“K-kidnap me?” I stutter and can’t believe it. Their target was me? Not Liana?
“The security interrogated the intruders but it was the only information they got from them so far,” Erik says. I feel he’s anxious and angry at the same time while the only emotion I manage is shock and total disbelief. Why me?
We arrive in the study and everyone looks up, startled, because they weren’t expecting me. Julia is here as well and Hana is serving snacks. Only the people who know about my telepathy are present so I relax and can speak freely.
“Ryuuto, you should be resting,” Julia shakes her head in disapproval.
“I felt Liana needs me,” I oppose and I’m surprised how nice it is not having to hide anything anymore. These are the people I can trust. My friends.
“Damn, Aefener,” Liana slaps her forehead. “You sensed that? I wanted to let you rest for a few more hours but it seems nothing eludes the telepath.”
“Yes,” I simply nod but my friends are impressed nonetheless. I’m so glad I don’t have to play ignorant. “So… what do you need me for?”
I sit down on the sofa because chairs are all taken. Mrs Hana presents me with snacks immediately. She’s a bit uneasy around me but otherwise she seems to be taking it well.
“Try at least something small,” Erik persuades me. “Or I feed you another protein drink.”
I hesitantly go for a chocolate cookie.
“Shouldn’t he eat something healthier, doc?” Erik sighs over my selection because he was hoping I’d choose some canapés.
“Hard to tell in case of Celestials,” she shrugs. “Their bodies might process sugar differently from humans. Let’s be glad Ryuuto eats at least something for now.”
“So… what do you need, Li?” I repeat and slowly nibble into my cookie. It’s homemade, wholemeal and full of quality chocolate so actually not as unhealthy as Erik fears.
Liana sighs. It’s evident she doesn’t want to ask me for that thing but she has to. The others feel uncomfortable as well. Fefnir is almost crushing the chair’s handle and Ingri is pale.
“The intruders won’t to talk,” Liana says. “It took several hours to get at least their objective. As for their employer… they refuse to tell even though my security is very good at persuading.”
“W-wait,” I almost choke on the cookie because I feel something dark coming from her. “You mean… did you torture them?”
“Not exactly torture, no,” she shakes her head. “I’m not a monster, Aefener, come on. But my security has their methods.”
“B-but won’t you have problems? Shouldn’t you give them to the police? What about their rights?” I’m shocked.
“You really are an idealist,” Liana looks at me, amused but content. “It’s not practical for today’s world and the world we’re entering into but our Emperor is supposed to be like that.”
“What do you need me for then?” I gulp.
“I know that it’s a lot to ask, but…,” she’s carefully choosing every word, “I beg you to interrogate them telepathically.”
I gasp for breath and drop my cookie.
“You can’t be serious, Laura,” Erik hisses. “Ryuuto’s head still hurts after the incident, he doesn’t feel comfortable connecting to unknown people and you want to make him connect to those bastards who were after him? Do you want to traumatise my boyfriend?”
“I’m asking him, not ordering,” she lowers her eyes. “I know that I’m asking for a lot but we need to crack it as soon as possible.”
I’m considering it for a while. Just the idea of connecting to those people disgusts me but at the same time my ability can finally become useful to others. Plus, I do need to train it.
“I’ll do it,” I say, trying to sound confident.
“No, Ryuuto, you don’t have to! Liana has no right to ask that of you!” Erik is furious.
“I’ll do it for the good of our people,” I touch his hand and send him my determination so that he understands.
“Aefener is really perfect for the Celestial Emperor, isn’t he?” Ingri comments to relieve the heavy atmosphere. “He’s already thinking like one.”
“He’d make a terrible politician, though,” Fefnir chuckles.
“Erik, Aefener won’t be in any danger during the interrogation,” Liana assures him.
“They’ll definitely feel Ryuuto is digging in their minds,” Erik protests.
“No, they won’t. I’ll have them sedated,” Liana says as if that isn’t a big deal.
“That’s definitely illegal!” Ingri is startled.
“Actually, it isn’t,” my viceroy shrugs indifferently. “They invaded my private property and they refuse to identify themselves so it’s as if they aren’t even here. No organisation will publicly admit they’ve sent them to kidnap Aefener even if they never return.”
I shiver. The world Liana lives in is totally different from mine. And now I’m becoming part of that world too. How carefree I was just two weeks ago. To think that debts, a grumpy Grandma and my telepathy were my biggest concerns.
“I was half-expecting you’d have an actual dungeon,” Fefnir jokes when we get into the basement where the prisoners are being held.
“I’m not a mafia boss, Fefnir,” Liana rolls her eyes. “I have my wine cellar here and other storage rooms. My security had to improvise.”
