The whole Draconian government gathered in the Royal Quarters and the atmosphere is as tense as it gets. By this time, the breakthrough news is on all media platforms, but nobody knows anything solid. The only information we got is that Delgado was killed, presumably by his own people. It doesn’t seem even real.
“But what would it even mean if it’s legit?” Erik is shaking his head violently, struggling to accept this strange new reality.
“Your Majesty, do you want to make an official statement?” Laurin asks me.
“No, we wait,” I decide. “The States might be behind the attacks, but with Delgado dead, we lost our primary target.”
“But the American government obviously used him as a scapegoat,” Laurin opposes and his wings are shaking with anger.
“We won’t do anything until we know more,” I forbid and have to use a bit of my telepathic influence to calm everyone down. I understand that everyone is angry and scared, but I won’t allow brainless revenge.
“His Majesty is right, we wait,” Liana agrees. “We’re not humans to wage a war based on unclear premises.”
“Focus your wrath elsewhere if you’re impatient,” I suggest. “Like powering up the shield, I feel that it will need charging soon. Use your extra mana for our protection if you can’t sit still.”
“The crystals are running out of mana? So soon?” everyone is surprised and quite disturbed by the revelation. They didn’t start to panic only because I’m perfectly calm about it.
“The crystals were prepared in haste, so they aren’t perfect mana batteries yet,” I explain the probable cause. “Luvi, call Rina and Nestelle here and tell them to bring a few crystals. I want to inspect them myself.”
“You shouldn’t be working so hard, love,” Gotrid pets my feathers. “You’re still recovering.”
“I won’t be charging them, I just want to see the mechanism,” I assure him. “The US government will probably be too busy with their internal affairs for a few hours and I want to do something useful in the meanwhile.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty,” Luvi bows and goes to fulfil my order.
Not wanting to use telekinesis unnecessarily, I stretch for a glass of water in front of me. My head is starting to pound with a mild headache because emotions in the skyscraper are too turbulent. However, the glass slips from my weakened grip and the water inside spills on the table. The room grows unnaturally quiet and everyone is staring at the enlarging puddle.
“That’s okay, Your Majesty, it’s nothing,” my maid Cien hurries to take care of the mess immediately.
“Do you feel sick, love?” Erik puts his palm on my forehead to check my temperature. “You should be resting, take a nap.”
“Just a usual headache,” I say carefully because even such a minor thing can make Celestials all panicky. “And I’m not sleepy. Give me some cookies and I’ll be fine.”
“We’re really sorry, Your Majesty,” our Minister of Finances Evaniel apologises guiltily, speaking for everyone. “We’re making you work during your recovery. If the situation didn’t demand it…”
“I know,” I wave my hand. “Those cookies…?”
“There you go, hon,” Gotrid passes me a plate. There are always freshly baked cookies scattered around our apartment to make me snack.
I don’t feel particularly hungry right now, but I need to replenish my mana as soon as possible, so I bite into one right away. I have to get stronger if I want to keep protecting my people. I can’t go down like this every time I cast advanced magic. Why is my body so frail? Why can’t I put on weight? The embodiment of magic can’t be so…
“Hey!” Erik suddenly pulls my feathers which makes me almost spit the cookie. He would never hurt me, of course, but he sometimes uses it as a Celestial equivalent of nipping. Especially when he needs to scold me and I wouldn’t listen otherwise.
“Seriously, love?” Gotrid gets angry because he also felt what went through my head.
“You know that your secret telepathic communication is really confusing most of the time and often downright rude to the people in the same room,” Liana is annoyed with us. “What happened?”
“Ryuu blamed himself for not being strong enough and felt bad about his frail body just now,” Erik tells on me which is a thing he does without remorse, presumably for my own good. I suspect Gotrid will join him in this sooner than later.
The Ministers look shocked, they don’t understand. But Liana does. She lands on her knees in front of me and gently takes my hands into hers.
“Why would you think that, Aefener?” she asks and gives me her softest voice, so unlike her usual Viceroy tone. “You saved hundreds of people and you still blame yourself for not being strong enough? Do you realise what nonsense that is?”
