“You should be resting, Fefnir,” I implore him.
“Nah, I’m good,” he waves his hand impatiently.
I haven’t seen him just for twelve hours but it was enough time for his body to become almost completely covered in scales. All of his hair fell off and I notice small horns forming on his scalp.
“Can I touch it?” I ask but curiosity isn’t the only reason why I want to touch him. I need to make sure that he’s really okay.
“Sure, go ahead.”
I gently touch his scaly head, then inspect the little horns. It’s fascinating what his body is capable of. I’m after a different thing, though. I connect to his mind, careful to only listen and not to project anything as I do with Erik.
I’m afraid that Fefnir, however bravely he acts, is panicking about the whole thing. I mean… becoming a reptile—what a mind-fuck. Except for wings and golden eyes, I still look pretty human at least from the outside but the only thing that the Dragonkin have in common with humans is a humanoid shape. They look like dragons who walk on two legs and have fingers.
Surprisingly, I don’t find any panic in Fefnir’s mind. Of course, he’s worried about how his family and friends are going to react but concerning his transformation, he’s excited and can’t wait to test his new power. He feels calm inside, phlegmatic even—like he can take on anything with his strong body. The Dragonkin mentality, really.
“Do you feel like you’ll be able to breathe fire?” I ask.
“Hmm, I do actually,” he grins and pats his stomach. “I heard from Ingri that you already did some fire show?”
“It was hardly a show,” I sigh and show him my bandaged palm. “I almost burnt Liana’s bed.”
“You have to be more careful next time, Ryuu,” Erik worries. “How did it work ingame anyway?”
“Celestials can do fire magic but their bodies aren’t built for that,” Fefnir explains. “You can’t make a flame on your hand like you did ingame where your own spells couldn’t hurt you, Aefener. Only Dragonkin scales are designed to resist the heat.”
“I’m scared of fire magic after that incident,” I admit. “It was a shock.”
“No wonder, Celestials can control all elements to a certain extent but fire isn’t their natural racial skill after all,” Fefnir says because Erik doesn’t know these things. “The air is.”
“Right, the air,” Erik coughs. “Like yesterday? You seemed to be totally in your element.”
“What about yesterday?” Liana enters the study, being pushed in a wheelchair by Hana. Her feathers have grown overnight and Dr Stein standing by her side can’t seem to have enough of her precious patient.
“Seriously, is anyone even remotely resting?” I frown.
“You didn’t rest that much either. It just seemed that way because your prince was carrying you everywhere you wanted,” Liana reminds me. “And Ingri is resting, I made her.”
“At least someone is in bed,” I sigh.
“Not really in bed,” Liana says. “She’s in the gazebo outside. For someone who’s constantly insisting on not being a plant, she certainly acts like one. She’s inspecting all garden flora and sunbathing since this morning, totally mesmerised. And what was that about yesterday?”
“Ryuuto did some kind of air magic,” Erik says. “Creating air currents… like a light breeze.”
“Wow, how?” Liana is genuinely impressed. “I wanted to test that flame spell but Dr Stein didn’t let me.”
“You’re still recuperating, Miss Richter,” the doctor stays adamant.
“I don’t know how,” I admit. “Another spur of the moment.”
“What were you thinking about? Did you channel mana? Did you do something with your wings?” she’s super-curious.
“Ehm… it happened during… me and Erik were… you know,” I don’t finish the sentence because I don’t want to go into details in front of Hana and Dr Stein.
“Oh,” Liana turns red. She really is easily embarrassed when it comes to sex.
My phone starts ringing, a Vortex ringtone. Without my social media manager, I have to take care of that.
“Oh, it’s Gotrid,” I announce.
“Let’s put him on the big screen,” Fefnir suggests and quickly boots one of the computers.
“Hello my European friends,” Gotrid greets us weakly. He’s in bed and it’s evident he’s sitting only with great effort. “My Emperor,” he nods at me especially and manages a faint smile.
“Are you okay, Gotrid?” I worry because he looks pale.
“As okay as one can be just a few days before their wings come out,” he says tiredly. “That’s not why I’m calling, though. Guys, this is Gin.”
A new figure appears on the screen, sitting next to Gotrid. It’s a fully transformed Clawfang! His ears are wolfish and he’s almost all furry at this point. His eyes are unnaturally blue as if he was a Husky dog.
“Gin as… Emi’s Beta?” I realise I know the name. We weren’t friends ingame but all high-levels at least vaguely knew each other.
