“Calm down, love, you’re the Celestial Emperor so being a bit late is fashionable in your case,” Gotrid tries to comfort me but he isn’t very successful.
“You should have woken me up!” I berate the maids who are dressing me and they aren’t making it any quicker than usual.
“You needed to rest, Your Majesty,” Cien says with stoic calmness. “How much mana did you spend on your telepathic message last night?”
“Don’t take us wrong, it’s was blissful,” Ayala adds. “We all felt your love, I was so moved. But it must have been strenuous.”
“You overdid it again,” Erik kisses me on my cheek, returning from the bathroom smelling after his favourite aftershave.
“Oh, Emi is here?!” I realise only now because not being exactly a morning person, I’m usually a bit drowsy and unfocused immediately after waking up.
“The Clawfang Alpha apparently returned at night,” Cien confirms. “Who knows where she’s been, you have to ask her yourself.”
I don’t know anything about late fashionable entries but it seems to be working because nobody’s outraged that it’s half past eight already and I’ve just showed up for breakfast. The delegates are whispering to each other excitedly when I pass them, no doubt commenting on my new numerous escorts and discussing the murder of my grandmother.
“Good morning, Your Majesty,” Liana greets me politely and bows because everyone is watching. “Did you sleep well?”
“Surprisingly so,” I nod and sit in the middle as always.
“Would you mind, Gotrid?” Liana asks for his seat by my left and he unwillingly gives it away.
I tell the maids that I’d like some scrambled eggs and toasts while Liana slightly spreads her right wing and touches me.
That was a really nice gesture what you did last night, she says. It boosted our morale to astronomical heights, no kidding.
Thanks, I wanted to encourage everyone. And it felt really good not having to hide my telepathy.
Are you okay? she asks carefully. The guards told me you were crying.
They told you? I resist roll my eyes.
I’m sorry, Aefener, but your mental health is just as important as your physical health, she bite into her pancake in order not to look suspicious. Especially when your jarred emotional state can be very destructive.
I’m not totally okay but I’ll get better over time, I assure her. I just need time to process it.
She lowers her wing to give me more space for now. I’m half-way into my eggs when Emi finally appears, being even more fashionably late then I was. I notice that her pack grew significantly compared to the one she brought with her from Europe. For some reason, Rien is feeling nervous and is following his Alpha like a lost puppy.
“Emi!” I wave at her because it wouldn’t look dignified if I ran after her.
“Let’s meet on the terrace when you finish eating,” she winks at me and goes to ravage the buffet tables.
I want to eat faster but I know I can’t. It’s against the etiquette to gobble food and it could upset my stomach. Emi leaves for the terrace the moment she puts food on her plate. I wish I had that kind of freedom. We’re both rulers, yet so different.
“Your Majesty, can I join you?” Bauerova approaches me when I stand up. “You’re meeting the Clawfang Alpha, aren’t you?”
“Still trying to persuade your nephew?” I tilt my head.
“Yes,” she sighs. “Give me one last chance and then I give up.”
“Be my guest,” I shrug. “Just bear in mind I can’t influence anything here. Rien is Emi’s competence.”
“Noted,” she nods and follows me to the terrace.
“Aefener,” Emi smiles at me but it’s a sad smile. “I heard about your grandmother, my deepest condolences.”
“Thank you. I’m so happy you’re back, I was worried,” I go for a feathery hug.
“I’m here now,” she caresses my wings. “Sorry about ditching the conference but I wasn’t lazing around either. My people are a lot of work. Some influential local packs started to have their own ideas so I had to show them who’s the boss.”
“You’re hurt,” I notice her arm is bandaged. “What happened?”
“Two packs joined and ganged on us yesterday. We won, obviously,” she announces proudly.
“Let me, please,” I gently grab her arm and apply the best healing spell I’m capable of at the moment. The Earthborn might be much better at curing illnesses, treating chronic diseases, researching rare medical conditions, DNA mutations and things such as cancer but if it’s just a matter of mending wounds, Celestial magic is actually the quickest and the most effective.
