Liana pushes me forward because I freeze. She knows what I’m going through right now but there’s no other way. All eyes are on us and we can’t appear weak or confused.
They wouldn’t let him go anywhere without protection, Liana sends me a comforting thought and stands next to me where my partner is supposed to be.
“Your Majesty, this way,” Ms Behera emerges from the crowd with a few bodyguards.
She notices right away that something’s wrong but she doesn’t say anything. At least not aloud. I can’t read her mind without direct touch but I can feel her coldly calculating. Will she use Erik’s absence against me? Does she realise how important he is to me?
“He’s still in the building sulking somewhere,” Emi whispers to me. “I gave him two of my guards and Deminas also contributed two of his. He’s safe, don’t worry.”
Cameras are flashing, people are pushing and we have to keep moving. I keep telepathically calling Erik with all my might but I can’t focus properly and he’s probably too far away anyway. I’m angry at myself that I didn’t practice long-distance telepathy more. I’m angry at myself that I didn’t resist the temptation—that I let my Celestial nature overcome me.
Gotrid clumsily tries to provide comfort but I look at him so broken-heartedly that he backs away, finally realising that he went too far. His cheeky smile disappears, his confidence is gone. But it’s too late to repent, damage has been done. Not being able to face me, he disappears into the crowd and, frankly, I’m glad for that. One less distraction to worry about.
We meet the other race rulers and I cling to their Draconian minds desperately. Liana keeps checking on me, making sure I’m managing among so many humans. In any other situation I would probably go blank from shock of possibly losing Erik but the emotions all around me are too acute. Moreover, my Emperor’s nature kicks in. I have to do my best for the benefit of my people, personal issues aside.
People are staring, bowing, cameras won’t stop flashing and the corridors I’m being led through seem endless. But not really, eventually I find myself being seated. The press was made to go to their designated spot so I can breathe more freely. Liana sits next to me and close to us Emi, her Beta Gin she was finally reunited with in real life, Deminas, Fefnir, Twyla and Werden.
I panic for a second when I realise our guards can’t stand behind me. Despite being the best Celestial caster, I feel despairingly unprotected.
We got an exception, Liana pokes me gently. Look, Vermiel, Miruel and the others are standing by the walls. I wouldn’t agree to come in the first place if we couldn’t take our own security.
I slowly look around. The human delegates are staring at us, mostly antagonistically and full of fear. We’re aliens to them. A threat. The Czech Prime Minister sits behind us and I recall the words of her wife Elizabeth. I try focusing on those delegates who are cautiously open to Draconians and discover that there’re more than a handful of them. Not everyone here is our enemy.
The first hour passes without us uttering a single word. Formalities, reports, statement after statement. Then we’re finally allowed in front of the lectern but this starting time slot is only about expressing our willingness to cooperate. To look amicable enough.
I expected I’d be more nervous about it. Liana is certainly worried I’ll shake visibly when I have to face everyone and say a few words. But to be honest, I don’t care. Catching so many human emotions isn’t pleasant, my head starts hurting a bit, but I realise humans don’t scare me. On the contrary, I’m the scariest person in the room. They’re all wary of me.
My voice gets perfectly even and firm when I’m repeating the speech Liana prepared for me in advance. I’m the Celestial Emperor. Face to face with so many humans who are against Draconians, I know what I have to do to protect my people. My personal insecurities don’t matter. Maybe it’s for the best that Erik isn’t with me right now. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be too Celestial in his eyes.
“Well done, Your Majesty,” Luviael praises me when I return to my seat.
Liana winks at me, proud of my achievement. I delivered a perfect opening speech and held my wings high. After today, nobody will remember that I used to be just a gamer and student.
I catch a glimpse of the American President. He’s sitting very far from us but I still notice that he isn’t happy about my confident performance. I even managed to mesmerise some delegates who were cautiously open to us. They wanted to see an angel and I gave them exactly that.
