Emi is sleeping when Liana’s helicopter arrives. They must have given her quite a dose of sedatives because otherwise I can’t imagine anyone would be able to sleep in such deafening noise. The bodyguard carrying her has a strange expression on his face. I don’t have to touch him to guess what he’s probably thinking right now—that he isn’t transporting a human.
To be fair, Emi doesn’t look very human anymore. Her body still has a humanoid shape but that’s about it. She’s covered in thick fur, has a tail and her ears have an animal shape. And I bet her skeleton keeps changing further because Clawfangs have differently built lower legs and, well, a muzzle.
“Gosh, we do need that psychologist,” Julia is mumbling for herself. “People turning into lizards and cat creatures… that must mess with one’s head.”
“Actually, Emi is a fox,” Fefnir says calmly and takes the Clawfang Alpha into his arms because the bodyguard is evidently uneasy carrying her. “And I’m fine with my transformation, thank you for asking directly.”
“Oh, right, sorry,” Julia slaps her forehead. “I’m just thinking aloud.”
“You’re really okay with it?” Erik is doubtful. “You do look like…”
“Like a dragon, Erik, just say it,” Fefnir grins, revealing his pointy teeth. “To be honest, I’m surprised myself that I feel so good in my new body. But I do, really. And I bet Aefener does, too.”
“Mmm,” I nod and briefly touch Erik’s palm to send him my feelings. After the initial shock, I began to truly like my new body to the point I can’t imagine not having wings anymore. Their weight on my back is so comforting; I feel whole.
We arrive to the guest room which was prepared by the maids beforehand and Fefnir gently lies Emi into bed. Liana then dismisses all bodyguards and closes the door so that we can speak freely. Julia immediately starts tending Emi’s minor injuries while Hana washes dirty places on her fur.
“Will you tell her about your telepathy when she wakes up?” Liana looks at me. “I mean… she’ll become a member of our inner circle. To keep it a secret just in front of her would be a bother.”
“I will,” I say confidently. Huh, did I feel totally calm about it just now? Glad even that I can open up to another friend?
“But better take it slowly,” Julia suggests.
Emi wakes up in the most dramatic way I’ve ever seen. The moment she opens her eyes, she’s already jumping on her legs and bares her teeth.
“Emi, it’s us!” Liana exclaims quickly because Emi growls menacingly.
“A-Aefener?” the Clawfang Alpha blinks, confused by the sudden change of scenery around her, but she immediately recognises my white wings and silver hair. She wobbles which makes her sit down. She must be still feeling numb. And scared. But she’s also relieved seeing us.
“Sorry, Emi, they had to sedate you,” Liana apologises. “You were… too wild to handle.”
“I’m the one who should say sorry,” Emi says weakly. “They wanted to help me but I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t hurt anyone too seriously, did I?”
“Just a few scratches, I paid them extra,” Liana waves her hand.
“Thank you… for actually rescuing me,” Emi whispers. “To be honest, I didn’t hope anyone would really come for me. How did you even do it? Where am I?”
“Oho, Emi, you have no idea who she is, don’t you?” Fefnir realises while pointing at my viceroy. “I’m Fefnir, by the way, if you haven’t recognised my beautiful scales.”
“Black wings, violet hair… Liana I bet,” she takes a guess.
“I mean in real life,” he specifies.
“You’ve been in hospital the whole time, Emi?” I ask because it’d explain a lot.
“Ever since I started growing fur,” she nods. “Which was… I don’t know how long exactly. My mother took me and my cousin Quil to hospital immediately after we started showing first symptoms and they confiscated our phones. I had to steal it back when I was running away.”
“Emi, my real name is Laura Richter,” Liana properly introduces herself.
Emi doesn’t seem like she understands, though. But I guess my initial thought also was that it must be just a coincidental name likeness. Liana has to quickly explain the situation about Emi’s rescue, mentioning her private jet and the fact that she’s just smuggled a person out of a non-EU country.
