The telekinetic wave sends the Earthborn flying and pushes everyone in its way aside. The man hits the fall and screams in pain but the room grows otherwise absolutely silent. Everyone is staring and gasping for breath. Only Liana is sensible enough to call for the doctor right away.
I’m standing, frozen, and still royally pissed. My feathers are puffy with anger which probably makes my wings look fluffy but I don’t care. I can feel my mana pouring uncontrollably out of my pores, creating breeze around me.
“Snap out of it, Aefener,” Liana shakes me but her Celestial mind isn’t making me any calmer.
Fortunately, Erik appears. We did agree to go for lunch together after all. For a while he’s totally confused, trying to make sense of what he’s seeing: an injured Earthborn, scared Draconians, oppressive silence and for a change no one in my vicinity.
“Erik, do something, Aefener isn’t in his right mind!” Liana begs him.
He still doesn’t quite grasp what happened but he always goes for a comforting hug as default. I connect to him on reflex, finding refuge in his welcoming presence. He’s so familiar… so… human. I calm down and finally realise what I’ve done.
“I… I’m s-so s-sorry,” I stutter. “I didn’t m-mean to… is he okay?”
I’d feel if the man was dying, of course, but horrified emotions all around me aren’t exactly reassuring. Several Draconian jumped to the Earthborn while Erik was calming me down and they feel really worried. I gently push Erik aside and hurry to the poor guy. The Earthborn are nowhere near Dragonkin resilience or Clawfang agility but they should have the power of absolute regeneration, right? Right?!
“I’m so sorry… I… I wasn’t in control…,” I collapse on my knees next to him.
I look at his palm and my feather is still there but it doesn’t make me angry anymore. I notice that his hand looks… quite sticky? I didn’t feel any bad intentions from him, he couldn’t have planned for it. His palm probably got stuck to my wing by accident as he discovered a new ability.
“J-just like i-ingame—no trifling with Celestial wings,” the man coughs with difficulties. He’s in serious pain, I imagine some of his bones must be broken but the way he’s looking at me… almost apologetically. He doesn’t blame me. Which makes me feel even guiltier.
“This is not a game, I could have killed you,” I whisper and shiver. “Hold still, I… I can try…”
I don’t know what I’m doing exactly, to be honest, but I put my hands above his chest and desperately try channelling as much mana as possible. How did healing spells feel like ingame? Warm, soothing… comforting. Just like Erik. I close my eyes and try to put as much tenderness into the spell as I can muster towards a stranger.
I can tell the spell is way higher than my current abilities and my mana was already quite depleted from the training with Liana. Under normal circumstances I most probably wouldn’t be able to do it. But the adrenaline, the guilt… it pushes me to my limits.
I recall the transfiguration symbol associated with healing spells, my hands lighten up bright and the symbol actually materialises under my palms as a floating hologram. The onlookers gasp for breath again but I don’t let myself be distracted. I continue casting and the world around me disappears. This close I can feel the man’s pain almost as if it was my own so I know exactly where to apply the healing magic.
“Ryuu, that’s enough!” Erik shakes me urgently.
I blink, suddenly disbalanced, and the spell gets interrupted. I perceive my surroundings once again and most importantly feel my own body. My hands are shaking and I’m almost completely out of mana.
“He’s going to be okay, you did your best, Aefener,” Dr Stein praises me.
I didn’t notice her arrival at all, I was too absorbed in the spell. Fefnir takes the Earthborn off the ground and together with another Dragonkin puts him carefully on a stretcher. The bodyguards are trying to make some space because the hall got clogged again because everyone was pushing to watch me casting.
I try to get up but I wobble. I feel drained… so drained.
“No fainting, Ryuu, you do that way too often already,” Erik takes me into his arms. “You did well, love,” he whispers into my ear.
“I… I just need to rest a bit,” I say weakly. “Is he going to be okay? I don’t know how much I managed to heal. If anything.”
“He’s going to be okay,” Julia assures me. “Erik, see to it that Aefener eats a lot, will you?”
“To your apartment,” Liana orders us because the crowd starts to get restless. “Send someone to bring us food, please,” she tells one of the human employees.
Only now I notice Emi and Ingri as well. Did they see the incident or did they come a bit later together with Erik? I turn red and stretch one of my wings to hide my face. Everyone keeps staring and whispering to each other.
