“Is it because of me?” my heart skips a beat.
“Because of those humans who attacked you,” Liana corrects me and clutches my hand. She wants to send me comfort but it’s no use. I’m too anxious.
“B-but if I didn’t run away…”
“Stop victim blaming,” she gets angry but not at me—at those humans who made me feel this way. “You’re too kind for your own sake.”
I can’t help it. I do feel responsible. If I just could control myself back there and didn’t fly away, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place. How can it not be my fault?
“Don’t, just don’t,” Erik pushes me gently into the elevator where he goes for a comforting hug. Liana and Vermiel get in with us while Ingri and Fefnir have to take another one because Celestials take too much space.
Erik is trying to send me some positivity but even he can’t muster much in such a situation. Civil war. The conflict we were so desperately trying to prevent from the very beginning. I want to believe that it’s not my fault but I was the trigger, no doubt about that.
“We might still do something about it,” Erik kisses me into my hair and starts to caress my wings that are trembling. Liana touches my wings as well and joins Erik in petting me.
“How was it? Flying I mean,” she asks in an attempt to distract me but she’s also genuinely curious. Naturally, Vermiel is dying to know as well.
“To describe it as amazing isn’t doing it any justice,” I say weakly, gobbling Erik’s generous love.
“I thought we’d have to train first,” Vermiel ponders.
“It’s pure instinct,” I answer, grateful they’re forcing me to talk so that I’m not focusing on self-blaming. “Some might be better at it than others in the beginning but I think every Celestial should be able to fly right away. We’ll have to train our wing muscles and overall stamina, though.”
“At least some good news,” Liana tries to smile and notices that I’m massaging my temples. “A migraine?”
“I’ve faced too many humans,” I say tiredly. “It should get better, the skyscraper is mostly Draconian.”
“You should rest,” Liana chews her lip.
“But I can’t, can I?” I sigh. “Not with civil war erupting while I might be the only one who can stop it.”
We get off and the first thing that catches my attention is even more guards patrolling the floor and watching over us. Vermiel is following me like a shadow, paranoid I might fly away again and feeling responsible because it happened during his watch.
I quickly tell Erik to stop petting me because I have to look confident in front of my people. They need to see a strong leader, not someone who’s barely recovered from a panic attack. I’m not good at pretending, never been, but Draconians need hope more than anything now. My smile is cringy but at least I somehow manage not to look half-crying.
“His Majesty is back!”
“Is he okay? That video was terrifying!”
“Only monsters could rip his feathers like that!”
The corridor is full of people who work on this floor and who left their offices to greet me. I’m assuring them that I’m fine when I pass them and I realise that I really enjoy being surrounded by Draconians again. I’ve come to love feeling Draconian minds all around me and I needed its absence to fully appreciate it. Did I gradually become addicted to the ambience of Draconian emotions? What if it becomes a problem in future?
“Ehm, sorry about that window,” I apologise because we have to move to a different office since I broke the glass in Liana’s.
“Should be fixed by tomorrow,” my Viceroy waves her hand and leads us to the conference room next to it.
Luviael is already sitting there and the table is covered with laptops and various documents that were moved from the main office. The EU delegates Miss Ortega and Dubois are also present. They look and feel the same—scared and tense. Not even Dubois, who is undoubtedly a jerk, wishes for civil war.
“Your Majesty!” Luvi stands up quickly.
She’s teary but otherwise relieved that I returned safe. She wants to bow or something stupid like that but I don’t let her and go for a hug. I think Erik’s habit is rubbing off on me. Besides, I find that I really like hugging someone I consider my friend and who also knows about my telepathy so I can truly relax around them.
“You scared us,” Luviael whispers. “I have Bauerova, Duke, Bennett and even the President of the United States on hold, waiting for you.”
I gulp. Did she just say the President of the United States? Waiting for me? Once again, I realise how my life has completely changed and I don’t mean just my physical transformation.
