“Since when do we have kittens?” Liana asks calmly but I can feel she’s furious inside. And not because of the fluffy litter. We’re sitting in her office where she summoned us just a few minutes after Emi proudly showed me her discovery in the cafeteria.
I wanted to complain about her confiscating all my casual clothes as soon as I saw her but now is definitely not the right time. Liana is royally pissed and there’s no messing with my Viceroy when she’s like that.
“Since today morning,” Emi answers plainly and is piercing Liana with her bright brown vulpine eyes while petting the little kittens on her lap. She’s challenging Liana to berate her. Emi might be several years younger but they’re both adults so she thinks my Viceroy has no right to act all high and mighty towards her.
“I’m not angry because of your new pets, Emi,” Liana’s voice is ice. “I’m angry because you breached my security.”
Oh, so that’s what it’s all about. I didn’t realise that Emi’s morning jog means she went outside.
“So am I your prisoner now?” Emi hisses through her teeth. “Li, I’m really grateful that you saved me. You have no idea how much. But I’m a free person and won’t be…”
“You could have been apprehended!” Liana bursts out and hits the table. “You, among all people, should know that the government doesn’t see us as humans with human rights until we claim them back. Moreover, you’re a race ruler, Emi, and thus have responsibility towards your people.”
“I… I know that,” Emi retorts but not as strongly as she originally intended. Liana hit her weak spot. If anything, Emi seems to take her being the Clawfang leader even in the real world seriously. “But I took my pack so I was safe.”
“Yeah, you took your pack,” Liana snorts and passes us her tablet. “And you made quite an impression.”
Erik and I glance at the screen that shows a video of Emi and other Clawfangs running wildly in a nearby park. And also… ehm… damaging some fences in their way.
“Okay, I admit that doesn’t look good,” Emi scratches one of the kittens. “But we needed to let off some steam, Li. My race just can’t sit in one place, we’d go crazy. We’re born to run just as your race is born to fly. Only in your case the difference is that you still can’t do it. I bet if Aefener could fly right now, no power in the world would stop him.”
Liana sighs. Emi definitely wasn’t right when breaching the tight security Liana established for our safety but there’s no denying the Clawfang nature. Or ours for the matter.
“Then we have to agree on some things for the future and find a compromise,” Liana leans into the chair and whines because she forgot about her wings for a second. “Damn, I need to order new seats.”
“Sorry, but can we go now?” Erik asks impatiently. “Ryuuto still didn’t have his breakfast.”
“Oh, right… of course,” Liana dismisses the two of us. “I summoned you only because I was afraid Emi wouldn’t come without you. Return immediately after you’ve eaten, okay? There’s a lot of work to be done. Oh, I noticed that I have a missed call from you, Aefener. What did you need?”
“I…,” I look at her while analysing her current mental state.
She doesn’t seem open to any arguments about trivialities. Besides, she’s wearing her own Celestial robe with the attitude like it’s the most common type of clothing for us from now on. And Emi does hers too.
“Never mind,” I sigh resignedly.
“Okay, eat a lot, would you?” she nods, content that I swallowed my complaints.
We quickly leave the office. It’s obvious Emi is in for more scolding about her behaviour and we don’t have to witness that.
“Are we sure she really wants you to become the Emperor?” Erik shakes his head when we reach the stairs. Liana’s office is just two floors above the cafeteria so we can walk. I’m glad that I can use the stairs instead of the elevator and avoid another episode of claustrophobic attack.
“It was similar ingame so I’m used to it,” I shrug. “And it’s also part of our lore, actually. I don’t want to comply to some fictional cultural thing but it was spot on in our case.”
“How so?” he doesn’t understand. “The Emperor is supposed to be the absolute monarch, right? I read some extracts of Celestial lore in the book Ingri lent me. No time to read it properly, though.”
“Yes, but not exactly,” I bite my lip. “In case of Celestials, the Emperor is always the best magic caster and flier and that’s without a debate. However, it’s the appointed Viceroy who deals with the everyday agenda and runs the empire on a practical level. The Emperor is considered to be… ehm… it’s embarrassing to say.”
“Go on,” Erik nudges me, curious now.
“The Emperor is considered to be the godly incarnate of magic itself,” I say and turn red. “According to the stupid made-up lore,” I add quickly. “However, as such… well, the Emperor basically deals with magical stuff and decides only the most important matters while the Viceroy takes care of the mundane rest.”
Erik burst laughing.
“So that’s why you’re such a good duo with her,” he pokes me, amused. “She did all the paperwork and politics while you could happily fly around and conquer dungeons. That’s so like you, my cute airhead. And like her. You’re a remarkable match, you two.”