Other race rulers follow and especially Twyla and Werden make the best impression because they talk about how effective the Earthborn powers might be when it comes to medicine and the environment. Unfortunately, Deminas is formidable even when talking about peaceful coexistence and Emi looks like she would rather be anywhere else than here. But as a whole we are successful in calming the delegates and preparing the ground.
“Coffee breaks are just as important as meetings,” Liana reminds me so that I won’t let my guard down when it’s time for some refreshments. I recall a lesson in diplomacy with Luviael. Most matters are resolved over coffee, she told me back then. Which means that despite being on a break, I can’t relax. Far from it.
“Your Majesty,” the EU President Dwayne Bennett appears in front of me as soon as it’s appropriate to stand up. Ms Ortega and Dubois are with him, clinging to their boss like a second shadow.
“Mr President,” I simply nod and wait for his reaction.
I can feel his repulsion but his bow is perfect. He’s a professional. He even keeps his emotions in check. I can tell he doesn’t like us but he’s willing to negotiate and suppress his distaste if necessary.
“Would you have some coffee with us?” he invites me while not even considering I’d refuse.
“Of course,” I answer politely, playing my part in this political game.
I used to be afraid of Bennett, he always seemed so uncompromising whenever I had to deal with him. But now I understand that he’s just a man with his agenda. He hates Draconians because he thinks we’re a threat to humanity. He hates us because he wants to protect humans so I can’t help feeling a tiny bit of sympathy towards him.
“This is the safest place on the planet, Your Majesty,” he comments because our guards re-join us immediately.
“We can’t be cautious enough, Mr President,” Liana answers lightly.
It seems a few other delegates are disappointed that the EU representatives stole us first. They might be scared of us but their intention to get in a favourable position with us is stronger. I suspect I’d look more approachable if Erik was by my side. Oh, Erik, where are you? How are you feeling? Can you even forgive me?
But I don’t have time to ponder. An overly anxious staffer leads us to a small private lounge and just when I think how awkward it’ll probably be, Bauerova and her wife Elizabeth join us. Bennett frowns but he doesn’t say anything. Bohemia is a part of the European Union after all and our precious political ally.
We sit down, me and Liana taking the sofa, Bauerova with Elizabeth the other one and the rest gets seated into armchairs. I bet other Draconian rulers were also apprehended by diplomatic representatives and are in a similar situation. I’m quite worried about Emi who doesn’t even try to hide her resentment towards humans and isn’t exactly subtle.
“I won’t beat around the bush, Your Majesty,” Bennett clears his throat. “We have an official offer for you.”
“You do?” I raise my eyebrow.
“You mean an offer for the Celestials or all Draconians, Mr President?” Liana wants to be clear on that.
“All Draconians, of course,” he confirms.
I resist rolling my eyes because that would look immature but I don’t resist sighing. And it has an intended effect, the EU representatives stiffen. It seems they’re serious about it so offending me is the last thing they want.
“I don’t represent all races, Mr President,” I set the record straight. Again. “If you’re serious, you’ll have to invite all of us.”
“To be brutally honest, Your Majesty, you’re the easiest to deal with,” Bennett says surprisingly bluntly. “It’s obvious that the Clawfang Alpha hates humans, the Earthborn King and Queen don’t have other topics than ecology and Patriarch Deminas won’t even bother with the EU despite many Dragonkin living in European countries. We did try opening diplomatic talks with him but failed.”
I chew my lip. Bennett might have a point. Emi has little interest in politics and she’s leaving after the conference to basically go on a road trip. Twyla and Werden really don’t talk much about anything besides the environment and their medical research and Deminas is too busy in Asia.
“What’s your offer then?” I ask after a brief consideration.
“Mutual support,” Bennett says. “We can provide funding in exchange for cooperating with us and making sure Draconians follow our laws.”
“I’m sorry, Mr President, but what made you change your mind?” Liana narrows her eyes. Even Bauerova looks at him with suspicion.
Bennett twitches nervously.
“We don’t want what’s happening in the US to happen in the EU,” he answers slowly. “Riots, civil disobedience, violence… we simply can’t have that.”
