I freeze when Gotrid’s wings touch me and get goosebumps. I caress Liana’s wings all the time but there’s something different about touching Gotrid’s wings. It’s… erotic. I forgot to breathe for a few seconds and when I finally gasp for air, Erik is suddenly standing next to us and slaps Gotrid’s hand that is still holding mine.
“Oops,” Gotrid smirks and backs away. “Sorry, Royal Consort, I couldn’t help myself. Our Emperor is so cute after all.”
Gotrid’s apparent apology isn’t helping, it’s only making things worse. He has no ulterior motives when it comes to me simply because his intentions are as clear as the day and that pisses Erik off even more. How can he be so bold? And does a part of me… like it?
“You…!” Erik gets furious but just as he’s about to raise his voice, Liana quickly stands up and puts her hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t cause a scene, you’re the Royal Consort and people are watching,” she whispers to him urgently.
To be honest, we already caused a scene. The room got unnaturally quiet and people are staring and turning to us to see what’s happening.
“Erik,” I clutch his hand to calm him down but as I do so, I get a full dose of his jealousy.
If I wasn’t sitting down, I’d probably wobble. It’s still him, my beloved partner, I love everything about him. But this burning human emotion he’s feeling right now makes me nauseous so I flinch.
“Love?” Erik blinks a few times in utter confusion. It takes him three seconds to realise that I let go of his hand because I couldn’t stand holding him.
“Erik, Godrid, sit, both of you,” Liana hisses through her teeth as silently as possible.
Erik sits down mechanically like a robot and Bauerova’s wife Elizabeth is so tactful that she continues in their conversation as if nothing happened. Gotrid sits right in front of me next to Taranah and keeps smiling at me happily.
Sorry, I had no idea he’s planning such an entrée, Liana slightly stretches her left wing to me so that she can send me her thoughts. I thought he was just being proactive when he volunteered to help Twyla with checking our breakfast.
I don’t answer anything because I’m too conflicted. Gotrid is distracting me with his grinny smile and it’s impossible to ignore how gorgeous his wings are. As for Erik… I think I seriously hurt him when I flinched away. I try reading his thoughts but he’s thinking frantically and isn’t willing to connect to me. They are both torturing me!
“Eat, Your Majesty,” Luviael nudges me because I still didn’t touch my breakfast.
Gotrid winks at me when I look down on the ketchupy heart symbol. I ostentatiously roll my eyes and smudge the heart across the omelette.
Erik, please, talk to me, I send my partner a desperate plea and take the first bite even though I don’t feel like eating.
I hurt you, he finally answers. My emotions… hurt you.
No, you didn’t! I was just startled, that’s all!
I know I did, he insists. My jealousy is hurting you.
Gotrid shouldn’t have done that, I oppose. You were right to get angry.
I got angry at him but I ended up hurting you, he says broken-heartedly. Let’s talk about it later, I can’t focus on talking to Elizabeth and I don’t want Liana suspecting that your telepathy got stronger again.
“Aefener?” Liana touches my hand all of a sudden. I almost jump but it doesn’t seem she noticed anything.
“Too much drama for one early morning, I lost my appetite,” I murmur and glance at Gotrid who’s stuffing himself with a Nutella toast while talking to Taranah.
I shouldn’t have allowed him being here, she switches to telepathy, doubting her decision now. He was begging me to see you as soon as possible for weeks and I thought… well…
You thought…? I slowly chew another mouthful. I have to force myself to eat.
I was hoping it would help you to have another Celestial by your side, she says.
Am I not surrounded by Celestials all the time?
You know what I mean, she passes me salt because Celestials consider rude to use telekinesis during formal meals.
Your Majesty, you don’t talk enough… aloud, Luvi gently kicks me under the table, suspecting that I’m taking to my Viceroy telepathically.
Liana turns to the Prime Minister while I’m made aware by Luviael that I need to finish my plate. But I find it hard to eat when Erik won’t talk to me properly, Gotrid is undressing me with his gaze and other guests are staring.
“What about pancakes, Your Majesty?” Cien brings me another plate when she notices I’m struggling with the eggs.
Unlike humans, Celestials have much greater need for sugar and we digest it really well without any possibility of developing diabetes so I give the pancakes a chance. And it’s much easier, I don’t need to force every bite and the sweet taste relaxes me a bit. Any other time my maids would prefer I eat healthy food but this time they’re glad that I eat at least something.
“Your Majesty…?” Luviael whispers to me in panic because she notices I massage my temples.
“I’m fine,” I assure her.