“He budged me with that wave… and I have over a hundred kilo now.”
“Was that really a transfiguration symbol? Can we actually materialise them here?”
“It was harsh but that Earthborn was asking for it.”
“There’s no touching Celestial wings without permission, that’s for sure!”
I sigh out in relief when the elevator door closes. For once, I’m grateful to that metal box which causes my claustrophobia. Emi, Ingri and Fefnir have to take another elevator because ours is already full with the bodyguards. Liana starts caressing my wings because she knows that I’ll want to talk with Erik telepathically.
So… what happened? Erik asks me right away.
I don’t know how to describe it properly so I decide for something a bit different instead. I try sending him images and how I felt during the incident. It’s like a video memory with an emotional subtext.
Damn, Ryuu, that’s super scary, he trembles.
What’s scarier? The fact I hurt that person over something quite petty or that I stopped thinking like a human? I ask, afraid of his answer.
Aefener, I’d probably react in the same way, Liana tries to comfort me. Why are you so scared of your new nature? I’m also a Celestial and I’m perfectly reasonable even if I think about stuff a bit differently now.
I… I guess I’m afraid of losing control over my abilities… which is exactly what just happened, I say truthfully.
Well, it’s true that if someone like you loses control, it can have catastrophic consequences, Liana admits. But if you fight your new nature, you’ll never get used to it. I think the key here is to come to terms with it.
Am I holding you back? Erik asks. You lost control after we were separated for a few hours. Maybe it’s me who is still binding you to your previous human self.
I was never quite human from the beginning, I remind him.
You know what I mean.
The elevator stops and we get off. The rest of the gang arrives just a few seconds after us. I’m relieved that the hall is totally empty but then I realise that one has to enter a password to stop at this floor. It’s only private apartments here. Still, we don’t feel quite safe until we’re behind the closed sound-proof door so that we can speak freely.
“Did you see it, guys?” I ask wearily.
Fefnir, Ingri and Emi shake their heads in unison.
“Nope, but the bodyguards told us in the elevator,” Emi says. “We have a pretty good picture.”
“So…,” Erik bites his lips when he seats me on the couch.
“So,” I lower my head and fold my wings, “it seems I have the Celestial nature after all. It’s probably been lurking in the corner in my mind for quite some time. I guess connecting to you was keeping it suppressed.”
“I have the Celestial nature as well and I’m coping just fine,” Liana opposes. “Why are you so afraid of it, Aefener?”
“Isn’t it obvious after what just happened?” I say with difficulties.
“It was a reflex, nothing more,” she shrugs.
“A reflex doesn’t almost kill people,” I whisper. “I… I’m dangerous.”
“All new races have potentially dangerous abilities. That’s why humans are so scared of us. Besides, everyone expects your magic will be the strongest,” Emi says.
“I don’t want to be dangerous,” I lean onto Erik’s chest. I can’t help it, my eyes water a bit. “I don’t want people to be afraid of me.”
“We’re all dangerous now,” Liana pokes me. “Gosh, Fefnir could crush anyone’s bones if he wanted.”
“That won’t happen… never ever,” Fefnir grits his teeth, offended. “The Dragonkin are strong but we’re not brutes.”
“Sorry, Fefnir, it was just an example,” Liana apologises quickly.
“Uhm, dizzy,” my head spins. “I’m totally out of mana.”
I’m saved as someone knocks at the door, bringing us our lunches. Emi and Fefnir take it and close the door again. We don’t talk for a while. I really have to eat right now and the others might not be as hungry but they welcome some thinking time. Erik opens our shares—a beef steak with dumplings for him and fried rice with vegetables for me. My hand is shaking when I grab a fork.
“Still in shock?” Ingri catches it. She’s always been very observant.
“I don’t think so,” I shake my head. “More like low glucose. I used up all my mana on healing.”
For a few minutes there’s only the sound of munching and cutlery hitting plastic boxes. I can feel everyone is quite anxious and thinking frantically. The atmosphere is tense. What I did will have consequences, whatever their form might be.
“So… am I going to jail or something?” I voice my biggest concern when my stomach stops rumbling.
“Is that the first thing that comes to your mind?” Liana rolls her eyes.