“I’ve never talked to him before,” I say, worried. What kind of person is he I wonder? “It’s almost as if he’s been avoiding me.”
I sit down and Erik hurries to get the seat right next to me so that nobody dismisses him again. I’m grateful to have him by my side. Luviael is definitely a better counsel because of her knowledge but what I need right now more is emotional support.
“Because he has been,” Liana sets the record straight. “The States were in an active opposition to acknowledge us as nations and they agreed only when the whole UN kept pressing them. They were refusing to talk to us because they didn’t see us as the official Draconian government. Well, now they have to… finally.”
She doesn’t manage to go into more detail because the call gets connected and we’re suddenly facing the Bohemian Prime Minister, the American President, the EU President and the UN Secretary-General. Not counting Bauerova, those three are the most influential people in the world! Will they take me seriously? What are they thinking when they look at me?
Calm down, you’re the Celestial Emperor, Liana touches my wing with hers. Antagonising us is the last thing they’d do in this situation.
“Your Majesty, thank God you’re okay,” Bauerova blurts out, probably out of the protocol because the participants raise their eyebrows.
Besides Erik and Julia, I think she’s ranked as one of my favourite humans. But sadly, she doesn’t hold that much political power. She’s just a chief representative of a small Central European country. The man on a separate screen next to her, however…
I carefully study the US President. I don’t know much about him, just that his name’s Pablo Delgado and he’s the youngest American President ever elected—he can’t be over 40 yet. I can’t say he’s naturally handsome but he has a certain unquestionable charm about him. And he certainly knows how to dress to impress. His brown eyes are looking at me sternly but he doesn’t let anything else show on his face.
“Your Majesty,” Delgado starts, his tone perfectly even. “I trust you’ll do everything in your power to calm your people down? There’re spontaneous riots all over the States in reaction to that video of yours.”
I stare at him in disbelief. My video? I’m IN the video but it’s hardly mine. He sounds as if he’s openly accusing me that I let myself be attacked. Is this how one is supposed to open a diplomatic talk? Just how arrogant is he? I can feel everyone in the room getting pissed off. Definitely not a good beginning.
I’m almost crushing Erik’s hand under the table but my Celestial strength isn’t much so he doesn’t mind. He gets anxious, however, when he feels anger awakening in me. Celestial wrath. I suppress it with sheer willpower because I need stay calm and collected but thanks to it, I see one thing clearly now.
I was stupid to blame myself and, ironically, I needed Delgado’s arrogance to see it. It wasn’t my fault. Not in the slightest. If humans had acted civilised, they’d simply lend me their phone for a minute, I’d look at the map, thank them and be on my way.
I take a deep breath and look at Erik. His eyes are widened, he senses the change within me. He’s experienced my Celestial Emperor’s nature once before when that Earthborn accidentally ripped my feather but I wasn’t in full control back then. I am now. I finally feel like a true ruler and it scares my beloved.
“Our Emperor was attacked by humans without any kind of provocation,” Liana hisses through her teeth.
“Mob mentality, nothing else,” Delgado opposes. “Any normal person would go crazy is they saw the Celestial Emperor loitering in a park. What were you even thinking letting him out, Miss Richter?”
My wrath gets stronger again, I can’t believe my ears. Did he just call Liana by her human name even though he must know how it triggers Draconians? And did he just address her instead of me? I focus on my friends’ emotions as every single one of them gets gravely offended. I sense catastrophe.
“Mr President,” Bennett interferes, sensing imminent danger as well. He might not be on our side but he’s at least trying to keep things peaceful. “I have to remind you that Draconian races have been acknowledged as nations and their forming governments are official now. We have to use their preferred names and titles.”
“My bad, it’s still very fresh to me,” Delgado apologises but not with much sincerity.
“Are you blaming the victim, Mr President?” I ask coldly, barely keeping my Celestial wrath in check.
My friends shiver. Was my tone too harsh? Or did I release some of my mana accidentally? The room does feel colder.