“And by following your laws you mean…?” I tilt my head.
“We’re beyond trying to limit your autonomy at this point,” Dubois takes over. “There’s no doubt you’ll become a formidable military power in just a few months. All we want is that Draconians respect our laws when integrating within human society. Punishing offenders can be in your jurisdiction.”
That’s more than generous. Can you tell if they’re being honest? Liana asks me in her thoughts because our wings are touching.
Bennett, Dubois and Ms Ortega are all extremely nervous about it, I can feel their anxiety. But they aren’t hiding anything. They’re just frightened by the situation in the US they witnessed first-hand. Bennett was trying to toy with me before but that’s in the past now. When looking into my unnaturally golden eyes, he’s actually scared shitless because he can’t see anything even remotely human in me.
“We still need to discuss it with the other race rulers,” I say and pass myself a cup of coffee that just arrived using telekinesis. It’s both innocent and utterly intimidating and I meant it that way. I wouldn’t do it if Erik was present, though.
“Of course,” Bennett nods. “We just wanted to know if you’re in favour and we can count on your support.”
“You mean if I’m willing to persuade them,” I’m not fooled. “You can continue being brutally honest, Mr President, I appreciate it.”
We keep discussing the matter and I’m asserting myself more and more. I still don’t know a lot of things but at least I’m confident now that it’s not something I wouldn’t be able to learn. All these politicians who seemed so scary to me before are just humans with more life experience than me. Nothing less, nothing more.
When the coffee break is over, we return to the hall and the conference continues. We’re beyond pleasantries and start negotiating new approaches and policies. When Delgado, the US President, steps in front of the lectern and begins his talk, the overall atmosphere in the room changes. Everyone tenses after just a few sentences that come out of his mouth. I’m happy to find out that the majority strongly disagrees with him.
“It’s for our protection but at the same time it won’t hurt the transformed,” he insists after a brief introduction of his argument. “We need to monitor Draconians and chipping them is the easiest way.”
Liana hisses but not because of the unbelievable proposition. She hisses at Emi who angrily hits the table, startling everyone. I can feel her anger rising to astronomical heights. Clawfangs are hardly made to sit quietly at meetings and being diplomatic.
“Are you fucking serious?” Emi bursts, speaking totally out of her turn.
I can feel how human delegates perceive her—like a dangerous wild animal. I finally understand why Liana was so nervous every time Emi was supposed to do any representative job. She just isn’t cut for it.
Delgado smirks and I realise he wanted us to show open hostility. He’s provoking us on purpose! Deminas kept his cool but Twyla and Werden let off irritated pheromones. I have to do something.
“That’s exactly the kind of approach that ignited riots in your country,” I say, trying to sound totally calm and collected. “Draconians are protesting because you’re suppressing us. Treat us equally and with respect and your problems will disappear. I don’t see any massive civil disobedience in the EU.”
Delgado purses his lips and looks angrily at Bennett. He must know that the EU President met with us during the break.
I consider it for a moment. I don’t want to decide such vital matters without all of us race rulers discussing it together first but I have a unique chance to beat Delgado. Emi is too furious to think straight, Deminas refused to deal with the EU and Twyla with Werden are from South America anyway. Maybe I can try taking the initiative after all?
“The EU offered us open support,” I say slowly and clearly. “I can’t talk for all races but Celestials accept it.”
There are gasps and astonished murmurs in the hall. I surprised even Bennett who probably thought we’ll keep it a secret for a while. Well, I won’t. Now the EU can’t take it back. It’s a risky decision but I think it’ll work out. If not, I’m taking full responsibility as the Celestial Emperor.
For a few seconds I’m afraid that I maybe acted too rashly but Liana nods approvingly and I can feel that all my Celestial friends back my decision. I take a deep breath and my wings relax. I let my Celestial Emperor’s nature do its job and it feels good. I’m gradually growing into my new role.
“Clawfang Alpha,” I address Emi by her official title because it seems appropriate. “There will be hardships and no doubt many misunderstandings but I’m willing to give humans a chance. I won’t tolerate racist bullying but I believe we can make this work if we try.”
