Chapter 95:

The Truth

Draconia Offline

If my father knows that I can feel his leaking emotions, he doesn’t let it show. His expression is cold, but his deep sadness tells me otherwise. I don’t know what to make out of it. I have to find refuge in the minds of my partners to calm down.

I don’t have much appetite, but I obediently eat everything Gotrid put on my plate because my father is watching me with narrowed eyes. It’s quite irritating and, honestly, too late for him to act all fatherly towards me, but something tells me that he won’t show me the Nebula research facility unless I finish my breakfast.

“Let’s go then,” he stands up when my plate is empty, ignoring the fact that some people sitting around the table are still eating. Do the Divementis also have this stupid etiquette rule that when their sovereign stops eating, everyone else must immediately stop as well?

Nevertheless, the Divementis Emperor tells us to follow him so we do. He leads us outside which is highly unusual for me. If I don’t count my regular flying sessions during which I’m strictly forbidden to land, I never really left the Draconian Embassy. We’re not in the heart of Prague anymore, though, I need to get used to the fact. This is the Divementis base and all the buildings here belong to them.

It turns out that the research facilities are in a different part of the complex and we were accommodated in the residential quarter. As a result, we have to walk quite a bit, but I don’t mind because there’s so much to see.

“How are you keeping this place hidden?” Liana asks, amazed. “It’s huge.”

“Officially, these premises belong to Nebula Corporation,” Nyx explains more than willingly. “We pay taxes and operate as any high-profile IT company would. This place looks like a normal company complex from the outside. Naturally, we’re using our technology and our mental abilities to conceal any traces of alien presence.”

That piques my interest so I spread my consciousness to see if I can find any mental barriers. Wouldn’t that be incredibly demanding for the casters I wonder? Can the Divementis use something similar to our crystals to keep the shield running without their constant supervision? All I feel are countless Divementis minds all around, though, nothing that would resemble any sort of shield.

“Son, can you stop it, please?” my father scolds me. “You’re making everyone more nervous than they have to be.”

“You felt that?” I frown because I wasn’t going after him. “Besides, I can’t help it. How do you stop your mind from going after things that are new and are asking to be explored?”

“With proper training and discipline,” he answers dryly. “Moreover, it’s considered rude to be constantly checking the defences of others and trying to invade their privacy.”

“I’m not invading anyone’s privacy,” I oppose. “It’s just… I find this telepathic silence stifling. Don’t you?”

“No, the Divementis don’t leak their thoughts and emotions,” he sighs, “but you grew up among humans who don’t have a concept of mental guard so I understand why it must feel unnatural to you. Still, I ask you not to go after every Divementis you meet so aggressively just because they aren’t presenting their feelings and thoughts on a silver plate.”

“Aggressively?” I’m surprised by that word.

“You don’t realise it because your telepathy is too powerful even in its current untrained raw state,” he explains. “A common Divementis of average talent would have no defence against that if you really pushed. Our subjects have the deepest respect towards the Royal bloodline, but you might end up making our people afraid of you if you don’t control yourself.”

I shiver and clutch Erik and Gotrid’s hands tighter. Making people afraid of me is the last thing I want even though I know that most humans are afraid of me already. We spend the rest of the journey in silence. Liana doesn’t dare to ask another question and I’m desperately keeping my mind from reaching out.

I can feel that my father and Nyx are discussing something telepathically, but I don’t dare to eavesdrop. I notice that while everyone is keeping a respectful distance from him, Nyx certainly isn’t. Just what is their relationship?

I’m pretty sure that I’ve guarded my mind properly, but I still twitch nervously when Nyx suddenly turns back and looks at me. She probably didn’t catch my exact thoughts, but she must have felt that I was thinking intensely about her. She smiles and despite her face being so alien, it’s a warm and reassuring smile that makes me relax. There’s something about her that makes me put my guard down.

“Love!” Erik warns me all of a sudden and grabs my right wing.