Delgado is studying me. It seems hard for him to accept me as his equal because I used to be just a student who was earning money by gaming. But he can’t find anything from my old self in my new appearance. I must seem totally alien to him and that unnerves him because he can’t read me.
“His Majesty is right,” Myren Duke, the UN Secretary-General, coughs. “Maybe he shouldn’t have appeared in front of humans but it would be an exemplary victim blaming if that’s your main argument, Mr President.”
Delago frowns. He still wants to put all the blame on me but if he did, he would come out as a bigoted dinosaur despite his young age.
“I agree,” Bennett surprisingly seconds. “Still, His Majesty seriously needs to be more careful from now on and be mindful of his behaviour. While there’re four more race rulers, he’s the face of Draconia whether he likes it or not. And the fact that he looks so divine isn’t helping.”
There’s nothing wrong with the utterance itself, it seems like Bennett is trying to help us a bit, but the way he’s saying it makes me mad. He’s not even addressing me directly—his speech belongs to Liana whom he considers to be my caretaker.
My remaining hesitation disappears instantly. It’s not like he hurt my ego, I don’t care about something petty like that, but because he thinks that if I’m politically weak, the whole Celestial race can be manipulated.
I simply can’t have that. I have to protect my people and if it means becoming sharper, so be it. The weight of responsibility is overwhelming but I feel strangely excited at the same time. I’m the Celestial Emperor and I finally feel like one now. It is how it should be.
Aefener, don’t say anything stupid that you won’t be able to take back! Liana screams in her head, startled, because she feels my emotional state through our connection.
I keep eyeing the EU President but, in reality, I pay more attention to Liana now. She’s my trusted Viceroy. I love her immensely and I’m endlessly grateful for taking care of me and Erik but she’s overstepped the boundary just now.
Don’t call me stupid, Liana, it’s unbecoming towards your Emperor, I say plainly on purpose.
I don’t even send any dark emotion to her but she flinches so wildly that it makes everyone notice her weird behaviour. Hopefully, they won’t make anything out of it.
“Mr Bennett,” I address the EU President coldly, “I’m sure you’re brave enough to talk to me directly. Liana is indeed my Viceroy but if you studied Celestial lore, you must now that she’s simply my most trusted advisor. She’s authorised to take care of things in my absence but when I’m present, you talk to me.”
Bennett blinks a few times, shocked by the change of my conduct. And he’s not the only one, my friends are looking at each other, taken aback. Erik is genuinely scared but I shower him with my affection that is the same as always so he relaxes.
The only people in the room who aren’t surprised are the EU delegates. Miss Ortega has been timid around me from the very beginning and Dubois experienced my rage in full already and he’s been wary ever since.
“Please, accept my apology, Your Majesty,” Bennett says after a moment of consideration. “We simply implore you to be careful. Your position is very different from elected representatives and even human monarchs. Your people adore you and are willing to follow you without a question. We’re talking about people with unmapped magical abilities that could potentially become very dangerous.”
“I think I proved enough that I wish for peace,” I purse my lips. “I didn’t defend myself even if it was my right in that kind of situation.”
“The outcome is the same, though, Draconians are rioting,” Delgado remarks. His voice didn’t lose its venomous aftertaste but it seems I earned some of his respect at least.
“What kind of riot? Were any innocent civilians hurt?” I ask.
“Fortunately not,” the UN General-Secretary clarifies. “But Draconians are protesting in front of government buildings all over the world and they’re also rioting in front of companies that fired them.”
“They’re protesting because you bully us,” my voice is a whip. “But they’re still doing it peacefully exactly because I didn’t defend myself. Because I showed that I want no bloodshed.”
My implication couldn’t have been clearer. Bauerova flinches a bit while Delgado wrinkles his nose. They fully realise now that I have the power. I also fully realise it and I guess it was about time. I’m not powerless. They’re right to call me a threat.
