“Is this how you’re going to treat us?” I whisper menacingly and my voice is ice.
The air in the room gets to the almost freezing temperature but I’m surprisingly fine. It’s actually not so hard to envelop myself in a protective bubble of warm air and I do so automatically out of pure Celestial instinct. Of course, I don’t forget to protect my boyfriend.
“R-Ryuu,” Erik clutches my hand desperately but I close my mind to him.
I don’t need him to calm me down because I don’t want to calm down. My Celestial nature is fully awake and it feels good. I finally feel at peace with myself and I don’t want to suppress it because nothing is clashing within me anymore. I’m still me but at the same time I’m different. And for the first time ever I know it’s okay.
“N-no, I m-mean…,” Bodin gasps for breath and starts shivering from both the cold and my intimidating leaking mana. He drops his plate and the sound of breaking chinaware resonates through the room. Tensed and frightened, people present almost forget to breathe and all eyes are on me but for once I just don’t care.
“You don’t really want to cooperate with us, do you?” I hiss and all glasses in the room start to tremble with my telekinesis. “You’re here to make sure we’re under control. Manageable.”
“Aefener, don’t—!” Liana finally reaches me and tries to calm me down because it’s evident that Erik’s efforts aren’t working.
But it’s no use. Instead, I send her a full dosage of my irritation and convey to her how Bodin feels about Draconians and what he said to me. Liana’s eyes widen and she instantly understands. But in order to keep my telepathy secret, she asks Bodin for an explanation.
“So, what exactly did you say to our Emperor?” she also expresses her anger openly but much more controllably than me.
“C-cold… I…,” Bodin’s shivering worsens and he falls onto his knees. “H-help!”
I don’t have to turn around to be able to tell that his bodyguards are pulling out their guns. And I don’t have to turn around either to know that they will find their holsters empty. My Celestial guards performed splendidly and are proud of themselves. I’m proud of them. And for a second I think of them as my loyal subjects.
“Your Majesty, please!” the Prime Minister shouts, all panicky, and uses my official title. Probably in order not to antagonise us even more. “Don’t let it become an international incident that would ruin our diplomatic efforts!”
I face her and consciously calm down a bit. For a second, I felt angry at humans in general—like Emi does. I guess now I at least know what it feels like. I was furious that a person such as Bodin, who is clearly looking down on us, represents the EU. But Bauerova is honest. And she doesn’t feel any disgust when she looks at me. She’s not even really scared of me which is really brave and admirable. She’s just afraid of what this incident might entail. There’re humans on our side. I should never forget that.
“I don’t want him here, escort him out!” I order my guards who pull shivering Bodin up and are obviously happy to do so. “But gently, he’s still our guest,” I add to make sure he won’t be treated roughly. Bauerova is right, we can’t turn it into an incident that would jeopardise our work.
“What about her, Your Majesty?” Vermiel points towards Ortega.
I pierce my golden eyes into her. She looks away immediately, also shivering and scared, but she doesn’t despise us the way her colleague does. It even seems she managed to open up to Fefnir a bit which is quite hopeful.
“She can stay, we still need someone to represent the EU,” I allow and turn back to face Bodin. “Tell your superiors that we’re more than willing to cooperate but only on an equal footing. And now out!”
Bodin doesn’t struggle. In fact, he seems relieved to be as far away from me as possible. I realise that I’ve just made an enemy out of him but I don’t care at this point. I wouldn’t want someone like him as an ally anyway.
“Aefener, I support you completely but do you think you could do something about the temperature? I’m freezing and I have fur,” Emi pulls my sleeve.
“Right, sorry,” I sigh and stop leaking my mana.
It seems as if everyone can breathe freely again and the tense atmosphere lightens. I even open my mind to Erik again. I’m a bit afraid it won’t feel the same as before but it does. Thank God, it does. I might have lost the last shreds of my humanity just now but I’m not giving up on my human boyfriend. And not because I need him. Because I simply love him.
I’m sorry if I scared you, I send him a tender thought. And I’m sorry that I closed myself to you. But I have to stop kidding myself. I’m not human.
I know you’re not, he says slowly and I feel he’s quite shaken by what he’s just witnessed. But, thankfully, his feelings towards me weren’t affected.
We’ll talk about it later. Promise.
“I just hope Bodin won’t say you went berserk on him,” Liana bites her lips. “And that our abilities are out of control again.”