Again, it’s astonishing how different our two races are. Clawfangs aren’t afraid to openly challenge their Alpha whereas it wouldn’t even cross a mind of any Celestial to question their Emperor. But Emi seems to enjoy a good challenge so it works for her, I guess.
“Thanks, Aefener,” she appreciates. “We do naturally heal faster than humans but this is still a huge relief. By the way, I wasn’t totally out of the picture. I know that you had a little adventure yesterday.”
“Everything is okay now,” I assure her.
“I can see that,” she looks at my escort. “I also got myself some reinforcements. Oh, and I reconsidered one thing.”
“You’ll return to Europe with us?” I get hopeful.
“No way,” she shakes her head. “But Rien will.”
“He will?!” Bauerova who was just listening and waiting for her opportunity shrieks happily.
“Oh?” I look at the person in question curiously. “I thought Rien was up for some adventure?”
“Was,” she corrects me. “It turns out he’s too intellectual and pampered for a Clawfang. I can’t take him for a tour through South America. Frankly, he’d be a burden.”
Rien hears what Emi just said and looks panic-stricken.
“However,” Emi adds quickly, “he’s well-educated, his connection to the Czech Prime Minister is definitely a huge advantage and I’ll still need someone to represent me in Europe when I’m absent. He’s a Beta material even though he looks like a scared little puppy right now.”
“B-Beta material?” Rien almost jumps and his fur puffs. I bet it means a huge compliment among Clawfangs.
“So you name him your second deputy after Gin? An alpha for Europe or something like that?” I’m making sure I understand it.
“Alpha? Don’t be ridiculous, males can’t become alphas,” Emi laughs.
That takes me aback. I’ve never really thought about the Clawfang hierarchy in detail before. Celestials are totally equal when it comes to genders so I forgot other races have much different social and gender structures. According to the lore, Clawfangs are matriarchal, the Dragonkin patriarchal and as for the Earthborn, it’s all about balance with them.
Is it a strange concept for me because I’m a Celestials or because I’m a person of the 22nd century? If Emi assigns Rien to be her deputy in Europe, he’ll hold a lot of power so we can’t really talk about discrimination but, at the same time, Rien can’t become an alpha simply because he’s male. I can’t wrap my head around it.
How barbaric, Gotrid comments in his thoughts.
I freeze for a second because I caught myself thinking exactly the same. I looked at Emi and for a fleeting moment saw an animal. My Celestial superiority complex just emerged. I’m not afraid of any part of myself anymore so I embrace the feeling but I don’t let it take over my rational thinking. Emi is my friend and I have to accept that her race is unlike my own. I can allow myself to disagree while respecting the Clawfang way of living.
“I’d be happy to have Rien in Prague as your representative and I’m sure Mrs Bauerova is overjoyed. Is Rien okay with it, though?” I ask because I suspect Emi just ordered him since that’s her style of doing things.
“He came to this conclusion himself actually,” she nudges the wolf boy. “A few days in the streets and he changed his mind. He’s better off as a politician which is good, Clawfangs desperately need some dependable representatives I can pass my international orders to.”
“Oh, David… I mean Rien… your parents will be so happy,” Bauerova touches him but he jerks away.
“I’m still a Clawfang, I won’t return to their mansion,” he says defiantly but he lets his aunt to hug him eventually.
I smile. I’m really glad that Rien just confirmed there are Draconians who aren’t battle-obsessed by default. We’ll seriously need to occupy all professions and it would be best if people took jobs based on what they want to do, not what is assigned to them.
Then we fly to the conference building. This time it goes without any troubles, only my escort is bigger. Our wings are still sore from yesterday so we try to glide as much as possible and don’t take any detours.
I realise I feel comfortable being positioned in the middle of the flock because this way I can feel everyone really well. Liana was afraid to allow so many Celestials get close to me but she didn’t have to. I love feeling their Celestial minds, they don’t overwhelm me at all. It admittedly is a bit bothersome that I’m being so anxiously guarded but ever since I accepted myself fully, I don’t mind it that much.