Emi looks at me and forces herself to calm down. She still hates humans but she trusts my judgment. And not even she wants a civil war.
“Sounds reasonable,” Deminas agrees. “If it works in the EU, they can lead by example.”
I slightly nod, thanking him for his support. The Earthborn King and Queen also don’t mind. I wonder if it’s because they don’t live in the EU or because they trust me so much.
“Mr President,” the UN Secretary-General Myren Duke stands up. “I have to remind you that Draconians have been acknowledged by the UN as nations, meaning all basic rights apply to them. Involuntary chipping would be violating these very laws.”
Delgado is able to keep his expression emotionless but notice him clenching his fists. He presents a few more arguments but they aren’t really having the impact he wished for. We agreed to cooperate so it’s the US coming off like the ones not willing to work on peaceful solutions. We won this round.
It’s high time for a bit late lunch break. Now that I don’t have to focus solely on politics, I’m looking for Erik with my mind again. I do feel him in the building but that’s all. Can he forgive me? Will he be able to accept that there are parts of me that are totally Celestial and I can’t resist them?
“Sorry for that, I wasn’t professional,” Emi joins me on our way to the dining room. “Clawfangs aren’t good at controlling their temper. We’re generally a friendly bunch but we obviously weren’t made for sitting on our butts, listening to political bullshit. You were great back there, Aefener.”
“Thanks, but you’re great at other things,” I assure her.
“Exactly, we’re meant to complement each other,” she says enthusiastically. “Therefore, I’m not worried to leave politics entirely to you when I leave for my trip.”
“Entirely?” I blink, confused. “But you said that you will stay in touch?”
“I’ll certainly try,” she promises. “Still, I won’t bother with politics anymore. I’m just not the right person for that.”
“I can’t decide for the Clawfangs, Emi,” I refuse.
“And I’m not asking you to,” she shakes her head. “I’ll keep my people in check but I’m leaving global politics in your capable hands. I trust you’ll work for the benefit of all Draconians.”
“B-but…!” I can’t believe my ears. Is she planning to throw all the responsibility on me?
“Training warriors, securing resources, recon, spying… we Clawfangs will gladly take care of that,” she offers. “Just don’t torture us by politics and formal occasions. That’s the Celestial thing, it’s evident after today.”
“Aefener, she’s right,” Liana concurs. “We should focus on developing our talents and listen to our nature.”
“Following that logic, my talent is magic and flying, not politics,” I oppose.
“That’s not true, you were spectacular,” Emi nudges me. “I could never take on the US President like that. All I did was throw a tantrum.”
“You were spectacular,” Liana caresses my right wing.
Coming from her, that’s a huge compliment. Liana never praises people for minor stuff. But I don’t feel particularly good about myself. Not with Erik still moping somewhere while I can’t go to look for him and apologise. I’m starting to find politics easy compared to relationships.
Li, why didn’t you stop us? I use the time we spend walking to talk privately with my Viceroy. I’m not saying it’s your fault but you of all people should have been reasonable about it.
I was lost in the moment just as you were, she answers. I was mesmerised by your mana leaking, at first I also didn’t quite know what the dance meant and then… you looked so happy. You deserve to be happy.
I love Erik more than anything, you know that. I am happy with him, I declare.
That’s the thing, Aefener, she says carefully. I don’t think you are. At least not fully. You crave a Celestial partner, try to admit it to yourself.
Let’s say I do admit it… still, it changes nothing, I say defiantly. I won’t leave Erik unless it’s him who wants to break up with me.
Who says anything about breaking up? she flutters her wings.
We don’t get to continue with our conversation because we arrive to the dining hall and I’m seated next to Deminas and Twyla. I’m pleasantly surprised that I’m allowed to mingle, I really want to talk to my friends and make sure that they’re okay with my decision even though I clearly stated that it’s only my race that agreed to cooperate with the EU.
