“Ryuu!” Erik almost suffocates me with a hug the moment he sees me. “You left me behind… again!” He’s mildly annoyed with me but he’s happy that I returned unharmed so I’m forgiven instantly.
“I didn’t have a choice,” I shower him with kisses, not caring that everyone is staring at us.
“I know you didn’t but I can still be angry. I was so worried!”
“Were you okay here?” I’m making sure because the atmosphere in the room is extremely tense.
“You mean except for freaking out that monsters from Draconia Online appeared in the real world? Everyone is panicking, of course! A few delegates even had a mental breakdown. I’m managing only because I’m used to weirdness by now.”
“Your Majesty!” Mrs Duke, the UN Secretary-General, addresses me urgently and she’s this close to a mental breakdown herself. “We have to establish a task force immediately. Please, come with us.”
Embarrassment aside this time, I take both of my lover’s hands because I crave intimacy. Considering what just happened, nobody really cares about that anymore. A threat to humanity itself is a much bigger issue than disapproving that the Celestial Emperor has two partners.
I try to provide Erik with some comfort, assure him that everything’s going to be fine. But I can’t send an emotion I’m just not feeling myself. I might not be freaking out but I’m just as anxious as everyone else. The thrill of the battle is still partly resonating within me but I’m afraid that humans will despise us even more—blame us that those monsters are appearing because of us.
Love, don’t close your mind to us, Gotrid sends me his thought because I intentionally cut off myself to them just now. We’re here for you to share your worries.
You’re doing it again, Erik seconds. Taking all responsibility on your fragile shoulders.
I calm down a bit. Whatever future might hold, I have my beloved. I also have Liana and the others. They’re right, I’m not alone in this.
We’re being led to a smaller meeting room since I destroyed the windows in the big hall. Cien manages to find us something to eat and we’re all given sandwiches, cookies and coffee. We’re munching hungrily while the room is getting filled with the delegates. Snacking during meeting must be totally against the protocol but screw that.
“We should wait until the other race rulers return,” I say because it seems Mrs Duke wants to start right away.
“They aren’t returning anytime soon,” Liana shakes her head. “The Dragonkin are still skinning the heligorr, the Earthborn went to hospitals to take care of the wounded and Clawfangs are helping with damage control.”
“They agreed to leave international politics to us,” Liana reminds me.
“She’s right, let’s just start,” Gotrid agrees and stuffs his cookie into my mouth in exchange for my coffee because I had one a short while ago and too much caffeine messes with my anxiety.
I frown. This is exactly the outcome I didn’t want to happen—Celestials taking the political initiative and me being seen as the representative of all Draconians. But I guess that concern is secondary right now considering that monsters from our game appeared in New York.
“Please, show us the footage,” Mrs Duke lets Ms Behera in front of the lectern.
I crane my neck and see our army caretaker sitting next to Delgado and other US representatives. They all look grim, dead serious and when it comes to their feelings, they’re panicky and bewildered. Well, at least I made sure they aren’t psychopaths. They do care about the safety of their citizens.
“This footage from a street camera documented the moment those monsters started appearing,” Ms Behera plays the recording on a 3D projector.
We’re all watching in disbelief because it’s as if the monsters suddenly appeared out of thin air. But only apparently, I notice that the space itself distorted somehow a few seconds beforehand and the monsters came out of that.
“What are we looking at?” Bennett purses his lips and is nervously thumping his fingers against the table.
“Our scientists think it might be some sort of interdimensional portal,” Ms Behera answers uncertainly. “The time space itself started distorting overlaps with the time Draconian delegates started to feel uneasy.”
“You think Draconians might be sensitive to it?” Ichikawa asks.
“We know nothing so far,” she shrugs. “All we have is this footage and a bunch of dead monsters in the centre of New York. Only one thing is certain—regular firearms weren’t much effective against them.”
“I bet we could take out that huge crab monster with enough military power,” Delgado comments venomously, despite the fact that it’s his colleague presenting.
“Military power in the middle of New York City? With civilians in the way?” Mrs Duke is horrified by that idea. “There would be many more casualties!”
“Are you omitting on purpose that our powers were extremely effective?” Liana speaks up, annoyed.
Delgado twitches and Ms Behera is afraid to meet our eyes. The atmosphere is tense and not only because of the monsters. They finally saw what we can do. The whole world saw it. Sure, the monsters were scary but we decimated them.
“Right now our priority should be to find out how is such a thing even possible and stop it,” he says. “While it’s not any more shocking than people transforming into fictional races, these monsters endanger civilians. We have to prepare for global panic.”
“It can’t be a coincidence!” Delgado clicks his tongue. “The Great Evolution happened months ago, yet this rift or whatever it is appeared when all race rulers were present at the same time and place.”