“I…,” I’m not sure how to answer that.
“It’s our fault,” Liana sighs. “We’re putting all responsibility on your frail shoulders and expect miracles from you. And then you feel bad even after you deliver us a miracle, just because you feel exhausted afterwards? That’s messed up. It means we messed up because we made you feel that way. But we’re here for you and we always will be. Please, don’t think that way anymore.”
She gives me a moment to think about it and feel the truth behind those words. She is right. Of course, she is. My wise Viceroy. What would I do without her guidance? And I have other people around me I can rely on, I’m not alone in this. I don’t have to shoulder the whole world until the point it crushes me. My momentary anxiety attack dissolves and I can breathe freely again.
“You’re right, thank you,” I whisper and manage a faint smile. “Send Rina and Nestelle in, I can feel them stepping in the hall. We have a shield to fix.”
The Minister of Magical Research Rina walks gracefully into the room and only her weary face reveals that she hasn’t been sleeping since it all started. Her assistant Nestelle doesn’t look any fresher. Everybody is working super hard, not just me. I’m eternally grateful for such diligent subjects, I’m really not alone in this.
“Your Majesty, you summoned us to discuss the shield?” Rina bows deeply and so does Nestelle. “The crystals are indeed getting depleted, but we have many volunteers who signed up to recharge them. There’s no need to worry.”
“Can I see the crystals?” I ask and Nestelle readily hands me one of the smaller pieces.
It’s rather crude and not as pretty as I expected, but it’s doing its job. Still, with some processing and proper tuning, it would be much more effective. I make the crystal levitate a few centimetres above my palm and carefully study it from all angles.
Crystals are simply fascinating—beautiful and automatically responsive to Celestials. I wonder how humans figured out their magical properties even though there was no real magic in the world before the Great Evolution. The crystal above my palm vibrates when I send it a tiny bit of my mana and absorbs it immediately—the best external mana storage. Is it thanks to its unique inner structure?
I apply light telekinetic pressure on the crystal to find out if I’m able to reshape it. The Dragonkin traditionally work with ores and monster material, but crystals and gems were always associated with Celestials. It would be beneficial if we could process them ourselves.
I vibrate the floating crystal again and now I recognise its structure more clearly. I can’t see it with my eyes, but I distinctly feel the mana vibrating inside of it. And it’s as if it almost begs me to flow without obstructions. Feeling enthusiastic to experiment right away, I start carefully cracking the crystal with my finest telekinesis and grinding it into a perfect hexagonal prism because I’ve always liked that shape.
I’m surprised by how easy it is. It would take humans a lot of time and specialised instruments to work it like that, yet with some mana manipulation, it’s just a matter of focus and precision. It’s as if the crystal demands to be shaped, there’s no resistance. When I let it land on my palm again, the previously crude crystal is now a beautiful shiny prism, perfectly attuned.
“It should work better like this,” I hand the crystal back to Nestelle.
Only now do I realise how quiet the room became and that everyone is staring at me in absolute silence and with their mouths open wide. But I didn’t do anything miraculous this time, right? I just shaped one small crystal into a nicer form. Oh, damn, I left a mess on the ground! The maids won’t be pleased.
“No, I don’t have the energy to even comment on it,” Liana performs an exemplary facepalm and collapses into an armchair in front of me. “Aefener is just beyond common Celestial sense.”
“H-how…? So effortlessly…? It’s perfect!” Nestelle studies the crystal in his hands with amazement and shows it to no less astonished Rina.
“Just a bit of telekinetic pressure,” I answer nonchalantly and take another cookie from the plate. The shaping process wasn’t that mana-demanding, but I’m still recovering.
“Seriously, love?!” Gotrid shakes his head in total disbelief. “Just like that? In a few minutes without any preparation?”
“It’s not that difficult, I’m sure everyone will be able to do it,” I claim, trying to divert their attention, and gobble another cookie. “In fact, start immediately. Crystals shaped like this and properly attuned will absorb much more mana and channel it out more steadily.”
