A short power nap helped to rest my wings but hunger got progressively worse. I squeeze my painfully growling stomach and sigh. As if that wasn’t enough, my wings are starting to itch. Did some insects bit me while I was sleeping? A forest really isn’t a place for a Celestial, I need to get out of here.
I try to stand up but I get dizzy immediately. I can’t seem do to anything on an empty stomach. It’s our general racial weakness but, as always, I have it much worse. For some reason I got everything Celestial-related seriously loaded and that applies to magic abilities as well weaknesses. Another mystery to solve. Why me? What makes me so special?
I land back on soft moss, cross my legs, snuggle back into my wings and decide to just wait to be rescued. It’s not very heroic but it is what it is. I simply can’t move, my body is too starved. I used to carry a GPS tracking device but that was before my friends were able to accompany me during flights so I have nothing on me right now.
Wait a second, didn’t that Soren guy mention something about Celestials being able to sense where I am? Could that be true? If so, I should be eventually rescued even if I stay put. On the contrary, it would be probably easier for them to find me if I don’t move.
I feel partial relief but it mainly freaks me out. If my overwhelming mana capacity is like a beacon to Celestials, it means they can track me and there’s no place for me on the whole planet to hide. I’m bound to my subjects forever; they will never let me go. This Emperor business is life sentence which, in my unfortunate case, could mean centuries.
Would I really abdicate if I had a chance, though? Putting aside our strange lore which says the Celestial Emperor cannot abdicate because they are the embodiment of magic—one of a kind—there’s also that part of me which just feels like the Emperor. I am the Emperor.
No, I don’t like politics. I don’t want such crushing responsibility. But, at the same time, there’s that burning desire deep within me that wants nothing else than to ensure that my subjects are safe and our race has future. I want and I have to protect Celestials. It’s like a calling I can’t ignore.
I’d never worked so hard before as during these past months. Yet, I don’t particularly mind. Of course, I’d welcome actual free time but working ten hours every day doesn’t feel like such a chore when I’m doing it for my race. For all Draconians. Liana is a workaholic because that’s just the way she is but I work hard only for others. Is that an empath’s quirk or the Emperor’s? Or possibly both so I really can’t fight the urge?
I pull my wings tighter and hug my knees. I wanted some alone time to think but, the truth is, the unnatural telepathic silence is so stifling it makes me anxious. I shouldn’t have flown away. Not only it was stupid and immature of me, I crave the minds of my friends and even the people I don’t know that well. I think it’s pretty much confirmed—telepaths cannot stand solitude.
In the end, I’m quite happy with being found as soon as possible. However, there’ll have to be some significant changes. I understand that Liana, Erik and the others wanted to protect me but they have to understand that’s not the way how to go about it. I’m afraid the only way how to make them finally understand is to act more imperial.
More… imperial. I chew my lip. Am I still afraid of certain parts of me? Am I subconsciously acting meeker because I don’t want to be feared? I was always a rather timid person but I was never really scared of people. I longed for connections, I was just worried they’d find out about my telepathy sooner or later, call me a monster and report me to the government.
Well, I don’t have to be worried about that anymore. All my friends accepted my extra sensory ability rather easily and, in the eyes of Celestials, I guess it simply makes me even more powerful. And should human governments find out eventually, I have no doubt my subjects would protect me fiercely.
I take a deep breath to calm my wildly beating heart but I’m more excited than anxious now. I was gradually working on this and I think I can finally do it. I’ll stop hiding my true self… this time for real. Entirely. I’ll take a leap of faith. I’ll put all trust in the people who care about me—which ultimately means all my subjects I guess—and hope for the same treatment.
And for the fuck’s sake, I should stop being afraid of what I can do. I defeated a heligorr yesterday. Human politicians are becoming a piece of cake for me. I just flew away from thousands of Celestials. Why am I still underestimating myself? What’s holding me back? There’s nothing for me to fear anymore.
And I shouldn’t suppress my powers either. I take another deep breath and decide to destroy all my mental blockers in one go. I was so desperate to put them up again after Takeda shattered them that I refused to admit I felt much freer without them. I thank them for protecting me for all those years when I did need them and then dissolve them peacefully.
It’s like a heavy weight has been lifted from my chest. I’m a telepath and I should be proud of it. I try to comfort myself that there’s no way the things I’m supposed to perceive would harm me. Sure, too much is too much but that also applies to music that is too loud and light too bright. Normal intensity shouldn’t be a problem. It won’t be a problem anymore. I’m sure about that.
With my brain taken care of, I continue with dissolving the tension in my body. I kindly remind myself that my cells and feathers are full of mana and there’s no longer any need to keep it contained. Why am I in a constant self-imposed spasm? Why am I deliberately hurting myself?
