I feel… numb.
Sore all over.
My right wing is hurting as if thousands of needles are piercing into the wound and it’s maddening. My mana is leaking through the injury, making me dizzy. I try stopping it but it’s no use. I can’t focus. I can hardly lift a finger.
According to the lore, our mana circuit is most complex in the spine and wings. Other races would probably guess it’s our hands because most casters prefer to hold their palms stretched out and make a transfiguration symbol right in front. But that’s totally unnecessary. It’s not our hands, those are actually not important at all during spellcasting. It’s our wings. Mana gets out of our body through them when we channel.
And right now that most important part of my body is injured. Not only it hurts like hell since Celestial wings are unbelievably sensitive, I can feel that it also disrupts mana energies in my whole body. If I tried to cast, I’d probably make it only worse. Not that I’d be able to cast anything in my current state.
I feel that some of my ribs are broken and it makes breathing difficult but they don’t bother me that much really. All I can think about are my feathered limbs. Just how important are wings to Celestials? Are we really going to die instantly if the injury is too severe? It’s not just a penalty like it was ingame. It’s a literal game over here in real life. Even if our heart is still beating and all organs stay intact, we would just die. And considering how huge our wings are… they’re a pretty easy target to hit.
“YOU SHOULD HAVE NEVER LET HIM GO THERE!”
Oh, it’s Liana. How nice to hear her voice, even when she’s raging. I focus on shallow breathing and snuggle under the blanket. It’s heated, how nice. Let’s just listen for now, I’m too tired for anything else anyway.
“Everything was happening too fast, Your Excellency,” Vermiel isn’t opposing, only feebly explaining. “It was pure chaos and then suddenly our Emperor is floating in the air. We were shocked, too. Nobody expected His Majesty would be able to fly so soon.”
“I was shielding Aefener with my own body the whole time but nothing could prepare us for him trying to fly,” Fefnir supports poor Vermiel.
“YOU-SHOULD-HAVE-NEVER-LET-HIM-GO-THERE-IN-THE-FIRST-PLACE!” Liana is dramatically pausing after every single word. “You were supposed to protect him, Vermiel, not let him lead a damn SWAT team! We can’t lose our Emperor! He’s irreplaceable, for fuck’s sake!”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Vermiel loses it. “But you weren’t there, Viceroy! If it wasn’t for His Majesty, we wouldn’t even be here right now.”
With Liana finally calming down, the room grows silent which means that everyone hears my quiet whine when I try to move.
“Is he awake?” Liana gets startled. “You told us he’ll be sleeping for at least ten hours straight.”
“Shouldn’t be so soon,” Julia is astonished. Of course, I must be in her infirmary, where else. “But that sedative is made for humans so it’s apparently not as effective for Draconians.”
Liana jumps to me and clutches my hand. I connect to her immediately. I’m too weak to resist right now. She was expecting it so she doesn’t flinch and lets me in. Oh, what comfort. What familiarity. I love her Celestial mind. I love her. I’m glad I could save her. Save everyone.
“Aefener, you silly, why did you do such a dangerous thing?” she berates me but her mind is overflowing with kindness.
I want to reply something but Julia flashes an injection above my arm and the world goes dark again.
This time I must have been sleeping properly because I feel tiny bit better. I yawn and I’m not even fully awakened yet when someone’s arms carefully pull me up and there’s suddenly a bottle under my lips. With anyone else I’d probably struggle as I don’t feel like eating anything but there’s one person I’d never resist—Erik.
Before I even get the chance to pronounce his name, the bottle is shoved into my mouth and I have to gulp one of Julia’s protein drinks. This one tastes like chocolate. Okay, I can deal with that. Erik is very patient with me, I can take my time, but he insists I have to finish it whole.
Ryuu, you stupid… I love you… I hate you! He keeps repeating in his mind while he’s feeding me, showering me with his concerned affection.
I finally finish every last drop and slowly open my eyes. Erik kisses me on my forehead and gently puts me down on my left side. Still feeling quite numb, I’m trying to recall what exactly happened before I lost consciousness but my memory is a bit hazy. We did win, didn’t we?
“Erik, m-my wing…?” I whisper, almost afraid to ask. I’m too weak to even turn my head. “There was b-blood?”
“You got shot close to the bone,” Erik’s expression is so tender and painful at the same time. “The bone is intact, thank God, but the bullet hit your wing muscle. Julia had to stitch you and you lost some feathers. As for your ribs—three are broken. Don’t excite yourself or it’ll hurt more.”
“I need to see it!”