“That’s right,” Gin confirms. “I’m calling because we tried every means but my pack still isn’t able to get in touch with our Alpha Emi. To be honest, we’re starting to panic. All races have their rulers trying to calm the situation and organise Draconians… all except us.”
I chew my lip. Oh, Emi, where are you? Are you okay? Besides Liana and Fefnir, Emi was one of my closest ingame friends even though we didn’t have that much time to raid together anymore since we took our thrones.
“We’ve tried everything,” Gin is desperate. “Various social platforms, videos, forum posts. Emi has a Vortex account for her fans but she hasn’t been online recently.”
“I’ll try looking for her,” Liana promises him. “We could try pressing the developers into contacting her through her home address.”
“The developers are useless!” Gin spits. “We had one of them in our leading guild but he vanished as well.”
“The same for us,” I reveal. “We haven’t heard from Uriel since the last time we were able to log in the game.”
“It seems you have to take her place, Gin. At least for the time being,” Liana says.
“I’m a Beta,” he opposes.
“We don’t have anyone else that well-known,” Liana insists.
“You don’t understand, viceroy,” Gin bars his teeth. He has two fangs that kind of look like they belong to a vampire. “I don’t smell like the Alpha, they won’t listen to me.”
Liana blinks, trying to wrap her head around it. Clawfang animality is something so distant to the Celestials that she must have problems understanding the concept of smells being significant. Celestial noses are below average. Something either smells nice or stinks for us. We can’t distinguish subtle differences in scents like the other three races can.
“But they will listen to the videos you make or when you call them,” Fefnir interferes. “You’re still a gamer with quite a fanbase, right? Nobody can smell you through the Internet.”
“I’ll do whatever I can, Gin,” Liana reassures him. “In the meanwhile, please cooperate with us and try to persuade your guild members to do the same.”
“I… okay,” he sighs.
“My Emperor,” Gotrid speaks up. “How is your magic progressing? I saw the video when you’re warning our people against experimenting indoors.”
“Right, I hurt myself pretty badly,” I put up my hand for him to see. “Be careful, okay? Don’t try anything reckless.”
“For now I’ll be glad to survive the ordeal,” he chuckles nervously. “Is that doctor with you?”
“I am,” Dr Stein squeezes into the camera scope.
“Thanks, doc, for that document you posted,” he seems really grateful. “When my time comes, my friends will hopefully know what to do and won’t panic as much.”
“What document?” I tilt my head.
“I wrote a thorough guideline to the Celestial and Dragonkin transformation,” Dr Stein says with evident pride in her voice.
“Oh, I see,” I’m taken aback.
For all that not liking her and having a default untrust towards doctors, I didn’t realise she’s actually helping us in other ways than just stopping our bleeding. She might be doing it for her own selfish reasons to enhance her career but if her data is beneficial to the Draconians, it’s all good.
“Staying in touch,” Gotrid says goodbye and probably goes to sleep right after that.
“It won’t take much longer, high-levels are either already transformed or close to transforming,” Liana ponders.
“Our network is up and running,” Fefnir says. “More and more people are connecting every day.”
“Good, but even this solution will soon become hardly manageable just because of sheer numbers,” she sighs. “I’ll talk to my IT department again and give admin rights to all race rulers and their deputies. Whether we like it or not, we have to divide our races among ourselves.”
“I think it’s okay as it’s taking into account our mentality,” Fefnir points out. “Gin was spot on when he mentioned that the Clawfangs won’t listen to anyone but their Alpha.”
“But it doesn’t have to be that problematic for other races, right?” I oppose.
“I don’t know, Aefener,” Liana looks at me questionably. “I can’t quite phantom it yet but… I don’t feel like answering to anyone else than you. Strange, I know. But that’s how I feel it.”
I stare at her, dumbfounded. Did Laura Richter just say that she’s fine by me actually becoming her superior even in real life?
“Do you get it?” I turn to Erik who’s been silent during the call.
“Partly,” he admits. “You will probably really become the best magic caster seeing how it comes naturally to you while Liana is struggling and doesn’t have any magical accidents so far. And if that’s what makes the Celestial Emperor, I don’t see any other way. Start preparing, my royal love.”
They mean it. They all really do mean it! My head spins but Erik doesn’t let me panic and pulls me to his chest in a hug.
It’ll be okay, I’m with you, he comforts me and for that moment I believe him.
Ingri returns when Fefnir is establishing four servers, one for each race. The technicians are helping him with that and feel super anxious around him. Well, he does look like a proper reptile now.