“What do you propose then?” Delgado asks and has to force those words out of his mouth.
“Zero tolerance towards racist behaviour and financial support for those who lost their jobs,” I say resolutely. “That would be a nice start. As for the rest, I believe the UN is preparing an international conference in a few weeks?”
“We indeed are,” Myren Duke confirms.
“Can you guarantee that Draconians will stay put until we reach an official agreement, Your Majesty?” Bennett asks openly but politely.
“I can ask them not to ignite unnecessary violence,” I shrug theatrically. “I can also implore Draconians to be careful not to kill any humans in self-defence but I won’t tell them to turn the other cheek when they’re being bullied. Not anymore. I experienced first-hand that it just doesn’t work.”
The world leaders look at each other.
“Can we have a few minutes to discuss the matter in private?” Delgado asks and doesn’t look happy at all. He suspects he’s not going to win this round.
“Sure,” I say and signal Luvi to disconnect us for now.
When the holographic projection disappears, the tense atmosphere brightens tiny bit as we sigh out in unison. I don’t care about appearances in front of the EU delegates and kiss Erik. He was holding up so well.
Sorry you had to see me like this, I tell him. But this is also me.
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he’s thinking frantically. I don’t pressure him for now, he needs time to process it. But at least he kissed me back which is a good sign.
“God, that was intense!” Fefnir grunts loudly. “I had no idea you had it in you, Aefener.”
“I’m the Celestial Emperor, it’s my job,” I look at Liana who looks most shocked by my behaviour. I touch her wing with mine.
Sorry, did I sound too harsh towards you? I send her my thoughts.
No, I needed to hear that, she says humbly. I can’t keep treating you as an incompetent youth, you’re the Emperor… my Emperor. You might not know certain things because of your lack of experience but it was foolish of me to think that I’m above you. I’m really not.
Hey, talk aloud, the EU delegates are watching, Erik finally speaks up to warn us. He’s right, they are. Especially Dubois.
“Let’s take a coffee break,” Liana claps her hands to distract them.
We move to the room next door where someone prepared refreshments for us. I notice an Earthborn lady wearing an apron standing behind the tables next to a coffee machine. I haven’t given much attention to common Draconian before, I realise that now. I have to thank Iyapa and Zirand for opening my eyes. To my defence, I didn’t ignore anyone on purpose, I was just too busy and simply overwhelmed. But that’s no excuse.
“Could I have a latte, please?” I ask the Earthborn nicely. “Almond milk, one sugar.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” she’s all smiles despite the tense situation. I feel she’s just as scared as everyone else but she makes an effort to smile for me.
“What’s your name?” I ask while I’m watching her brewing my coffee. I think I spotted her several times before when I was passing the corridors.
“Tateena, Your Majesty,” she smiles again. “I prepare your snacks.”
“Oh,” I put my palm in front of my mouth. Of course, I knew that someone has to be making our snacks but it never occurred to me to stick a concrete face to it. I should be ashamed.
“They are really tasty!” I blurt out.
“Thank you for saying that, you’re really as kind as they say,” Tateena finishes my latte and hands me the cup. It has a beautiful latter art on the foam. “And the Royal Consort would like…?”
“Espresso, please,” Erik orders mechanically, his mind still jumbled and in a full thinking mode.
“Did you work in a café before, Tateena?” I’m curious.
“I did,” she nods and I notice that she uses her roots to hold stuff. “I loved it so I’m glad I can continue doing it. Naturally, I lost my job when my employer found out that I started transforming.”
I clutch Erik’s hand more firmly. I get it that humans are afraid of us, humanity has always been afraid of anything new and strange, but it just proves that I have to pressure the UN into making fair laws that will prevent that.
“Cappuccino,” Liana orders after us and is happy that I’m making an attempt to get to know the people she assigned to work for our inner government.
“Let’s grab something, hon,” Erik points towards buffet tables. “I couldn’t eat anything while you were missing so I’m starving.”
