Erik has to use force to get me out of my pyjamas.
“I’m not wearing that!” I’m struggling with him but he’s much stronger than me. He was way stronger long before my body weakened after the transformation so now he’s unstoppable for me.
“Come on, Ryuu, you’ll look so cute in it,” he tries to persuade me and throws my sleeping t-shirt away.
“It’s a cosplay!” I retort.
“Are cosplays usually such high quality?” Erik points out and wants to get me out of my sleeping shorts. “It’s professionally made and from the best fabric.”
My phone starts ringing so we freeze for a moment and look at the screen. It’s Liana.
“Don’t pick it up!” I protest but Erik is quicker and puts the call on speaker.
“Good morning, sleepyheads, did you get my presents?” she asks right away.
“We did,” Erik confirms and is petting my wings so that I won’t run away. “Thanks for the suits, I love them. The problem is Ryuu, though.”
“Expected as much,” she sighs. “Make sure he wears it, we can’t present him to the Prime Minister in a hoodie.”
“Working on it,” he smirks.
“Li, you can’t be serious,” I almost cry.
“I’m already wearing mine,” she announces proudly. “Ingri designed clothes for all of us. I’m glad they arrived on time.”
“Human clothes just don’t suit us anymore,” Liana’s tone gets more serious. “You’ve been cold all the time lately and me too.”
“It’s a cosplay!” I repeat desperately.
“Not anymore,” she says. “I’ve been working since seven and I feel really good wearing it. People stared in the beginning but they got used to it quickly. Anyway, I have work before our meeting, bye.”
She ends the call so abruptly that I don’t have any time to protest more.
“Ryuu, please, I want to see you in it,” Erik pleads.
I sigh and look at the boxes. Do I have no choice? Even if I rebelled against Liana and kept wearing my hoodie, she would probably just send me back to change by force. And I would look even more stupid in a suit as I absolutely don’t have the figure for it. If anything, a multi-layered robe can at least hide how skinny I am. I give in.
“I don’t even know where to start,” I’m lost when looking at all those layers. “God, there’s even Celestial underwear. And are these thermo leggings?”
Everything has holes for my wings already and since kimono isn’t something you pull over your head, I don’t have to be afraid that it’ll become useless when my wings get really big. Still, Erik has to help me to push my wings through the gaps because I’m not able to do it even after several attempts. I must learn how to manage myself with telekinesis. The sooner the better.
“Ingri is really good at designing clothes,” Erik comments when he finds tiny buttons to close the gaps around my wings so that I’m not cold on my back.
Then we look up a photo of my ingame avatar and try to find out the order of layers. I never really paid attention to my clothes ingame. My avatar was dressed either by virtual maids in the palace or automatically by the system. No such luck here. Most importantly, we also have to look up how to tie it.
“Shouldn’t a Japanese know that?” Erik teases me. I nudge him, annoyed.
Fortunately, it turns out the ‘cosplay’ is a bit simplified and Westernized so in the end it isn’t that hard to tie. Then we proceed to another layer… and another… and finally to the last one that is embroidered. The last binding is quite tricky because it comes with a real Japanese ‘obi’ but the Internet helps us once again.
“Is it… real silk?” Erik is touching the fabric with fascination.
“If Liana paid for it, then no doubt,” I sigh because it means that I have to be extra careful not to stain it. Moreover, the robe is white so anything would immediately be visible on it.
“Gosh, Ryuu, you’re so pretty,” Erik is astonished and enchanted.
“Now your turn,” I challenge him.
While he’s changing, I’m trying to comb my hair. There is a hairpin in the box but my hair isn’t that long for it yet since I had to cut it. I save it for later.
“Done, what do you think?” he turns back to me.
I gasp for breath. He’s even more handsome than I was imagining! Do I even deserve such a fine boyfriend? How can anyone look so unbelievably handsome in a three-piece suit?
“You’re thinking something funny right now,” Erik purses his lips.