I can feel the pressure coming from all sides but so far, I’m managing because I’m surrounded by Draconians. It makes me fully realise one thing, though. I might be unable to live among humans if it came to that.
“Could I maybe go for some fresh air?” I ask because I’m simply not able to take another bite despite the pancakes being really delicious.
“Well, there is a terrace,” Cien answers slowly.
“Perfect,” I stand up and realise my mistake just a second later.
There’s this stupid royal protocol which says that when the Emperor stops eating, it means the end of the meal for everyone at the table. Not that we were practicing it at home but here… everyone puts down their cutlery and quickly stands up as well.
“Ryuu,” Erik gets to me immediately. “You’re pale.”
“I just need some fresh air, that’s all,” I say and try reaching for his hand.
I’m afraid he will avoid me but no such thing happens. He clutches me firmly and lets me enter his mind. He’s still pissed at Gotrid but he mostly calmed down by now.
I’m sorry again, Erik says. I’m not hurting you anymore, am I?
You could never truly hurt me, I look at him tenderly.
Cien shows us the way to the terrace and the general murmur in the room grows stronger. We pass several tables on our way out and most of the delegates are looking at us as if we were aliens.
“Aefener,” Twyla calls after us and I finally see where the Earthborn delegation is sitting. “Can we join you?”
“Of course,” I nod and study her appearance.
I can understand why humans would see us as alien but not why they call us monsters. Twyla is exceedingly beautiful and I don’t need to be an Earthborn to appreciate it. Her rooty hair plays with all colours, her green skin is literally glowing and the protective scaly leaves she’s wearing instead of clothes look like a proper formal gown. Werden, whom I’ve seen already, joins us as well.
“Celestial magic is really indispensable,” Werden comments when my guards put up a protective shield because we’re in the open.
“Aefener,” Twyla hugs me warmly when humans sitting inside can’t see us. “Are you okay? I’m so happy to finally see you in person. All of you.”
“I’m fine, just nervous,” I say and nod that it’s okay if she wants to caress my wings. I do feel tiny bit better with breeze blowing into my feathers.
“Celestials are so fascinating,” she says enthusiastically, blatantly analysing my wing muscles. “We could theoretically grow feathers if we really wanted because that’s not so difficult but even with our powers, it would be impossible to grow wings and adjust the whole body for flight.”
“Just as it’s impossible for us to inspect one’s very genetics,” I say and manage a smile. “It’s good to see you, too, Twyla, Werden.”
“My Emperor,” Gotrid tries to get closer again but Liana clicks her tongue and pulls him aside. No doubt for scolding and setting up boundaries.
“Your Majesty,” Bauerova shows up, trailing after us. “I get it that you must have felt suffocated there but hiding here won’t send a good message.”
“Give him a minute,” Erik frowns at her.
I’m given a minute but no more than that. My protectors get anxious and I can feel the people inside becoming nervous as well. As if we could be plotting something here.
“What about I walk inside with Your Majesty and Erik walks with my lovely wife?” Elizabeth has an idea.
“That could work, Liz,” Erik surprisingly agrees. Oh? When did they start addressing each other so casually? Did I miss something?
He lets go of my hand, making sure that Gotrid won’t use this as an opportunity, and allows Elizabeth to walk next to me. Bauerova’s wife is an easy-going person and she’s naturally curious about Draconians, I feel good beside her. If only more humans were like her. We return inside looking like we’re engaged in a friendly conversation.
“Actually, Your Majesty,” Elizabeth says, “don’t be deceived by some delegates, they’re are only putting up a facade. Not everybody here hates you and there are more than a few who are mesmerised by new races.”
“There are?” I’m astonished and we follow Cien who shows us into a café lounge.
“How couldn’t we be?” Elizabeth shrugs. “Draconians possess amazing abilities and you’re expected to live much longer than we do. Naturally, people will envy that. I’d even dare to say that most hate is just envy in disguise.”
That’s weird to hear, especially after I came to the conclusion that humans either hate us or they are reluctantly accepting in the best case.
“Moreover, Your Majesty is so beautiful that it’s no wonder you make your opponents nervous when they’re supposed to face you,” she adds. “Especially religious people like the US President. They can’t help looking at you and not seeing an angel.”
Even though we don’t like being compared to angels, Elizabeth meant it in a good way so I blush. Might she be right about that? Are some politicians anxious around us not because they’d hate us but because we just unnerve them? We can work on that.
We get to the café lounge which is slowly filling up with guests who just finished their breakfast. I discover Deminas with his entourage, there are kind of hard to miss. They’re sipping coffee from these tiny fancy cups which look even smaller in their big hands.
“Aefener, Liana,” Deminas waves.