The day goes surprisingly well. Me and Liana attend the first meeting while my partners go networking and politicians aren’t that aggressive with Delgado not attending. I don’t have time to feel sad about Grandma because I’m simply too busy.
Fortunately, there wasn’t another monster attack overnight and with all race rulers promising to do our best to protect humans, the delegates calmed down a bit. Half of the countries voiced their agreement to be fully protected by us, one fourth stayed undecided for now and only the remaining fourth is in a strong opposition.
When we return to the hotel that evening after an overall successful day, I don’t mean to go right to sleep even though I’m quite tired. I decided to stop waiting for the right conditions and just make the most of every little opportunity.
I’ll never have my privacy back and I’ll probably never have a proper holiday so I need to enjoy my beloved partners whenever I can. Not that Erik and Gotrid are complaining about my decision and they don’t even argue with each other when it’s time for sex.
It’s funny but they’re actually afraid I would send them both sleep on the sofa if they didn’t cooperate. As if. I think I’m at the point of no return when I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep without snuggling to at least one of them. But I don’t tell them that.
“Would it be possible to go sightseeing today in the afternoon?” I ask carefully while Luviael is reading today’s agenda. It’s the last day of the conference, we’re going home tomorrow.
“Define sightseeing,” Luviael sighs. “You know we can’t let you walk the streets, Your Majesty.”
“It’s my first time in New York and maybe the last one for a long time,” I say. “I’d like to see at least all the famous places.”
“Is flying over them enough?” she asks. “That could be done I guess.”
“But that way Erik can’t go,” I frown. “And I want to buy local food and visit some comics shops.”
“Love,” Gotrid hugs me from behind and kisses me into my hair. “We’d love to fulfil your every wish but you know this one isn’t possible. People would go crazy and even with all the guards, it’d be difficult to ensure your safety.”
“I know,” I admit, feeling down about it. There’re so many things I can’t do anymore.
“Go for that flying sightseeing at least,” Erik suggests. “I don’t mind. You have two Consorts, love, it makes sense we’ll take turns at certain activities.”
I really don’t like the idea of leaving Erik at the hotel while we go for a trip but I can feel he’s genuinely not bothered.
“I’ll have some expensive wine with Elizabeth,” he makes up a different program for the afternoon and seems to be looking forward to it so I agree in the end.
The last day of the conference is busy but peaceful. We wrap up a few loose ends and everyone is feeling relieved that it’s over with no imminent threat of a war erupting between humans and Draconians. Normally, there would be one last banquet on the final day but it was cancelled due to the global situation. Translated: it wouldn’t feel right to feast and have fun when monsters can attack anytime.
One thing became quite evident, though, to my dismay. Other race rulers simply suck at anything even remotely diplomatic. I vehemently claimed that I don’t particularly enjoy politics despite being a Celestial and it’s still true but it became evident during the conference that I really might be natural at it just as they said.
Emi ditched most of the conference and whenever she was present, I was afraid she would say or do something rude or downright offensive. Twyla and Werden were interested only in ecological and scientific topics and subtlety in these things isn’t their forte. Originally, I hoped for Deminas’s support but it turned out he’s only invested in crafting and trade. I’m stuck at being the Draconian main representative after all.
For better or worse, Delgado really didn’t show up. I should be happy to be rid of him but it also means the United States refused our protection. They were forced by the UN to lift the ban on Draconians travelling and promise to respect our basic rights but that’s about it. I want to stay indifferent but, the truth is, I just can’t. I’m afraid people in the US will die unnecessarily because of Delgado’s pride and stubbornness.
“Only time will tell,” Erik caresses my feathers while we listen to the final closing speech.
“Ryuu, seriously, I don’t mind,” Erik assures me for the tenth time. “Elizabeth should arrive in a minute and we mean to drink and gossip like crazy.”