“B-but… I did hurt him.”
“It was self-defence,” she insists. “He hurt you.”
“It was an accident, he didn’t want to rip off my feather on purpose. His hand was sticky with… whatever the Earthborn can produce,” I defend the poor guy. “My reaction was totally inadequate.”
“Bioglen,” Ingri sets the record straight and her tension transforms into annoyance. “Gosh, what is it with other races not remembering anything about us?”
“Because you use difficult terminology,” Fefnir says.
“At least make an effort, we’re not so impossible to understand,” Ingri is even more pissed now. “It’s not like we’re mysterious Celestials.”
“Hey, there’s nothing mysterious about us,” Liana protests.
“Yeah? So why could no one ever enter your flying city ingame?” she purses her lips.
“The air was too thin there, other races wouldn’t be able to breathe,” Liana explains.
“You didn’t want foreigners, that’s the main reason,” Ingri insists and mumbles more for herself: “I’ve always wanted to see it and now I can’t anymore.”
There’s pressing silence for a while. Emi is nervously waggling her tail, Fefnir is cleaning imaginary dirt from under his claws and Ingri feels genuinely offended by our lack of knowledge concerning her race. Not even Liana knows what to say.
“Did you just have a totally Draconian quarrel?” Erik breaks the silence.
“I guess we did,” Emi scratches her left ear.
“It felt like our tension developed into open frustration,” I say slowly.
“No wonder, we’re under tremendous pressure,” Liana sighs. “We’re starting to rub against our differences which might…”
Another knocking at the door. Fefnir goes to answer and it turns out to be Julia. She doesn’t feel as worried as I was anticipating but I can tell she’s edgy.
“How is he?” I almost jump.
“The patient is resting,” Julia manages a smile and sits in an empty chair. “I don’t know what you did, Aefener, but your spell was miraculous. Heidan, that’s his name, has three broken ribs and a concussion but he’s healing astonishingly fast. At this rate, he should be fine in just one week. He doesn’t even need to go to hospital.”
“Thank god,” I feel relieved and my wings finally stop trembling.
“He’s not holding it against you,” Dr Stein adds. “He asked me to tell you that. It was an accident on both parts.”
“My reaction was still totally overboard,” I lower my head.
“Your reaction was probably naturally Celestial,” Julia comments. “If the game lore comes true and I reckon it will… well, you Celestials don’t lose feathers just like we lose hair, right?”
“No, our feathers are being sustained by the mana circuit so there’s no need to renew them,” I explain. “They hold very firmly and it’s extremely painful for us when someone rips them off. Can I have my feather back? It might sound weird but it feels wrong somehow to just toss it.”
“Actually, I was hoping I could keep it,” Julia looks at me, almost begging. “I’d like to examine it under a microscope and then… make it a keepsake? It’s so pretty after all.”
“Ehm… okay,” I allow after a short consideration. It’s a bit strange to imagine that a piece of me will be hidden in a drawer somewhere but it’s better than a trash can.
“Pchm, I wanted one as well,” Erik is fuming.
“You can pet my wings whenever you can, Erik,” I roll my eyes and look at the doctor sternly. “I trust you won’t turn my feather into an old-fashioned writing tool, Julia?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Dr Stein bursts laughing and the atmosphere finally brightens.
“Anyway, we still have a lot of work to do,” Liana claps and stands up. “I have to admit I’m a bit worried about the public opinion because I bet the incident got out already but there’s nothing we can do about rumours.”
“Oh, right, Aefener’s telekinesis was super strong,” Fefnir realises. “And then he did that healing spell while actually materialising a transfiguration symbol.”
“Ehm… guys?” Ingri turns pale while checking her phone. “I’ve never thought I’d say this but… damn people and their phone addiction.”
“Did someone manage to record it?” Liana gets horrified. “How?”
“It seems they had the camera on when Aefener was passing through the crowd,” Ingri gulps. “As expected, it’s trending… but not in a good way this time.”
“As expected,” I murmur and my wings start trembling again.
“Scheisse, so we can’t play that rumour card,” Liana bites her lip. “I was hoping that… damn.”
We sit around Ingri and anxiously watch as the number of views on the video skyrockets. I don’t want to watch it but I have to see how it looks like from the other person’s perspective. And it’s even worse than I thought. I came out as totally alien… and super scary.