“Well, to be honest, he was being an ass even in my office,” Bauerova discloses. “He appeared yesterday, together with Ms Ortega, and had lots of demands.”
“On the contrary, I was in perfect control this time,” I say with a newly found confidence that surprises me. “Can we resume our meeting now?”
“You should actually eat something, hon,” Erik nudges me, regaining his composure. “You had hardly one vegetarian sushi roll.”
“True,” I don’t have to force a smile this time. I love how he dotes on me. I didn’t fully appreciate it before but I will from now on. And I’ll dote on him in return.
Everyone tries to continue with their small talk and act as if nothing happened. But I feel my friends are still shocked. I bet they didn’t expect something like this from me. Not even Emi who is mainly thrilled by how I dealt with that asshole. I try not to think about it and nibble some more sushi rolls. I lost quite a lot of mana with my little power demonstration.
“Try these as well, Katerina,” Liana invites the Prime Minister to our vegetarian table and points towards canapes with cheese spread.
“Excuse me then,” Bauerova stretches and puts a few canapes on her plate. She’s also careful not to touch my wings but compared to Bodin, she does so out of respect. Not because she’d be repulsed by touching a Celestial. Actually, it’s the opposite—she’s dying to caress our wings.
“You’ve never touched Celestial feathers before, Mrs Bauerova?” I ask softly, totally calm now. And maybe a bit high, actually. It just feels so good to be myself.
“W-what?” she flinches a bit. “Of course not. You hate it, don’t you? Why are you asking that?”
“You’re staring quite intensely at our wings, hard not to notice,” I say, even though the main reason is that I felt it from her, of course.
“I do? Damn,” the Prime Minister sighs. “Caught then. I hope I wasn’t being rude?”
“Not at all, it’s only natural,” Liana waves her hand. “And we actually love being petted. Just not by unknown people and without asking first. If you want, you can touch my wings. Better not touch our Emperor’s, the Royal Consort hates it,” Liana jokes and grins as Erik mischievously.
Erik shrugs, not denying the fact. And the atmosphere is brightened a bit more again. I hear Ms Ortega chatting with Fefnir about something and Emi surprisingly joins them. It seems the Clawfang Alpha slowly tries to open up to humans I approve of. I’m glad for that. Little steps.
“I won’t hold back then,” Bauerova quickly puts down her plate and touches Liana’s right wing.
When my Viceroy doesn’t protest, she thoroughly caresses her feathers while closely studying them. That sight warms my heart. This is how it should be. Curiosity and respect, not disgust and hate.
“Look, Ryuu,” Erik pokes me.
I glance at Ms Ortega who turned out to be brave enough to touch Fefnir’s scales. I can feel her fear diminishing as they keep chatting. She doesn’t seem that much affected by her colleague leaving. In fact, she’s feeling rather relieved. Was he being an ass to her as well?
We continue with our meeting and it flows much more smoothly than before our break. It’s evident having official meetings isn’t as effective as casual socialising. Ms Ortega is much less tense and more open to our arguments now and Bauerova is blatantly satisfied that she had a chance to caress Celestial wings.
“There obviously will be consequences to what happened with Bodin,” Ortega says. “My superiors won’t be happy that you refused to deal with him and probably will take the incident as aggression from your side.”
“Obviously,” Liana sighs. “But when you show them what we agreed on, they can’t say that we’re not willing to cooperate. I think we made some really good compromises today.”
“And I think so, too,” Ortega agrees. “I was sceptical before but now I understand why Draconians need the right to defend themselves with their abilities. The problem is that a lot of my superiors are similar to Bodin.”
“But they can’t dismiss our agreement, can they?” Emi points out. “Bodin aside, you’re their representative as well and Mrs Bauerova represents the Bohemian government. And you both agree.”
“Fortunately, they can’t really. They’re too afraid of riots, to be frank,” Ortega admits. “Draconians are scattered all over the planet and since your game was one of the most populated, every developed country now has a very powerful minority they simply can’t ignore.”
“Riiight,” Emi is pleased by the fact.
“But they’ll remember it,” Ortega warns us. “It’s not diplomatic to expel officials like that. And Bodin’s position was quite high despite his age. He’ll make formal complaints.”
“We’ll remember it as well,” Liana clicks her tongue.