I actually agree with him this time and recall Takeda’s words before he attacked me. Let’s see if you’re prepared. I thought he meant to test me if I’m prepared to withstand his telepathic pressure but what if I was wrong? What if he wanted to test all of us to see if we can defeat those monsters? Is he controlling them somehow?
“If it’s not a coincidence, are you implying that someone has the technology to make those monsters appear?” Mrs Duke gasps for air.
“Is that less probable than sitting in the room with angels who can do magic?” Delgado snorts. “Someone or something must have triggered it.”
We keep discussing the issue for two hours straight. We even invite via a video call several quantum physicists to help us understand at least something but they’re also staring at the footage with open mouths, lost for words. They formulate a few theories but that’s all it is for now—theories.
During a short break, we call Ingri and Zetraya and ask about the situation in Europe.
“Panic, what else,” Ingri sighs on the camera. “My parents are totally freaking out and told me they’re thinking about redesigning their wine cellar into a shelter where they could hide and barricade themselves should monsters appear near our house.”
I shiver. What if it comes to that and monsters start randomly spawning around the planet?
“Aefener, it seems that sensing those rifts is inborn to all Draconians,” Liana caresses my left wing to calm me down. “As is the desire to battle these monsters.”
“You think that Draconians living in the area would instinctively hurry there and try to kill whatever comes out of the rift?” Erik scratches his chin.
“Hopefully?” she can’t be certain. “The problem is that our levels are still very low.”
Lunch follows. I see that the delegates are eating just to fill their stomach and almost no one has real appetite which isn’t surprising. It must look twice as weird that we Celestials are literally stuffing ourselves and are asking for second helpings. Liana goes to sit with Bauerova and Elizabeth, leaving her chair empty for a visitor.
“Is my husband okay?” Deminas’s wife Anya claims that chair right away. She’s nervous and worried. “He didn’t take his phone.”
“He wasn’t injured,” I assure her. “I think the Dragonkin are just too busy dissecting the monster. It must be hard to salvage the chitin, heligorrs are very sturdy.”
Anya turns green.
“Not during lunch, hon,” Erik nudges me. “You Draconians might be used to it from the game but most of us have never seen even a dead animal.”
“Sorry,” I apologise and take another bite of my veggie burger. “Obtaining valuable materials out of dead monsters is a normal practice for other races.”
“Not for Celestials?” Anya asks curiously.
“Nope, it’s too messy and there’s nothing of value to us,” I say. “The Dragonkin and Clawfangs are after rare materials, the Earthborn are interested extraordinary genetic features but there’s really nothing for us in it. We don’t forge armour, use weapons or create medicine.”
“We’re interested in other stuff,” Gotrid explains to both her and Erik. “Rare minerals, precious metals and such.”
“Like gems and crystals?” she tilts her head and leaves her lunch half-eaten.
“Exactly,” he nods. “When it comes to racial crafts, Celestials were enchanters and jewellers in the game.”
“Were or still are?” she starts playing with her ring that has a small gem.
“That remains to be seen,” I say.
“So you could enchant this?” she takes the ring off and passes it to me.
“Eeeh,” I’m not sure what she expects me to do.
“Enchanting unlocks at level 35,” Gotrid comments. “I’m afraid we don’t have that particular skill yet… if we ever will.”
“Maybe something simple would work?” I chew my lip, suddenly eager to at least try and berating myself for not considering it earlier. “We learnt that previous level system doesn’t limit us as much anymore.”
“Maybe not you, our embodiment of magic,” Gotrid chuckles. “They pretty much still apply to the rest of us.”
I realise Mrs Anya handed me her wedding ring. Her eyes are sparkling with curious anticipation and Erik is also intrigued. Hmm, so how do I go about it? In the game, it was just a matter of taking an item out of inventory, casting a compatible spell and binding the symbol into it. The effects depended on one’s level and the amount of mana invested.
No such shortcut here but I want to try. I decide to imbue the ring with something useful for her especially and conjure a transfiguration spell for minor passive healing. The symbol materialises as a hologram in front of me which isn’t really that impressive even though it leaves Mrs Anya in awe.
The tricky part is to get the spell into the gem somehow and make it stay until it runs of energy. I make an effort to minimalize the symbol into a tiny letter and send it towards the gem in the ring. The gem flashes for a second and then it’s back to its original colour. I’m relieved that I didn’t accidentally destroy the ring—Deminas would kill me—because that can also happen if the caster isn’t focused enough.
“I don’t know if it’ll work or not,” I return the ring to her.
Mrs Anya puts it back on her finger eagerly and sighs out.