“No shit, Aefener,” Fefnir doesn’t hold back. “If I didn’t know you, I’d think…”
“Not helping, Fefnir,” Emi nudges him.
My phone starts ringing. I’m almost afraid to look at the screen but it’s Gotrid and most probably Gin, too. Just a few seconds after, Fefnir’s phone follows.
“It’s Deminas,” he says. “I bet he’s also calling because of the video.”
We pick up at the same time and put our phones on the table. Deminas’s reaction doesn’t surprise me at all.
“What did I tell you about being careful when seen in public, Aefener!” he’s doing his best not to blatantly yell at me. “Do you even realise what you have done? This can cause hysteria!”
Gotrid’s reaction isn’t as outspoken, he’s more scared than angry.
“My Emperor, this might shift the votes in favour of chipping us in the US,” he exclaims.
“Yeah, they’re really considering it here,” Gin, sitting next to him, seconds.
“It’s not his fault, he was kind of… assaulted in a way,” Ingri tries to help me. “It was a Celestial self-defence reflex.”
“Seriously, I don’t know what’s worse,” Deminas hisses through his pointy teeth. “Aefener showing miraculous abilities all the time or the fact that he isn’t properly protected so random people can rip off his feathers.”
“You’re right,” Liana admits reluctantly. “We underestimated the situation. It won’t happen again.”
“Come on, don’t be too hard on yourselves,” Dr Stein speaks up in an attempt to comfort us. “You’re totally new to this. No one in the world is able to anticipate what happens next. There’re bound to be many mistakes. We’re all learning on the go.”
“Well, that’s really thoughtful of you, doc,” Erik appreciates.
“I’d go crazy without adopting this attitude,” Julia remarks. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to work with new races? Especially because I’m human so they don’t trust me,” she glances at Emi.
The Clawfang Alpha looks guiltily sideways but her emotional response isn’t as strong as it used to be. I still hope Julia can win her over eventually.
“Oh, my King and Queen are calling as well,” Ingri announces and connects another phone call.
Their reaction is pretty much similar to Deminas’s, they’re mainly concerned about the Draconian reputation and how the incident might influence the public opinion and overall mood in the society.
“At least you didn’t hurt a human,” Werden says, frowning. “That would look seriously bad.”
“I don’t think I’d have made a difference in that kind of situation,” I say slowly.
“Which means we have to be twice as grateful it was one of ours,” the Earthborn King nods.
“And that he won’t press charges,” Julia adds.
“Still, another problem is that you manifested miraculous powers… again, Aefener,” Twyla continues. “We’ll all probably become miraculously strong in future but your abilities are too spontaneous. Too… effortless.”
“I… I know,” I clutch my fists. “But I’m not doing it on purpose.”
“We know you’re not,” Deminas says more amicably now. “But if the Celestial lore comes true even here, you might become an equivalent to an atomic bomb. And that’s something that will scare the EU shitless.”
“Which part?” Erik pulls my sleeve, a bit lost.
“The part about the Celestial Emperor being the incarnate of magic itself,” I quickly explain.
“Oh, so I was right,” Erik scratches his chin. “Others will have to train how to do magic, you’ll have to train in order not to do magic.”
“We’re all rulers,” Werden speaks again. “Why is Aefener so ahead of us?”
“It has to do with one’s previous VR compatibility level,” Julia says. “Aefener’s was indeed 100% so his transformation is the fastest.”
“Oh, so it wasn’t just a rumour,” the rulers are surprised.
“That would explain a lot but not everything,” Gin narrows his eyes. “How did you even attain such perfect compatibility in the first place? It was thought to be impossible and the scientific research pretty much proved it.”
“I….,” I hesitate for a moment. “Is this channel really safe, Li?”
“My company’s network has the best encryption protocols and all our devices have been checked,” my Viceroy assures me. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Guys, can you give us a few minutes?” I look at the screens. “We need to discuss something first.”
“We shouldn’t have secrets among ourselves,” Deminas frowns.
“Exactly, but… it’s actually personal so I… I need…,” I’m looking for the right words.
“Okay, Aefener, discuss what you must,” Twyla waves her hand and hangs up. Others shrug and do the same.
