“And you just forgot about it?” Fefnir raises his scaly eyebrow when I tell the rest of the gang about my discovery. Our small bedroom is totally packed and my friends are sitting wherever there’s a free spot. I’m starting to agree with Erik that we need a bigger apartment.
“I was four, Fefnir,” I remind him. “It’s a miracle that I remember that much. I didn’t realise until now and I can’t be entirely sure either. I just recalled the feeling of testing a game in which I had wings and could fly.”
“It seems unlikely to be a coincidence,” Liana says. “Draconia Online was developed in Japan and such a massive game had to be in making for years. It could overlap with the time your Mom was working there and you were born.”
“Any luck researching her history?” Erik asks and keeps caressing my wings to calm me down. “You’ve started already, right?”
“We did,” Fefnir nods. “But we got nothing so far. Someone with lots of money was apparently determined to wipe everything. I managed to find out that Aefener’s mother left the European Union in 2076 but what she was doing in Japan is a mystery. You don’t happen to recall the name of the company, Aefener? You must have seen their logo or something when you were attending those tests.”
“Nothing, sorry,” I have to disappoint them. “Either I was too small to remember or my Mom made sure I won’t see anything that could give me clues later on.”
“Maybe she wanted to protect you,” Ingri ponders. “You were born a telepath and should the government find out…”
I shiver. But not because of the government.
“What is it, Ryuu?” Erik hugs me.
“I… I just thought about… should my father find out,” I whisper.
“Here it is again,” Liana frowns. “You claim you never met him but you’re shivering each time we bring him up. It’s not normal.”
“You think he has something to do with what’s happening?” I say weakly. “We don’t even know if he’s still alive.”
“Could your grandmother know something?” Fefnir scratches his chin.
“I doubt that, she was always telling me that she lost all contact with her when Mom went to Japan,” I clutch Erik tight, trying to find comfort in his embrace.
“So we’re where we started,” Liana flutters her wings irritably. “Damn, I’d have never guessed that it’s possible to cover something so masterfully in this age. Your father, whoever he is, must be either totally loaded or in the government. Possibly both.”
“You think he doesn’t know he has a son?” Erik doubts. “Ryuu might not remember his father’s face but he’s reacting too strongly every time we bring it up.”
“I don’t think Aefener’s father would ever let go of his son considering how special he is,” Liana disagrees. “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know and Aefener’s mother was hiding the truth from him.”
“So… he’s potentially very dangerous?” Ingri gulps. “It seems His Majesty’s mother was very particular about instilling fear of him.”
“Ingri,” I click my tongue. “I think my name is nice so please use it.”
“Oh,” she puts a palm over her mouth. “Sorry, a habit.”
“What kind of habit are you talking about?” I don’t understand.
“Aefener,” she pronounced my name this time. “We’re communicating with human officials and our people all over the world every day. It would be weird not to use your title in front of them. This kind of habit.”
I roll my eyes but don’t comment on it. Ingri tried to be nonchalant but I can feel that she’s acting shy around me lately. The more I act as the Celestial Emperor, the more distant I become from everyone else. Is this the toll I have to pay for being a ruler? I hate it. And I hate the fact that there’s nothing I can do about it.
You have me, Erik catches my turmoil and sends me his comforting thoughts. By the way, are you the only Draconian who still likes his human name?
I want to keep it because it’s the only thing that I have left of Mom, I explain.
And it also sounds cool, Erik laughs in his head. It’s not like I speak Japanese but I looked it up when we started seeing each other and its translation means dragon, soar and fly, right? How cute, my angel is a little air dragon.
“Ehm,” Liana coughs. “Aefener, Erik, we talked about this countless times. It’s rude to use telepathy when you’re in the middle of a conversation with other people.”
“Sorry,” I chew my lip. “How obvious are we when we’re doing it?”
“To us totally obvious,” Ingri grins. “As for other people… they might get suspicious of your behaviour only when they would spend more time with you so you should be safe enough.”
“Still, be more careful,” Liana doesn’t let us off the hook easily. “Don’t forget that’s how your guards started to suspect something’s off, Aefener.”
