjoyed creating inhuman races, didn’t they?” Erik shakes his head.
“Which reminds me… what about Uriel?” Fefnir remarks while switching on one of the computers right away. “She never contacted us again which is strange. I thought we’d stay in contact.”
“Oh, right, I totally forgot about her,” I chew my lip. “She didn’t even add me at Vortex.”
“Well… as one of the developers her compatibility level must have been really high, right?” Ingri ponders. “If the Japanese government needed patients for research, I think there’s a good chance she volunteered. Taking responsibility is a Japanese quirk, right?”
“Don’t look at me, my mentality is European,” I shrug. “But I think you might be right.”
Then we spend some time trying to find out how all the equipment works. The IT department was very generous and brought also cameras, microphones, 3D projectors and other stuff for professional streamers their employer must have requested.
“Should we wait for Liana to shoot the video?” Fefnir scratches his chin when he positions the camera.
“She’s still sleeping, let her rest,” I shake my head.
“How do you know that?” Ingri narrows her eyes.
A hint of panic runs down my spine. Does she suspect something? Am I too obvious with Erik?
“She would have called us,” I say quickly.
“Hmm,” Fefnir murmurs. “AstaTech’s servers are really great. It seems I can connect several thousand people into one videocall. Being able to manage such a thing is a different matter but the good news is—we can do it. Can we continue using your account, Aefener?”
“Sure, sure,” I nod and hope that it’ll distract Ingri.
Fortunately, it does. Ingri turns into my social manager again and eagerly helps Fefnir to set my password and tinker with various settings.
“Damn,” my head spins when I see the current count. 102 million followers.
“It’s a good thing, right?” Erik nudges me. “It means that you’ve got many fans who aren’t transforming players.”
“Y-yeah… if you put it that way,” I admit he’s right. “It’s still unnerving, though. I didn’t mind talking to my fans before because it was through my avatar. Showing my true face…”
“Your beautiful true face,” he gently grabs my chin and kisses me because he feels my uncertainly and low self-esteem.
“That’s exactly what we need,” Ingri exclaims excitedly.
Erik rolls his eyes and pulls away.
“No, seriously, something like this,” Ingri insists. “Let’s make a video in which we show that humans and new races can still love each other.”
“I have to agree with Ingri on this,” Fefnir seconds. “ And Liana suggested something similar.”
I’m still not sure about it but Erik surprisingly agrees with the idea as well. We devote an hour to writing a script and preparing the background and it does feel like I’m back to my streaming career.
Don’t fret, you’ve done it countless times before, Erik encourages me since he catches my anxiety.
When Draconia was just a game, I oppose.
It’s me who should be nervous, he laughs. I’m basically debuting.
Your nerves are steel compared to me.
Not when it comes to public speeches.
I anxiously look Ingri’s way but she’s adjusting the camera and doesn’t pay attention to us.
We have to be careful with our telepathic communication, I warn him. Ingri suspects something.
But you are considering telling them, right?
Eventually… yeah. When I’m ready.
“Okay, done,” Ingri announces.
“Do we look alright?” Erik gets nervous after all. “Shouldn’t we comb our hair better or change clothes?”
“Nah, look natural,” Fefnir waves his hand.
I gulp when Ingri gesticulates at us and turns on recording. We went through what we’d like to say to the world three times but we still stutter so we have to re-shoot several times. We’re holding hands visibly to the camera and kiss lightly at the end so that there’s no doubt what our relationship is.
“I think it’s really cute,” Ingri is content when we review the thing. “It’s evident that you’re nervous but that makes it only more believable and relatable.”
The minute we upload the video, views start skyrocketing. I have to look away from the counting.
“Don’t worry, we did well and it’s for the world,” Erik scratches my left wing. “Besides, your feathers are growing rapidly, the wings are even prettier.”
I carefully stretch my wings to the sides to take a better look. Proper feathers really are growing quickly which pleases me. Just like ingame, I enjoy that feeling of my back not being bare. Erik smirks because he feels what I’m thinking about and he starts to playfully caress my wings.
“Oh, s-stop,” I moan.
“Too much pressure?” he pauses immediately, concerned he might have caused me pain as I’m not fully healed yet.
“N-no… but… ehm…,” I blush, embarrassed. “Not in front of them.”
Fefnir and Ingri look at me, dumbfounded. Then Ingri realises what’s going on and starts to chuckle uncontrollably.
“What’s so funny?” Fefnir’s confused.
“Let’s say Celestials will get a very peculiar erogenous spot,” she’s laughing.
“What, the wings?” Fefnir slaps his forehead.
“Figures,” she shrugs. “Celestial wings are supposed to be extremely sensitive… for all sorts of things it seems.”
“You’re still a minor, Ingri,” Fefnir sighs.
“I’m of legal age for these things,” she objects. “Not that I’ve actually done it myself yet but… ehm… I read…”
“Gay fic,” Erik finishes for her and repeats her utterance: “Figures.”
“Oooh, I bet you’ve read tons of Draconia gay fanfic on our Aefener, here? And wings were the main attraction?” Fefnir bursts laughing so hard that his tailbone must hurt like hell. But he can’t help it.
“Seriously, what is it with girls and their obsession with boys love?” Erik shakes his head, annoyed. “Are we a spectacle to you or what?”