My mana is leaking anyway, I’m not that successful in hiding my true potential and Celestials feel it. Well, let’s take that barrier down as well, I promised myself no more hiding. I let my mana flow freely through my body and overflow out of my pores. It’s liberating experience, like finally taking a full breath after years of having asthma.
The last step is the one I’m most afraid of—accepting my Emperor’s nature unconditionally. There’s a lot to worry about. What if I suddenly long for conquest? What if I stop seeing others as my friends and will think of them only as my subjects? What if I start to be bothered that Erik is human?
I shiver and have to use all my willpower to overcome the fear and just tear that mental barrier down as well. It crumbles, my Emperor’s nature fully manifests but… nothing else happens. I feel exactly the same. I’m pretty sure I allowed myself to be the Emperor through and through but, as far as my emotions and thinking go, nothing changed really.
My biggest worry was that I would lose my kindness. But I didn’t. My mind feels the same. I’m still an empath who naturally cares about other people, the Celestial Emperor or not. I’m still a geek who loves games and books and my idea of a perfect weekend is gaming and reading. I can still enjoy being held by my partners and be vulnerable around them.
I feel joyful relief. This is the very first time in my entire life when I finally feel at peace with myself. I never thought it possible but I realise I like what and who I am. My body relaxes as years of tension dissolve. I even think that I might have overcome my anxiety disorder because the root cause is gone now.
I’m confident that I can face my subjects now. There are friends among them but, overall, I’m not against thinking of them as my subjects anymore because I am their Emperor. It’s just stating a fact, I don’t feel conceited about it. Celestials want their Emperor so let them have the Emperor. I accept it now. I accept everything.
And if they feel it in their very genes that they need to protect me so desperately, so be it. I guess it would be a disaster to them to lose the embodiment of magic. But they will get the Emperor with everything else as well—the whole package. I won’t be just their pretty shiny treasure. I’ll be their true ruler. They’d better be prepared.
I’m ready to get across a few things as clearly as possible. But for that, I need to be found before I die of hunger. I probably managed to cross hundreds of kilometres in just a few hours, that’s why they didn’t find my yet. They can feel where I am, they just can’t fly that fast. At least I should be more easily detectable now, my mana is flowing without any obstructions so if I’m a beacon to them, I just started to glow like a sun.
Not knowing what to actually do while waiting, I cross my legs and start meditating. I’m enjoying it much more now that I’m so relaxed. It’s not a chore Julia made me do anymore, it’s mental hygiene for my mind, similar to taking a hot bath. From now on, it’ll be doing it with pleasure because I like how it balances me and cleanses mental clutter.
I don’t know for how long I’ve been meditating and getting used to being without any mental barriers but eventually I hear a sound of countless wings flapping. At last, I’m found!
“My love!” Gotrid lands right in front of me and goes for a feathery hug.
He’s crying and his tears are making my own face wet but I don’t mind. I feel immensely relieved that we’re reunited. I don’t regret flying away because I needed it but I regret leaving him. He must have been heart-broken that I panicked even though he was there for me. I hope I didn’t hurt him.
“I was so scared!” Gotrid is kissing me all over and I feverishly return his kisses.
“Aefener, do you want to give us a heart attack?!” Liana lands just a few moments later. “Do you have any idea how scared we were?”
“Sorry,” I say simply.
It was immature of me, sure, but I don’t think I need to profoundly apologise. It was their fault for starling me. They kept me in the dark and this is the result.
“What happened, hon? You’re literally shining,” Gotrid is staring as me, mesmerised. “Is this your real mana capacity? It’s godly, no kidding.”
“I grew tired of hiding,” I caress his handsome face I missed so much and then look sternly at my Viceroy.
Liana bites her lip, suddenly not sure how to react. I bet she had a burning rant prepared for me and meant to scold me like never before but there’s something different about me now and she feels it. She doesn’t dare to berate me.
The other Celestials also go for landing, taking every suitable spot nearby. They are whispering excitedly to each other and their emotions are fluttering wildly. But they aren’t angry that I flew away. On the contrary, they’re blaming themselves for failing their entrée and scaring their Emperor. They might be a bit too fanatical when it comes to me but they are good people.
“Your Majesty, we’re truly sorry for startling you,” Soren steps closer to apologise. “But please, we implore you, don’t punish us like that ever again. You could have been attacked by monsters… kidnapped by humans… get hurt otherwise and…”
“I understand,” I rise my hand to stop him.
And in that moment my stomach growls loudly, reminding me that it still hasn’t been fed.