Erik sighs but he takes a photo with his phone and shows me the injured part. It’s not as bad as it feels, presumably because it’s covered in bandages right now. Except for the pain, I can feel a strange sensation of being totally bare there. Wait, did Julia pluck my feathers that were in the way?!
“Well, she had to,” Erik answers my unspoken question. “Most of them were too damaged anyway and it seems new ones will regrow only if they have space.”
“I’m really sorry, Your Majesty, but it had to be done,” Julia apologises, standing just a few inches away from my wings. “I couldn’t operate on you with those obstructing me and as your partner said, they were too damaged anyway. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get new feathers in no time!”
“Ohh, that’s so… embarrassing,” I whine.
For some reason, I feel really ashamed that a part of my wing is without feathers and my skin exposed. I’m not a particularly shy person when it comes to nudity so I’m twice as surprised about it.
“Is that what worries you the most? Really?” Erik rolls his eyes but he’s happy that I’m obviously better if I have space to worry about unimportant stuff.
“A Celestial quirk?” Julia guesses. “Celestials are so proud of their wings I wouldn’t be surprised that it’s embarrassing for them.”
I feel an enormous wave of worries coming from the chair in the corner. I manage to move my head a little and Liana gets into my field of vision. And she looks dreadful. She has bags under her eyes, her haircut is messy and, overall, she’s just dead exhausted. She’s holding her majestic black wings only partly folded as if it’s too tiring for her.
“Thanks for your positive attitude, Julia,” my Viceroy says wearily, “especially when you did something you don’t even have an expertise for and you managed so admirably. Not every GP would be able to take out a bullet and stitch a person. A generous bonus to your salary is in order.”
“Well,” Julia blushes, “I wouldn’t dare to take out a bullet if it hit an organ but that one was shallow. Plucking His Majesty’s feathers was actually worse. They hold so extremely firmly that I had to use pliers.”
A shiver goes down my spine upon that mention. Pliers?! Never ever such a disgusting thing comes close to my wings again!
“Right, because we don’t lose them naturally the way birds do,” Liana nods. “Ours are being restored by mana over time unless they’re damaged too much.”
“Ohh!” the last scene before I lost consciousness is finally coming back to me vividly now that I’ve relaxed a bit. “W-what happened after I was shot? Did you manage to help everyone who was injured? Where are they anyway? Why am I the only one in the infirmary?”
The atmosphere goes dark in an instant. Julia averts her gaze entirely, Erik trembles just being reminded of that while Liana’s rage gets reignited. At first, they probably consider not telling me right away in order not to excite me unnecessarily but they know I can feel their turbulent emotions anyway.
“Three of our people are dead, Aefener,” Liana whispers and her hands form into fists. “Four more had to be transported into hospital, their injuries were too severe. We were thinking about transporting you as well but it would be too risky considering your special condition and status. Luckily, Julia managed somehow.”
I hold my breath, my eyes water and million things go through my head at once. What did I do wrong? Did we startle the intruders? Would it be better if I went alone? Was my magic not good enough? Not fast enough? Not effective enough? I wasn’t able to… I couldn’t…
“DON’T!” Erik clutches my hand so tight that it almost hurts. “You protected everyone, Ryuu, how can you feel guilty?”
“He feels guilty?!” Liana jumps from her chair but she lands back right away with a moan. She’s too weak to stand up on her own, being in the middle of her growth spur.
Tears are pouring down my face like rivers at this point. Dead… four Draconians are dead and I could have prevented it… I could have saved them… done something…
“THOSE BASTARDS WANTED TO PLANT A FUCKING BOMB, AEFENER!” Liana is both extremely rageful and sad at the same time. “IF IT WASN’T FOR YOU, WE’D ALL BE DEAD BY NOW!”
I kind of suspected a bomb. The way the intruders were confident—I pretty much guessed their goal was to get in, plant a bomb or sabotage something and flee. Still, I can’t help feeling miserable that I couldn’t save everyone.
“Don’t, just don’t!” Erik dries my tears with his shirt and hugs me. He lets me stay in his comforting arms until I calm down a bit.
“And the intruders? Have you interrogated them yet?” I ask faintly. “Who are they? Why…?”
“The one that survived we handed over to Europol for questioning,” Liana says. “We don’t have the means to keep such a dangerous criminal here and we can’t burden you with another telepathic interrogation. Nothing from the EU so far.”
I freeze and my breathing gets wild again.