“I wouldn’t even know where to start!!!” Nestelle loses it. “You’re too divine, my Emperor. I don’t understand what you just did.”
“Nobody did, trust me,” Liana says pointedly, looking at shocked Ministers.
“You just need to feel where to crack it,” I try to explain. “Here, I’ll show you.”
I want to pull Nestelle’s sleeve to make him come closer because I’m not strong enough to stand up, but Erik quickly stops my hand for some reason.
“No touching, love,” he reminds me. “People without special privileges and permissions are forbidden to touch you, so you shouldn’t touch them either.”
“You’re overdoing it,” I frown.
“No, it’s an overly practical measure,” Erik insists. “Your direct touch is seen as a blessing now, so you have to be careful with whom you’re touching and why.”
“I hate it,” I mumble, getting upset over it.
“Maybe if you didn’t demonstrate your divine powers so casually, we wouldn’t be so crazed about touching you,” Liana sighs. “We have to limit the people who can approach you, you know that.”
“So be it,” I’m pissed off at this point because we’re losing precious time over formalities. “Rina and Nestelle came up with a solution how to power up the shield, so I’m granting them my blessing. Erik, Gotrid, let them sit next to me, I need to show them how to do it. We can’t afford to waste mana; the shield has to function 24/7.”
“It’s improper for them to be so close…,” Gotrid starts and however much I love him, I run out of patience.
“We don’t have time for nonsense,” I hiss and the room gets cold with my leaking menacing mana. “I can’t exactly go to the laboratory now and court formalities will mean nothing if the shield fails. I’m sure everyone will be able to do crystal processing with some training, but we don’t have the luxury of time for that right now. I’ll teach Rina and Nestelle how to do it directly so that they can pass the knowledge to the rest of the research team.”
Nobody tries to oppose me now, even if Gotrid and Erik still look sceptical and unhappy when making space on the sofa. For a moment, I ceased to be their partner and became their ruler and they felt it. I hope I didn’t traumatise them, but I had to do it. Their overprotectiveness got in the way of me needing to protect my people and that’s something I can’t allow.
“Sit, I don’t bite,” I pat on the sofa to my left and right. “Do you have more of these crystals on you?”
Rina nods and pulls six pieces out of her robe before slowly sitting down next to me. Nestelle sits down even slower, nervous about what I have in mind for them. But they trust me and that’s all I need.
“Levitate a shard above your palm,” I instruct them and they flinch when I hug them with my wings. “Sorry, but I’m switching to telepathy, no time for lengthy lessons.”
I try to be as gentle as possible, but it’s obvious their minds aren’t ready. I don’t have to force entry only thanks to their devotion towards me. I’ve never really done it before and still, I somehow feel it’s possible. I pour my knowledge of crystal processing directly into their minds and encourage them to practise it.
It takes them several attempts and a few crystals crack when they overdo it, but in just half an hour, they manage to shape their own perfect prism hexagons. I’m really proud of them. I might have speeded their learning, but proper mana channelling, focus and precision were all their doing. A mediocre caster wouldn’t be able to master it so quickly even with my guidance.
“Show the others,” I tell them with a content smile. “Everyone can do it with some practice. After making sure the shield is stable, take a rest—that’s an order.”
I release my wings which makes them sad. They felt safe and blissful in their Emperor’s embrace. I have a suspicion that it’s a lethal combination of both my enormous mana and me being a telepath. I may be unintentionally making Celestials addicted to me, but that’s a problem for the future me to deal with. We have more pressing matters to solve right now.
“Ouch,” I whine and massage my temples because my mild headache developed into a migraine.
Erik and Gotrid are back with me in an instant.
“He needs to go to bed, Viceroy,” Gotrid says adamantly. “There’s no way we can let him continue working in his condition.”
“I know, he just performed another miracle. It’s funny how it’s becoming a new norm,” Liana chews her lip and stands up. “Rina and her team will be working on stabilising the shield while we try to stabilise the political situation. Until the US government contacts us, I forbid His Majesty to work.”