“You didn’t have to come,” Erik says to Dr Stein. “I imagine it won’t be pretty.”
“On the contrary—I had to,” Julia purses her lips. “What if Ryuuto faints again? His telepathy might be amazing but it’s evident that it’s making him vulnerable. I’m here to make sure he won’t overdo it.”
“I’m not leaving either,” Mrs Hana speaks up, pushing Liana in a wheelchair.
“Aefener, are you okay? Do you really feel like doing it?” Ingri pets my left wing so that her concern pours into me fully.
“I don’t obviously,” I sigh. “But I need to do it. Also, I’m glad that my ability can finally become useful.”
“Finally useful? What, you never cheated on exams with it?” Fefnir jokes again but this time on purpose to relief the heavy atmosphere.
“I had virtual schooling, Fefnir.”
“Huh, you never went to actual school?” he’s surprised. “Not even for the primary?”
“I tried. I mean…,” I scratch my chin. “Grandma enrolled me into the first grade, of course, but she had to pull me back just a few days after that. I couldn’t stand all those emotions from my classmates and got into conflicts. I had much harder time controlling my telepathy when I was a kid. I often didn’t know what’s normal to feel so I reacted to things I shouldn’t have. You can imagine what kind of situations that was causing.”
“And your grandmother didn’t suspect a thing?” Liana raises her eyebrows.
“Gran didn’t pay that much attention to me really,” I say. “She thought I was autistic and the school psychologist thought that as well so I was given special online courses.”
“What a horrible lady,” Ingri shakes her head.
“Shush, we’re here,” Liana warns us not to talk about my secret because we turn the corner and there’re her bodyguards guarding the door.
“Miss Richter,” one of the men greets her. “Are you sure you don’t want us inside? The guy is sedated and tied up but he’s still a professional mercenary.”
“Nah, we have Fefnir,” Liana points at our Dragonkin friend.
Fefnir smirks and to prove himself, he hits the corner of the wall. I stare in disbelief because he actually manages to crush it. And I’m not the only one, the bodyguards are speechless.
“You dumbass!” Liana berates him. “You’re damaging my house!”
“Oh, sorry,” he realises only now the consequences of his braggy demonstration.
But it works, the bodyguards don’t doubt Liana’s decision anymore and let us enter the room. There’s a man sitting handcuffed to a chair, his eyes are covered. I don’t like the vibes I’m catching from him and I’m not even touching the guy.
Just to be sure, I don’t want him to know you were even here, Liana touches me to send her thoughts. Don’t talk aloud, okay?
I re-send her thought to Erik so that he knows that he shouldn’t speak either. Mrs Hana positions Liana’s wheelchair in a safe distance in front of the captive and Fefnir stands next to her, posing as her bodyguard just in case.
“I’m Laura Richter,” she starts, her voice cold.
“Hehe, the big shot,” the man laughs but it’s not a nice sound.
He knows that he’s been drugged, tries to fight it but can’t help it. His mind is cloudy and sluggish. I don’t even want to know what Julia had given him. He makes me nauseous but I hesitantly touch the man’s temples from behind.
“Uchm, what’s that?” he gets nervous when he feels my touch.
“Who sent you?” Liana asks plainly.
We don’t really hope he’ll actually answer. At least not aloud. We came up with a plan that Liana will keep asking him questions while I dig for answers in his mind. It’s almost impossible not to think of the truth when inventing lies.
Uff, it’s so ugly that I shiver. His mind is really repulsive, even worse than Peter’s. I’m facing a real psychopath here. My stomach turns upside down but I fight the impulse to throw up. I have to get the hang of it, not run away like before.
I look at Erik. He’s pale but he smiles at me reassuringly. Liana is giving me a thumb-up while Julia is eyeing me with concern. Fefnir and Ingri are full of anticipation. I can do this, my friends support me. Erik is right, I should be proud of my special ability and try to make it useful.
“Who sent you?” Liana repeats.
I close my eyes and fully delve into the man’s mind. It’s not as easy as it was with Julia when I could face her and she was open to me. Plus, the fact that he’s sedated makes it more difficult for him to focus. But I push nonetheless, trying to filter jumbled emotions and thoughts.
I’m taken aback by the fact that this man really isn’t able to feel things like remorse, fear or concern. For someone like me who is over-sensitive and feels too much, it’s such a foreign concept that I can’t comprehend it.
“Hehehe, I don’t knoooow, bitch,” the man chuckles. I try to stimulate his brain but it seems he isn’t lying.
“Who hired you?” Liana pushes.