“You two certainly are,” Fefnir has to dry his laugh tears. “Giving Ingri a good show every time she looks at you.”
The embarrassing situation is saved by my Vortex messenger beeping. Gotrid is calling again and sends me at least two dozen invitations. We put the call on the big screen.
“Heya Gotrid,” Fefnir greets him. “Thanks to Liana’s awesome IT team, we now have the means to connect everyone into one mega server.”
“Nice,” Gotrid smiles even though he looks dead tired. “And I saw the video, it’s really cute.”
“Let’s try that massive videocall thing,” Ingri adds everyone who’s currently online. “However much I love social media, I can’t respond to everyone writing to you, Aefener.”
I expect the players to be a bit shy at first but the moment Ingri switches on the videocall and starts approving participants, countless faces start appearing on all three screens. The camera is still facing me and Erik.
“Oh, it’s really him.”
“And that guy from the video.”
“Where’s our viceroy?”
“Is she really Laura Richter?”
“My parents are forcing me to go to hospital. I don’t want to!”
“It hurts so much.”
Thanks to admin rights, Ingri quickly puts everyone on mute because the commotion is too overwhelming.
“H-hello guys,” I greet them and try to count all those miniature faces on three screens. I fail, of course, but I guess we have more than a hundred people connected.
Since everyone joined the chat with their Vortex profiles, I can see their ingame nicknames and not real names that wouldn’t tell my anything. I spot Taranah, Maineia, Reniel and many others I know from the royal guild and also countless people I don’t know so they must be either Fefnir’s or Ingri’s acquaintances.
“If you want to speak, click the raise the hand button and we’ll unmute you,” Fefnir tells them and sits next to us. Ingri squeezes to my right. It’s still too many people who want to talk but now it’s at least manageable.
“Gotrid, can you tell everyone what’s the situation in the USA?” I ask him specifically.
“Not great, not terrible,” Gotrid sighs and I see a few people sitting around him. I’m glad he isn’t alone. “The military is securing the centres of all big cities but they aren’t doing anything… yet. The government is constantly imploring us not to go outside. The players whose compatibility level wasn’t that high are still okay as their transformation isn’t visible yet but high-levels are struggling.”
“And what’s the mood of the public overseas?” Erik asks.
“People are scared,” Gotrid says truthfully. “Americans have always been preppers but nobody remembers such hysteria. They’re especially afraid of what we’ll be potentially able to do in the future.”
“Right, my strength is getting out of control a bit,” Fefnir admits. “I’ve just damaged a chair by accident.”
“Physical strength is at least understandable,” Gotrid says. “They’re scared of magic.”
All participants are suddenly raising their hands and I bet I know what they want to ask.
“Aefener,” Gotrid coughs and looks at me intently. “Can you do magic? Did you… try?”
“E-ehm…,” I look in panic at Erik.
They are too many people, what if someone babbles about it online? I’m worried. I agree with Liana, people will go crazy when they find out for sure.
Keeping it secret for a few more days would be great but I’m afraid your friends already suspect that…
“You can, can’t you?” a woman sitting next to Gotrid snaps and doesn’t let Erik finish his thought. “I can see it in your face.”
Shit, my expression gave me away. I’m not a good liar. Never been.
“My Emperor,” Gotrid begs, “we have to know.”
“I… I can do telekinesis,” I say slowly and quickly add: “Don’t tell anyone yet, okay? We need to keep our people safe for as long as possible. This confirmation is sure to spiral things out of control.”
It’s a good thing that connected players are muted because I see them shouting to their cameras, begging me to show them.
I sign resignedly and let a few objects levitate around me. Of course, it causes a huge uproar. I notice Taranah is violently gesticulating, asking to speak up. Together with Uriel, he was the head of our magic research team ingame. I unmute him.
“Aefener, that’s amazing and terrifying at the same time!” he exclaims. “We’ve been hoping the transformation won’t be just physical but now that we know for sure also our powers are becoming real as well… damn!”
“Please, don’t tell anyone else, okay?” I repeat desperately. “I know that you’d like to tell at least your gaming friends but it’d be impossible to keep secret. Hold on for just a few days, please.”
People are nodding but I’m afraid it’s in vain. Some of them are bound to tell others.
Did I screw up? I clutch Erik’s hand.
It’s not your fault, lying isn’t in your nature, he answers reassuringly.
I’m good at lying only about one thing—my telepathy, I admit.
That’s not exactly lying, Ryuu, that’s rather omitting a certain information. When I asked you directly about it, you couldn’t lie, remember?
“Real magic… here!” Taranah is freaking out and muted people too.
Out of the blue, I can feel a sharp sensation of pain that isn’t my own. It belongs to… Liana!
“L-Li,” I let out, horrified.
Ingri and Fefnir look at me, not understanding why I’m mentioning her now and why my voice sounds so concerned without any cause. Another reason why I’ve always been afraid to make close friends in real life. I was sure they’d notice sooner or later that I can perceive something they can’t.
“W-we should maybe check up on her?” I suggest, trying to save the situation.
In the end, I’m saved by Hana bursting into the study, this time without her decent knocking.
“Miss Richter… she…,” the housekeeper is panting. “Her wings are coming out!”
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