I kiss him deeply, sending him a ton of my love, before I finally spread my wings and take off. At first, my guards weren’t happy about the unnecessary flight session. Not that they’d be unhappy to fly extra, they’re just anxious about protecting me. But then Liana surprisingly joined as well and with many new Celestials strengthening our forces, Vermiel and Miruel couldn’t say no.
We fly over the most prominent buildings and Gotrid explains to me what they are. We go a bit lower every once in a while but I’m soon fed up with people on the ground taking their phones out and streaming our flight online as a spectacle. Moreover, the army drones are trailing us so our trip isn’t as carefree as I’d hoped.
But I still try to enjoy myself. Gotrid knows a lot about New York—so much I’m afraid he’ll miss it. But his excitement to be whenever I am is much bigger. I see Liana flying next to Soren and they’re engaged in a lively conversation. I’m glad that she feels relaxed around him despite their initial disagreement.
We return when it starts to get dark. Celestials generally hate flying after sunset. Our sight, otherwise perfect and exceeding all other races, is only average at best when it’s dark. We don’t have night vision like the Clawfangs and the Dragonkin.
“Your Majesty,” Elizabeth bows to me. She’s still in our living room when we return and she and Erik evidently had a good time.
“Elizabeth, I want you to know that you and your wife are always welcomed,” I say. “You don’t need an official excuse to visit, okay?”
“Thanks, love, it’s been only a short time but we became friends,” Erik appreciates. He’s a tiny bit drunk but still in full control of himself. He’s looking forward to the night so he wouldn’t get seriously drunk.
I kiss him on his lips. He smells after the expensive wine they’ve been drinking but I don’t mind. I’m happy that he made a new friend he can trust and have fun with. He needs more humans around. Elizabeth excuses herself because she can see that Erik has eyes only for me now that I’m back.
“You’re kidding, right?” Erik raises his eyebrows when he looks at Gotrid’s luggage neatly prepared in the hall. Thirty-five boxes to be precise.
“I’m moving, Erik, I wasn’t here on a business trip like you,” Gotrid rolls his eyes. “And I’m not abandoning my precious possessions.”
“There’s no way it’s going to fit our apartment,” Erik grumbles.
“Your home should be remodelled and enlarged by now,” Ayala reminds him. “I think it shouldn’t be any problem.”
“Yess!” Gotrid celebrates. “Can you transport them on the plane immediately?” he asks the guards who start moving the boxes using telekinesis.
“Bigger or not, our new apartment is going to be full of junk now,” Erik comments bitterly. Except for hoarding expensive suits and accessories, he’s surprisingly minimalistic in all other areas.
“I’m sorry?! My collectibles aren’t junk!” Gotrid retorts. “I’m a proud geek!”
“Oh, right,” I realise only now and get excited about the fact. “You’re a gamer, just like me.”
“I can’t wait for our collections to combine, it’ll be so beautiful,” Gotrid sings.
Liana emerges from her apartment, looking slightly pissed.
“Li, are you okay?” I hurry to her.
“I’m fine,” she assures me. “But it was a lot of work to arrange commercial planes to take our people.”
“A problem with visa admissions?” I guess. “Or leaving permits?”
“Nothing of the sort,” she shakes her head. “The EU is happy to have us while the US is happy to be rid of us. But the airplane companies I hired charged me an extortionate amount of money.”
“More than is usual?” Gotrid frowns.
“Much more,” she hisses. “They argued that the cost of everything increased ever since the Great Evolution and they had to re-book human customers to other days and compensate them.”
“Is there anything I can help with?” I caress her wing.
“I’m afraid not,” she sighs. “I paid for it because most of our people lost their jobs so they can’t afford the ticket but I swear this is the last time I’m sponsoring anyone. Not even my wallet is bottomless. We need to start earning money, the sooner the better.”
She’s right, of course. It’s been over three months since our transformation so it’s high time we do something about our income. A few rich Draconians can’t keep sponsoring the rest forever. Fortunately, with upcoming crafting and battling monsters, we should be able to give our people decent jobs.