“I just can’t take my eyes off you,” I say truthfully. “It fits so perfectly, how did they know?”
“Ingri measured me a week ago,” Erik explains. “I had a hunch it was probably for some formal wear she was preparing for us but it never occurred to me she would get you a Celestial robe.”
“And she definitely got my measurements from Julia,” I shake my head. “Our ladies performed quite a conspiracy—not telling us anything.”
“You couldn’t read that in their minds?”
“I don’t touch them that often,” I say. “And even if I did, if the person isn’t thinking about it, a casual brief connection won’t let me explore deeper.”
“I’m actually glad for that,” he gently pushes his forehead onto mine. “I want it to be our special thing, my cute telepath.”
“Me too,” I admit, whispering.
Damn, does he even realise that he’s torturing me? I’m this close to be aroused by both his handsome looks and our telepathic connection. Unfortunately or fortunately, we’re interrupted by another knocking on the door.
“Ten minutes till ten,” Erik checks his watch with disappointment. “We’d better go.”
“W-wait, shoes?” I realise we’re still wearing slippers.
“Oh, right,” Erik rummages the boxes and finds himself an expensive looking pair of black leather shoes. “These must be for you,” he hands me another box.
I open it and find white boots. They look fancy but…
“Isn’t it for ladies?” I doubt.
“Doesn’t matter in your case,” Erik laughs.
I stick out my tongue and throw the padding at him. I reluctantly pull the shoes on my legs and have to admit they’re quite comfortable and look nice even though nobody will see them really because the robe is covering me down to my feet.
I have to brace myself before looking in the mirror. Do I look too ridiculous? Erik’s opinion can’t be taken into account, he’s too biased. I blink, confused for a moment. I was expecting to feel weird but what I’m looking at is basically my ingame avatar. And I’m used to that. I nervously pull my robe when trying to walk but it’s not that strange either even though I have to convince myself over and over again that it isn’t technically a dress.
“I’d feel hot in it immediately,” Erik comments. “So many layers.”
“I feel…,” I’m looking for the right word, “surprisingly alright. Not cold anymore. And Celestials don’t sweat much anyway.”
Another knocking, this time insistent.
We finally open the door, Erik feeling proud in his new brand suit, me feeling self-conscious. I half-expect the bodyguards to chuckle but they their expression doesn’t change, only their emotions flutter a bit. Not in a bad way, though—curiously, excitedly… enchantedly even?
We’re being led to the big conference room where we were yesterday and only then I realise we haven’t had breakfast. My stomach rumbles but too late for that now.
“Let’s hope there’ll be a break soon,” Erik is also getting hungry.
“You’re late!” Liana berates us the moment we show up. “Bauerova is already at the reception, hurry!”
I sigh out in relief because she’s also wearing a Celestial robe so I don’t look that weird wearing it alone. Whereas my robe is pure white with silver glitter and decent embroidery, her attire is dark red with golden ornaments. It suits her really well. All of my friends are already sitting here, all of them wearing Draconia-inspired clothes.
“We’re like cosplayers at some convention,” I can’t resist a poignant comment.
“What a surprise, right?” Fefnir grins, apparently happy. “Our ladies prepared quite a gift for us.”
I curiously inspect his clothing. Ingame, the Dragonkin were usually wearing armour almost all the time but in real life that would be highly uncomfortable and simply not practical. I guess there were some casual Dragonkin clothes but they weren’t used much so Ingri had to come up with her own designs. Fefnir is wearing a leather quilted vest with a tunic underneath, a metal belt and pants made from thick fabric. It makes him look like a medieval knight. The only thing that is modern are combat shoes.
“Wow, Aefener, it’s even better that I was imagining,” Ingri is staring at me with a dreamy expression.
Her dress couldn’t be further from her previous lolita style. No corset, no patterned tights, no wild makeup. She’s wearing a long green dress that makes her look like a forest elf from the Lord of the Rings. Her high-heels are also gone… most probably forever. I guess she would prefer to be bare-foot but as it turns out the Earthborn hate unnatural surfaces, she’s wearing light gladiator shoes.