“W-what d-do you m-mean the one t-that s-survived?” I gasp for breath even though I know the answer. All the details are coming to me now. All those horrid things I did. I didn’t just render the intruders unconscious as I originally wanted… I…
“Aefener, you killed four of them and Fefnir took care of the last one,” Liana summarises in a tone indicating there’s nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, she feels proud of me.
“Li, not helping!” Erik scolds her for being too Celestials about it because he feels that I’m developing a panic attack.
But it’s too late. I start trembling uncontrollably which makes the pain in my right wing only worse. My heart suddenly feels too tight and it’s suffocating. I’M A MURDERER?! And the worst thing about it is that in that moment I felt powerful. I felt good. Superior. Maybe humans were right all along. Maybe we are monsters. And if that’s true, I’m the biggest monsters of us all!
Erik is doing his best to calm me down but I close my mind do him completely. I don’t deserve him. And he doesn’t deserve to have a monster for a partner. My mana starts leaking out, reacting to my distorted mental state just as the psychologist predicted. I depleted most of it during the battle but it’s enough to make all objects in the room shake.
As the mana leaks out through my feathers, it damages the stitches on my right wing. I scream in pain because I start bleeding again but I can’t stop my mana from pouring out. I’m a murderer. A murderer… a monster… What a joke. I was a freak from the beginning. How could I start thinking otherwise?
Something breaks… something else falls on the ground and shatters. Julia is screaming, Liana probably tries to hold things with her own telekinesis and Erik keeps shouting my name but I push him away with a telekinetic wave. Then four Celestial guards burst into the infirmary and finally manage to get to me. A feel a sting in my arm and my consciousness fades.
I wake up in our comfy round bed, snuggled under two blankets. Maybe it was all just a dream? I try moving and the pain in my right wing reminds me that it wasn’t a dream. Everything really happened.
Erik is lying next to me, hugging me tight and petting me gently between my wings. He’s worried sick about me. And he still loves me, however unbelievably that sounds.
“Please, open your mind to me again,” he kisses me on my forehead.
I slowly open my eyes instead but close them again quickly. The world is spinning. I feel dizzy.
“Julia had you sedated with some strong meds,” Erik says slowly. “Sorry, but we had to, your telekinesis went crazy, reacting to your panic attack. She said you’ll probably feel weird for a couple of hours but it should keep you calm. I insisted we carry you here. You feel much better at home, right?”
Home. I’m supposed to take for home an apartment which was forced upon me by circumstances. But if Erik is here with me, I guess it passes.
I start thinking about the battle again. Those people I mercilessly killed even though they were bad guys. But my body doesn’t release any stress hormones this time. Whatever Julia gave me must be a hellishly strong drug if it’s able to numb my emotions like that. I hate that feeling of not being in control—the feeling of some chemicals dulling me. But I guess I need it right now.
I realise we’re not alone in the room. Miruel and one other guard stand by the door from the inside and the door is open. Are they protecting me or are they afraid I might start wreaking chaos again? Which is it?
“Is he awake?! Oh, Aefener!”
I reluctantly open my eyes again and I’m astonished that it’s Emi who appears in the door. She’s the last person I’d expect here and now. She jumps to our bed and if Erik wasn’t with me, she would definitely go for a crushing hug.
“I feel so bad that I wasn’t here when you needed me the most,” she’s angry with herself and her foxy tails is waggling wildly. “I could have helped a lot. I could have made a difference!”
“It’s not your fault,” I say faintly.
“No,” she admits and looks at me sternly. “So why do you think it’s yours?”
Oh. Now that I’m finally calm… I guess that makes sense.
“And I would have done the same—killing those bastards! Actually, I regret I didn’t get that chance,” she pushes her claws into the mattress and Erik has to slap her hands so that she doesn’t rip our nice bedsheets. Scratching things when she’s nervous seems to be a bad habit of hers.
“You were too merciful, Aefener,” her animal eyes are gazing at me intensely. “You gave them a quick clean death. I’d be much messier.”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Supreme Alpha, but His Majesty has to eat. Now,” Luviael appears in the door short after Emi with a tray in her hands.
The way she’s looking at me… she knows. There’s no suspicion in her mind, she knows everything. Liana or someone else must have told her. At first, I worry she’s afraid of me now. Or maybe offended that I didn’t tell her sooner when she’s supposed to be my adjutant. But I don’t perceive anything like that from her. She’s looking at me kindly and a bit timidly.
“Luvi, I…,” I try to say something but I let out a cough which irritates my broken ribs.
“No excitement whatsoever, Ryuu,” Erik reminds me patiently.
“That’s okay, Your Majesty, I understand. I really do,” Luvi manages a sincere smile and puts the tray on the bedside table.