I turn around. Fefnir is already ravaging the selection of ham and other salami while the EU delegates are standing in the corner, whispering. There’s no Clawfang nearby so they don’t have to be afraid they’ll be overheard. I bet they have to discuss their opinion on the matter.
Now that Erik mentions it, I realise how hungry I am. I was flying like crazy and then I spent a lot of mana healing those Draconians. Still, I don’t feel like eating—I’m too anxious. Erik might be relieved that I returned safe and sound but Draconians all over the world are rioting.
Even if we manage to somehow overcome the worst, I doubt our people will go back into hiding. The time when we were afraid of humans is over. Our transformation is nearing its end and further bullying will only lead to civil disobedience.
“Ryuu,” Erik takes one canape and wants to deliver it straight into my mouth.
“Later,” I shake my head and sip my coffee instead. “I’ll eat dinner with you when the meeting is over.”
As expected, my boyfriend isn’t satisfied with such an answer and frowns.
“Li, the Emperor refuses to eat,” he tells on me without a second thought. I give him a horrified look but he just shrugs.
“I’m sorry, love, but if you won’t take it from me, your Viceroy should have every right to just command you,” he says. “Don’t you think I didn’t do my homework. While you hold absolute political power, your subjects have power over your protection and well-being.”
“Eat something, Aefener,” Liana rolls her eyes and joins us since her coffee is done. “You were flying like crazy and how many healing spells did you do in that squat?”
I sigh. There are two kinds of people. Those who eat when stressed and those who can’t eat anything. I’m the latter case, sadly. I take a few canapes but I don’t enjoy them much. Liana and Erik are right, though. I need energy and I feel that my body starts to digest the food right away, converting calories into mana so I force myself to eat a few more.
Suddenly, I feel a change in telepathic imprints in my vicinity. One very familiar that I’m very fond of is back.
“Emi has returned!” I announce cheerfully.
“Ryuu!” Erik scolds me and looks around in panic.
“Oh,” I realise that I said it in front of everyone.
Fortunately, Miss Ortega and Dubois are standing far from us and Tateena is too busy making coffee for Fefnir. Only Ingri heard me. But still, what a blunder.
“Ryuu, you have to be more careful,” Erik whispers and makes it look like he’s just hugging me.
“I… I guess I became too relaxed,” I admit, dumbfounded by my stupid mistake.
It’d have never happened just a few weeks ago. When did I stop fiercely guarding my secret? Did I relax too much around Draconians who serve and protect me? I wanted to stay tiny bit pissed at Liana for telling the others but can I really? In the end, I thoroughly enjoy not being so wary all the time.
“Emi is back!” I say again aloud, this time pretending that I’m reading her message on my phone.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Erik pulls my sleeve because I make a step towards the door.
“To meet her halfway?”
“The talk can resume any time,” Liana shakes her head. “I’m sure Emi is on her way here as we speak. Normally, she’d go to take a shower and rest but the situation is too dire and she knows it. Also, I’m pretty sure she wants to suffocate you with hugs.”
As always, my Viceroy is right. Fortunately, the world leaders aren’t done discussing yet and Emi arrives shortly. And goes for a crushing hug the moment she sees me.
“You idiot, why did you do such a stunt? I almost got a heart attack when I saw that video,” she also berates me but not as emotionally strongly as Erik and Liana. Unlike them, she appreciates freedom above everything.
You know why, I answer telepathically.
They locked you in a gilded cage, she sighs and caresses my feathers.
I’d caress her soft fur in return but Clawfangs hate it from other people, claiming they’re no pets. Truth be told, they do love petting but only from their lovers according to the lore whereas Celestials don’t appreciate it only from other races and strangers. I’ve seen more than once when crossing the halls that friends were caressing each other’s wings. I certainly love it from my friends.
“The meeting is resuming!” Luviael calls us back just as I’m about to ask Emi how it went in Vienna.