The meeting is adjourned after that. We seal what we agreed on with our digital signatures and Ms Ortega leaves with our first official diplomatic agreement. Liana wants to invite Bauerova for late lunch but the Prime Minister excuses herself, stating she can’t be seen too informally friendly with us since the public might think she became biased. Fair enough.
“Are you okay, Ryuu?” Erik is worried. “I’m sorry if I made you feel awkward during that conversation with Bodin.”
I feel perfectly calm now. But still not human. And I never will feel that way ever again, I just know it. I can still relate to Erik’s human emotions and thinking processes but only to make me understand how he sees things. He’s still my bridge. Only now I’m not walking over that bridge anymore. I’m using a telescope to see the other side.
“I’m fine, you were just trying to help me out with some small talk,” I assure him that I’m not mad. I was a bit pissed at that moment but not anymore.
“Eat your potatoes then,” he nudges me.
“Would you like some more salad, Your Majesty?” an Earthborn waiter comes to check up on me.
“I’m full,” I shake my head and force the last piece of baked potatoes into my mouth. “Ingri, is the incident out yet?” I ask our future secretary because she’s staring into her phone, frowning.
“It doesn’t seem so,” she says pensively, chewing vegan falafel balls.
“Bodin won’t boast about such a thing and our guards are under confidentiality contract,” Liana says while ordering a second helping.
“Another steak, please,” Fefnir puts up his hand.
“It’s your third already, you glutton,” Emi rolls her eyes.
“So what, I’m a growing Dragonkin,” he’s not ashamed by his appetite.
“If only Ryuu ate as much,” Erik sighs.
“Hey, I’m doing my best,” I proudly show him an empty plate.
“Yeah, your first and last one,” Erik shakes his head with a resigned sigh.
“Maybe Aefener has anorexia,” Ingri mutters without looking up from the screen. Only a second later she realises what she’s just said.
“I certainly do not!” I oppose her accusation and glasses on the table start shaking.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking really,” Ingri apologises and looks at trembling glasses. “But why does it make you anxious if it’s simply not true?”
“I… ehm…,” she caught me off-guard. My Celestial nature might have fully awakened but it doesn’t mean that it miraculously dealt with my mental issues.
“Ryuu?” Erik caresses my left wing. “You’ve had problems with eating ever since I’ve known you. Do you finally feel like talking about it?”
“It’s not anorexia,” I purse my lips. “I spoke with Julia, she was bugging me about it until I gave in. And she eventually confirmed that I’m not anorectic. Even though, admittedly, I might be a bit anorexia-inclined in stressful situations.”
“Which is it then?” Liana urges me. “Sorry, Aefener, but the health of the Celestial Emperor is our concern as well. We should know.”
I carefully look around but the restaurant is quite noisy, no waiters are nearby and our guards are keeping everyone at safe distance. Even Clawfangs with their keen hearing.
“Julia has a theory that it’s connected to my telepathy,” I lower my voice just in case. “Remember how she was telling you that my transformation progresses differently probably because I didn’t change from a purely human base? Well, she also said that the mutation responsible for my telepathy might have messed up some other things. Like my digestion.”
“So you literally can’t eat more?” Ingri summarises.
“Nope, unless I want to upset my stomach,” I say. “And I’m already eating much more than before, actually. I could have never finished a soup, a main dish and a dessert in one sitting. I can now and it’s a big achievement for me.”
“So you still have some room for a dessert,” Erik pokes me playfully.
“That’s different,” I poke him back. “I can’t explain it properly but I just somehow feel that sugar is instant energy for my mana circuit. I’ll probably digest that cake in half an hour.”
“There you go then,” he moves the dessert plate and puts it in front of me.
“And how are you feeling overall?” Liana pushes another question when I dig into my chocolate mousse. “I mean mentally. You quite insisted on your humanity before.”
“Surprisingly normal,” I say truthfully. “I was afraid to let my Celestial nature take control but I feel basically the same. Sure, I do react differently now and some things I see from a new perspective I guess but I feel like… well… me.”
“Do you still want to see that psychologist then?” Ingri asks. “I made you an appointment for tomorrow after lunch.”
“I do,” I say firmly. “I want to talk about… other issues.”