I want to oppose her, but everyone can see that I’m in no shape to continue working and is nodding approvingly. This is the only instance I have no power over and have to listen to my subjects for a change. The Emperor’s health is the highest priority to Celestials.
Erik takes me into his arms and transports me into our bedroom. At first, I don’t think I will be able to fall asleep anyway. The call from the US government can come at any moment. Draconians all over the world could lose patience and start revolting at any moment. But Erik and Gotrid keep petting my wings and my eyes close eventually.
I feel well-rested when I wake up which means that I must have been sleeping for several hours instead of the light nap I was intending. I rub my eyes and look around. The lights are dimmed and my partners are soundly sleeping next to me. It’s night already.
I search for Liana with my mind and discover that she’s asleep as well. That’s highly unusual for her, but then I count how many hours have passed since the attacks and realise nobody can stay awake for that long. Even in crisis, generals and politicians have to sleep sometimes.
My throat is dry and my stomach rumbles loudly. My body demands to be fed again because my mana circuit is working tirelessly on replenishing my energy. I don’t feel like sleeping more and the hunger is urgent, so I decide to get up. I slowly move between Erik and Gotrid, not wanting to wake them up. They didn’t have time to rest properly at all, always taking care of me.
I kiss them on their foreheads, touching their sleeping minds and trying to give them some pleasant feelings that will hopefully project into their dreams. I also soothe them so that they won’t wake up when I carefully slip from their embrace.
A good night’s sleep healed my headache and I feel much stronger. I try standing up and my legs hold me. A slow walk with frequent rests is the best I can do right now, but I’m mobile again and that gives me a reason to celebrate. I fold my wings and open the curtain surrounding our bed.
Four guards are positioned in the room, two standing by the door, and two by the window. I knew that, but it still makes me uneasy. Guards in our bedroom—the room that is supposed to be our only private space, the only one that’s left. I hope it’s just an emergency measure for now or I swear I’ll make an unsightly scene to Liana and the Guard Captains.
“Your Majesty…?” the guards on night duty are startled by my sudden appearance from behind the curtain.
“I’m hungry,” I announce simply. “Let my Consorts sleep, they need to rest.”
They want to offer me support because they can see I’m hardly walking, only a second later realising they don’t have permission to touch me. They can’t even touch the person they are protecting, how messed up is that? I feel like the Emperor through and through now, yet these things still unnerve me. Will I ever get used to it?
“Just open the door,” I sigh.
The guards in the lobby are even more surprised and immediately call for the maids before I can stop them. I sigh again. I didn’t want them to wake up Cien and Ayala, they deserve to rest as well. However, it’s not them who come to serve me. Two new faces wearing the same maid uniforms appear. These girls are young, too damn young. Did they even finish high school? They look the same age as Ingri.
“And you are…?” I tilt my head, confused because nobody told me I would be getting new maids. Not that I’m surprised, I’m never consulted when it comes to the Royal Quarters and my well-being and I pretty much gave up on that.
“My name is Yrienne, Your Majesty,” a girl with brown skin, green eyes, long wavy hair and hazelnut wings with white speckles introduces herself with a deep bow.
“And I’m Kaileen, Your Majesty,” a second girl with Asian features, a blue pixie haircut and grey wings, follows.
I study their faces. I’ve never seen them before, but their telepathic imprints seem vaguely familiar. I bet they came from the States after the conference and they were in the flock with Soren. The girls get nervous because I’m not saying anything and are staring at me with total devotion. They are overjoyed just to be in my presence.
“They are your new maids, Your Majesty,” Vermiel shows up and looks like someone who’s just been woken up. “Why are you up? It’s only four in the morning. What about your Consorts? Are you sure you should be walking so soon?”
“I can’t sleep anymore and I’m hungry,” I clarify and don’t like the fact that I have to explain myself inside my own apartment. “And don’t you dare wake up my partners, they are exhausted.”
“As you order, my Emperor,” Vermiel nods. “Yrienne, Kaileen, His Majesty needs something warmer to wear and a midnight snack.”