“We seem to continue in it even here,” I admit reluctantly.
Erik keeps chuckling the whole way back. When we return to the cafeteria, we find out that the place has finally quieted down. Most of the people are gone and only those eating their breakfast stayed. I’m pleasantly surprised that I see two Celestials and one Dragonkin helping the staff.
“What would you like, Your Majesty?” a Celestial man beams at me from behind the counter. He has brown wings with a yellow pattern and is probably the same age as me. It’s the first time I’m seeing him which means he must have come with a recent batch of newcomers.
“Did you do this kind of job before?” I ask because he seems natural at it.
At this point I pretty much gave up on telling Draconians, especially Celestials, that they can address me casually. They just won’t do it for some reason. It’s either a strong role-play habit from when Draconia was still a game or something in our changing mentality. Possibly both. I asked some of them about it before and the answer was that when they look at me, they simply see their Emperor and can’t help it. The same with Liana.
“Yes, I was a part-timer in a campus café,” he nods. “I’m glad they took it into consideration when assigning jobs here.”
“So they are registering Draconians downstairs?” I ask because I have no idea what arrangements Liana made. I was out for most of the day yesterday because of my fainting.
“At the reception in the entrance hall. I was given quite a questionnaire, our Viceroy is very thorough,” he says but he doesn’t mind. Actually, I feel from him that he’s glad about that. Another Celestial quirk kicking in? We’re known to be meticulous.
“Ryuu, pick something,” Erik nudges me to remind me why we’re here but the main reason he’s rushing me is because the Celestial is staring at me a little bit too much.
“I’d like a cheese sandwich, a latte and a chocolate cookie,” I order. Julia wouldn’t be happy if I went for an entirely sweet breakfast but I still crave sugary things.
“A chicken sandwich for me and an espresso,” Erik seconds. He was never keen on sweets. One bite of whatever I order and he’s content.
We take our trays and look for a place to sit. Erik wants to sit at the back but I pull his sleeve and point towards an empty table by the windows.
“Celestial preferences,” he shrugs and follows me there.
I put my tray on the table and can’t resist to admire what I see for a few moments. We’re on the 46th floor so the view of Prague is magnificent. I can see all the way to the famous botanical gardens at Troja. My wings tremble with anticipation. Emi was right; if I could fly right now, I would and no security protocol would stop me. But I can’t so I sit down and unpack my sandwich.
“The guy was staring at you too obviously,” Erik grunts silently.
“Not everyone is gay, Erik,” I roll my eyes. “He’s staring only because he knows me from the media. He’s probably my fan on Vortex. Almost all Celestials are.”
“Can you feel when someone is queer?” he’s suddenly bursting with curiosity and bites into his sandwich. Nobody is sitting too close to us and we’re whispering so we don’t have to be afraid of being overheard.
“Quite easily,” I admit. “I mean… not with everyone and at every occasion but it’s easy for me to feel if there’s sexual attraction. And there was none in this case so chill.”
“Sorry,” he sighs and sips his coffee. “I know that I can be… a bit possessive. Do you hate it?”
I finally bite into my sandwich which gives me time to think.
“No, I don’t hate anything about you,” I confess. “My telepathy,” I lower my voice even more, “might be influencing you, though, and you don’t have to be aware of it.”
“Do you feel like I’ve changed?” he worries. “Because I don’t feel any different. I always wanted to keep you close. Only before you were too evasive.”
“I… I’m not sure,” I say truthfully. “Considering what has happened… it should be me changing mentally, right?”
“So many questions and no answers,” he looks out of the window, pondering. “The world looks normal from up here. Yet, here we are. And you are stirring your latte with telekinesis and spilling it, love.”
“Oh, damn,” I realise only now that the spoon is moving by itself and I’m making quite a mess.
“It’s really effortless for you, isn’t it?” he’s thinking frantically but since we’re not touching, I don’t know what he’s thinking about.
And for once, I feel he’s actually glad I don’t know because I feel an almost unrecognisable hint of… jealousy? Longing? But I might be wrong. It’s too subtle to tell when the person isn’t even aware of it yet. Anyway, nothing so far has indicated that Erik is uncomfortable when I do magic around him.
We finish eating and Erik makes me buy a croissant as a snack for later. Then we head back to Liana’s office. I expected Emi to be long gone but she’s still there, sitting in front of her laptop and typing something. The kittens are playing around her feet and look happy. I can feel Emi is sulking a bit but otherwise it seems the ladies reached some kind of compromise.
“Great, you’re back,” Liana waves at us from her table without looking away from the screen. “From now on, we start at 8 o’clock, okay?”