“What’s up?” Ingri sits down next to me.
I notice she’s not wearing her corset today. She’s still dressed in a lolita dress but it looks more casual.
“It was a bit suffocating,” she says because she guesses why I’m staring at her outfit. “And my dress is starting to feel strange as well. The material is artificial.”
“Order anything you want… within reason, of course,” Liana offers. “Will organic cotton be better for your Earthborn skin?”
“Perfect probably but they don’t make any nice outfits with it,” Ingri looks saddened.
“Order just the fabric and hire someone to sew you a dress,” Liana shrugs. “It seems we have to re-evaluate our fashion sense as well. Soon. Fefnir looks kind of ridiculous in his clothes and Aefener is shivering even if he’s wearing a hoodie.”
“Hey, who do you call ridiculous?” Fefnir purses his lips.
“Aefener, you feel cold?” Ingri is worried. “Should I adjust more clothes for you?”
“A bit, yes,” I say. “And I didn’t take anything else with me.”
“He was okay just yesterday,” Erik is also concerned. “Since this morning, he put on a hoodie and he has two t-shirts underneath.”
“I’ll tell Hana to order him some thermo clothes,” Liana nods. “And for me as well seeing how the transformation progresses.”
“Right, progress,” Dr Stein speaks up. She’s sitting in the corner, either typing another document into her laptop or communicating with doctors and researchers. “I should re-measure Ryuuto’s wings.”
I know that you don’t want her touching you but we have to know, Erik tells me in advance because he notices my aversion.
“O-okay,” I agree and let Dr Stein do her job.
I get goosebumps when she stretches my wings so I close my mind completely. I still catch what she’s thinking about but at least she isn’t pouring all her stuff into me.
“They’ve grown by three centimetres each,” she announces enthusiastically.
“That much?” everyone is surprised.
“My laser measuring tape is very precise,” she confirms. “Later, I’d like to weight you as well, Ryuuto, to see if your bones are getting lighter.”
If you get any lighter, a gust of wind will blow you away, Erik touches my wing to send me a joking thought and at that moment his phone starts ringing.
“Sorry, I have to take it,” he sighs. “It’s from work.”
This time he doesn’t want me to hear it and goes outside. I hope they aren’t pushing him too hard about the fact why he’s away. Come to think of it… I should probably check my school email. I guess I must have missed some assignments. Do Draconians get extensions due to our condition?
I open the university mail inbox and stare at it for a few seconds. Every professor of mine wrote me an email and there’re several messages from the dean of my faculty as well as various student organisations. Also my classmates whom I’ve hardly spoken to wrote me for some reason. Damn, I need a whole day to go through this avalanche of messages.
“Are you okay, Aefener?” Liana asks.
“School stuff,” I sigh. “Oh, Li, what am I going to do? I have a degree to finish. Will they let me attend university again when things calm down?”
“I don’t know,” she says truthfully. “The world will most probably radically change with four new races on it. We can’t be certain about anything. You heard Deminas—he might lose his job just because what he’s transformed into. A new form of discrimination.”
“I need my laptop to go through all those messages,” I stand up and exit the study. The salon, which became my and Erik’s room, isn’t that far.
I can almost walk normally again. Erik forces me to eat a lot so I have lots of energy. Still, Celestials will be weakened for several days after their transformation which might pose danger to us. Not everyone is going through it in a safe environment. What if someone gets hurt? What if humans attack us?
I walk by two bodyguards and a shiver goes down my spine because they look at me strangely. They must know I can do telekinesis so they’re wary of me. I feel a mixture of fear and fascination coming from them. The tone of their emotions is so… human? So unlike Liana, Fefnir and Ingri.
Out of the blue, I get nauseous. I somehow manage to pass the guards without flinching but then I run towards the bathroom. My fancy breakfast ends up in a toilet bowl. What the hell is happening? Why did the guards make me feel so sick? Was I disgusted by the mere fact I have to perceive human emotions?
My hands are trembling when I’m washing my mouth and face. Then I glance at myself in the mirror. Golden eyes, a pair of white wings that are getting more beautiful and elegant each day and… two coloured hair. I touch the black part of my hair and feel that it’s just wrong for some reason.
I don’t know what exactly I’m doing to be honest but a second later I’m rummaging through various drawers, looking for scissors. And there they are. My logical thinking gets hazy when I put scissors to my hair. I just know that I need to get rid of the black. That’s not me anymore.
I cut. And cut. And cut. Until there’s no more black and my original locks are lying on the ground. And I feel better.