“No way!” Emi’s jaw drops and I notice two distinct fangs. “You’re THE Laura Richter?”
“Why is everyone using the definite article with my name?” Liana rolls her eyes. “But yes, that’s me.”
“And we’re in your super luxurious mansion,” Emi sighs out. “In… Germany. Unbelievable.”
“The truly unbelievable is still coming,” Fefnir pokes me and I have to poke him back. I don’t think Emi is ready to digest it yet.
“Can I examine you, Ms Emi?” Julia, so far hiding behind Fefnir, steps to the front. “I tended your injuries but I need to…”
Emi flinches and bares her fangs again. While she was pretty calm when talking to us, facing a human seemed to trigger her fear and anger. Even though Julia isn’t wearing a white coat, Emi is feeling burning hate towards her.
“Emi, you can trust her,” I say quickly. “I have a phobia of doctors but I gradually got used to Dr Stein. She even helped us with our transformations.”
“I’m not trusting any human doctor ever again,” Emi hisses angrily, her fur standing. “I’m not letting her touch me.”
“I only wanted to check your injuries to make sure there’s no inflammation,” Julia mumbles, a bit offended.
“I got just a few bruises and scratches when I was trying to get out,” Emi says impatiently. “It’s nothing, Clawfangs naturally heal fast.”
“Another thing I wanted to record actually,” Julia reveals her intention.
She shouldn’t have said that. Emi gets furious and starts screaming that she’s a test subject no more and that she’ll scratch anyone who tries to examine her. Julia wants to persuade her with reason but it makes Emi only madder to the point of hysteria.
“Can you somehow calm her down, Aefener?” Liana begs me because Emi seems to be hostile towards any human, even Hana who tries to befriend her with food. She throws the plate away and curls herself under a blanket in the bed’s corner.
“I can try,” I say and carefully approach the trembling fox girl. She doesn’t seem to react badly to me, at least something. But she’s still furious and potentially dangerous so I’m wary.
“Emi, you aren’t afraid of me, are you? I’m your friend,” I say slowly and try to shorten the distance between us.
“Aefener,” she whispers, tired now after her tantrum. She’s still weakened.
“That’s right, it’s me,” I smile and flutter my wings to better demonstrate that I’m not human anymore.
I slowly stretch my hand towards her. She flinches but doesn’t bare her fangs at me which is a good sign. My fingers find her palm and I clutch her reassuringly. She relaxes a bit.
“Cute,” I let out, charmed, when looking at her adorable vulpine ears.
Emi bursts into tears which isn’t a reaction I was expecting to a compliment.
“M-my mother… she said… that I’m a monster,” Emi starts sobbing. “In hospital… the doctors called me a mutant.”
I slowly turn my arms around her back and wait until she allows me to hug her. She’s hesitant at first but then she grabs me herself and caresses my wings. She’s just as curious about my body as I am about hers. I gently touch her mind, trying to soothe her. It’s always Erik comforting me so this is a nice change. I try to tell her with my feelings that she’s safe now and among her friends.
She doesn’t quite understand what’s happening but her mind is welcoming so I gently push further. I don’t feel any resistance so I access her recent memories. I shiver at what I see. Even though Emi wasn’t tortured, she was a prisoner—a test subject.
I glimpse at Emi’s mother who let that happen willingly and discover that she wasn’t loving and kind towards Emi at all. She never approved of anything Emi was doing and was extremely demanding as well as fanatically religious. No wonder Emi had to rebel against her and escape into videogames.
I always remember ingame Emi as cheerful and friendly with everyone but that person is gone now, buried under the trauma. All I can perceive right now as immediate emotions are fear, hate and disgust. She was hurt at the most intimate level of basic trust. And she lost a beloved cousin so she’s also deeply grieving.
Murderers… they are murderers… I hate them!
The intensity of her negative emotions makes me nauseous but at the same time I can’t help falling for the wonderful person beneath. I envelop her mind into mine and shower her with soothing love. When she goes numb in my arms, it’s because she relaxed so much that she fell asleep.