“Your Majesty, our people are restless. Could you possibly do something?” Soren suddenly appears, all worried. “They hate the idea of travelling separate from you.”
I introduced Soren to Erik two days ago and Soren has been acting as a liaison office between our inner government and Celestials from the US ever since. I got to really like him because he’s an honest person who works hard and he turned out to be dependable.
“What do you expect me to do?” I bite my lip. “Our plane isn’t inflatable.”
“Calm them down somehow?” Soren suggests. “Like you did that evening?”
I sigh. I might have dug my own grave. Ever since I did that, Celestials started to think that I’m going to communicate with them telepathically from now on. It seems almost surreal to even think I was afraid of telling them because not only then took it well, now they think it’s only natural their embodiment of magic is a telepath on top.
But Soren is right, I can feel that my people are restless because I’m leaving today. I should do something about it. I take a deep breath, close my eyes for a second and try to send every Celestial in range a comforting thought.
Let’s meet again in Prague in just a few days. I’ll be waiting for you.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Soren appreciates and acts as if it’s the most normal thing that his Emperor just addressed thousands of Celestials all at once.
“You’re coming with us, though?” I ask and I’m surprised when he shakes his head.
“Her Excellency certainly offered,” he explains. “But I want to stay here and make sure every Celestial who wants to leave the States can do so safely. I’ll arrive with the last transport.”
“Oh,” I’m pleasantly taken aback. “Thank you, Soren, I was a bit worried but now I see that I don’t have to with you staying behind. Did you decide on your posting already?”
“Yes, it just awaits your approval,” he says and suddenly looks very serious. “Can I talk openly, Your Majesty?”
“Go ahead,” I nod.
“I’m not good at paperwork,” he says nervously. “But I’m very proficient with magic and enjoy working with people. If you agree, I’d love to become a royal guard who would act as a liaison officer with our forming combat units all over the EU.”
“I took you for a liaison officer already,” I can’t resist laughing. “Granted.”
“Just like that?” he widens his eyes.
“I’m the Emperor, do I need anything else?” I tilt head and I’m not even astonished anymore how easily it slips my lips. It feels good. I feel good.
“Of course not, Your Majesty,” he bows.
“Aefener, we’re ready to go,” Liana announces and when she looks at Soren, her emotions flutter slightly. Soren standing up for her in the forest impressed her deeply which is something not easy to achieve with my Viceroy.
“Are you sure you’re okay with the car, love?” Erik makes sure because I insisted to ride with him this time.
“I actually want to test that,” I say. “If it comes to the worst, I’ll just faint. But I think I should be fine.”
The lobby downstairs is full of Draconian delegations departing. I meet with other race rulers for the last time and it’s quite emotional.
“I’ll miss you,” I hug Emi and let her pet my feathers.
“I’m not leaving forever,” she assures me. “It’s a tour. I’ll travel the US, then Central and South America, Asia and lastly Europe again. To be the Clawfang Alpha isn’t about building a fortress and staying put there. I’m more like a feudal lord who needs to keep visiting all subjects to oversee if they’re being obedient.”
“If think Celestials would build me a palace if they could,” I burst laughing. “We’re so different.”
“Which is good, isn’t it?” she caresses my feathers one last time before letting go.
“Aefener,” Fefnir puts his huge scaly hand on my shoulder. Carefully, watching his strength and claws. “I’m going with Deminas to Russia but I’ll come back in a few weeks, okay? My liege wants me in Europe as his direct representative.”
“Please return,” I plead. “It’s reassuring to have a dependable Dragonkin by my side.”
“I know,” he grins proudly.
“And I’m leaving you Rien,” Emi points at the young wolfish Clawfang who’s talking with his aunt a few metres away from us. “Take care of him for me, will you? He might be a bit irritating in the beginning but one day he’ll make a good Beta.”
“Twyla, Werden!” I wave at the Earthborn ruling couple. Their company also grew significantly as a handful of American Earthborn will be moving to their estate in Brazil.
