“Aefener, are you with us?” Liana calls me because she notices I’m not paying attention. We’re in the middle of practising a new spell during our regular training session. Liana decided it’s not wise to skip even one day and our new ministers and their families needed to go accommodate anyway.
“Sorry, I was a bit lost in thoughts,” I apologise. An unfocused caster might be dangerous because spells can easily get out of control, even though they usually just dissolve.
The thing is that I just can’t stop thinking about Erik. It’s been bugging me ever since I fully admitted to myself that I’ll live for hundreds of years whereas Erik has only sixty years at most left. I do not doubt my love won’t change even when he gets old and wrinkly, but he will inevitably die of old age and there’s nothing I can do about it. If we’re lucky, Earthborn doctors might prolong his lifespan by a decade or so, but human bodies have their natural limit.
The spell I’m currently working on deforms, reacting to my inner turmoil. I force myself to channel my mana more evenly and the transfiguration symbol becomes more solid. I give it a bit more energy, strengthen a mental image of the spell and finally conjure up a small electric surge.
“You did it!” Liana celebrates.
I nod and smile. A small victory. It doesn’t seem like much, but manipulating pure energy such as electricity is in the category of advanced spells.
“Careful, Your Majesty!” Vermiel warns me. “We’re not immune towards our own spells.”
“Give me rubber gloves then,” I say jokingly on purpose. I don’t want to worry them that I’m not up to it today. “What’s next?”
“Actually,” Liana bites her lip. “I’m dying to try dual casting with you.”
“Hey, that’s intimate!” Gotrid gets jealous all of a sudden. “It should be something the Emperor does only with his partners.”
“A partner, singular, Erik can’t do magic,” Liana corrects him. “It would be beneficial if Aefener was able to do it also with me in case you’re not present or incapable of casting.”
“Gotrid,” I dissolve the spell and get to my partner because I feel Liana’s idea offended him. He wants dual casting to be something only he can do with me. “Liana is right. There might be times when you won’t be present or unable to fight.”
Gotrid frowns and his feathers puff. He’s not happy about it at all.
“Liana might be the only other person besides you I could be able to dual cast with,” I say softly and caress his feathers. “You’re my husband, but Liana is my Viceroy. I love her as well.”
“Okay then,” he sighs resignedly.
I turn to Liana and find her all red. My casual confession took her unprepared. I’m sure she knows I love her, but she’s one of those people not good at putting her feelings into words.
“Let’s try it,” I come to her and hold her hands. “Gosh, you’re freezing! Li, I told you to cast the transfiguration symbols for ice spells as far away from you as possible.”
“I know, but it feels easier when it’s closer to my palms,” she admits and quickly heats the air around our hands to warm us up. “So, what do we do?”
“Let me connect to you first,” I say and try to ignore the stares of literally everyone in the room.
I close my eyes and connect our minds. Everyone has certain parts that they don’t want others to see and I always respect that, but it’s different with my partners and Liana. They are fully open to me. They trust me completely and I trust them.
I’d go for a kiss with Gotrid and Erik because intimacy helps me connect more deeply, but, for obvious reasons, I can’t do such a thing with Liana. I touch her forehead with mine instead and interlace our fingers. There’s nothing erotic about it whatsoever and everyone knows that. Not even Gotrid gets jealous, not even Erik would.
They know Liana has a very special place in my heart as the Viceroy should. Unlike ministers, it’s not a position to be appointed reasonably based on one’s resumé and work experience. It has to be someone the Emperor considers to be his extension.
Let’s try something simple like levitation but try to lift something heavy, I say telepathically.
What about those weights in the corner the Dragonkin use? she suggests. They must be over two hundred kilos.
Perfect, do you feel up to it?
Sure! she sends me her resolve.
I harmonise our minds and gently nudge her in the right direction whenever our spells start to clash. As I hoped, just like with Gotrid, we’re in perfect synchronisation, so our two transfigurations lock into each other, combining the spells into one and strengthening the effect. The weights fly from the ground like feathers.
“It works!” Celestials witnessing our cooperation celebrate while Liana is happy to become Gotrid’s backup.
I catch Gotrid sulking a little bit that dual casting isn’t something just for the two of us, so I hurry to comfort him as soon as we carefully put the weights down again.
“Liana is not your competition, silly,” I tickle him under his feathers.
“I know,” he admits and feels much better after a kiss.
As I stand before all the new ministers gathered in front of me in the biggest meeting room and they are looking at me with excited anticipation, I realise something. First, I’m not scared or hesitant anymore. Second, I feel like I can put my trust in these people. Third, they have a misconception that I’m no longer just the Celestial Emperor but the Draconian Emperor.
I resist frowning and send my concerns to Liana.