“That went… well?” Fefnir says and moves her into the middle of bed because I’m not able to budge her weight. I really am gradually getting weaker.
“Is she traumatised?” Liana asks, worried.
“I’m afraid so,” I nod. “Her mind is full of pain and fear. And… hatred.”
“Damn, she must have been through a lot,” Ingri is saddened even though she doesn’t know her from the game.
“Can I examine her now?” Julia asks eagerly.
“I wouldn’t recommend it, Clawfangs have very sensitive senses,” Fefnir warns her. “She’d be probably able to tell by the residual smell that you’ve been touching her again.”
“At least she doesn’t mind us,” Liana comments.
“Ryuu, does she hate all humans now?” Erik, who wasn’t participating at all in this, pulls my sleeve because I can’t stop looking at sleeping Emi with remorse.
“She hates doctors with burning intensity, that’s for sure,” I say. “As for humans in general… I feel she doesn’t trust them anymore but I hope it’s something that we might still reverse.”
“Did she feel you were connecting to her?” Julia is curious.
“She did. Let’s wait until she wakes up and explain everything properly to her.”
Emi must have been really exhausted because she didn’t wake up that day and continued sleeping throughout the night. We take turns guarding her to make sure she isn’t alone. Julia isn’t happy that Liana forbade her to enter Emi’s room so instead she glues to Ingri whose symptoms keep progressing. When she returns from her morning sunbathing session, I notice her skin is starting to change colour.
“Have you practiced that meditation again?” Julia asks me when she finishes taking photos of Ingri’s palms.
“Ehm… I overslept,” I admit and quickly add: “I’m sorry that I’m lazy b-but…”
“It’s okay,” Julia benevolently waves her hand and lets it go. “Your wings are growing fast, you need to rest. Just make sure you practice today and you did some training on our newcomer after all. Speaking of which…”
She takes out her leaser measuring tape and scans my wings.
“Another two centimetres,” she finds out.
“So… when will he be able to fly?” Erik asks curiously. “Soon?”
“His wings must get much bigger,” she shakes her head. “Even with the current speed of growth, it’ll probably take at least three months. The bones have to get lighter, too.”
“Three months?” I’m horrified. “B-but… I feel like flying now!”
“Well, you can’t yet,” she says plainly. “Do you even realise how difficult it must be for your body to grow something entirely new so fast? How much energy it must take? You could stuff yourself all day long and you wouldn’t put on weight. By the way, do stuff yourself, please.”
“I’m overseeing that,” Erik pokes me. “I made him eat four eggs for breakfast even though he was begging me for cereals.”
“I’m starting to get envious of Ingri’s light diet,” I roll my eyes because I’ve always hated over-eating.
“I get additional nutrients in other ways,” Ingri speaks up, looking up from her phone. “You know… from sunlight and soil.”
“I agree with Fefnir, she is a plant,” Erik chuckles.
“Guuuuuyyys!” Fefnir suddenly runs into the study. “Emi’s finally up!”
We smile at each other, quickly get up and hurry to the guest room. Only Julia has to stay behind, disappointed. We find Emi sitting on the bed with a tray on her lap, ravenously eating ham and looking calm now. Liana is sitting closely next to her and Emi has no problem with that which is good to see.
“Ae-fu-ne-lu,” Emi mumbles with her mouth full when she sees me in the door. She makes an effort to gulp and pushes the tray aside.
“Do you feel better now?” I ask and sit down opposite to Liana.
“Much better,” she nods and narrows her eyes. “What did you do to me?”
“Ehm… what do you think I did?” I say carefully, not wanting to startle her.
“I’m not sure but it felt miraculous so just spit it out,” she stretches her hand to pat my wing because she seemed to take a liking to my feathers. Thanks to direct touch, I’m able to send her my thoughts. I feel she can take it now.
I’m a telepath, Emi.
“NO WAY!” she shrieks and unconsciously clutches my wing too tight.
“Ouch,” I whine. “I have a Celestial body, Emi, so watch your strength with me.”