It looks like she wants to leave right away to give us some privacy but she reconsiders and turns to me. Then she kneels down, gently takes my hand and… kisses it?! W-why? Her emotions hit me with full force. Love. Gratitude. Absolute trust. Admiration.
“We just want to thank you, Your Majesty, for saving our lives,” Luviael says tenderly.
“Who’s we?” I don’t understand. There’s so much going on in her head right now that it’s hard to pinpoint one specific information.
“Well, everyone in the skyscraper, of course,” she laughs, amused by my ignorance. “If Her Excellency didn’t forbid anyone unauthorized to enter this floor, you’d be flooded with gifts and people taking turns thanking you.”
“Ohh,” I blush and the tight feeling around my heart gets lifted a bit. I killed people but I also saved a lot. I know that. I’d probably do it again but that doesn’t make it any easier. The guilt. The fact that I’m a murd-…
“No!” Luviael gets startled. “Don’t you ever think that!”
Damn, did I accidentally send her that? I’m too weak to control myself properly.
“Nobody thinks that, not even humans,” she says adamantly. “It’s true that you look formidable in that video and some percentage of humans are even more scared now but everybody understands that you didn’t have a choice. It was self-defence.”
Oh, so someone was shooting it and the video leaked out. Obviously. Why wouldn’t it. If there’s something modern society isn’t good at, it’s keeping things to ourselves. I bet more than one person started recording the moment I showed up in the dining hall. And I bet at least one of them put it on live stream because, again, why not.
“Aefener,” Emi speaks up again. “How do you suppose regular security would have handled the situation? They’d certainly be forced to shoot and there’s no saying how efficient they would be with all those innocent people in the way. We’d have many more casualties than just four.”
I nod slightly. Still not fully convinced but willing to be convinced. All those horrible things I think about myself… I have to keep repeating that they aren’t true. I should never believe anything my overthinking mind comes up with during panic attacks. I’m no monster. I did it to save my people and even humans for that matter.
“And you flew… you really did!” Luvi tries to cheer me up. “It wasn’t just your wings, wasn’t it? They’re huge but they still have to grow a bit more. How did you do it?”
“Levitation and some air magic,” I reveal. “Very mana demanding, probably not worth it any other time than in crisis.”
“Mana demanding!” Luvi slaps her forehead. “I’m talking to you and forgot about your lunch! That human doctor told us you absolutely HAVE TO EAT! Mana equals calories and you lost a ton of mana.”
“Right, up you go,” Erik pulls me onto his lap and Emi helps him to reposition my wings so that the right one doesn’t hurt that much.
I’m expecting some healthy food Julia ordered but I’m pleasantly surprised to find a cheese pizza under the lid. Erik smirks when he notices I’m actually excited for food and stuffs the first piece into my mouth. I ravenously eat it whole, admittedly feeling better, and fall asleep in his arms.
“So… how angry are you with me?”
These are my first words when I wake up and find that the door is closed and we’re actually alone. I guess they finally assessed that I won’t do anything funny or have another panic attack that could shatter the building.
“Well,” Erik is sitting next to me, working on his laptop and pretending that he’s so angry he won’t even look at me.
“Eriiiik,” I prolong and nudge him.
“I’ll tell you if you open up to me again,” he states his requirement and puts the laptop away. Then he stares at me, scornfully.
“I… I can’t… my mind is ugly,” now it’s me who looks away.
“Not, it’s not,” he clicks his tongue impatiently and lies down next to me. “What part of ‘you’re the hero who saved everyone’ didn’t get into your thick skull?”
“The whole part I guess,” I mumble, embarrassed. I’m no hero. Heroes don’t kill even villains, they bring them to justice.
“Ryuu,” Erik whispers into my ear, puts his hand between my wings and starts rubbing.
I moan, stop guarding myself and connect to him. It’s automatic at this point, Erik conditioned me to react in this way when we cuddle.
My silly angel, your mind is just as beautiful as before, he pushes his love into me. You saved everyone in the skyscraper and as a result you feel bad? What the heck?
B-but what if I’m gradually turning into some angel of wrath? I worry. Erik, it felt good. I felt powerful.
Are you still under the impression that I don’t know what Celestials are? he shakes his head. I might tease you with that name but I know quite well by now that you’re no angels. But you’re no demons either.
O-okay… so… how angry are you with me? Please, answer me properly, I don’t want to dig in your mind.
“Very, very angry,” he says aloud and grips the feathers between my wings a little bit too forcefully. “So angry that if you weren’t injured and unable to move right now, I’d punish you severely. But I can wait.”