I’m afraid you are, Aefener, she answers in her thoughts. The race rulers still have undeniable authority over their people, but they entrusted international politics and influence to you. The world sees you and acknowledges you as the Emperor of Draconians.
Just roll with it, Erik supports Liana because he can hear us. I rarely keep things from my partners. I look at Erik and he just shrugs.
“Your Majesty? Are you unsatisfied with something?” Luviael asks anxiously and the ministers get a bit nervous as well.
“No, let’s start,” I shake my head, sit down and nod that they can also sit down. “Rien, can you start with your report?”
The Clawfang Minister of Labour twitches his wolfish ears. He didn’t expect I’d ask him first of all people.
“Job division is proceeding surprisingly well,” Rien starts slowly. “Draconians are eager to work and many aren’t afraid to volunteer for battle units. I’m currently assigning high-level players to take strategic positions in big cities and cooperate with local police and the army. As for other professions, many Draconian are eager to take on crafting.”
“Are my people cooperating without problems?” I ask directly, even though I suspect what the answer will be.
“With hesitation,” Rien admits reluctantly. “As expected, if they already are in Prague, they don’t want to leave. Motivating them with high salaries isn’t helping. But battle units desperately need Celestials, Your Majesty, they need all races if we want to be effective and not lose people unnecessarily.”
“Celestials are peculiar in that aspect,” I sigh. “Okay, let me talk to them. I guess I could motivate them by giving them my blessing if they sign up. Still, they will probably want to take turns, so that they aren’t away from me for too long.”
“We can work with that,” Rien nods. “We can’t force our people to permanently move to foreign countries anyway. Let’s think about it as a temporary work assignment that comes with a high salary and sell it like that.”
“Good,” I agree and notice a change in the atmosphere when I casually mention giving out blessings. Celestials jerk in their seats and wish they could receive my blessing as well. Rien and Forent are curious to find out how that works in the first place.
“The allied countries have a generous budget prepared for those who will protect their citizens,” Rien continues after nervously clearing his throat. “We don’t have to worry about paying our warriors, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need money. We do.”
“That’s my expertise actually,” Evaniel stands up which allows Rien to relax. “As the Minister of Commerce, I’m also responsible for our finances in general. Rien is right, we need a steady income. We can’t live off Her Excellency’s money, donations and funding from the EU forever. We need to start producing things of value and selling them.”
“We’d better start enchanting then,” I say and turn to the Minister of Magical Research. “Is your team ready, Rina?”
“Getting ready,” Rina nods and chews her lip, feeling uncertain. “But we don’t actually know yet if enchanting is a thing in the real world, Your Majesty. Many Celestials tried already and failed.”
“What do you mean? The ring I enchanted worked,” I tilt my head, confused.
Everyone is staring at me, dumbfounded. Wait, they didn’t know?
“We didn’t go public with it, Aefener,” Liana reminds me patiently. “They don’t know.”
“Enchanting is proven to be working?!” Rina’s jaw drops and she flutters her wings excitedly. “That’s the best news ever, Your Majesty!”
“I think those who tried and failed simply needed a higher level, that’s all,” I shrug.
“Do we want to sell enchanted objects to humans, though?” Laurin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, voices his concern. And he’s absolutely right, of course.
“Only harmless ones,” I say resolutely. “Definitely not weapons.”
Everyone is nodding. I’m glad we’re on the same page about this. Draconian weapons are too dangerous to get into human hands. Besides, most of them are so racial-specific that humans wouldn’t be able to properly use them anyway.
“With Celestials working on enchantments, the Dragonkin crafting armour and weapons, the Earthborn advancing medical science by milestones and Clawfangs gathering resources, scouting and potentially beast taming, I’m sure we can make more than a decent living,” I try to smile reassuringly at everyone.
“All that while protecting and restoring the environment,” Forent, our Minister of Ecology, adds with a soft cough.
“Of course,” I agree wholeheartedly and feel my Emperor’s nature emerging, giving me a motivational boost. “But don’t get me wrong, we won’t be doing this only so that humans see us as useful and will tolerate us. We’re doing it for ourselves.”
“For our flying city!” Sarayah exclaims enthusiastically.
I raise my eyebrow because I have no idea how she knows about that. At this point, it’s just my wishful thinking. Liana notices my slightly confused expression and hurries with an explanation.
“It’s already in the Celestial grapevine, Aefener,” she says. “Some people overheard you talking about it and the guards babbled as well. Every Celestial knows by now and they consider it your ultimate plan for our future.”
That’s a bit unnerving to hear, to be honest. I admit I haven’t planned that far ahead yet. I didn’t have time to consider what happens ten years from now, so thinking about a hundred years from now gets even more blurry. But I have to start thinking about long-term planning soon. I’ll still be around in a hundred years. All Celestials will be. And we will need a place to live we can truly call our own.