“Ryuu, are you seriously considering telling them about your Mom?” Erik clutches my hand. “What if they aren’t careful enough and it leaks out?”
“I’m actually considering telling them everything,” I say slowly. “About my telepathy, too.”
Liana clicks her tongue and looks at me disapprovingly.
“It’s not only your secret anymore, Aefener,” she says with a serious expression. “You being a telepath is both a huge asset and danger to us.”
“I know but these are our friends, Li. I feel bad hiding it from them. Besides, how can our communication be effective when they don’t know everything?”
“Aefener’s right,” Emi agrees. “Deminas, Twyla, Werden, Gin and Gotrid should be all part of our inner circle. Besides, if Deminas knows about Aefener’s telepathy, he might help us convincing other Dragonkin to join our security forces.”
“We’ve known each other for ages,” Fefnir seconds. “I know that not everyone had been as close as, for instance, me and Aefener but they’re still our friends… and allies.”
“Ryuu, do you feel okay?” Erik notices my anxiety that is growing stronger.
“To be completely honest,” I take a deep breath. “I’m tired of hiding, guys. I’ve been afraid of telling anyone about my special ability for years but now that you know… well, it’s liberating. I haven’t felt this relaxed around people… well, never. I want all my closest friends to know. I don’t want to lie to them.”
Erik is assuring me in his mind that it’s totally okay to keep it secret just among us and that I shouldn’t feel pressured by circumstances. But I think I’ve progressed at least a little it in my quest to openness. I’m actually surprised myself that I want to tell more people. No, not just any people. My friends.
“I think it would be beneficial if all rulers and viceroys knew,” Liana admits after a thorough consideration. “But what about Gotrid? He became a seraph just a few days before it all started so we don’t know him that well.”
“He’s one of us and it would be unfair to tell Gin but not him,” I say. “I should learn how to trust people so I might as well start with it now.”
“Okay, Aefener, the decision is yours to make after all,” Liana concedes.
“Let’s tell them,” I nod and try to smile confidently.
In the meanwhile, Ingri put everyone onto the laptop so we can have a proper conference call now. We sit closer to each other and call everyone again.
“So…,” I say slowly. “I put my trust in you guys. Make sure you’re really alone and listen…”
I start by telling them about my Mom’s research, me being her test subject as a child and then… about my telepathy. They are astonished, of course, but they keep absorbing everything until I finish talking and give them space to react.
“Our Emperor is truly miraculous!” Gotrid is genuinely excited.
“Which is still a problem,” Deminas is frowning. “Even bigger than we thought we had before.”
“So Aefener’s effortless magic might be connected to that,” Gin is pondering. “His brain wasn’t quite human from the beginning.”
“Aefener, dear, thank you for telling us,” Twyla is grateful. “I imagine it must have been hard.”
“They’re taking it well,” Emi nudges me, content. “I knew they would.”
“Considering we’re all new species now, telepathy isn’t so hard to digest I guess,” Werden shrugs. “But I agree with Deminas, you have to be extremely careful, Aefener. We’re all rulers but you’re the most visible figure—the face of Draconia. Literally all eyes are on you.”
“Okay, since we’re all here anyway, let’s have that meeting together,” Liana decides after I finally answer all curious questions.
I’m relieved that the topic shifts away from me so I can finally relax a bit. I’m glad that they took it so well. It feels like coming out in a sense. And maybe it is for a telepath.
It felt good to tell them, right? Erik speaks to me in his thoughts while Ingri is discussing new Earthborn abilities with Twyla and Werden.
It did, I admit. My quest for openness is going surprisingly well.
You really call it a quest? Nerd! he laughs in his head.
“So you can see what it looks like when Aefener isn’t truly listening and is rather talking telepathically with his boyfriend,” Liana pokes me, annoyed. “No spacing out during an important meeting, you two!”
Twyla giggles while Deminas shares my Viceroy’s annoyance.
“Sorry,” I mumble, embarrassed.
The meeting continues and it actually saves us time to discuss things together. However, I can’t miss how differently we think about various issues. And it goes way beyond just differences in opinions. Each race has a totally opposite view on things.
Twyla and Werden bring up ecology for some reason, irrelevantly to the topic, Deminas and Fefnir put way too much emphasis on training our new abilities, Emi and Gin can’t shut up about our freedom of movement and Liana and Gotrid are mostly concerned about politics.