“It’s more than okay, Aefener, you did good,” Deminas isn’t against the idea. “I’m sorry that I’m not eager to cooperate with European politicians but I’m extremely busy in Asia.”
“But it concerns your people,” I remind him. “There’re many Dragonkin living in the EU countries.”
“Just as there are many Celestials living in Asian countries,” he shrugs. “We can’t be everywhere so I think it’s inevitable we divide our spheres of influence and trust each other that we’ll work to the benefit all races, not only ours.”
“However, as far as global politics goes,” Twyla cuts in, “I think it’s wise to leave it to you primarily.”
I cry. Not her as well!
“Humans see you as our main representative anyway,” the Earthborn Queen continues, “and as a Celestial, you’re a natural. We should focus on what suits us best.”
“Complement each other,” I repeat what Emi said.
Both Twyla and Deminas nod in unison. Is there no way I can get away from it? Bennett and Delgado might not have been wrong after all when seeing me as the representative of all Draconians. I can still hate it, though.
“Ehm… what are you doing?” I frown because Twyla suddenly touches my hand and I feel her rooty tentacles connecting to me.
“Checking up on your health, dear,” she smiles innocently. “Your body desperately needs nutrients so eat properly, will you?”
Only now I notice that Cien put a starter in front of me—a creamy asparagus soup with a toast. It’s super delicious but I can’t really enjoy it because Erik isn’t with me. It should be him sitting by my side. And his absence doesn’t go unnoticed. While spouses aren’t allowed into the conference hall because of space, they accompanied their partners for lunch.
It seems Erik not being here already spread some rumours and made the delegates rather anxious. I’m not the only one who sees him as a bridge.
My heart sinks when Vermiel tells me after lunch that the Royal Consort decided to return to the hotel room so they gave him an escort. What if he means to pack his things and leave?
“Your relationship isn’t so shallow, Aefener,” Liana encourages me. “Erik just needs some time to think but he’ll come around. He’s madly in love with you, there’s no way he’d leave.”
Afternoon goes without any significant problems. We’re called to give a speech again but this time I let Liana do it, she’s much more knowledgeable. Deminas expresses his sincere intention to manage Draconians in Asia, Emi promises to visit all big Clawfang communities one after another and Werden with Twyla present a concrete plan how to revitalise some deforested areas in South America.
There’s no event planned for this evening as most delegates are still recovering from jet lag so we leave after the last session of the day. We can fly back to our hotel but for the first time ever I don’t feel any thrill. I’ll face Erik in a few minutes.
“Where’s Gotrid?” I realise I haven’t seen him the whole day. I know that I kind of sent him away but I didn’t actually believe it would put him off for too long.
“Hopefully reflecting upon himself somewhere,” Liana shrugs.
“Is he okay?” I worry. “Everyone saw him with me so he isn’t anonymous anymore.”
“He checked at the hotel four hours ago,” Miruel tells me to calm me down. “Let’s go, we’re ready.”
Flying provides some comfort but it isn’t as enjoyable when my mind is full of worries. My over-thinking brain keeps coming up with catastrophic scenarios. Erik will be mad at me for weeks. He won’t trust me ever again. He’ll say that we’re too different and ditch me. Anyway, I’m prepared to swallow my Emperor’s pride and just apologise. And keep apologising until he forgives me.
“Your Majesty, your wings are shaking,” Luvi notices when we land again.
“Facing politicians isn’t nearly as scary as facing an angry partner,” I say nervously.
I focus on one step at a time and I don’t even protest against the elevator. And then I’m standing in front of our hotel suite. I want to knock but my guards readily open the door for me.
I slowly get inside and realise that I feel both Erik and Gotrid in the apartment. Those two… they didn’t get into a fight, did they? Gotrid has magic but Erik is physically much stronger and agile than a Celestial. Under certain circumstances and considering our low level, it could be a fair fight. But surely somebody would stop them if they did…?
I run across the lobby into the living room and freeze because I can’t quite comprehend what I’m seeing. Erik and Gotrid are sitting on the sofa and it seems they’re having a serious conversation.
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