“Will you be okay tomorrow?” Ingri stretches her hand to me, her rooty tentacles poking out. I let her examine me. “Your temperature is still slightly increased.”
“I’ll be fine,” I assure her. “It seems Celestial hypothermia is dramatic in the beginning but quick to overcome. I heard you’re working on a flying robe for me?”
“The design is done already, now we’re waiting for it to be manufactured,” she says proudly and everyone relaxes when the topic become less serious.
“And ehm… what about tomorrow?” I ask carefully and watch for their reactions. My friends stiffen but Liana who faced my stern talking to isn’t so disapproving which is a good sign.
“Well,” she says and glances at the rest of the gang. “We were tragically under-prepared yesterday but, technically speaking, you didn’t disobey us.”
“But six kilometres, Aefener, seriously?” Fefnir purses his scaly lips. “The drones Liana bought are military so they can go that far up but the problem is you’re much quicker than them.”
“I can’t promise anything when it comes to my speed because I won’t hold back,” I tell them honestly. “But I won’t go that high without proper clothes again. I learned my lesson.”
“Let’s suppose Aefener stays within two-kilometre radius both up and away, preferably up so that he’s not in danger from the ground,” Liana is thinking aloud. “He’ll have a shield activated all the time and he’ll answer to us through a smartwatch. We’ll be tracking his position so that the drones know where to find him should he leave them behind.”
“Ryuu, will you be able to keep that radius?” Erik asks me with worries. “Will you answer when I call you? Will you listen when I tell you to come back?”
“I will,” I nod and this time I’m sure about myself. Erik can sense that and relaxes.
My friends are not so easily convinced, though.
“Guys,” I address all of them. “I know that you’re worried about that part of the lore which says that the Celestial Emperor gets wild in the air and I won’t deny it’s not true. I do get high when flying but I’m still in control. However, I’ll tell you when I’ll lose control for sure. If you won’t let me fly often enough.”
They look at each other and sigh in unison. I won.
“Okay, tomorrow in the morning we’ll go through the most pressing agenda and then you can go flying for an hour before lunch,” Liana makes a plan. “Prove to us that you can control yourself, wait patiently for your flying session that will be part of your everyday timetable from now on and work without distractions.”
“Deal,” I take the offer quickly before she changes her mind.
I want to be happy that I secured one small victory but I know that I’m far from being truly free. I only made my golden cage a bit bigger, that’s all.
“I’m fine,” I assure Erik for the fifth time this morning. “Now that I know you’ll let me fly, I’m calm.”
“You looked longingly out of the window just now,” he accuses me.
“So what, I can look,” I flutter my wings in annoyance.
“Your Majesty, be mindful of your surroundings, please,” Luviael scolds me because I almost knocked over my mug.
“Celestials need more spacious rooms obviously,” Erik comments and analyses mine, Luvi’s and Liana’s wings. The room feels cramped with just a few of us here. “It’s ironic that now when I finally have money to rent the most luxurious apartment, we can’t move.”
“I don’t care where I am if I’m with you,” I shrug indifferently.
Erik cries, being moved by my confession. He stands up because he has the urge to kiss me on the spot. In front of everyone.
“Are they for real?” Luviael rolls her eyes.
“Romantic cliché is their forte,” Liana waves her hand and looks into her computer again. “Just ignore them.”
“Considering how little privacy we have, I’ll gladly let you suffer watching us,” Erik retorts and kisses me once more before returning to work.
“Oh, this is actually neat, I’ve always wanted one of these,” I study the smartwatch Fefnir ties around my wrist. He makes double sure that it won’t come off. It’s the latest model of the most expensive sports watch with build-in navigation and gesture control.
“We’ll call to check up on you from time to time. The drones will track your position and fly towards you whenever they lose the visual and in case you get disoriented, just say home and it’ll navigate you back here,” Fefnir summarises for me.
“Thanks,” I smile and I’m about to stretch my wings when Erik hugs me one more time.
“Be careful and come back to me, okay?” he whispers into my ear.
“I’ll always come back to you,” I assure him. “But you have to let me go now.”