“It’s pleasantly warm,” she announces. “What’s the effect?”
“Passive healing,” I say. “Can you wear it for a day or two and then tell me if you feel any different?”
“Sure,” she nods enthusiastically. “I hope it eases my back pain. Deminas asked some of his Earthborn friends to take a look at me and they helped a lot but I’m afraid not even they can help with normal signs of getting old.”
“Well, this healing is Celestial and it’s not exactly made for humans,” I admit. “Its effects will probably be only temporary since your back pain is a chronic issue and you don’t possess a mana circuit it should properly react to but it might alleviate your pain for a while. If it works, that is.”
“We’ll see, thank you,” she smiles gratefully and goes back to the Dragonkin table because she finished eating anyway.
“Seriously, Aefener?!” Liana pronounces my name angrily. I twitch because I didn’t notice she returned from her chat with the Czech Prime Minister. “Did you just try to casually enchant something?!”
“Eh… yes?” I’m taken aback because I don’t understand why she’s angry about it. Erik doesn’t know either but Gotrid slaps his forehead, grasping the mistake but far too late.
“And you do realise that you did it in front of everyone?” she hisses and rolls her eyes ostentatiously.
“Oh,” I freeze and look around. The delegates are staring at me, craning their necks to see better if the wings of my guards are in the way.
“Li, there’s no point being angry with him,” Gotrid wraps his hand around my back. “Our Emperor is the embodiment of magic so he doesn’t realise when he’s doing something extraordinary.”
“Yep, no common sense when it comes to magic,” Erik seconds.
I frown at both of them because they didn’t defend me against Liana and because they tend to agree with each other only when it comes to my quirks.
“It might not even work,” I try to make light of it.
“Knowing you, it will,” Liana purses her lips and brushes her wings against mine.
And don’t you think that I forgot about your long-distance telepathy you kept secret, she says menacingly. We’ll have a chat about that soon.
The lunch is over and we continue the meeting. While the delegates are arguing about almost everything, nobody believes that the attack was an isolated incident. The minimum in which all countries find the common ground is that we need to protect people. Not even Delgado argues with that however much he resists cooperating with us.
Deminas finally returns twenty minutes into the afternoon session. He didn’t bother changing his clothes which are stained in several places with monster blood and stink from skinning the heligorr. The delegates have to exercise remarkable self-control not to wrinkle their noses when he sits down. Some of them even turn pale at the sight of blood.
“I’ve met a few local Draconians who showed up to help us,” he says, his deep voice resonating. “It seems that regardless of one’s level, we all felt when the rift opened approximately in the twenty-kilometre radius. High-levels hurried to the source on instinct, only they were too far so they arrived after the battle.”
“So what you’re saying is…?” Mrs Duke doesn’t dare to push him.
“I’m saying that in case of another monster attack, Draconians in the vicinity will voluntarily come to help,” Deminas claims.
“And what makes you think we’ll allow you to become armed forces?” Delgado almost jumps from his seat and is clenching his fists.
A heated debate follows. I’d probably develop a splitting headache because of so many jarred emotions all around me but Gotrid and Erik are holding my hands under the table, putting my mind back to balance. Their mental states couldn’t be more different. Gotrid is feeling thrill and excitement, he’s still pumped up from the battle. Erik is shocked and worried about his friends and family.
I realise I need both of their points of view. I have to see how Draconians perceive this turns of events and how humans react. As for myself, I’m torn. My Celestial nature reacted exactly as it should and my Emperor’s nature made me a perfect commander. There’s no humanity in me left, yet, there’s still something interfering with my pure Celestialness—being a telepath and an empath.
And it alters my perception more than I thought. I refused to see it before but I finally have to admit to myself that I never quite understood the world the same way everyone else does. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing necessarily but if I want to become a good ruler, I need other perspectives. Fortunately, I have my partners who can provide that for me.
We’re here for you, love, Erik gives me a faint smile, the best he can muster in a current situation.
“Now more than ever we need to progress with the investigation,” Delgado says, his tone accusatory.
“You think we’re not doing enough?” Ichikawa gets offended. “We ran all security checks, read all logs, interrogated everyone at Nebula, are always on the lookout for those missing developers… we tried everything!”
“We still have dead monsters to research that can shed some light. They are being transported to our scientific facilities as we speak,” Ms Behera tries to calm her President.
“Only after they were scavenged by Draconians,” Delgado hisses angrily.
“Our kill, our loot,” Deminas loses his temper and hits the table in front of him, startling everyone in the room. For a Dragonkin to lose his cool, Delgado must really get on his nerves.
“Although it was our Emperor who killed the heligorr,” Gotrid mumbles silently so that only our circle can hear it.