When we stop in front of him, I fully realise how huge he really is. He’s even bigger than Fefnir who has at least two metres. He’s so formidable that I just can’t hold it against humans if they’re afraid of someone like him. But the presence he’s giving off is dignified and calm. No matter how scary-looking he might be, he’s in perfect control of himself. It’s a paradox that the Dragonkin are the most peaceful and phlegmatic race.
“Are you okay after yesterday, Aefener?” Fefnir asks. “You had us worried. Luckily, it didn’t get out, humans made sure of that.”
“Humans did?” I’m surprised.
“Of course, they didn’t want to cause panic among Draconians,” he says. “Safety of the race rulers is in their best interest as well.”
“Hon, have some!”
“My Emperor, have some!”
Erik and Gotrid appear in front of me at the same time, both carrying plates with canapés. I just have to ostentatiously roll my eyes again. They couldn’t be more different from each other but when it comes to me, they are the same.
“Love, you didn’t eat enough breakfast,” Erik insists and is frowning at his rival.
I stretch my hand and take one canapé just to make him happy. What should I do with Gotrid, though? He’s actually feeling sad that I didn’t take any from his plate. But if I do, it’ll make Erik mad again.
“Thanks,” Liana takes one in my stead, saving me.
“It’s heart-warming to see that we’re not the only ones,” a female voice speaks up and an elderly elegant lady with long greying hair who seems familiar appears next to Deminas. Gosh, she’s so tiny compared to him! But she has the same demeanour, everything about her is dignified. I could learn from both of them.
“I’m Anya, his wife,” she introduces herself.
Oh, I’ve seen her before, I remember now. She was with Deminas during our early video calls. My mood brightens because Deminas and Anya prove that interspecies relationships can work. Me and Erik are not an exception.
“Nice to meet you, Mrs Anya,” I say and I’m not sure how to be polite to her. I can’t offer her my hand but she’s much older than me so I feel like I’m being extremely rude.
She bows to me but only slightly which is the best possible outcome. Wait a second, if she’s Deminas’s wife, does it make her the Dragonkin Matriarch? Probably not, she might be recognised as Deminas’s spouse but she isn’t a Dragonkin female after all. Still, I’m glad when I feel that the Dragonkin guards are totally protective of her because she isn’t in an easy position.
“I apologise and I know that it’s against the Celestial royal protocol but could I…?” she bites her lip, her mind full of excited anticipation.
“Go ahead,” I smile and stretch my right wing towards her. She seizes the opportunity right away and caresses my feathers.
“So soft,” she beams, “especially when compared to my husband,” she nudges Deminas’s scaly arm teasingly.
I’m astonished to discover that Mrs Anya doesn’t know about my telepathy. Sure, I didn’t reveal it with her present that day when I told all my race ruling friends but I kind of expected Deminas would tell his wife. I wouldn’t be mad if he did but finding out he didn’t, my trust towards him grows even stronger.
“This is an exception, An,” Deminas coughs. “We don’t want Aefener being touched all the time by others just because he allowed you.”
“I’m your spouse, it should be okay,” she answers cheekily and pets my feathers a bit more.
“Your Majesty, would you have a coffee with us?” someone speaks up loudly because they’re stopped in their approach by my guards and can’t get closer.
I turn left and see that they’re the delegates who were sitting quite close to our table, two men and one woman. I check their intentions and they’re nervous and wary but not antagonistic. They seem quite open so I decide to be brave.
“Of course,” I nod confidently and feel that Liana is proud of me even if she doesn’t let it show on her face.
Luviael takes care of finding us a nice spot and soon we’re sitting in several sofas and armchairs, having our first unofficial diplomatic talk. Naturally, I’m nervous about it but Liana is by my side and Erik as well. I convince myself that I have nothing to fear and should I make a faux pas, they’ll hopefully think that it’s a Celestial quirk.
They introduce themselves as the delegates from Mexico, Philippines and Argentina and what I’m catching from them is careful excitement. It turns out that all of them have a Draconian in their family and they’re desperate to talk about it with us. I relax so Luvi has to remind me when it’s high time we head to the conference building.
“Oh, Erik, I…,” I chew my lip because I totally failed to realise that us flying means that he has to go by car without me.
“It’s fine, I’ll ride with Emi,” he assures me.
He is fine with us being separated for half an hour but he isn’t fine with Gotrid flying with me. He’s jealous and for a good reason so I can’t blame him.
“I’ll see you again before you know it,” I kiss him.