“Ryuu, for God’s sake, what are you doing?” the door bursts open and Erik is standing there, staring at me in disbelief. “I was looking for you.”
“I… I have no idea,” my eyes start to water. “I just felt uncomfortable. Oh, Erik, you don’t make me sick, that’s a relief. I was worried that…”
He doesn’t know what happened but he goes for a hug as a default. The familiarity of his thoughts calms me down. Erik is okay… I love his mind… it’s all okay.
“So… what happened?” he softly asks me when my breathing slows down.
“I’m not sure,” I dry my tears. “I went to fetch my laptop but as I was passing two bodyguards, I suddenly started to feel nauseous. Their emotions did that to me.”
“And the hair?” he points to the floor.
“I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t like what I was seeing,” I admit hesitantly. “Does it make any sense?”
“I guess nothing makes sense anymore, we just have to go with the flow,” he says and caresses my all-white hair. “Let me fix your haircut, okay? It’s crooked.”
We quickly tidy the mess and Erik takes the scissors into our room. He seats me on the chair and tries to make my hairline even. He’s no hairdresser but it’s much better than my clumsy work.
“Strange seeing you with shorter hair,” he comments when it’s done. “But considering how quickly your hair grows, it won’t stay short for much longer.”
“Thanks,” I ruffle my hair. “I feel much better now.”
“You were panicking again, Ryuu,” he’s saddened.
“Erik, did you notice any changes in my mentality?” I ask. “For a moment there in the hall… I felt repulsed by humans.”
“That might be impossible to answer,” he shakes his head. “I don’t have any means of comparing. You’re the only telepath I know and normally people can’t delve into each other’s minds. I can judge your friends only by their behaviour.”
“And my behaviour?” I press him.
“Your behaviour is too influenced by you being a telepath I’m afraid,” he shrugs. “I don’t mean it in a bad way by any means but you always acted abnormal. Which I’ve liked,” he adds quickly.
“What if being a Celestials and a telepath isn’t compatible?” I worry. “My ability started acting weird around the time I was beginning to transform.”
“It’s getting stronger, not weirder,” he reassures me. “And it actually might be connected to the current events somehow.”
“It might?” I’m surprised he thinks that. I don’t see any connection whatsoever.
“It’s evident you see it as natural since you were born with it,” he bites his lip. “But Ryuu, you do realise that having telepathy would normally be totally unimaginable? Something from science-fiction?”
“Ehm… I guess?” I feel lost.
“Dummy, you don’t really, right?” he smiles at me encouragingly and kisses me. “My cute psychic angel, you take it more as a condition than something miraculous and extraordinary.”
I blush and kiss him instead of answering. I love how he makes me feel confident in areas I feel most vulnerable. Could I be even proud of my telepathy one day?
We took our time because comforting me somehow developed into cuddling so when we return to the study, we find everyone hard at work. Ingri gives me a thumb-up when seeing my new haircut.
“You look totally Celestial now,” she comments.
“I… somehow I had a sudden urge to cut it,” I say.
“Everything’s okay, Erik?” Liana looks up from her computer and analyses my new haircut for a few seconds. Then she nods in an approval.
Oh, I totally forgot to ask him about that work phone call! I was selfish again and focused only on my problems. But Erik clutches my hand, silently telling me that it’s okay.
“It was very unpleasant,” he sits down on the sofa heavily and grunts. I sit next to him. “They were asking me what my intentions are… whether I plan to return… telling me that being that famous might interfere with my work if I do return… They basically proposed I leave voluntarily.”
I open my mouth and stare. Erik might lose his job because of me? B-but…
Not because of YOU, he’s almost screaming in his thoughts. Because of my prejudiced superiors. And it was my decision to publicly appear by your side, never forget that.
“No problem, I can employ you and offer you much better salary I bet,” Liana says nonchalantly.
“You need a helicopter pilot?” Erik is genuinely surprised.
“Nope, I already have one,” she shakes her head. “I’ll employ you as my spokesperson. As one of the benefits, you can borrow my helicopter from time to time. You became a pilot because you love flying, right? I don’t want to rob you of that but at the same time I desperately need you. All Draconians need you.”
“Okay,” Erik answers without any hesitation.
“Y-you really okay with it?” I gasp. “You love your job!”
“I love helping people and flying,” he corrects me. “And Laura Richter offers me a job where I can do both for a much better salary while staying with my boyfriend. A dream come true.”