We end the phone call when we realise it’s 4 P.M. already and we still have to brainstorm our arguments for tomorrow.
“We should establish regular meetings from now on,” Werden suggests. “I know that it might be problematic because of different time zones but we should be able to find a reasonable slot.”
“Staying in touch then,” Liana says goodbye and hangs up. “Let’s continue in the briefing room, we need a proper table. Do you feel better, Aefener? Can you walk?”
“I think so. The food is certainly doing its job,” I pat my stomach.
We leave the apartment and Liana spends a while telling the bodyguards that they have to really watch over who’s touching me. All of us for that matter.
“Right, anyone stupid enough to pull my tail will get it,” Emi proudly shows off her claws.
“I think everyone got the message,” Fefnir grins. “I don’t think anyone would rip off Aefener’s feather ever again after what happened to that poor guy.”
“Heidan,” Julia repeats his name.
“Can I visit him later?” I ask. “I’d like to apologise again.”
“Sure, tomorrow. He’s sleeping now, I gave him some pills,” Dr Stein nods. “Actually, I’ll go check up on him. I have two Earthborn helpers now but they’re just medical students,” she says goodbye and leaves.
I’m a bit afraid to step out of the elevator when we arrive at the floor where Liana’s office is situated. What if everyone becomes scared of me? I don’t think I’d be able to filter such an avalanche of fear and possibly even hatred.
But the hall is unexpectedly calm. We meet several Draconians who got their job assignments here but they respectfully go out of our way without a flinch in their emotional state when seeing me. We also meet a few human employees and they’re quite wary but nothing too overwhelming fortunately.
I almost think we’ll make it without an incident but when we turn around the corner, we spot at least two dozen Celestials stepping nervously in front of Liana’s office. They beam at us and immediately flock all around. Our bodyguards have to work really hard to keep them off our wings at least.
“They’re finally back!”
“Are you okay, Your Majesty? Didn’t that jerk hurt you too badly?”
“He was sooo asking for it!”
“Your magic is as proficient as ever.”
They push a little bit too much and I can feel Liana is getting seriously pissed. I bet she ordered that nobody without a proper clearance should enter this floor and these Celestials don’t look like office types at all.
“Li, something’s not right here,” Fefnir pulls her sleeve in all that commotion. “Where’s your security?”
For a few seconds, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Our bodyguards are standing next to us, right? Then I notice that I don’t see those regular lower-tier security guards that should be patrolling every corridor, especially the CEO’s office.
I try to calm my mind down as I was learning during my meditation sessions with Julia and filter that excessive Celestial excitement that is preventing me from feeling pretty much anything else. And then I feel it—three humans behind the crowd, scared shitless. I touch my Viceroy to quickly convey it to her.
“Silence!” Liana loses her cool and shouts.
The Celestials go silent which isn’t that surprising really. Liana’s authority is undeniable. She orders them to step aside so that we can reach the other side. And there they are—three security guards crouching and shivering, almost on the verge of tears. I can’t imagine our bodyguards in a similar position but these poor men are nowhere near their level, that’s for sure. They’re just regular employees with tasers and walkie-talkies.
“W-what the…?” Liana widens her eyes, not quite sure what the hell she’s looking at. “What are you doing? Why did you let so many people in?”
“M-Madam Richter,” a bald man in a security uniform is stuttering and sweating a lot. “T-they… insisted and… t-they… t-took our equipment,” he gulps.
“You serious?” Liana is getting angry. “Are you total amateurs or what?!”
“T-they… used telekinesis… we couldn’t do anything,” another security guy says and he’s at the point of mental breakdown.
Liana looks at the crowd of Celestials in disbelief. Did they really use their abilities to disarm and intimidate the security? Just like that? And why?
“What the fuck?!” she swears. “Did you go completely nuts, people?” she shouts at the Draconians. “These men are helping us, morons! They’re my employees.”
“Your Excellency, we shouldn’t rely on humans,” one of the Celestials says confidently. I recognise him. He came to the mansion in the first batch of refugees. I recall his level was quite high.
“What do you mean?” not even Liana knows how to react to that. The situation is too surreal.
“It’s simple really,” he smiles. “We’re volunteering for the Imperial Guard.”
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