We’re long past the point of being shy in front of others or else we would never find the right opportunity. Fortunately, according to the Celestial lore, the Celestial Emperor being openly lovey-dovey with their Consort in public is supported because a happy Emperor means a well-ruling Emperor.
I have absolute trust in Emi that she will keep my partner safe but I’m still nervous when I see him leave. Feeling how Gotrid is excited to accompany me in the air isn’t helping. On the contrary, he’s a major distraction. The excitement I’m catching from him is so Celestial that I have no means how to defend myself against it.
Ms Behera is nerve-wrecked about the whole us-flying-to-the-venue thing, I don’t have to be a telepath to see that. She keeps talking on her phone, coordinating with the police and the army and making sure the drones are ready. Her task is to keep us in check as much as it’s to keep us safe. Some humans might hate us to the point of wanting to hurt us but at the same time should something bad happen to us, it would be a catastrophe for both sides.
But I forget all my worries the moment I flap my wings and get into the air. A few hundred metres above the ground I don’t feel human emotions so strongly and they start to resemble ambient noise. I can still feel my Celestial friends but their minds don’t bother me.
“Your Majesty, this way!” Taranah points out because I perform a few flips and head in the wrong direction.
New York is just huge, much bigger than Prague. I’d get lost immediately but Taranah has a GPS on his watch and the drones accompanying us are also signalling which way to go.
Gotrid adjusts his speed to match mine so that he can fly right next to me. I glance at him and the sight of his beautiful huge wings is enough to arouse me. It’s good that Erik isn’t with me. He can always tell when I feel guilty.
Gotrid grins at me and speeds up. He starts flying around me playfully, releasing his mana like pheromones. I completely forget what our destination is and join him in a Celestial aerial dance. I’ve never done it with Liana or the others before, it didn’t even cross my mind. I vaguely knew it exists in our lore but I was never tempted to try it. It just didn’t feel adequate.
Why though? Then I realise that it’s something that Celestials do only with their partners. It’s a courtship ritual. I want to stop myself, I really do. There’s still time to stop. Why isn’t anyone stopping us? Why does everyone feel supportive despite the fact that we should be heading to the conference building?
I feel inevitably attracted to Gotrid. He’s both a Celestial and totally my type. All it would take is one deep telepathic connection and I’d fall for him. But I can’t. I have Erik, I love him more than anything in the world. Gotrid would make a good lover but Erik is my soul mate and I wouldn’t exchange him for anyone.
I use all my willpower to break the aerial dance and the magical moment fades. My Celestial escort is disappointed that I did. Should I be angry that they were rooting for us? That they totally disregarded Erik? Even Liana forgot herself in the moment, all that scolding Gotrid for nothing.
Surprisingly, Gotrid isn’t disappointed at all. He feels hopeful because I joined him after all. Damn, I didn’t want to give him false hopes. I don’t want to hurt him.
We resume our flight with tangible tension hovering over us. I have a dark premonition that now I showed open interest in another Celestial, my subjects will do anything in their power to put us together. They might respect Erik as my Consort but most of them still aren’t thrilled about me dating a human.
But I don’t want to think about it right now. The conference is starting in a few minutes, I can’t afford to be distracted. I have to work hard for the benefit of my people, my love life has to wait.
When we finally arrive at the venue, we have our impressive entrée just as Liana wanted. Thirty Celestials landing is a sight to see. Cien quickly adjusts my robe and hairstyle while Liana’s maid adjusts my Viceroy’s. Flying in a full ceremonial robe is no joke but we can manage if we watch for the fabric with our telekinesis.
I’m looking for Erik in the crowd of officials who are welcoming us but I can’t see him anywhere. That’s strange, our cars departed sooner than we did on purpose, they should have been here by now. Damn, too many people are pushing on us, I can’t see. I try calling Erik with my mind but there’s no response. What if something happened on the way…? What if…?
“Aefener!” Emi appears in front of me because my guards let her in. Thankfully, they stopped overly eager politicians and the press.
“Emi, where’s Erik?” I’m bewildered. “Didn’t he ride with you?”
“He did and he’s safe,” Emi says but it doesn’t sound reassuring.
“Did something happen?” I gulp.
“You’re stupid, that’s what happened,” Emi frowns. “Didn’t you know that you were being followed by drones owned by the press?”
“O-oh… I… I didn’t,” I look at Liana desperately.
“Of course, we were,” my Viceroy answers with a tone indicating I’m indeed stupid for not realising. “They were part of our protection.”
“Aefener, your flight was being streamed live,” Emi says slowly. “You don’t have to be a Celestial to understand how erotic your flying performance was. Erik was watching the whole thing on his phone.”
I shiver. Erik saw… that.
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