“Oh, sorry,” she lets go and keeps looking at me with her mouth open wide. “But how is such a thing even possible? Is it an extra Draconian mutation or something?”
“No, I’m a telepath since birth,” I explain.
Her reaction is similar to Fefnir. She touches me again and wants me to tell her what she’s thinking about. At least her imagery isn’t as stupid as Fefnir’s was. We give her a few moments to digest that revelation and answer her questions but she comes to terms with it quite quickly. I guess our bar for weirdness must have shifted with all those things happening.
“Don’t worry, I can’t read your thoughts without direct touch,” I assure her. “And for browsing one’s memories I need to connect properly and focus which means that no one is in danger of me seeing something inappropriate each time you accidentally touch me.”
“But still, a real telepath… gosh,” she’s wagging her tail nervously. “That’s potentially even more dangerous than magic.”
“That’s why we’re keeping it a secret, Emi,” Liana pronounces seriously. “As you pointed out, magic is one thing but being actually able to read one’s thoughts and even access memories is a different league.”
“Got it,” Emi nods. “A secret.”
“Aefener is already considered peculiar by the EU government so we need to make double sure the information doesn’t get out,” Ingri speaks to Emi for the first time. “I’m Ingri, by the way, but we don’t know each other from the game. My level wasn’t high enough to join veteran guilds.”
“Nice to meet you, Ingri,” Emi tries to smile. Tries. “What do you mean by peculiar? It seems I missed too many things. And why do you smell like grass and dirt?”
“I was outside sunbathing, I’m an Earthborn,” Ingri explains because her changing skin colour isn’t that visible yet. “Anyway, Aefener is patient zero—the first person who started to change.”
“I thought me and Quil were first,” Emi scratches her whiskers. “They locked us as total anomalies before anything appeared in the media.”
“That’s because Aefener was ignoring the symptoms for quite some time and then I was hiding him,” Liana continues. “But it was confirmed that the speed of transformation is linked to one’s VR compatibility level and, well, Aefener’s was 100%.”
“It really was?” Emi is astonished. “I thought it’s just a far-fetched rumour because Aefener himself was distancing from that.”
“For obvious reasons, I couldn’t afford to stand out,” I say. “You’re the seventh person to know about my telepathy, Emi. I haven’t been able to open myself to anyone… until recently. I guess I owe it to our transformation actually.”
“I’m honoured then,” she says and means it. “What made you tell me so soon?”
“We’ve known each other for five years,” I smile sincerely. “I trust you. Besides, it’d be a bother to keep it from you while others know.”
“So be extremely careful talking about Aefener when in public,” Liana reminds her. “And that includes my own employees except for my housekeeper Hana and Dr Stein who know. We’ve already had an armed intrusion and their goal was to kidnap Aefener for God knows what nasty experiments so I had to assign him personal bodyguards.”
“A kidnapping attempt?” Emi can’t believe her ears. “For real? That’s like out of a movie!”
“I’m afraid we have to get used to the extreme,” Fefnir shrugs. “It’s only natural that the leadership of our races will focus around high-levels or influential people like Liana so we’ll be facing lots of pressure and even real danger.”
Emi wants to say something but a soft knocking on the door interrupts her.
“Lunch must be ready,” Liana claps. “Emi, will you manage to get up?”
“Sure,” she nods confidently, gets rid of the blanket and jumps out of bed easily. I notice she’s wearing clean nice pyjamas, not those hospital clothes she was brought in. I can’t help staring at her. How can anyone call her a monster? She’s so fucking cute!
“Ryuu, don’t stare at the lady, it’s rude,” Erik clicks his tongue which makes Emi finally notice him.
“W-who are you?” she flinches a bit but her fearful reaction isn’t as strong as yesterday.
“Emi, this is Erik, my boyfriend,” I proudly introduce him. “Please, don’t be afraid. He stayed with me even after my transformation, we can really trust him.”
“Who’s afraid?” she retorts.
“Well… I can actually feel it, you know.”