The new maids grow pale that they didn’t realise it themselves and run off. Vermiel, who apparently has permission to touch me, readily offers me his support.
“What about the States? Why didn’t you wake me up?” I ask, concerned. “They must have contacted us by now.”
“They did, but it was very brief, so Her Excellency decided to let you rest, Your Majesty,” Vermiel helps me to the living room. “They still don’t know what exactly happened, many politicians were arrested for treason and they are currently undergoing an investigation. President Behera begged us to give them a few hours. She claimed that the majority of Secretaries didn’t know what Delgado was planning to do.”
“President Behera?” I widen my eyes. “How did that happen?”
I remember Yasmine Behera as the person who was taking care of our safety during the New York conference and imploring me to stay open to future political talks should the leadership change. I knew she was a high-ranking official, but she was actually in the order of succession, huh? I didn’t see that coming.
“Actually, I need fresh air,” I suddenly change my mind. “Take me to the balcony.”
“Being outside is not the best idea right now, Your Majesty,” Vermiel doesn’t like it.
“You mean outside that’s still inside the shield I created myself?” I roll my eyes. “Nothing dangerous can get through. Come on, Vermiel, relax a bit.”
In the end, the Guard Captain allows it, but not sooner than Kaileen returns and dresses me into a warm multi-layered robe and changes my slippers for proper shoes. I sit on the rattan sofa and she wraps me in a blanket just in case it gets too chilly.
The night is tranquil and the shield is shining like a rainbow. I take a deep breath of fresh night air and it is a bit chilly, but I welcome it. I realise how quickly things change—how volatile and fragile everything is. Just a few hours ago, the biggest threats I worried about were monsters and my father. Now, we’re potentially on the brink of war.
“Is this okay, Your Majesty?” Yrienne returns with hands full of snacks. “I’m really sorry that I wasn’t able to bring you a properly cooked meal, but the kitchen is closed at this hour.”
“That’s more than enough, thank you,” I assure her, unwrapping an egg sandwich and taking a sip of orange juice. I bite into the sandwich and it must be from the cafeteria because it tastes really good, definitely not from a vending machine. I’m munching slowly and with every swallow I let the new reality sink in.
Regardless of what happened behind the scenes, the United States nuked us. We might avoid open war by an inch if the new President plays it right, but Draconians and the US will never be allies. It’s not only about Delgado, I bet at least half of Americans would be grateful to him if the attacks were successful.
“Yrienne, Kaileen, you’re originally American, right?” I ask the maids who are stepping nervously by the door, waiting for more orders.
“Y-yes?” they answer in unison and get even more nervous.
“Can you explain to me why are Americans so strongly against us? Because I really don’t understand,” I say, saddened. “Draconians never wronged humans.”
“I-if I may,” Yrienne clears her throat. “Your thinking is too European, Your Majesty, that’s why it’s so difficult for you to get the American mentality.”
“Celestial, not European,” I oppose.
“But you grew up here,” she insists bravely. “You grew up in a political and social environment that supports diversity and provides certain social and health security to all. In the States, there’s nothing of that sort. You either have money or you don’t. People can do the strangest things when they don’t feel safe and being antagonistic against anything unusual or foreign is one of them.”
“Like us,” Kaileen takes Yriennes’s hand and kisses it. Oh, so they are a couple? I focus more intensely on their feelings and discover that under their surface nervousness and shyness that I’m the cause of right now, I’m catching warm love for each other.
“We grew up in slums and VR was our only way out, at least temporarily,” Kaileen says. “We were neighbours, actually, and started dating when we were fourteen. Our families eventually came to terms with it somehow when we came out, but it wasn’t this nice unconditional support you see in movies. More like don’t shove it in our faces and we’ll ignore it.”
“When we started changing,” Yrienne continues with their life story, “it was too much for my grandfather. He never really acknowledged me being queer and when I sprouted wings, it messed him up completely. He considers himself to be a devoted Christian between all that drinking he’s usually doing.”