I look at my boyfriend and he nods reassuringly. I promised that I would work on myself and I mean to fulfil that promise. But I’m not doing it for him. I’m doing it for me. I feel nervous about tomorrow’s therapy but at the same time I’m strangely excited.
We work for three more hours after lunch and I’m getting progressively more nervous. I eye Erik every few minutes and sometimes he catches me and smiles. But I can tell that he’s uneasy. Nothing eludes a telepath. I don’t feel his love for me wavering but seeing me in full Celestial wrath mode shocked him. I guess he was still considering me human from the inside.
We’ll finally have that super important conversation today but not only about our mutual telepathic addition. I have to make sure how he’s copying with my Celestial-ness if I can call it like that. And how he really feels about being almost the only human among so many Draconians.
“Ryuu,” he catches me staring at him again and kicks me under the table. “Finish your work already so that we can call it a day.”
“Oi!” I let out because a kitten suddenly lands on my lap. It’s pure white except for black dots around its spine.
Liana was benevolent enough to allow Emi bring her new pets into the office when the meeting ended. They’re mostly all over the Clawfang Alpha but sometimes they go exploring and this time one critter ended up on me.
“Why didn’t I think of that sooner!” Emi exclaims out of the blue and looks at me with a wild expression on her face. “Do you feel emotions also from animals?”
“Sure,” I nod and pet the kitten. “This one is really happy.”
“How is it?” Emi is mega curious. “Is it different?”
“A lot different,” I nod. “Their emotions are strong but not as complex. They can usually feel only one emotion at the time.”
“Can you connect to them?” she asks eagerly.
“Not really,” I have to disappoint her. “Animal minds aren’t as conscious as ours. I could probably calm an animal by sending it comforting feelings but that’s about it. I think your scents work much better on animals.”
“You know, let’s call it a day,” Liana surprises us by resolutely switching off her computer. “I can hardly keep my eyes open, you’re not paying attention anyway and Ingri is sleeping already.”
“Right, she is,” Fefnir pokes Ingri who fell asleep over an opened textbook. For a moment it looks like he’s about to wake her up but then he flexes his muscles and takes the sleeping Earthborn girl into his arms. “Good night, guys.”
“Good night, Fefnir,” Liana stands up, stretches and yawns.
“You can finish it tomorrow,” Erik puts my computer into the sleep mode for me because he suspects why I’m stalling—I’m afraid of our upcoming conversation. But it must happen. I know it must.
“Let’s goooo, little ones,” Emi sings and seizes the kittens in shorter time that I’d ever think possible considering they’re all over the room. But it’s as if she calls them with her scent and they obediently come. Clawfangs might not have magic but their abilities are no less amazing.
“I’m okay with your mental change,” Erik blurts the moment the sound-proof door of our apartment closes behind us. “You’ve been worrying that it scared me, right? Well, it didn’t. I wasn’t afraid of you at that time, just surprised by the sudden change.”
“Celestial wrath,” I say slowly and manoeuvre him into the living room. “A character flaw my race shares.”
“I finally get it when you were telling me that Celestials are the least peaceful race,” he tries to joke and we sit on the sofa. “I couldn’t quite imagine it before but at that moment you were much more intimidating than Fefnir.”
“And I also told you that the Dragonkin are actually the most peaceful race,” I remind him, spread my wings and hug him with them. “Despite their formidable appearance. And despite our innocent visage.”
“Right,” he scratches my left wing and enjoys being enwrapped by me. “So Celestials are really war-like? But you’re so pretty. Beautiful angels.”
“Looks can be deceiving.”
“Don’t tell me you feel like conquering, my cutie,” he laughs and scratches my other wing. “I wouldn’t believe you. You’re one of the kindest people I know.”
“So let’s hope I stay that way,” I say. “And that I can persuade other Celestials.”
“All Draconians are still basically just ex-gamers, right?” he says, hopeful.
“Which is potentially even worse,” I ponder. “Imagine millions of people dreaming about coming into powers… and then they actually do.”
“I… didn’t think about it like that,” he admits.
“Take my new Celestials guards, for instance,” I pinpoint. “They don’t have any real training but they were able to disarm Bodin’s bodyguards easily. And they felt good about it. Really good. Powerful. Invincible.”
“Damn, Ryuu,” Erik clicks his tongue.
“And I’m the same as them,” I whisper. “I’m Celestial… inside out.”
“I know that,” he nods.