“Eat well, Aefener,” Twyla reminds me.
“And you take a better care of your precious Emperor,” Werden purses his lips at my guards and maids. “You’re overworking him too much.”
Ms Behera is waiting for us in front of the hotel to see us off. We still get her army escort but the atmosphere among the soldiers is less stressful compared to our first day here.
“Your Majesty, could I have a word with you in private?” she asks urgently.
“Now?” I don’t understand because we’re surrounded by countless Draconians as well as the press and our limousine is waiting for us. It would look suspicious if we returned to the hotel with the American official and ask for a parlour.
“Relatively private at least,” she mutters.
I nod at my guards and they enclose us in such a way that the press can’t see or hear anything and it’s only my closest subjects and partners around.
“Speak then,” I challenge her coldly.
Ms Behera looks nervously around to make sure we really can’t be overheard.
“Not everyone agrees so strongly with Mr President,” she’s almost whispering. “I’d love to protect our country with our own forces but if… if… purely hypothetically speaking at this point… if our best efforts prove to be futile… would you… would you be willing to reconsider?”
I stare at her for several long seconds which makes her nervous even more.
“I take it Delgado doesn’t know about you approaching me,” I narrow my eyes.
“No, he doesn’t,” she admits and lowers her head. “But I’m not alone. There’re more than a few people in his cabinet who think he’s making a huge mistake by refusing any form of cooperation with you.”
“Despite what most Americans seem to think, we’re not the monsters here,” I say slowly and clearly. “I don’t wish to see innocent people suffer because your President is a bigoted homophobic racist. So should you need help in future and there’ll be someone new and more agreeable sitting in the White House, we can open diplomatic talks again.”
Ms Behera gulps. My implication is as clear as a day. I’m willing to help the US should the need arise but not with Delgado in charge. She nods, bows politely and storms off.
“Brilliantly done,” Liana praises me.
“Scary,” Erik chuckles.
“Our Emperor is scary but cute. Cute but scary,” Gotrid laughs.
I roll my eyes at them and get into the limousine. I hope this is the last time I’m riding a damn car but I just have to test my fully unlocked telepathy. With so many Celestials coming to Prague, I suspect there won’t be another chance to be this close to thousands of humans with jarred emotions.
The car starts moving, giving me instantly a mild motion sickness. Gotrid and Erik are caressing my wings, comforting me and anxiously waiting for the outcome. We cross the first street that’s overcrowded with human protesters but even some supporters which lifts my spirits.
They emotions hit me like a wave and I have to make a conscious effort not to build a mental wall against them. Instead, I let the energy come through me and because it doesn’t meet any resistance, it’s not as painful. I do develop a slight headache but only because the sheer number of people gathered to see us off is enormous.
“Love?” Gotrid kisses my hand.
“I’m managing,” I assure them with a proud smile. “I’m not saying it’s pleasant, I’m not completely over my headaches, but I should be okay from now on.”
“You’ll be more than okay, we’re here for you,” Erik kisses my other hand not to stay behind his rival.
“And I promise to do something about your work-life balance,” Liana adds.
I smile at her thankfully and feel quite relaxed in the moment so it comes as unexpectedly as it can.
We’ll see each other soon, a voice echoes in my head. The same as at that banquet. Takeda.
But this time it’s different. I’m in balance with myself, I’m not fighting against my own brain anymore. I let him speak to me, ready to strike back and put up my defences in a second if necessary.
Who are you?! I demand.
Are you really wasting your time asking me something so obvious? Takeda sounds annoyed. I thought you’re smarter than this.
Are you behind the Great Evolution? Where are these monsters coming from? I keep shooting questions one after another.
Everything in its own due time. Patience, my son.
A shiver goes down my spine. So it’s confirmed. For better or worse. I’ve finally found my father but it’s not a happy family reunion. I want to ask something else quickly but the invading presence in my mind fades, leaving only more questions and no answers.
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