He nods and steps aside. I can feel that everyone is nervous but I’m much more confident today. Sure, I can’t wait to fly again, I’ll most probably get high when the adrenaline hits me but I’m in control. My friends trust me and I won’t betray their trust.
I activate the shield, flap my wings mightily and my feet leave the ground. It’s pure euphoria but I don’t lose myself in it. I’ll be able to fly every day from now on. It’ll be a normal occurrence just as when someone goes for a walk. No need to be that crazy about it.
I start by flying around the skyscraper before I dare to venture further. I test how far I can go but being mindful of the drones this time, I don’t push full speed. Besides, I don’t want to be exhausted afterwards. Suddenly, my watch starts vibrating. I stop, start hovering and answer the call by tapping the tiny screen.
“Love, it’s two kilometres already,” Erik informs me, urgency in his voice. “Are you okay?”
“Totally,” I assure him. “Can the watch vibrate when I get too far so that you don’t have to call me each time?”
I hear Erik discussing the matter with Fefnir.
“It’s updated now, Aefener,” my Dragonkin friend informs me. “The drones see you just fine so continue like that, please.”
Happy that I’m managing, I end the call and start performing various pirouettes. It gives me joy how well my wings respond to everything I want them to do. How well my whole body responds. I feel so light and this time warmer because my maids gave me thermal leggings and underwear.
I fly around, up, down, changing directions, flying around the skyscraper and further. That feeling hits me again. I’m so proud to be a Celestial. I hope everyone feels good in their new bodies. I think they should. The game assigned players their race based on a detailed psychological profile so hopefully nobody ended in a body they’d hate.
Damn, what are the implications, though? If someone did make the Great Evolution happen, it would mean that they needed people compatible with Draconian races. They needed specific types of people to change into races that would agree with their nature. What for? Why nobody claimed responsibility yet? And what if… my family is somehow involved?
“Hon, but it’s been an hour,” Erik calls me again.
“What?” I stop abruptly. “It can’t be!”
“It is,” he insists. “Check the time on your watch.”
I frown but do as he says. And he’s right. My flying session began at 11:30 and it’s 12:30. Where did the time go?
“It’s lunchtime, can back to us, please,” he pleads a bit too anxiously.
I sigh. He’s really afraid I won’t listen. Well, I’ll prove him otherwise. I go into descend and head for our skyscraper that’s shining among the others so it’s easily recognisable. Emotions of everyone waiting on the roof’s balcony hit me. They’re relieved I came back without a problem. I land carefully and this time there’s no scolding and Erik hugs me.
“Well done, love,” he praises me.
“See? I managed just fine. Admittedly, I lost the track of time but I was in control,” I say proudly. “Still, I can’t believe it’s been an hour.”
“And I can’t believe where you take the energy to fly like a crazy for so long. You can watch the record later,” he flattens my hair that got messy.
“You were filming me again? Why?” I puff.
“For other Celestials,” Liana explains. She’s more than content about today’s flight. “They want to see their Emperor in informal situations and you flying is the most magnificent thing ever that has nothing to do with politics.”
“I’d rather call it cute than magnificent,” Erik laughs. “All those flying acrobatics Ryuu was performing are hardly serious.”
“The Celestial Emperor, being naturally the best flier, can be playful,” she purses her lips because she would prefer to have me magnificent over cute. But I am what I am. I’m acting exactly as the Celestial Emperor and she has to deal with it.
“So no issues? I can fly like that every day from now on?” I’m making sure.
“For a few weeks at least before we can join you,” she agrees. “I think I shouldn’t take long. It would be convenient if at least me and a few high-level guards are able to fly before the UN conference.”
Oh, I almost forgot about… that. It’s happening in three weeks which is near. So menacingly near. I don’t feel prepared. Everyone is relying on me, expecting that I’ll perfectly represent Celestials. My chest tightens and my stomach churns every time I realise how much responsibility lies on my frail shoulders.
“Ryuu, calm down,” Erik has to grab my hand because I’m walking around the room nervously.
“What if they won’t like me?” I’m mad with worries.
But the truth is that what I’m really concerned about is something entirely else. What if they will be afraid of me? I told my maids today to dress me into the most colourful robe I have and style my hair into the cutest braid possible but I don’t think it’s enough. When I look into the mirror, I don’t see only a non-human Celestial. I see the Celestial Emperor. There’s something inexplicably regal about me which I can’t hide.