“Right, I couldn’t fly back to you because I got dizzy,” I murmur, a bit embarrassed. “I’m starving. Gotrid, please, tell me you have something on you?”
Gotrid grins and fishes not one but three different protein bars out of his robe. I’m saved! I gobble the first one in a matter of seconds and take longer with the rest, savouring each bite. The Celestials are simply watching me eat in silence which isn’t exactly pleasant but I don’t care.
“So,” I swallow the last bite, feeling much better already. It wasn’t that filling but sugar is quickly getting into my bloodstream, making dizziness go away.
“So?” Liana gets extremely nervous, fearful even. She suspects I’m about to say something she won’t like.
“This can’t happen ever again,” I state uncompromisingly. “You can’t keep me in the dark even if you think it’s for my sake.”
“We just wanted to protect you,” Liana blurts out and lowers her head in an obvious act of subordination. “We really did.”
“And I do believe you,” I continue, my voice as regal as never before. “But, at the same time, it shatters my trust in you, don’t you understand? How can I trust subjects who lie to me? Moreover, the people I consider my closest friends?”
“I’m so sorry, Aefener, b-but… we did it for you and…,” her voice trembles but she still thinks she was right.
It’s here. I need to do this—I have to stand my ground. There’re over three thousand Celestials here as witnesses so it’s literally now or never. I must not only act as the Emperor but also come clean. No more keeping secrets from my own people. I’m coming out as a telepath. I’m taking a leap of faith.
“Liana,” I hiss strictly. “It would break my heart if I had to telepathically check your real intentions from now on.”
“Love!” Gotrid warns me, shocked that I mentioned my telepathy when there’re so many new Celestials standing at the hearing distance.
“Check… what… how…?” Soren tilts his head, totally confused. But, at this point, he thinks it’s just a figure of speech.
“It would devastate me, Li,” I go on. “You’re my right hand, but above all you’re my closest friend. It pains me that I’m forced to put you to your place. You’re my Viceroy which means my deputy, not a regent. Remember that and don’t make me ever repeat myself or I’ll have to replace you with someone I can trust.”
I meant to be harsh. I meant to be adamant to finally get my point across. Yet, I didn’t expect her to crumble so completely. She falls on her knees, bursting into hysterical cry. Nobody comes to comfort her as her conspirators are trembling themselves, afraid I’m going to turn my anger to them.
So, it surprises me twice as much that it’s Soren who hurries to her defence. He stands in front of her, covering her from my Emperor’s wrath with his wings. I certainly didn’t see that coming.
“Your Majesty, I might have strongly disagreed but I’m sure the Viceroy sincerely wanted to protect you,” he pleads. “Her methods were questionable but she did it out of love. That doesn’t justify her actions, of course, but show her mercy.”
“I know she did,” I sigh and let my voice soften up. “I’m not blaming her; I’m just explaining what has to change.”
I kiss Gotrid before leaving his warm embrace and take a step forward. Soren flinches but he doesn’t stop covering Liana. That’s actually good. I don’t want subjects who would only cower in front of me and wouldn’t have an opinion of their own.
“Move aside, Soren, I won’t do anything to her,” I assure him.
He slowly nods and steps aside even slower.
“Li,” I kneel down to her. “Look at me.”
Liana is sobbing uncontrollably and is experiencing a mental breakdown. That’s not what I wanted, not in the slightest. I wanted her to understand, not to break her. I don’t want to become the Emperor who rules with ruthlessness. I want to stay kind and caring because that’s who I am.
I hug her, wrap us both into my wings and kiss her on her forehead. And in that kiss, I convey all my love for her. Nothing has changed, she’s still my precious friend. I convey a bit of my irritation but just enough so she can see my side of things. And she understands. Finally. Her hysterical cry transforms into silent sobs because I forgive her. She should be okay now.
“Luvi? Taranah? Miruel? Vermiel? Cien? Ayala?” I stand up, pull Liana with me but keep her covered in my wings until she recovers. It’s time to focus on her conspirators for a change. Liana can’t be blamed for everything; she couldn’t have done it without the help of the others.
As expected, the people I named specifically twitch and start shivering but everyone else from our inner circle feels guilty as well. Good, I want them to reflect.
“Is there a reason for me to connect to you and literally pick your brains? Is there anything else you’re hiding from me?” I ask coldly.
“N-no, Your Majesty,” Taranah stutters nervously but he’s telling the truth.
“We’re your sworn protectors, Your Imperial Majesty,” Miruel and Vermiel bow hastily.
“As are we,” Soren adds, frowning at them. “You just didn’t let us.”