“After this I’m never wearing human clothes again,” Emi says, content. “Let’s make Ingri our official fashion designer.”
I switch my attention to the Clawfang Alpha. It’s obvious her clothes were made with emphasis on the freedom of movement. The materials are light so that she’s not feeling warm in it, the colours go well with her vulpine fur, she’s wearing pants and there’s no extra fabric that would get in her way. The Clawfang style couldn’t be further from lavish Celestial robes. It’s functional and highly practical but it still does look very fantasy-like.
“Now I feel weird,” Erik says because it’s only him in contemporary clothes. “But we look presentable enough, I hope.”
I gulp, suddenly nervous. We went to bed so late yesterday that we fell asleep immediately and in the morning we were too busy getting dressed. I didn’t have time to think through what I’m going to face—that I’m meeting my country’s Prime Minister! If somebody told me that just a month ago, I would never think it possible. Yet, here we are.
Erik, what if I make a fool of myself? I say telepathically, starting to freak out.
I’m expecting him to reassure me it’s going to be fine but he’s as nervous as I am. He might be much more extroverted and relaxed around people than me but that doesn’t mean anything when meeting such an important person.
Let Liana lead? he suggests. Go with her flow.
“Miss Richter, Mrs Bauerova is here,” Anna the administrator announces and fully opens the door.
The Czech Prime Minister confidently walks inside. She’s one of those people you only see on the news and have no chance of seeing in real life under normal circumstances. She’s roughly the same age as Liana and has a similar stern expression but I’m surprised that she’s smaller than I was envisioning her.
For what she lacks in height, however, she totally makes up with her dignified conduct and an authoritative aura. She brings four bodyguards and two other members of the government with her. And she doesn’t show any surprise seeing us in Draconian clothes.
“Katerina, I’m actually glad to see you,” Liana welcomes her and stretches her hand towards the former classmate.
“Laura,” Bauerova nods and clutches her offered palm. I can feel she’s wary and a bit tense but at the same time doesn’t expect we’d endanger her.
“Please, call me Liana,” my Viceroy says. “That’s my Celestial name.”
“If you prefer so,” Bauerova shrugs and they’re staring into each other’s eyes for a while. Then she looks at me. “And you’re the famous Aefener,” she addresses me with my Celestial name after Liana showed we wish it that way.
“Nice to meet you,” I articulate properly because Liana would kill me if I stuttered. I offer her my hand as well. I bet that if she knew I’m a telepath, she would never touch me. But she doesn’t know so our palms meet.
She’s similar to Liana in many aspects—ruthless, hard-working, ambitious, an over-achiever. But she’s also so different. And moreover so… human. Even though I feel she’s a person we can’t mess with, she’s fair when it comes to holding her part of an agreement. Naturally, she lets go of my hand almost immediately so I can’t get anything else.
It turns out that those other two people, a man in his fifties with a beard and a bald man in his forties, are the Minister of Defence Brezina and the Minister of Interior Kovar. Their faces are familiar to me but I’ve hardly ever watched news before the Great Evolution so I wouldn’t be able to recall their names if it wasn’t for their introduction. They don’t offer their hands.
The Minister of Defence is acting very confidently but I can feel he’s uneasy. Fefnir’s dragon appearance makes him especially uncomfortable but he’s most wary of me. As if I was a ticking bomb or something. The Minister of Interior is a bit more relaxed but only a bit.
Next to me, Aefener, Liana briefly brushes the back of my palm when she’s getting to her chair so that she can instruct me because we had no time to agree on seating order.
I have no reason not to comply so I sit next to her. The table is a perfect square because there’s a 3D projector in the middle so nobody has to feel they’re sitting too far or in a chair of lesser importance. I really appreciate it.