“Something’s bugging you and you don’t want to show me,” Erik sighs. “You’re hiding a part of your mind from me again.”
Of course, I’m hiding the real reason from him. He’s not even aware of it but it’s Erik who made me think that his parents might be afraid of me. It’s his worry originally and I adopted it. I don’t think I should tell him, though. It would hurt him.
“They’ll love you,” Erik kisses me to calm me down. “My parents are very open-minded and they respect my decisions.”
Do I have a problem believing him because I’ve never experienced that one’s family can be like that? Because I didn’t learn healthy family patterns? Because I think that people will hate me by default?
“Come on,” he grabs my chin and raises my head. “Just be yourself.”
His words almost move me to tears. Erik has his doubts deep inside but he still prefers I stay true to myself. I love him for that.
“You didn’t have to make such an effort either,” he plays with my braided hair. “Silly, did you think that if you look more cute than beautiful, they’ll relax? Well, you still look beautiful beyond compare, my universal androgynous beauty.”
“Shut up, Mr handsome,” I roll my eyes. “Let’s go already, I don’t want to keep them waiting.”
Liana allowed us to use the most luxurious lounge in the skyscraper. I asked for privacy and she reluctantly agreed because my partner’s parents can be trusted but it still means that some of my guards will be present. Inside. I just hope they won’t scare the Anderles.
One of the guards opens the door for us and as we enter, I immediately look for our precious visitors. They’re sitting on the sofa but they stand up immediately when they see me. Is it basic courtesy or because I’m the Emperor? I honestly can’t tell anymore. Oh, no. They’re bowing to me!
“Please, I don’t want it from you,” I let go of Erik’s hand and hurry to the elderly couple. “You’re my partner’s family.”
They don’t flinch when I touch them but they do get goosebumps. They emotions and thoughts hit me. They aren’t exactly scared of me but apprehensive nonetheless. Erik must have talked about me a lot but they know me only from him. And the media which don’t portray me always in a nice way I can imagine.
“Mom, Dad, it’s okay,” Erik hurries to them as well. “Sit down and relax.”
They are a bit pale but nod and sit down. Did I make a good first impression or not? It’s hard to tell even with my special ability.
We sit down on the sofa opposite to them and I devote a few seconds to somehow fold my wings. This sofa wasn’t adjusted to Celestials yet so it’s difficult to find a comfortable position. In the end, I have to stretch my right wing behind Erik’s back and hug him. The Anderles are watching the whole show with fascination.
When I’m finally sitting agreeably, I can look at them closely. It’s obvious they dressed in their best clothes and how nervous they are about the meeting. But otherwise they look exactly as I was picturing them since the video call.
Mrs Anderle has the same eyes and hand gestures as Erik and Mr Anderle’s unruly hair makes it evident that Erik is indeed his son. They’re both shy but curious and there’s no hate nor disgust when they look at me. I take it as a good sign.
“How are you?” Erik helps to start a conversation. “Are the media still giving you trouble?”
“They are but it’s much better,” Mr Anderle says and is glad that Erik is such an ice-breaker. “They finally understood that we’re not giving interviews.”
“The first few days were terrible, though,” Mrs Anderle sighs. “The reporters were surrounding our house 24/7. We even had a break-in. If you didn’t hire those bodyguards for us, I don’t know what we would do.”
“I’m really sorry about that,” I bite my lip. “I should have anticipated…”
“We’re not blaming Your Majesty,” Mrs Anderle shakes her head wildly.
“Just Aefener or Ryuuto is fine,” I assure her but it doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to address me so familiarly.
There’s awkward silence for a few seconds, both parties trying to force a conversation. We’re saved by waiters coming in and asking us what we would like to drink. The Anderles and Erik order espresso while I go for a flavoured latte. Now I know where Erik inherited his conservative taste for coffee.
“The work is hard but I’m learning a lot,” Erik answers when his mother voices her concern about our workload. “Ryuu has it much harder. So much responsibility.”