I suddenly realise that I trust him. I really like his mind and his resolve. Damn, looking at it retrospectively, I even like how boldly he came to fetch me. But most of all, I love how he stood up for Liana. If everyone else here has at least a fragment of his determination, there’s nothing for me to worry about.
“Soren, everyone, listen to me carefully now,” I say slowly. “There’s something me and my inner circle was keeping a secret for a good reason. But I decided that I want my race to know. However, you need to swear to me that you won’t tell it anyone else except another Celestial. I don’t know if it’s even possible to hold a secret on a national level but I’m willing to try.”
“It’s too dangerous, love,” Gotrid disagrees and is shaking his head violently. “There’s no way so many people will keep their mouths shut.”
“We will,” Soren claims firmly, suspecting what I’m about to say as I’ve been giving hints on purpose. “If all Celestials know, it’s going to be equal and we have no desire to share our secrets with other races. Put your trust in us, Your Majesty.”
“I want to and that’s why I’m going to do it like this,” I take a deep breath and close my eyes to focus better.
I used to be able to perform long-distance telepathy only with my partners and Liana so far but I’m pretty confident that if I boost myself with mana, I can reach everyone. There’re no mental blockers to obstruct me now. Besides, I need every Celestial present to hear me, I want no misunderstandings and grapevines afterwards. So, let’s just do it, no better time than now.
I’M A TELEPATH AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW.
And it’s out. I’ve just done a huge coming out in front of thousands. But I don’t feel any dread, only relief. I did it on my terms, I wasn’t forced into it. I’ll no longer need to watch for myself, at least not in front of my own people.
“B-but… how?!” Soren is lost for words.
Since I was born. This has nothing to do with me being a Celestial, I add to make it perfectly clear. As for why, we’re not sure but we’re trying to investigate that. So far, all we know is that there’s a high chance my family is somehow involved in developing Draconia Online.
There’s shocked silence for a long minute or so. Then everyone starts talking excitedly. To be honest, I don’t know why I was so afraid because not a single person gathered here thinks I’m a monster who will pry into their privacy. It makes me even more magical in their eyes.
“We don’t want humans to know for obvious reasons,” Gotrid tells Soren desperately.
“We understand, Royal Consort,” Soren nods, his expression serious. “It won’t get out. Not from our mouths.”
“Li, do you feel better now?” I check up on my Viceroy, gently lifting her chin because she was snuggling into my wings the whole time. “You’re still my deputy, nothing has changed. And you have three thousand five hundred seventy-two new people to manage. I’ll gladly save my energy by leaving them to you.”
“How do you know the exact number?” Liana dries her eyes and looks much calmer now. She even leaves the refuge of my wings, her confidence quickly returning.
“Because I’m not blocking my telepathy and mana capacity any longer,” I explain. “And because they’re my people so I should know.”
“Your Majesty, I’d like to join the Royal Guard,” Soren begs. “I submitted my application months ago and was just waiting for the ban on Draconians travelling to be lifted. The Viceroy knows I’m more than capable. And there’re others who would like to join as well.”
“Granted,” I permit. “Report to Vermiel. Li, can you manage the rest?”
“Of course,” she says, enthusiastically now. She’s at her best when she has specific tasks to do. Sulking doesn’t suit her.
“Will you manage to fly back, love?” Gotrid is concerned and clutches my hand again since I’m not preoccupied with Liana anymore. “Oh, hon, how did you get so dirty?” he tries to dust off my wings and robe.
“I took a stroll, it was my first time in a real forest,” I shrug, trying to make light of the situation because everyone is still very tense. “I guess there’s no chance anyone else is just casually carrying a snack? I’m still hungry.”
It was a rather rhetorical question; I don’t expect I’d actually get one. But Celestials who are at the hearing distance pass my question further and, in a short moment, a young woman with brown wings is approaching me timidly. I notice her robe has a handy chest pouch that looks custom-made.
“A Celestial bag,” I smile. “Did you make it yourself?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, I like sewing,” she bows and is looking at me with awe. It’s obvious she didn’t think it even possible to talk to me personally like that. I sigh, saddened. I don’t want to be seen as distant ruler somewhere in a palace but is there any other way? I can’t become a close friend with everyone, it’s just physically impossible.
The woman looks a few years older than Ingri, is she a student of design perhaps? We certainly need more people like that, I don’t feel comfortable giving contracts to humans if we can help it. I make a mental note to introduce her to Ingri when we return to Prague.
“H-here,” she takes a sandwich out of her pouch. “I made it this morning. It’s nothing fancy but I’d be honoured if His Majesty eats it.”
“Oh, but aren’t you hungry yourself? I made you chase after me for hours,” I suddenly feel guilty about it.