“I won’t lie, Liana, you making your headquarters in Prague is a huge deal,” Bauerova says honestly and without unnecessary courtesies. “Why not staying in your home district in Berlin?”
“Prague is better for our purposes,” Liana says, also honestly. “I can’t vacate my main offices so easily while this is just a subsidiary. Also, and I have to thank you personally for that, the Bohemian government isn’t as stiff. No ulterior motives, just a favourable location in Central Europe.”
“Hmm, that’s one thing cleared then,” the Prime Minister nods. “Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m guessing you want to obtain the status of an embassy?”
“That we do,” Liana confirms.
“And you think I’ll let you do that in my country?” Bauerova narrows her eyes and the two ministers frown, disapprovingly.
“Actually, I do, Katerina,” Liana smiles slightly. “I wouldn’t think it possible that the first European LGBT Prime Minister could support any kind of discrimination.”
I stare at Bauerova. I didn’t realise she’s such an advocate for equal rights. I mean… I knew she has a wife, every Czech citizen knows that because she won a campaign while being openly gay. It just never crossed my mind it’s relevant in our situation.
“That… I do,” Bauerova admits and glances at me and Erik.
She’s torn apart. On one hand I can feel she’s happy that another influential figure, meaning me, is openly queer, on the other it’s hard to compare one’s sexual orientation to the appearance of four new races with potentially dangerous powers.
“It would calm the transformed,” Liana continues her persuasion. “If Draconians knew that they have an official safe place to come for help, they wouldn’t be so nervous.”
“You want me to create a precedent,” Bauerova sighs.
“I’m not hiding that.”
“You’re the same as ever, Laura,” the Prime Minister shakes her head. “Oh, sorry, I mean Liana,” she corrects herself immediately. After all, she’s the last person who would deadname anybody.
“So… will you at least consider it for now?” Liana asks her in a kind voice.
“That I can promise,” Bauerova hesitantly nods. “I’m not doing it for you, though.”
“Oh, I’m actually hurt,” Liana grins. “Why then?”
“For my nephew,” she says matter-of-factly but I feel a burst of turbulent emotions from her. She glances at Emi.
“He’s a Draconian now?” Liana blinks.
“Yes, he started playing that damned videogame of yours as soon as he turned fourteen and now he’s a Clawfang,” Bauerova says, partly angry, party reconciled with the fact. “I want to protect him. And kids like him. But no promises, the decision isn’t only up to me,” she looks at her companions.
Emi’s expression is unreadable but I feel she didn’t expect Bauerova to be so understanding. Is there still a chance to mend her relationship with humans?
“Of course, thank you, Katerina,” Liana relaxes that the hardest topic to discuss has been resolved.
“Still, Aefener remains the main problem,” the Minister of Defence Brezina speaks up.
“W-what about me?” I almost panic.
“Everything,” he frowns and folds his arms. “The EU did a thorough check on you and didn’t like what they found.”
“Like what?” I still don’t understand. “I’m just a student.”
“Where should I start?” Kovar cringes his forehead. “Most Draconians are still not fully transformed yet and you’re already manipulating three elements at once. We were trying to predict you at level 80 and our generals were uneasy imagining what you’ll potentially be able to do.”
“Also,” Brezina adds, “we’re afraid of your influence. Your social network currently has 352 million followers and counting. Most of them aren’t even Draconians.”
“Then there’s your family background,” Kovar continues.
“What about it?” I don’t understand.
“It’s basically non-existent,” the minister says. “Someone made an effort to erase everything concerning your mother’s history in Japan.”
I freeze when they mention my Mom. Were they digging in my past?
“Ryuu,” Erik suddenly grabs my hand. “Calm down.”
I blink, confused for a moment because Erik feels anxious.
“Aefener, that doesn’t look good,” Liana grabs my other hand and hisses.
I finally see what’s happening. The water in our guests’ glasses is boiling.
“I… I didn’t mean it… I…,” I’m stuttering.