“That’s not true, we’re working the same,” I nudge him and he clutches my hand in return.
His parents are watching us and their tensed faces relax a bit when they see our loving interaction. Mrs Anderle even smiles.
“Are you thinking about your future?” she asks without beating around the bush. Oh, so Erik got his straightforwardness from her? “Everything is still very new and changing turbulently but things will hopefully calm down in a few years.”
“I am,” Erik surprises me because there’s no hesitation in his mind. “I’ll keep supporting Ryuu and stay by his side whatever happens and maybe… have a wedding sooner than later?”
I gasp for air. We did talk about it once before but it was still mainly hypothetical. It seems Erik has been thinking about it since then, unlike me. There’s always so much to do that we don’t have time to connect deeply during the day and at night, Erik’s mind is too preoccupied with sex so I didn’t notice he was considering it so seriously.
“What do you think, love?” he caresses my feathers because I take too long replying. “I don’t want to push you, it’s okay if you don’t know yet.”
“I… I’d like to,” I stay, stuttering a bit. “Celestials don’t have these kinds of ceremonies, though.”
“Is that a problem?” Mr Anderle tilts his head.
“Dad, you underestimate how much Draconians changed,” Erik explains. “They think about things differently from us.”
“I don’t mind having a human wedding,” I set things straight. “Having you as my lawful husband… it sounds like a dream come true.”
The moment I say it, the atmosphere in the room changes significantly. Erik is overjoyed and his parents seem to approve. But there’s undeniable tension coming from my Celestial guards and the waiters who just returned to bring our coffee.
Are they against the idea that strongly? Why? Until now, I didn’t feel any disagreement from them in regards that I have a human partner so it takes me aback twice as much. Is it possible they hoped our inter-species relationship can’t work for long anyway? What gives them the right to even judge who I date?!
Ryuu, Erik speaks to me in his mind, alarmed. What’s wrong?
I force myself to calm down. I don’t want to cause a scene in front of Erik’s parents. Moreover, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to tell Erik about what I sensed just now. He’s been on the edge lately as the pressure keeps increasing. I don’t want to give him even more worries. At least now’s not the right time.
“Is there anything I can do for you, Mr and Mrs Anderle?” I ask instead. “You’re my partner’s family, I want to protect you. We could relocate you secretly somewhere else.”
“You’re really kind, Your Majesty, but we don’t want to leave our house,” Mrs Anderle politely declines. “We’re fine with the security service Erik hired us and want to keep on living as normally as possible. We’d welcome if we could regularly visit our son from now on, though.”
“Erik has been evasive lately,” Mr Anderle sighs and looks sternly at him while talking to me. “I get it that you’re extremely busy and that Your Majesty preoccupies his head most of the time but he should think about us as well.”
“That he should,” I agree and elbow my boyfriend. I had no idea he was neglecting communication with his parents this much. Shame on him. The Anderles are super nice, the best parents ever. If someone like them accepted me into their family, I’d be honoured and so happy.
I didn’t ignore my parents, I was simply too preoccupied by you, he justifies himself and mock-repeats what his father just said.
We drink our coffee and chat some more and I try to ignore that unpleasant aftertaste I’m catching from my guards. The Anderles gradually relax more and more and at a certain point I ask about Erik’s childhood. It’s adorable how embarrassed my partner gets when Mrs Anderle shows me his childhood photos on her phone.
“Could I…?” Erik’s mom becomes extremely flustered simply asking for it but she’s been curiously eyeing my wings for quite some time now. “I’ve never touched a Celestial. There’s a young Celestial couple living near us but they don’t go out much. I imagine they’re afraid. Not everyone in the neighbourhood is as friendly as us. Somebody even sprayed their house with hateful words twice.”
“Sure, go ahead,” I stretch my left wing towards her.
She smiles shyly and lightly caresses my feathers. I’m surprised that Mr Anderle, who didn’t seem interested, joins her as well.
“They’re so soft,” she’s moved. “Can I ask how well do you feel your wings, Your Majesty?”
“Perfectly, they’re very sensitive,” I say. “Don’t hesitate, I actually like petting.”