I look at Erik with horror. As someone who used to stream until late at night, I was never an early bird. I was hoping that Liana would go for traditional office hours but no such luck. I have a boss who is a workaholic.
“We’ll finish work earlier and go sleep earlier,” Erik, who is perfectly used to irregular work hours that often include getting up inhumanely early, tries to comfort me.
“That actually depends on our workload,” Liana has to disappoint us. “This isn’t one of those jobs with fixed hours.”
I gulp but I should have known. It’s not like any of us, not even Liana, can anticipate what we will be dealing with in near future. Damn, we have another meeting with the Czech government tomorrow, right? I’m not ready at all!
“L-Li?” I ask carefully. “What kind of job division did you come up with for incoming Draconians?”
“Jobs will be given ideally based on one’s education and previous work experience, of course,” she says and narrows her eyes at me. “So?”
“So… wouldn’t it be better if I was helping with something else? I can continue doing videos and… I don’t know… become a magic instructor perhaps?”
Liana isn’t even trying to resist rolling her eyes. She does so ostentatiously. Erik chuckles and shakes his head, amused that I’m still trying to get out of ruling my race.
“Sit,” she points towards another table that is opposite to Emi’s. “And work, no excuses. I’ve already set today’s tasks for you and Erik.”
I don’t have the courage to oppose her when she’s like that—uncompromising. I sit behind the table, Erik next to me, and we switch on the computers. The moments the screen is on, I can see virtual sticky notes of my tasks:Contact university and finally discontinue your studies. - Okay, I admit I was postponing that because I still don’t feel like doing it even if I have to. But I know that I can’t return to school and I wouldn’t have time for virtual lessons. Still, I’m impressed Liana keeps track of my personal stuff.Call Deminas (with Fefnir).Training magic. – Oh, looking forward to that.Brainstorming ideas for tomorrow’s meeting. – Dreading it.Call Werden and Twyla (with Ingri).Call Gotrid and Gin (with Emi).
I glimpse at Erik’s list and except for task 4, it’s very different from mine. Wait! Does it mean we won’t be together that much today? I doubt I’ll be calling other race rulers from Liana’s office as I would be distracting them. It’s evident Erik just realised the same thing because he got irritated inside. Are we really too attached to each other? Well, at least I’ll finally have the opportunity to test it out.
“Lunch together,” I nudge him reassuringly. He nods but keeps frowning. Still, he starts working right away.
I reluctantly open my student’s dashboard. The process is as simple as putting a request to the student affairs office but it still breaks my heart to do it when I recall how hard it was to get in.
“Erik, I don’t want to,” my hand freezes over the submit button. “My studies… it means a lot to me. When I got that scholarship…”
“You could finally leave your grumpy grandmother, right?” he guesses and clutches my hand in comfort. It’s a sore topic I’ve never talked about even with him but he’s good at guessing.
“I thought you started earning lots of money as a streamer while still at high school,” Emi stops typing and looks at me, confused.
“I did but the loan company was taking most of my earnings,” I confess. “The only money they couldn’t touch was my scholarship.”
Liana sighs, gets up and pulls her chair next to me.
“Sorry, Aefener, I had no idea it means that much to you,” she apologises. “I thought you’re just procrastinating it.”
“Can’t you ask for a postponement?” Erik suggests.
“Not at Charles University,” I shake my head. “There’re usually dozens of students on the wait list. They don’t treat drop-outs kindly.”
“Maybe they would take your special circumstances into account?” Erik remains hopeful. “Write a personal letter to the dean.”
“Erik, that would propose Aefener is certainly coming back in near future,” Liana disagrees. “He can’t guarantee such a thing.”
“B-but…,” I’m desperately coming up with options, “when things calm down and we secure our human rights, Draconians should be able to finish their studies, right? It would be discrimination if they wouldn’t let us into schools.”
“Sure, common Draconians,” Liana nods. “Not you. The EU will most probably never stop chasing you as your powers will only grow. I’m sorry, Aefener, but it is how it is.”
“What would the Celestial Emperor need a degree for anyway?” Emi shrugs. “It’s not like you’ll be looking for a conventional employment.”
“It’s not set in stone that I’m to become the Emperor for real,” I oppose, frowning. “We should have proper elections as soon as possible. This isn’t a game where the strongest one rules.”
I suddenly perceive a steep change in Emi’s and Liana’s overall mental attitudes. The contrast is even sharper when I compare it to how Erik feels like to me. It’s as if they don’t understand what I’m talking about. I mean… they do understand the words but my reasoning eludes them.
“Elections?” Emi bursts laughing. “I’m the Alpha! Anyone who would like to question my authority is free to challenge me to a duel.”