“See? What if he boils our blood next time by accident?” Kovar points out. “It seems even high-levels have to train hard to do spells while Aefener is doing it totally spontaneously. He’s a threat.”
“You can’t do anything to him!” Emi bursts out. “You can’t touch any of us. Our people will riot should we be abducted or harmed.”
“That won’t happen in Bohemia,” Bauerova switches to defences. “We won’t make the same mistakes as the US. The last thing I want is a civil war, believe me.”
Emi studies Bauerova’s face for a moment and then calms down a bit. I guess it’s because Clawfangs have an extremely sensitive sense of smell. Emi would be able to smell if Bauerova was blatantly lying, literally. Liana did a really good job when considering where to move our headquarters. She couldn’t have chosen a more amicable state official. Even Fefnir seems like he trusts the Czech Prime Minister.
“Then we have a lot of to discuss,” Liana starts. “There’re many points we have to negotiate.”
Liana eyes flash and she starts hard negotiations. She might be super rich but even she can’t possibly offer financial support to every Draconian in the EU. Minister Kovar is hesitant at first but then he has to admit that they have to petition the EU for help, both financially and materially. Quite a high percentage of Draconians had to leave their homes so unless the Czech government (and all other government for the matter) want to soon face serious problems, they have to be actively looking for solutions.
“Part of the problem is that people are simply afraid of the new races,” Bauerova says and her eyes find Fefnir. I get why she thinks it’s him who’s the most intimidating person among us, at least based solely on the appearance.
“The Dragonkin are actually the most peaceful race, Katerina,” Liana sets things straight. “They’re generally calm and phlegmatic.”
“And we know that, we did our research,” the Prime Minister agrees. “The problem is that the public won’t see it that way.”
“We’re really sweet, people just have to come know us better,” Fefnir jokes a little.
“So how do we do that?” Bauerova asks.
We continue for another hour. And then another. It’s not like I’m getting bored because we’re discussing most important topics that might potentially influence the whole world. But I’m getting progressively hungrier and hungrier. I can feel that Erik is starving as well but his hunger doesn’t seem that urgent. What the hell? Is my stomach really starting to hurt?
I’m not touching Erik so that he doesn’t feel my discomfort but I’m begging Liana to finally end the torture. She does so after another half an hour. The meeting is adjourned to the day after tomorrow when we’re supposed to come with some reasonable suggestions.
“Okay, that was long and intense,” Fefnir comments when Bauerova and the two ministers finally leave the conference room.
“But rather successful, no?” Ingri asks hopefully.
Being just a teenager and no race ruler, she didn’t participate at all in the debate but Liana still wanted her to be there to represent the Earthborn. Also, I’m starting to suspect that my Viceroy is training her to become our future secretary.
“Quite so,” Liana nods. “It might not entirely seem that way but Bauerova is supportive of us.”
“C-could we go for a lunch now?” I ask weakly. For the last part of the meeting, I wasn’t talking much and all I was desperately focusing on was not letting our guests know that I’m not feeling well. Liana is right, we can’t afford to show any weakness.
“Sure, the restaurant is actually waiting for us,” Liana says and then she notices how cracked my voice sounds. “Are you okay, Aefener?”
“To be honest… I don’t feel so good,” I admit, wrapping my arms around my stomach.
“Do you feel sick, Ryuuto? Like throwing up?” Erik pets my back in comfort.
“I don’t have anything to throw up,” I remind him.
“What did Dr Stein tell you about skipping meals?” Liana gets furious. “Your body is still developing.”
“Sorry, we overslept and were in a hurry,” Erik explains. “We didn’t even know where to fetch something to eat.”
“In the cafeteria, where else,” Liana rolls her eyes. “Why didn’t you ask your bodyguards to get you something?”
“Can you stand, Ryuuto?” Erik touches my forehead. I imagine I must be looking very pale.
I try to smile, assure them that I’m coping but the moment I stand up, my vision blurs and if Erik didn’t catch me immediately, I’d have probably ended up on the floor.
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