The Anderles look at each other, grin and continue caressing my wings much more confidently. Thanks to them touching me, I have an opportunity to gently peer into their minds. They’re genuinely good people, Erik is so lucky to have someone like them as his parents.
They have their worries and doubts, of course, but not because they would hate me. They’re concerned if his son is happy and worried about the challenges we’re facing and are going to face. I’m glad to discover that they aren’t afraid of me in a sense of being scared. They’re just naturally timid because I’m the Celestial Emperor.
I use this chance to also analyse their human perspective. I usually have Erik for that but he’s too influenced by me and too used to having Draconians around him all the time from the very beginning. The Anderles’ perspective is closest to ordinary humans while having an amicable attitude to new races.
With respect to their privacy, I don’t go deep and only browse what they’re experiencing right now. They’re both fascinated and a little apprehensive but in healthy amounts. They see nothing human in me which I think is for the best. It means they don’t expect me to act human so they won’t be disappointed later on when I don’t.
“Mom, he isn’t your dog,” Erik rolls his eyes because Mrs Anderle dares to scratch me under my feathers quite near my spine. My guards are watching it with apparent disgust but, thankfully, only I can sense that.
“You have a dog?” I ask and let her scratch me there because it’s very pleasant. And because it makes my bodyguards mad so it’s pure spite.
“A Labrador,” she smiles. It’s rare for people to keep big dog breeds these days but Erik’s parents have a house in the suburbs, not an apartment. I’d like to visit it one day but I know I can’t. My subjects would never let me go anywhere it’s not perfectly safe.
We continue chatting until it’s dinner time and we move to the room which was designated for us. It turns out the staff did their best and made us a proper dining room. There’s a big table with a cotton cloth and even candles. We sit down, Erik next to me and his parents opposite to us.
I feel slight panic coming from them and realise that the table is set extremely formally with all those unnecessary cutlery items I was struggling with for weeks. I don’t want them to feel inappropriate so I say:
“Don’t worry, Mr and Mrs Anderle, and just use whatever you like. I’m not fond of it either,” I demonstrate my dislike by taking a fork which isn’t used for starters.
They look at me with gratitude. The servants bring us the first course and everything is delicious. We’re just finishing the second course when I feel Liana and the others several floors above us becoming disturbed for some reason. I hope they’ll resolve whatever that is themselves but no such luck.
The door opens and Luviael enters the room. Fortunately, she doesn’t feel too anxious but it seems the matter isn’t something they’ll be able to manage without me either.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Your Majesty, Royal Consort, our esteemed guests,” she says apologetically. “But I’m afraid we need our Emperor right now.”
I sigh and stand up. Erik wants to join me but I stop him.
“Stay with your parents,” I tell him. “You should spend more time together. I’ll deal with it as quickly as possible and we’ll see each other later, okay?”
“Are you sure you don’t need me there?” he’s worried.
“I always need you but I can’t rely on you so much,” I answer softly because his caring concern moves me every time. I kiss him and follow my adjutant.
“Enjoy the rest of the evening, Mr and Mrs Anderle,” I say goodbye. “I’m looking forward to meeting you again soon.”
The thing that couldn’t wait was the American President calling us and demanding to talk to me. It turns out there was an incident with a group of Earthborn eco-activists who sabotaged one of the oil drills and damaged property costing millions of dollars. And humans don’t know how to deal with them without being accused of racism.
“Mr President, I think you’re aware that I’m not the ruler of all Draconians,” I frown at him. “You should have contacted the Earthborn Queen and King, not me.”
“You seem to be universally respected, Your Majesty,” Delgado purses his lips as if just addressing me with my title is difficult for him.
Liana face-palms off the screen and calls Twyla and Werden. I hope that I might be able to return to Erik and his parents in half an hour but it seems my absence is unthinkable. The Earthborn rulers are relieved that I’m helping them deal with the issue and the American President just wants me present.
It’s half past ten when we finally finish. I’m dead exhausted at this point, mainly from facing Delgado’s constant passive-aggressive speech. Why do I have to the mediator between him and the Earthborn? I don’t like where this is going. My tasks and responsibilities keep piling up.