“Do you really?” I sigh. “When I was connecting to you before, I think I have been subconsciously mirroring your humanity.”
“Well, I’m not the telepath here but you never felt exactly human even before the transformation,” Erik says slowly.
“W-what?” I blink, not sure what he means by it.
“That day when you connected to me fully for the first time and told me your secret,” he reminiscences. “I knew right away that you’re not quite human. Your consciousness just felt different. But I fell for you nonetheless.”
I’m overcome with joy—what a confession, especially for a non-human. I hug him tighter, my feathers all over him. I’m surprised to catch a hint of worry. Uncertainty.
“W-what is it?” I want to release the feathered cocoon to give him some space but he doesn’t let me.
“There is one thing I’m afraid of, though,” he doesn’t feel easy telling me but he does anyway. I love his directness. I don’t want to dig it out of his mind so I wait for him to say it.
“I’m afraid,” he takes a deep breath, “that one day you’ll want to be with another Celestial.”
I open my mouth, absolutely astonished, and forget to close it.
“I’m afraid,” he continues before I can think of any response, “that the day will come when I won’t be enough for you. That I’ll be… only human.”
I have no idea how to answer him so I climb onto his lap instead and pull my wings even closer. I kiss him and put into that kiss all love I have for him. And also my own uncertainty. If he’s afraid that I will prefer a Celestial in future, then I’m afraid that he’ll leave me for a human. I really am. What if he gets tired of me eventually? It must be draining to be dating both a telepath and the Celestial Emperor.
“Honestly, why are we like this?” he bursts laughing the moment I release his lips to take a breath. “We’re madly in love with each other but still full of worries. Are we stupid or what?”
“Probably,” I smile faintly but there’s once more concern we have to clear. “But it might be that my telepathy is affecting you.”
“What, can you make people love you?” he raises his eyebrows.
“Of course not,” I shake my head violently. “But my telepathy might be a double-edged weapon. You realise that I’m a telepath addict, right?”
“Yep, addicted to me,” he says proudly.
“I say double-edged,” I poke him. “My telepathy might make you addicted to me whether you want it or not.”
“I’m your zombie in love then,” he chuckles.
“I’m serious, Erik,” I poke him harder. “I might be influencing you without you knowing.”
“If you’re referring to my free will, I assure you that I still have mine,” he’s pretty confident about it. “And don’t forget that I loved you before your telepathy levelled up. I just became clingier because you finally let me. If your Celestial character flaw is wrath and desire for conquest, then mine is possessiveness.”
I have to smile, this time sincerely. I keep examining his feelings and thinking processes and I must come to a conclusion that he’s not under my spell after all. I probably do influence him to a certain level of basic desire and longing but if he can retain his free will, it should be okay.
“Besides, I’m the dominant one in bed so there’s no way you’re controlling me,” he smirks, takes me into his arms and stands up. “Who would ever guess that the Celestial Emperor is a total bottom, right?”
“Oh, shut up,” I blush and let him carry me to the bedroom.
I’m a Celestial… inside out. I know it now. But I don’t feel like conquering anything right now. Instead, Erik gently puts me into our bed and I allow him to conquer me. There’s something comforting in surrendering to him. Now more than ever because out there, I have to be a leader.
Erik’s words resonate within me and give me hope: You’re the kindest person I know. How could I be anything else when I literally know what other people feel? Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m the Celestial Emperor after all. Because I won’t allow my race to succumb to their character flaw. I’m Celestial but also an empath. And that can become my strength.
A shiver goes down my spine and spreads into my wings—Erik is kissing my feathers. He’s becoming devilishly good at pleasuring my new body.
“Ah,” I moan when he prepares me enough to enter me.
I connect to his mind fully but I don’t get lost this time. My mind doesn’t absorb his human mind in the same insatiable way as before. Because I’m at peace with myself so I don’t need it anymore. Erik is still my bridge to understand humanity but I don’t have to cross it. There’s no need to because it doesn’t have to mean separation. We can be different and still in love and understanding towards one another.
I don’t wreck our apartment when I climax. I still naturally leak some mana and create air currents but I have it completely under control. Erik’s eyes close and he falls asleep before me. I touch his forehead with mine, hug him with my wing and my eyes close, too. And this time I’m dreaming only about Celestial things. Vastness of the blue sky, the wind and the horizon that stretches infinitely.
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