“Damn,” she hisses, astonished again.
“Let’s go, guys, Hana doesn’t like when we’re late for meals,” Liana tries to make us hurry. “Don’t worry about wearing pyjamas, Emi.”
“I don’t,” Emi shrugs and waves her tail. It’s all furry and much slimmer than Fefnir’s. I have a sudden urge to touch it.
“Ryuu,” Erik notices my intention and rolls his eyes. “I don’t think Emi would like that.”
Emi grins at me and follows Liana. I perceive that she feels uneasy around the bodyguards so she walks very closely to us while trying to appear confident. But she felt grateful to Erik for a moment when he was berating me on her behalf which is possibly another good sign.
At lunch I notice that her dietary preference is the same as Fefnir’s. She goes primarily after meat, even though she eats chips as well. She doesn’t touch any fresh vegetables, though.
“So… what did I miss?” Emi asks when we finish eating.
We move to our headquarters in the study and spend quite some time telling Emi everything essential that happened while she was locked up. She really appreciated that we made an effort to organise also her race that is known for being stubborn and not answering to anyone except for their Supreme Alpha and other pack alphas.
“Emi, you’re safe!” Gin almost cries when we call him and he sees her face on the screen.
“Safe and sound,” she nods. “How are things in the States?”
“Not as peaceful as in the EU I’m afraid,” he immediately becomes serious. “Clawfangs especially refuse to hide and are starting to venture outside. We’ve already had some incidents with humans. The situation escalated after the information in your video was confirmed.”
“R-right,” Emi shivers but I feel she’s actually glad that her video had an impact and uncovered evil hospital practices.
“Where’s Gotrid?” I ask because I’m surprised he isn’t sitting next to Gin.
“Resting, his wings came out last night,” Gin says. “I think we managed it quite well but he still lost some blood. Celestials sure have their transformation tough.”
“Gin, have you met other Clawfangs?” Emi is curious. “Are our pack roles…?”
“The same as ingame,” he nods. “I smell like Beta, Emi, which means you’re still our Supreme Alpha.”
“Do you really want to keep our original ingame positions?” I doubt again. “What makes us qualified to lead Draconians in the real world? Because I’m definitely not qualified.”
“Oh, you bet I’ll lead my race and I don’t care about any fucking qualifications,” Emi says with a dark undertone. “I’m not letting anyone else end up like Quil.”
“E-Emi…?” I touch her and try to calm her down because the hate I feel from her got overwhelming. I thought I helped her overcome it a little but it seems I only helped her recover from the shock.
“I’m okay, Aefener,” she slaps my hand away. “I don’t need your…,” she stops herself in time as she realises we’re in the middle of a videocall with Gin. “I don’t need your comfort,” she changes the sentence quickly. “What I need is to make those bastards pay for what they did to Quil.”
“I agree with Emi on this,” Liana coughs. “But we need to do it legally and publicly so that we create a precedent for future.”
I silently stare at Emi and Liana discussing what to do and feel anxious. Emi accepted her role immediately and Liana also seems totally okay with leading our race. Am I the only one with doubts? Where does Emi take her resolve? Because of her cousin? Quil… she was my friend as well and I do want to see her murderers punished but… I’m afraid.
I take a deep breath to calm down and try to examine my feelings the same way I do with other people. Do I feel… conflicted? I look at Erik who’s watching the conversation with a serious expression and my still human part reacts strongly.
Then I look at Liana and my Celestial part sees… my viceroy. I’d love to ask her again to take the leadership from me but somehow I know that Liana’s mana capacity and casting skill is lower than mine even though her potential is formidable. Is there really no other way? Am I destined to become the Celestial Emperor even in the real world?
“Miss Richter!” the door bursts open and Hana enters the study, this time without knocking which is unusual. I can feel urgency coming from her.
“What?” Liana turns towards her with a frown.
“The security halted a bus that arrived in front of the main gate just now,” Hana is panting. “It’s full of Draconians and,” she gasps for air, “they’re asking for your protection.”
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