I look at Erik and shiver. Erik won’t see our flying city in its full grace. He won’t be there. We continue discussing tasks for this week which mostly consist of new ministers taking over their departments and getting to know their employees. I listen carefully, taking mental notes, but I can’t shake off that intrusive thought. One day I’ll have to face a world without Erik.
After lunch, I meet with our newly established research team. I was looking forward to it, these bright people will be making some of the most exciting scientific and magical discoveries soon. I wish I could be a part of it, but my role is different, I know that. At least, I’ll still be able to contribute from time to time, Liana assured me. My magic is the most potent, after all.
“Your Majesty, let me introduce the team,” Rina says proudly and full of enthusiasm. “This is Danaheim, the head of genetic research and healing.”
A young Earthborn man steps forward. It’s hard to tell one’s age after the transformation, but I can feel his mind is very young. A high schooler still? His looks are very androgynous and I’m happy to see another person similar to me. His red tentacle hair is tied into a cute knot and his red eyes are almost glowing.
“Your Majesty,” he bows. “I don’t mean to boast, but I was one of the best Earthborn healers ingame. I’m honoured to work for the benefit of Draconians.”
Again, I’m presented with proof that real age doesn’t mean anything to us. It might become an important factor in future when we start having children, but, for now, it’s all about ingame experience and eagerness to master skills in real life. Danaheim doesn’t need a PhD degree in science, no Earthborn does. It comes naturally to them.
“Hi, Namphiel,” I smile at Evaniel’s and Forent’s daughter I already met yesterday. Namphiel bows and returns a shy smile.
Of course, Haldis is also here. They would normally be part of the crafting division that’s exclusively Dragonkin, but since that didn’t work out for them, I’m more than happy to have Haldis in the research division. We will need a skilled artisan for many Celestial projects and I want to avoid asking the Dragonkin crafting guilds for favours unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“This is Nestelle, my assistant,” Rina smoothly continues with introductions.
A Celestial man with sun-kissed skin and bronze curly hair with golden streaks steps in front of me and bows deeply. He has dichromatic wings that were quite rare ingame. Both of his wings have a bronze basis, but one is more golden and the other more greyish.
“Your Majesty, it’s the highest honour to be here,” Nestelle says.
I want to continue getting to know the rest of the team, but I suddenly feel something is wrong. Very, very wrong. I can’t describe it properly, but it’s as if every fibre of my body is warning me that something sinister is coming. Somehow, I know it has nothing to do with me being a Celestial. It’s my other part—the part I inherited from my father. The part that makes me a telepath.
I’d love to turn to Erik or Gotrid for support, but neither of them is here. Gotrid is helping the Minister of Commerce and Erik is with the Minister of Foreign Affairs who’s meeting Bauerova for the first time. I quickly touch the minds of all the Draconians in the building, but none of them is feeling anything, so it’s not another rift opening.
It’s something else, but not less threatening. And it’s coming. Fast. We have just a minute, maybe two. There’s no time for any preparation. I glimpse the horrified and totally confused faces of my guards when I rush to the window, but I don’t have even a moment to explain to them what’s going on. I don’t know anyway.
I break the glass with telekinesis, quickly steering the shards safely onto the floor, and jump off. I flap my wings mightily and use my Emperor speed to get above the skyscraper in a matter of seconds. Something is coming. Something deadly. I get goosebumps and it makes my feathers stand. I’ve never felt this terrified, not even when the first rift appeared.
But my mind clears. It’s obvious, what I have to do. I’m the protector, so I have to protect. Simple as that. I reach for mana storage in my feathers and channel all of it at once. I’d never be able to do it under normal circumstances, but the adrenalin and the feeling of imminent danger are breaking my restraints.
Since I don’t know what I have to protect my people against, I decide to protect the whole building. I was experimenting with shield spells before, but shielding a huge skyscraper is an entirely different level. It’s not even level 80, it’s the Emperor level.
I’m the embodiment of magic. It’s not just a fancy title and I’m forced to fully accept it, now or never. The air around me sparkles with magic as I materialise dozens of transfiguration symbols all at once. The minds of my subjects are boosting me, and the wish to protect my people is making the impossible possible.
Dozens… hundreds… still not enough. Thousands! I don’t know where the danger is coming from, so I have to cover every centimetre. The space a few metres around the skyscraper starts glowing with thousands of shields that are perfectly interlocking into each other, creating an impenetrable barrier.
I finish at the very last moment because it’s here. That… thing. It hits the shield above me and the blast is overwhelming. But nothing gets through, not even the shockwave. We’re safe. My beloved partners, my subjects, all Draconians in the skyscraper.
But relief comes with total exhaustion. I put everything I had into creating that shield. I suddenly feel weak. So weak and light-headed. My wings stop moving and I use the last shreds of strength to wrap myself in my feathers before my vision goes dark and I lose consciousness.
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