“We’re sorry to disrupt your evening like this, Your Majesty,” Luviael apologises. “But we can’t say no the Unites States when they demand you being present during the negotiations.”
I nod tiredly and just follow my guards into the elevator. I know that sudden meetings like this are unavoidable during crisis but it still makes me sad how much work interferes with my private life which is already almost non-existent.
But the Emperor belongs to his subjects, I know that painfully well by now. And I’m reminded again when I face countless Draconians occupying the hall just to meet me for a brief moment when I pass them as if I was some kind of pop-singer superstar. I try smiling at them but I’m grateful that my guards make sure nobody touches me. I’m too tired even for Draconian minds right now.
I expect Erik to be asleep already but I find him sitting on the sofa in our living room, waiting for me while reading a book. I can’t remember when was the last time I was able to pick up a book. My mundane life before the Great Evolution seems so distant and unreal.
“Love, you’re so late,” he puts the book aside and goes for hug and kisses. “Why are they overworking you like this? Was it really that important it couldn’t wait?”
“I guess eco-terrorism is important enough to disturb my Friday evening,” I collapse onto his chest. “Delgado insisted I must be present even though it was an Earthborn matter.”
Erik frowns and his concern transforms into annoyance.
“They depend on you too much,” he complains. “You’re not the ruler of all Draconians.”
“I told them exactly that. It didn’t get through. How was the rest of your evening with your parents? Do they like me?”
“Are you more bothered about that than the international politics?” he laughs. “They adore you, stop worrying.”
“What is it now?” I whine because I feel a strange emotional disturbance of several Draconians in the skyscraper despite most of the inhabitants being asleep already.
Before I can react, Miruel picks up her ringing phone and is talking to someone. She isn’t panicking but it sounds quite serious. Is the work never-ending today?
“Miruel, what…?” I want to ask but four more guards step into our apartment and take tactical positions.
“Intruders were reported to breach our security,” she says with anxiety in her voice. “Fefnir says that it’s spy drones so your telepathy won’t be of use, Your Majesty. They must have been smuggled in the latest shipment apparently.”
“We have to…,” I’m taking a step but Miruel nods at Erik and he pulls me back to his chest.
“You’re not going anywhere, let the security handle it,” he says.
“No arguments, Majesty, your protection is the absolute priority,” Miruel stays adamant. “Royal Consort, please take His Majesty to bed, no excuses.”
I have no say in the matter, that much is evident. I want to protest more but the minds of my guardians are closed to pleas. There’re two opposite emotions in me: burning desire to protect my people clashing with something else that is making me listen to my protectors.
“Ryuu, calm down,” Erik traps me into his arms and manoeuvres me into our bedroom. I can’t wrestle with him, he’s at least twice as strong as me. “Don’t you trust your people that they’ll take care of it?”
“I do trust them, of course.”
“So let them do their job and protect you,” he pulls me onto our bed. “You can’t go running towards every danger, love. The last time you did, you ended up…”
“I know,” I stop him from finishing that sentence. My right wing still twitches every time I remember being shot. “But how can I sleep in such a situation?”
“You’ll sleep because you’re exhausted and there’s work tomorrow,” he caresses my hair and the moment my struggle wanes, he starts to undress me.
Then he hugs me tight and assertively takes my left wing to cover us both. Erik loves when my feathers are touching his naked skin but it’s hard to get me excited right now when I’m so tired and anxious at the same time.
He knows that and is focusing on calming my wildly beating heart. I do trust my subjects but it’s impossible for me to relax when we’re potentially in danger. I’m the Celestial Emperor through and through, all my instincts are screaming.
“You don’t have to be perfect,” Erik whispers. “At least not in front of me. Come on, open up to me, don’t keep it bottled inside.”
It’s such a simple and well-meant request coming from my beloved that I just can’t keep the stiff upper lip anymore. I let out a desperate cry and release all my doubts and insecurities. All those things that were suffocating me for weeks now.
I cry for my lack of freedom, I cry for our lack of privacy and almost non-existent free time. I cry for Erik because him being with me is twisting his whole life and I don’t want to be doing that to him. I weep because despite feeling like the Celestial Emperor, the weight of responsibility is crushing.
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