I’m really glad that Emi is here to represent her race and when we return, it turns out that Deminas and Twyla with Werden managed to connect as well, despite different time zones and the meeting being organised on such a short notice. I feel our position is much stronger with all of us present.
The human world leaders appear on the screen as well and their expressions aren’t happy at all when they see all of us gathered. Unlike them, we’re united and they know it.
“We’re ready to push through anti-discriminatory laws,” Delgado announces with an obvious aversion in his voice. “In return, we expect you to do everything in your power to calm your people down and stop the riots.”
“Empty promises won’t do,” Emi assertively speaks up. She was a leader from the beginning, I admire her. “Clawfangs don’t give a shit about grand gestures and Celestials have all the right to rage since it was their ruler who was attacked by humans for no reason. What do you propose specifically and when are you going to implement it?”
Human rulers take turns talking and it seems we’re past empty promises. Mrs Duke presents us with a plan of action which is just a draft at this point but it’s something. At last, they came to the understanding that we might be inexperienced as politicians but we won’t let ourselves to be bullied. We’re strong and getting stronger by each passing day.
“We want to coexist peacefully but you have to let us,” Werden says emotionally. “We can help humanity, especially my race. The Earthborn might be able to reverse ecological catastrophes. Have you even seen what we can do already? We have first results manipulating genetic structures of plants, making them grow faster and be more resistant and that’s just a beginning.”
“But we won’t become your subordinates,” Twyla adds strongly.
“We get it that you’re afraid of us,” Deminas points towards his head that doesn’t resemble human anymore, “but looks can be deceiving. The Dragonkin are actually the most peaceful Draconian race. We have to learn how to overcome prejudices… once again.”
“Yes, we did study your lore that seems to be coming true almost to the letter,” Delgado clears his throat. “I can see that the Earthborn can become potentially very useful for the environment, Clawfangs are quite wild but generally friendly and the Dragonkin, despite their formidable appearance, phlegmatic. Celestials, on the other hand, are clearly described as ambitious conquerors with a god complex. Please, enlighten me, Your Majesty, why shouldn’t we be afraid of you specifically.”
I frown. Why the hell is everyone so unnerved by my race? We didn’t have a bad reputation ingame, did we? Also, we look most human. Seemingly.
Except we did have quite a bad reputation ingame, Aefener, you just ignored it, Liana resists clicking her tongue and does an equivalent of that in her mind. We were known as being arrogant and conceited. It’s not as evident yet since we’re still transforming but I’m afraid that after we level up…
“Because I won’t allow it,” I proclaim. “My partner is human if you haven’t noticed. I’ll never start hating all humanity and innocent people are in no danger because we’re not like you.”
Delgado blinks, confused.
“We’re not humans who kill indiscriminately,” I continue, not letting him interrupt me. “Despite what you might think, your human idea of conquest is totally misleading and can’t be applied to us. When we say we won’t do something because it’s not in our nature, we just won’t. You can count on that.”
“We’ve had several incidents of Draconians attacking humans, though,” Delgado remarks, unconvinced.
“Attacking or defending themselves?” I hiss. “I experienced it first-hand just a few hours ago, Mr President. I didn’t defend myself and it didn’t help at all. Next time I won’t be as stupid. I learnt my lesson the hard way. Should humans keep attacking us, we will answer accordingly.”
“Is that a threat, Your Majesty?” he pronounces my title with the same disgust but this time without any mockery.
“I’m just clarifying how things are,” I answer calmly. “If war erupts between our species, it will be your doing. We won’t attack without provocation, you have my word.”
“What guarantee do we have from you?” Delgado narrows his eyes. “I’m sorry but just your word isn’t enough.”
“Except it is,” I claim and flutter my wings. I quickly glance at Erik, hoping the rest of my speech won’t hurt him. But I have to say it.
“My word is enough exactly because I’m not human,” I finish.
Please log in to leave a comment.