I go deeper and browse his recent memories. I see him and his team taking the contract from an unknown source. They paid half the price beforehand, a small fortune. I was to be kidnapped unharmed. Everything was arranged in VR, I see several people but they’re in the form of avatars which doesn’t tell me anything.
“Was it the government?” Liana starts to lose her patience.
“Doubt it,” the man growls. “It was on the dark web.”
“Why Aefener and not me?” she clicks her tongue.
“Nooo ideaaa,” he prolongs mockingly. “Maybe because he’s the king of you freaks?”
“We’re wasting our time,” Fefnir hisses between his fangs. “He’s just a pawn.”
Fefnir’s right, he doesn’t know anything, I say to Erik.
Liana calls her security to take the man away and to bring another one. I connect to all six of them but with the same result. At least I’m getting the hang of browsing other people’s memories.
“So… what will you do with them?” Erik asks when we get back to the study and he forces me to eat a sandwich.
“Since Aefener confirmed they really don’t know anything, I can hand them to the authorities,” she sighs tiredly. I bet she didn’t sleep much again.
“And if the EU government sent them after all?” he’s sceptical. “We’d be returning them.”
“Are you suggesting I should kill them or what?” Liana frowns. “Contrary to what normal people might naively think, the rich aren’t with mafia, Erik. And this is my mansion, not a detention centre. I don’t want them here, it’s my home.”
“But why did they want Aefener? It makes no sense with other high-levels being already transformed and nobody knows about his telepathy,” Fefnir ponders.
They keep discussing the topic further but I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. I quickly finish eating my sandwich and put my head on Erik’s lap. My headache worsened again and if I want to prevent another migraine, I have to rest a bit.
The discussion develops into a heated debate. But even though my friends are very loud and their emotions flutter, their minds are soothing me. It seems that when I really get to like someone, their emotions stop hurting me, whatever their tone is.
I close my eyes and enjoy that Erik is gently petting my wings. I’m almost falling asleep when Ingri suddenly exclaims.
“The Clawfang alpha is online!”
“Emi?!” I sit up so quickly that my head spins.
“Her Vortex account is active,” Ingri says. “She’s just posted something.”
She displays Emi’s Vortex fanpage on the big screen for all of us to see. There are rather blurry pictures of something that looks like hospital and even blurrier short video featuring people in white who appear to be chasing the cameraperson.
“T-they did it… those fucking bastards really did it,” the cameraperson appears briefly, panting and running. It’s a woman transformed into a vulpix Clawfang. It has to be Emi, I’d recognise that avatar anywhere. “They killed my cousin… they tried amputating her wings and she…”
I hold my breath. The video ends immediately after that when the security shows up and Emi has to fight them to get away.
“L-Li… Emi’s cousin…,” my voice cracks.
“Quil,” Liana clenches her fists and several books from the bookcase fall down as her telekinesis activates.
“Quil was a Celestial vanguard captain,” I whisper to Erik and lean on him because the sadness overtakes me and the shock coming from Liana is overwhelming.
“It seems Emi was in hospital the whole time,” Fefnir says grimly. “And evidently against her will. As was Quil which means their family forced them to go.”
“B-but… who would try amputating wings without knowing what it’ll do?” Ingri is terrified.
“Quite a lot of doctors I’m afraid,” Julia shivers. “Some of my colleagues are contemplating whether the transformation can be reversed or at least somewhat suppressed. I can well imagine such practices in non-EU countries.”
“According to the lore, the mana circuit flows through our spine to our wings. In the game, losing our wings during battle meant instant death,” I explain to Erik and shiver just imagining it.
“I guess they thought it’s just a made-up thing,” Julia shakes her head. “Well, now it’s proven.”
After that hell breaks out. We’re flooded by countless messages and calls from the players connected to our server and Fefnir who is monitoring reactions of the public doesn’t stop frowning.
“It’s not confirmed, of course, but our people are panicking nonetheless,” Fefnir summarises. “Nobody believes hospitals anymore and Draconian patients are running away.”
“No wonder—the first death of one of our own and not because of the transformation itself,” Liana is angry, way angrier and sadder than I am. She was quite close with Quil.
“If we weren’t so vulnerable right now, I can well imagine riots and protests,” Fefnir says.
“It’s one hospital of questionable reputation outside the EU,” Julia tries to persuade us. “Normal doctors want to help.”
“Do they?” Ingri snaps. “Because it doesn’t seem to be the case. My friends who went there are writing me that they aren’t being treated nicely. They’d leave but some of them don’t have a choice because their families rejected them.”
“Li, we have to do something,” I say. “Imagine people with relatives like my Grandma who have nowhere to go once they leave hospital after their transformation. Draconians will most probably lose their jobs and won’t be able to pay the rent.”