“I had breakfast and I’m not so…,” she stops herself in the middle of the sentence, horrified. But I know what she wanted to say—that I’m way too skinny. I was hoping rich robes would give me a few illusionary kilos but no such luck.
“I’ll take it then,” I appreciate and stretch my hand to her. Our fingers touch for a fleeting moment which is enough for me to see a glimpse of her mind.
And I very much like what I see. She’s Celestial through and through but she’s not particularly eager to go fighting. That’s actually more than good, we need Celestials who would occupy other jobs than becoming battle mages. We need enchanters and all sorts of artisans.
“Thanks, Harut,” I mutter gratefully, unwrap the plastic foil and bite into the sandwich.
The girl, Harut, widens her eyes when she realises I’ve just said her name. I bet she felt that I connected to her for a second because I wasn’t particularly careful.
Do you really think it was a good idea? Gotrid caresses my feather while I’m munching happily. The sandwich is really tasty with very good spread, fresh salad and mozzarella.
I want to base the relationships between me and my subjects on trust, I answer. I should have done it from the beginning but I was too afraid.
And if it gets out? he frowns.
Then I have no doubt you’ll protect me from humans anyway, I shrug.
In the meanwhile, Liana and Soren organise our new reinforcements. I notice they work together quite well despite the initial antipathy. It seems Liana warmed up to him since he defended her when no one else did.
“Can you fly now, love? No dizziness anymore?” Gotrid asks when I finish eating.
“I should be okay,” I assure him.
Liana calls for a take-off and it’s a magnificent spectacle seeing so many Celestials stretching their wings. We slowly get into the air and as soon as it becomes possible, I’m automatically positioned into the middle of the flock.
I see Soren talking to Vermiel but I can’t hear them, they’re too far and it’s windy. But they look at me from time to time so their topic must be me. I bet they’re discussing how to make sure I won’t escape them ever again. I don’t think it’ll happen again, though. I came to terms with everything and I’m quite positive my panic attacks are gone now entirely.
Gotrid, how far did I fly away? I ask curiously.
Four hundred fifty-three kilometres, he says. You gave us hell of a chase, hon. We’ll be dead exhausted after we return, my wing muscles are sore already.
And I am sorry but I’m excited more. Over four hundred kilometres, that’s a Celestial record! I bet nobody here thought they can fly for so long until they tried. A lot of good things came out of my escape in the end. The rest of the flight is really relaxing but I can feel my wing muscles becoming sore as well. We definitely need to train our bodies as well as our magic.
I presumed we’re going straight to the UN conference building but it turns out Liana led as back to the hotel. Am I that dirty? But Celestials aren’t the Dragonkin. They would never let me show up to official business unless I’m perfectly clean and presentable.
I notice a huge crowd standing in front of the building—the media but also agents from the government. I guess our disappearance must have caused an uproar. I just hope there wasn’t another attack. Will we be blamed for ditching that meeting? And does it look threatening that I’m bringing so many Celestials with me?
No matter, we have to go for landing. People are shouting, cameras are flashing but I’m safely shielded from curious eyes by countless wings.
“WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU?! AND WHO ARE ALL THESE CELESTIALS?!”
Erik is waiting in the lobby, anxious, red with anger and his eyes teary. I imagine he must have been worried-sick about me. My guards let him get to me and he gives me a suffocating hug.
“I’m so sorry,” I try to kiss him but he evades me.
“You have some serious explaining to do,” Erik purses his lips. “We didn’t know where you were for six bloody hours! Do you have any idea how scared I was?!”
Since there’s no way humans can see me, I touch his forehead with mine and establish a full telepathic connection. I explain everything and also make it clear that I won’t be kept in the dark anymore. I’m not as harsh with him as I was with Liana so he takes is well.
We wanted to protect you from overwhelming…, he tries to justify their actions but I shake my head. No, you’re right, he admits. We wanted to protect you so desperately that we didn’t consider your feelings.
“Let’s bath you and change your clothes, hon,” Gotrid interrupts us, having decided that we had enough private time.
“Did something happen while we were gone?” I ask. “There are hundreds of people from the media outside and even a few dozen federal agents.”
“Oh, right,” Erik gasps and his emotions flutter wildly as he just remembered something super important. “Except for global panic caused by your disappearance, there was one more… thing.”
He looks at me with great sorrow in his eyes. He almost can’t make himself say it.
“Ryuu… I know you haven’t been on the greatest terms with her but you’re so kind that you will p-p-probably still…,” he stutters.
“Erik, what is it?” I’m seriously alarmed at this point.
“Your grandmother,” Erik gulps. “She was found dead in her apartment. Murdered.”
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