His tone is menacing but his desire betrays him.
“So… basically… when I recover,” I’m trying to summarise it, “you’ll fuck me senseless?”
“Basically,” he smirks. “I looked up some new positions I’d like to try with you to see if they’re possible with Celestials. Call it research.”
“Ohhh,” I turn red and chuckle. When did he become so sexually adventurous?
“Perfect, I’ve finally made you laugh,” he grins, content. “Now for the serious part. I am angry. I’m angry that you left me behind like some deadweight.”
“S-sorry about that,” I bury my head under his chin. “I just wanted to protect you.”
“And don’t you think that I want to protect you as well?” he pinches me lightly under my feathers. “I was locked here for five hours, dammit. Luviael was deaf to my pleas, claiming she was under strict orders from you.”
“She was,” I confirm. “Please, don’t be mad at her.”
“And when Liana finally let me out,” he continues, “you were already after the operation. You were lying there, breathing so shallow and looking so vulnerable. How was I supposed to feel? You left me in order to protect me and then it’s you who gets hurt. Of course, I’m angry.”
“Soouurryy,” I mumble into his chest.
“You know,” he sighs and plays with my hair. “For someone who doesn’t want to become the Emperor you surely have a bad habit of taking all the responsibility on your frail shoulders.”
He makes me think for a moment. Do I really? I guess… I kind of feel responsible for everyone in the skyscraper. Not only Celestials. Everyone. Do Emi, Deminas, Twyla and Werden also feel that way? Is it something we can’t escape as race rulers?
“To be honest, I think others consider only their own race,” Erik answers, reading my thoughts I no longer hide from him. “I suspect you’re different because you’re a telepath so you can’t avoid having compassion with everybody. Therefore, I presume,” he says rather formally, “it’s virtually impossible for you to become an angel of wrath or whatever catastrophic scenarios are going through your pretty head.”
“But I killed those people…,” I oppose.
“You did it to protect,” Erik smells my hair and showers me with kisses. “You didn’t have a choice. You’re afraid because you felt powerful and good while doing so but that’s your Celestial warriorlike nature. You’d never hurt the innocent, right?”
“Of course not,” I shake my head violently. “Even for the conquest-hungry Celestials, there’s no glory in that. On the contrary, it’s shameful.”
“You have your answer then,” he concludes the topic and our lips connect.
We cuddle for a few minutes but there’s not much we can actually do when my ribs are still broken and I can hardly sit up without my head spinning. Because it’s almost midnight anyway, we decide to call it a night. Erik didn’t sleep much and I can sleep anytime now that I’m recovering.
“Julia left you this, I was supposed to force it down your throat when you wake up,” Erik remembers and takes a bottle of another protein drink from the bedside table.
“Can’t we just say I drank it?” I plead. “It’s not that bad but I can’t stand it anymore, she’s been feeding it to me nonstop.”
“And flush it down the toilet? I don’t think so,” Erik narrows his eyes and is watching sternly that I’m swallowing. “Julia says that your wings didn’t stop growing just because you’re injured. You need energy for both your wings and healing now. You probably lost some weight again, skinny.”
He’s right, I probably did. Maybe I feel so weak for that exact reason. At first, players transforming into Celestials were losing weight rapidly. Our bodies needed to develop hollow bones and get rid of excessive fat that would obstruct future flight. But at later stages that should stop and we’re supposed to regain some weight as our wings are growing bigger and bigger. Putting on weight part avoided me entirely, though.
“Let me just brush my teeth, okay?” Erik tells me when he carefully lies me down on my left side after I finish the bottle. He puts a blanket on me as I can’t use my wings. “I’ll bring you a container with water in a sec.”
“Sure, sure,” I yawn, hoping I won’t fall asleep before he returns so that I can finally brush my teeth as well. I haven’t done so since my injury, yuck.
“I guess it’s a break for us for now. I hope they won’t force me to go to work,” he says from the bathroom over the sound of running water.
“I surely hope so, too. I would go crazy without you when I can hardly move,” I shout back at him.
Suddenly, Erik appears in the door, his expression bewildered and eyes widened, the toothbrush still in his mouth. He starts choking on it and runs off quickly to spit the toothpaste.
“Hm? You’re that afraid Liana would let me stay here just with the guards and send you to work without me?” I don’t understand his reaction.
Erik reappears in the door, his expression just as wild as a few seconds ago.
“Ryuu,” he looks at me with alarm in his eyes. “I didn’t say anything. At least not aloud.”
Please log in to leave a comment.