“I’ve already been thinking about it,” Liana nods. “But even with my wealth, I can’t take care of every transformed player in the EU and not everyone will have the funds to reach my district anyway. We have to establish asylums all over the world to protect our people.”
“Like my Queen and King offered,” Ingri understands right away.
“Offered what?” I blink.
“When you were resting after the intrusion, they called us and mentioned that lots of the Earthborn are begging them to come to their farm,” Ingri explains. “They are determined to take in as many people as possible.”
“And I will do so as well,” Liana seconds. “But we still need everyone’s cooperation. Aefener, can you make another video and beg our people who have a good family situation to take in those less fortunate for the time being?”
“Sure,” I sit up straight. Quil’s death devastated me for a few minutes but I need to be strong to prevent others from being harmed. Erik grins at me encouragingly because he feels my newly found determination.
This time I don’t need a long preparation or a meticulous script. I just say what I feel is right and for the first time I insist that Erik appears next to me. Quil’s death could spring a wave of hate towards humans which is something we can’t let happen. Just can’t.
“Hmm, you’re starting to think differently,” Erik tells me when we upload the video.
“In what way?” I’m confused.
“In terms of us and them,” he worries. “You don’t include me but you’ve been addressing people as humans in your mind for quite some time now.”
“I… I have? Have you noticed other changes?”
“Hard to say in your special case, my telepathic nerd,” he caresses my feathers. “What about others? Do you feel something different about your friends?”
“I’d love to know that as well,” Dr Stein speaks up. “Psychologists are constantly arguing how the transformation will affect your mentality.”
“Hmmm… Liana’s, Fefnir’s and Ingri’s minds are very soothing to me,” I try to analyse it. “Julia’s and Mrs Hana’s… neutral as I’m used to them. As for other people in the mansion… not much pleasant I’m afraid. They make me feel… uneasy.”
“Like that time you threw up in the bathroom?” Erik recalls.
“What time?” Liana tilts her head.
“Oh, right,” I realise I didn’t take it seriously back then. “A few moments before I had an urge to cut my black hair, I walked by some bodyguards in the hall and their minds made me nauseous. They felt… too human. I was almost repulsed by them.”
“Interesting,” Julia remarks and is disappointed that she can’t note it down into her laptop. “It seems as if Ryuuto doesn’t feel comfortable around humans anymore unless he gets used to us.”
“Draconian minds do feel different,” I confirm. “I’m not able to tell to what extent yet but our mentality is definitely changing.”
“And Erik’s mind?” Julia is curious. “He’s human after all.”
“Erik is special,” I frown at her. “When I like someone or feel love…,” I stop myself.
“You what?” Julia’s eyes flash.
I’m saved by my phone ringing. I look at the screen and it’s an unknown number. I hesitate for a second but then I pick up.
“Aefener, is that you?” a female voice blurts.
“Y-yes? Who’s calling?” I ask carefully. The voice sounds familiar but the call’s quality is poor and the caller is panting.
“Thank God, it’s you,” she’s relieved. “Aefener, it’s me—Emi.”
“E-Emi!” I exclaim and put the call aloud for everyone to hear.
“I got your number from Gin… I…. oh, Aefener… Quil really is…,” Emi is crying. “Our family forced us to go to hospital and then… my mother is a doctor there and she persuaded them to try…”
“Emi, where are you?” I have to interrupt her. As someone with personal experience, I can tell when the other person is having a panic attack.
“I… I’m not sure… I ran and ran… my whole body is hurting and I think I must have run several kilometres… my new muscles are amazing. I’m hiding in the woods behind the city and… I… I don’t know what to do… where to go… my family is very religious and they would…”
“Emi, it’s Liana,” Liana grabs my phone with telekinesis and this time manages just fine to control her new power. “I can help you but you need to calm down and tell me where you are.”
“S-somewhere outside Almaty,” Emi says and tries to breathe deeply.
“Kazakhstan,” Liana bites her lip. “That complicates things.”
“Li, we have to save her,” I touch her arm and accidentally pour my anxiety into her.
“I know, I’m thinking,” she shakes me off so that she can think clearly. “I do have some contacts there but I need to find someone I can trust. How is your phone’s battery, Emi?”
“F-forty-seven p-percent,” she hiccups nervously.
“Shit,” Liana swears. “Emi, I’ll send someone to rescue you but it’ll take some time and you need to save your phone’s battery. Turn on the power saving mode and don’t use it unless we call you, okay?”
“Emi, we’ll definitely rescue you,” I promise. “Stay hidden and don’t get close to humans. Your face is all over the media.”
“Humans,” she spits between sobs. “I… I hate them!”
And with those ominous words she hangs up.
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