I poke him. Now’s not the time to argue who did what exactly. The Dragonkin took care of filandras and helped rescuing humans. I wonder why Emi didn’t return. Since Deminas is here, it must mean the situation is under control for now. I doubt Emi would stay longer than is necessary just for humans’ sake. Did she ditch politics completely?
“Celestials offer full cooperation,” I declare to prevent any misunderstandings from the start.
“And what does that mean, Your Majesty? Just so we’re clear,” Bennett raises a question. “Of course, we’re happy for you saying so, I mean no disrespect.”
“We’ll welcome any experts on the matter you send to us, we’ll share information we acquire and expect the same from you, we’ll cooperate with your police force and the army considering they won’t hinder us,” I name a few points that come to my mind.
“But the monsters we kill will be primarily ours,” Deminas adds quickly.
“With sharing samples, naturally,” I narrow my eyes at him.
I don’t want to say I misjudged Deminas but it seems that the saying is true: Only real situations prove one’s character. In this case, a racial trait. It’s not like the Dragonkin are hoarders but they do have a tendency to be very possessive of whatever they deem worthy to use in their weapon and armour crafting.
“Sharing samples is fine with us,” Deminas agrees in the end.
And another round of talks follows. It doesn’t seem I’ll be able to take that nap Twyla was recommending.
“It’s as if this is all one big conspiracy, a part of someone’s plan,” a German representative sighs. “First, new races start appearing literally overnight. Then, these monsters only Draconians can fight effectively. What’s next?”
“Must be aliens,” someone mutters mockingly. Only it doesn’t sound that far-fetched so everybody twitches nervously in their seats. Because despite how amazing the technology of the 22nd century is, humanity doesn’t have the means to make something like this reality.
After we agree on the basic points of cooperation, the discussion gets to a dead end of assumptions and wild guesses. Mrs Duke lets a few crazy theories to be heard before she officially ends today’s meeting because it doesn’t go anywhere and everyone is dead tired.
“The priority is to ensure the safety of our citizens,” she summarises. “Police and army forces all over the world should be on the highest alert and be ready to cooperate with Draconians who might spontaneously show up should monsters strike again.
I feel that Delgado is pissed about the outcome. As the president of one of the most influential countries in the world, he can dare to disagree with the UN arrangements. But if he blatantly refused everything we agreed on and American citizens would come to harm because of that, he would be seen as incompetent so he was forced to make some concessions and commitments.
There should have been another banquet tonight but, considering the circumstances, it was cancelled. I’m really glad I don’t have to force myself to socialise after all that happened.
“I’ll ride with Deminas, don’t worry,” Erik says when it’s time to depart.
I keep kissing him until he has to push me away into Gotrid’s embrace or I wouldn’t leave him. Our flight goes without any hindrances but it’s far from relaxing. Even though we’re flying quite high up so the telepathic imprints from below are just ambient echoes to me, I can feel that humans are scared and in a shock. What if they hold it against us?
Aefener, can you hear me? Liana is focusing intensely, consciously sending her thoughts to me. She adjusts her speed to match mine so we’re flying next to each other.
I can, I answer resignedly, expecting to be berated.
Why didn’t you tell me? she asks but her tone isn’t accusatory. Your Consorts know, don’t they?
I wanted to share something special with them, I reply slowly. Also… it makes me nervous every time my telepathy gets stronger. I didn’t want you to make a fuss.
Is this how you see it? she’s sad about it. You’re afraid to confide to me because I’d make a fuss?
I didn’t mean it like that, you have my absolute trust, I say quickly. I simply wanted to have a little secret. You do realise that I don’t have any privacy?
I’m sorry, Aefener, she sighs in her mind. We want to give you as much privacy as possible but you’re our Emperor. We’re scared something bad might happen to you. We need to protect you all the time so that we’re able to sleep. How can be protect you effectively if we don’t know that your telepathy got more acute? You might be more susceptible now.
I try to understand that, Li, I really do. But these days I can’t even decide what to wear and what to eat. You’re total control freaks, I say the harsh truth openly.
She nervously flies up so now she’s hovering a few metres above me. I can feel her thinking frantically but she doesn’t formulate her thoughts clearly enough and with the intention to send them to me so I can only guess what is going through her head.
My love, Gotrid addresses me instead. Were you talking to the Viceroy just now? Nothing pleasant I presume? You’re frowning.
He feels my inner struggle because he’s perfectly attuned to me by now. He starts flying around playfully to distract me. I give in and join him in a Celestial courtship dance, this time fully knowing what we’re doing and with Erik’s blessing. My escort gives us a few minutes of free flight to just enjoy ourselves because who knows when we’ll have time for it again.
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