“Great, my HR will prepare a contract for you,” Liana grins victoriously. “To be honest, I wanted to offer it to you whether they fire you from your current work or not. This makes it much easier.”
“Will you employ the rest of us as well?” Fefnir is hopeful. “I can’t exactly go back to school and my part-time job either.”
“Sure, sure,” she nods. “I need you with me. Forget about mundane jobs, we’ll work for our people. There’s no more important work right now.”
“Sweet, even me?” Ingri beams.
“Even you, hon,” Liana confirms. “Sorry I took you only for a naïve lolita girl I have to take care of at first. Your work with social media is excellent and I need an assistant I can trust and who is a Draconian. But you still need to take online classes, okay? Your parents would be angry at me if you dropped out of high school.”
“What about my school?” I realise I still haven’t read those emails.
“I’m afraid you have to discontinue your studies for a while, Aefener,” Liana sighs. “You’ll have much more work than Ingri.”
“B-but… my scholarship…,” I lose my voice.
“I’m going to pay you much more, don’t worry about money,” she waves her hand and suddenly freezes with a sudden thought. “Aefener, did you check your bank account recently?”
“Hm? No, why?”
Liana performs an exemplary face palm.
“You still have your donations running, don’t you?” she asks.
“Y-yeah,” I answer slowly. “But I don’t stream anymore.”
“We’ve been sooo oblivious,” Erik laughs excitedly. “Love, check your account immediately.”
I frown but do as they say. I expect next to nothing because I usually monetise my gaming videos, detailed walkthroughs or merchandise which are things I couldn’t do since it all started. So you can imagine my surprise when I open my donations account to find an unbelievable number.
“E-Erik,” my voice cracks, “am I seeing right?”
“Damn, Ryuu,” Erik is speechless.
Ingri, Fefnir and Liana jump to me to see the number for themselves. Liana shrugs, commenting it’s petty money to her but Fefnir and Ingri are left speechless as well.
“Never underestimate internet fame, Aefener,” my viceroy shrugs. “Draconians and people who aren’t against us want to support you. They know what we’re trying to do.”
“I… I can pay off my debt,” I realise and can’t believe it.
“Sorry to intrude but what kind of debt is it anyway? You mentioned you have some financial issues once,” Liana asks carefully.
“Debts from my late Mom,” I decide it’s okay to tell them now. “From some project of hers that went bankrupt.”
“What kind of company transfers a debt to a little kid?” Ingri frowns.
“The kind of company that lends money to the terminally ill,” I say weakly. “I don’t know the details, I was four back then. She might have thought the research will help cure her tumour.”
“Why would anyone think that?” Fefnir is confused.
“Why would anyone think that VR can mess with our brains to such an extent that it changes our bodies completely?” I shrug. “Compared to the radical change of our DNA, curing tumour seems like nothing.”
“And we’re back to the big topic,” Erik coughs. “How is your transformation even possible in the first place and who would want such a thing? Why? For what purpose?”
And does it relate to your telepathy? It can’t be a coincidence. I bet your mother was experimenting with VR long before you were even born, he adds in his thoughts. She might have messed up her own brain and transferred it to you when she got pregnant.
What a scary thought.
“The developers claimed to know nothing and now they’re missing,” Fefnir scratches his scaly chin. “I tried contacting them again and again but there’s only the usual low-tier customer support that’s pretty much useless now that Draconia Online is out of service permanently.”
We discuss things for a full hour but we can’t really conclude anything. Liana, practical as she is, finishes the topic by saying: “We’ll find out sooner or later anyway. Now we have more pressing matters like looking for missing friends, organising Draconians and making sure our humans rights still apply.”
I take a look at the 3D projector that is constantly broadcasting news with turned off sound. Some researcher has named the event the Great Evolution and the term is trending.
“How fitting,” Erik points to the title below the reporter. “They call it the age of roots, fur, scales and feather.”
The Great Evolution… the century when four new races mystically started appearing on the Earth literally overnight, each one of them so different from humans. What does it all mean? Is it a spontaneous evolution because our brains got used to VR too much or someone’s manipulation?
I’m safe in Liana’s mansion, yet I find myself trembling. Part of it is that I’m feeling cold, the other half is fear. I look around and calm down a bit. I have my friends, I’m not alone in this. Their minds are soothing, familiar. And I have Erik which is more than I deserve.
I breathe in deeply but the moment my body relaxes, my mind somehow stretches and suddenly I feel everyone in the mansion and even on the premises. Twenty… thirty… forty-seven humans.
My head spins and I throw up.
Please log in to leave a comment.