There’s no hesitation in her voice, nor in her mind. She completely switched to the Clawfang way of thinking the moment I suggested something that wasn’t in our nature.
“L-Li?” I look at my Viceroy but I can feel she’s in agreement with Emi. Moreover, she’s mildly annoyed that I’m even suggesting such a thing.
“Elections are for humans,” she says matter-of-factly. “I would never answer to anyone else than you. You’re the strongest Celestial. Period. Stop being silly, Aefener.”
“E-Erik,” I look at my boyfriend, panicked. Am I the only Draconian with human thinking?
“Well,” Erik chews his lip. “It’s quite ironic that as a telepath, you’re overlooking something so obvious. Ryuu, they stopped behaving like humans ages ago. How couldn’t you notice that?”
“I… really?” I’m confused. “But their minds are so soothing to me. Sure, they changed slightly but…”
“Yeah, and human minds make you nauseous,” he remarks. “That actually says a lot. I see it clearly and I thought you see it as well… at least through me. Or are you maybe subconsciously refusing to see it?”
“Li, Emi, do you realise that your thinking had changed? Because… I think mine didn’t,” I look into their eyes, searching for answers.
“I do feel different,” Liana admits after a short consideration. “I realise that I think differently about things now but I’m not concerned. It feels totally natural.”
“I don’t mind either,” Emi seconds. “In fact, my previous thinking process seems strange to me now. Also… I can’t imagine losing my new sense of super smell. Do you have any idea how thrilling the world is to Clawfangs? There’s so much information all around. You Celestials have no idea.”
“What information are you getting? Right now I mean,” Erik asks curiously.
“For instance, I can feel that Liana had muffins, grapefruit juice and coffee for breakfast. It’s still in the air,” Emi sniffs. “And you two had sex recently.”
I gasp for breath and turn red. Liana makes no comment.
“Damn, Emi, spot on!” Erik isn’t embarrassed and chuckles. “There’s no hiding anything from your sensitive nose.”
“To be honest, I have no idea how I could live without it,” she says. “You claim that you don’t feel any mental change, Aefener, but what about your wings?”
“What about them?” I don’t understand her question.
“Can you imagine losing them? Would you give them up to become human again?”
“L-losing my wings?” I shudder at the mere thought of that.
“You have your answer,” she grins victoriously.
“Your thinking probably didn’t change as dramatically because it wasn’t quite human from the beginning,” Liana reminds me. “Julia was right. We transformed from the human basis. You transformed… from something a bit else. Only time will tell how it’ll affect you and how different you are from the rest of Draconians. Which is another reason you especially can never go back to your previous life.”
She gives me a while to digest it. Erik keeps holding my hand, assuring me that it’s going to be okay and he’ll support me no matter what. But I know that it’s something I have to accept myself and come to terms with eventually. I’m not coming back to my previous life.
“Isn’t this much more exciting?” Emi tilts her head and her vulpine ears twitch. “To be honest, I don’t want to go back. Definitely not back to my bigoted family that killed my cousin. Besides, I enjoy having a pack and being respected. And I love my new body. I really do.”
“You’re extroverted, Emi, a people person,” Liana points out. “Aefener isn’t and he’s been hiding because of the telepathy his whole life. That’s why it’s hard for him to be the centre of attention all of a sudden.”
“I think… I can do it,” I hesitate for a few seconds but then I finally hit that submit button.
And it’s done. My application has been sent. I think the university must have been waiting for it anyway. I decide to write a short email to my supervisor, thanking for her support. I can’t help pondering: Will the professor be relieved that she got rid of me? After all, I imagine the media and possibly even the government must have been bugging her with questions about me. Still, I feel as if the last thing connecting me to my human life is gone now.
“Oh, by the way,” Liana speaks up after a few minutes of silence when she returned behind her desk. “We’ve finally found a psychologist among the transformed.”
“Oh, really? When are they coming?” I ask.
“Tomorrow, I couldn’t buy him a plane ticket so I had to send a car for him,” she says. “He’s from Sweden.”
“Couldn’t buy a plane ticket? Why?” I don’t understand.
“Draconians currently aren’t accepted on planes,” Liana sighs disapprovingly.
“Is that legal?” I frown.
“No, but they argue that they can’t guarantee our safety in the air because our bodies are too different and seats are designed for humans,” she clicks her tongue. “Which is true, sure, but also an excuse. I suspect the EU asked airlines to do so. They can’t close the borders because they aren’t any anymore in the Union but they can limit air transport at least.”
I want to answer something but my phone starts ringing. I look at the screen and freeze. It’s my grandma. I was so busy that I forgot about her. Oh, so there is still one thing binding me to my previous human life. And not a pleasant one.
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