“Messed? How?” I stop eating because Yrienne’s emotional state changes drastically when she recalls that memory.
“He tried to smother me in my sleep,” she whispers and lowers her head. “I survived only because I threw him back with telekinesis, it was pure instinct. He hit his head, was bleeding and then my mother lost it when she saw what I did with my new powers. She took out a gun and pointed it at me, shouting to get the hell out and that I’m no longer her daughter.”
“My family was a tiny bit more understanding towards our change, but we knew we had to go,” Kaileen starts sobbing. “We met with other Draconians, joined Soren and now we’re here with you. Her Excellency was kind enough to make us both your new maids. It’s a dream come true.”
I’m at loss for words when they finish retelling their story. Compared to them, my life before the Great Evolution was easy. Sure, my grandmother was a bitch, but I don’t think she would ever physically hurt me. Thanks to my proficiency in gaming, I started earning some serious money when I was still in high school and European university education is free for all EU citizens. I was lucky to grow up here. The girls are right, no wonder I can’t understand Americans.
I stand up and decide to royally ignore the protocol. I spread my wings and give Kaileen and Yrienne my warmest hug. I touch their traumatised minds and send them my unconditional love and assurance that I’ll do everything in my power to protect them. I can’t heal their deep emotional wounds, but I can at least make them feel secure and accepted from now on.
“Look how quickly our Emperor exchanged us for pretty girls,” Gotrid suddenly speaks up, but he’s amused, not annoyed.
“Indeed,” Erik seconds, not less amused. It seems my partners woke up after all when they couldn’t subconsciously feel me in their sleep anymore.
I look up but keep Yrienne and Kaileen enveloped in my wings. They are shaking and need a moment to recover. I’m well aware that my ‘blessing’ can be overwhelming to someone who’s not used to my telepathy.
“Meet Yrienne and Kaileen, our new maids,” I introduce the newcomers. “They are a couple as it turns out.”
“That’s good!” Erik is genuinely relieved. “I can’t stand Ayala and Cien staring at you so lustfully every time they dress you up.”
“They are not,” I frown.
“They are,” he shrugs.
“Who says these two will be any better?” Gotrid raises his eyebrows, a grin on his face. “Androgynous beauty of our beloved is universal.”
“Shush, you,” I purse my lips even though I know he’s just joking to alleviate the tension. “Don’t you dare tease them, they’ve been through a lot.”
“We know,” Gotrid sighs and gets serious. “Luviael gave us their files for final approval.”
“Love, return to bed,” Erik begs me. “It’s still dead of night, the US government won’t call us now in fear or antagonising us further.”
“I was hungry,” I point at my half-eaten sandwich and slowly open up my wings. The girls are still a bit shaky, but they calmed down and feel much better. “Yrienne, Kaileen, go to sleep, my partners will take care of me,” I tell them and release them from my feathery embrace. They let go rather unwillingly.
“You were eating without us forcing you? That’s a change,” Gotrid is pleasantly surprised and they both wait for me to finish that sandwich.
“Ehm… don’t you need to use a bathroom?” Erik asks me a weird question.
“Not really, why?” I drink the last drop of my orange juice.
“Well,” Erik blushes, embarrassed to bring it up. “You haven’t been to the toilet ever since you created the shield which is almost two days ago.”
“Right,” I realise and it is quite shocking. “I guess my body is burning everything without leftovers for the time being?”
“That would make sense,” Erik says reluctantly, but he’s still not fully convinced. “We just don’t want to neglect anything; doctor Julia asked us to keep checking for that because she noticed that you haven’t…”
“Okaaaay, enough!” I stop him. Great, now my overzealous caretakers are checking my shit. Literally. If the world wasn’t on the brink of war, I’d start laughing. Just how absurd is that?
We return to bed and, at first, my partners think that I’m not in the mood for anything else besides snuggling for comfort, so I throw the guards out and prove them wrong. I made a promise to myself some time ago that I would use every opportunity to spend quality time with them and I mean to honour it. Because if I learned anything in the past few months, it’s that love is the only thing that matters.
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