“Oh, sorry,” I murmur, embarrassed. I unconsciously spread my feathered limbs. We’ve been walking outside for more than ten minutes now. It feels weird to use my legs instead of my wings when I can feel the breeze blowing into my feathers.

“You’re so Celestial when it comes to flying, son,” my father comments and he looks amused. “Frankly, we’ve always envied Celestials their ability to fly.”

“What was your relationship with them? I mean us. I mean… you know, back then,” I ask and I’m surprised to hear flattery from him.

“Diplomatic at best,” he shrugs. “They kept to the skies and magic, we kept to technological advancement and telepathy.”

“We were rivals of sorts,” Nyx adds. “They were the only Draconian race we considered our equal.”

“I want them to hear the full story, not just bits and pieces out of context,” my father interrupts her. “Besides, we’re here.”

The building doesn’t look impressive from the outside, just a normal administrative building Tokyo is full of. Nyx invites us inside and heads to the elevators. The elevators are pretty spacious, capable of transporting fifteen people at once but, in the case of Celestials, it comes down to ten and we have to squeeze. My father nonchalantly joins our ride.

“Only a Divementis can operate this elevator to reach the underground floors,” he explains his presence and touches the button without any visible dial-up. Yet, a number pops up on a little display. “The labs are twenty floors underground,” he announces.

“Thirty,” I correct him, checking the number. Why is he lying about that?

“Right,” he smirks.

“Love, you can read that?” Erik pokes me.

Only now do I realise that I didn’t even think about the script. I just read it automatically without thinking.

“You keep testing me!” I protest.

“Better do it this way without forcing you,” he shrugs. “I bet you’re the type that doesn’t perform well on formal tests.”

“What would you know about that? You weren’t there when I was growing up,” I retort. “I couldn’t even go to normal school because…”

“Love,” Gotrid pushes me to his chest and pets my wings. “You just started leaking mana.”

“I know that I wasn’t there for you,” my father’s voice gets tense and I can feel another wave of sadness coming from him. Maybe even a hint of regret? “Do I have to remind you that I didn’t know you existed? Amelia left before she discovered that she was pregnant so I couldn’t read it in her mind.”

I force myself to calm down, partly thanks to Gotrid’s petting, partly because I have to admit that he’s right about that. He had no idea that he had a son until recently. I don’t like the fact that he dares to act fatherly towards me now, but it’s true that his absence wasn’t his fault. I wonder how different my life would have turned out if I had grown up among the Divementis.

You wouldn’t have met me, Erik joins the hug.

Or me, Gotrid adds.

I catch my father studying our interaction intently. He’s not just staring, he seems to be analysing us.

“What?” I frown and then I realise that I can actually ask about anything. He promised to answer all my questions. “Don’t the Divementis bond with their partners?”

“We do,” he nods. “The thing that fascinates me, and not only me, is the fact that you’re able to bond with more partners at the same time.”

“You can’t do that?” I’m astonished.

“No, we’re fiercely loyal to a single partner,” he states. “We can bond with another one only when the previous partner dies or disappears for a long time and that entails years of excruciating grief and loneliness before the bonding wears off.”

“Did you bond with Mom?” I ask directly. I want to know. I need to know. Was she truly important to him? I’m afraid that he won’t answer, but he just takes a few moments.

“I did,” he whispers.

I chew my lip. Why do I feel sorry for him? Even if he did experience mental anguish, he wasn’t there for Mom when she was dying of cancer. He could have fought for their relationship even if the Divementis disapproved. The Divementis acknowledged me in the end, surely, they could have made an exception for Mom.

“Is Nyx your new partner then?” I decide to ask without mercy even though I can feel that it’s a sore topic for him.

“What?” he raises his eyebrows. “Oh, gods, no, Nyx is my sister.”

That information lands heavily and leaves me speechless for a few seconds. W-wait! So… does that mean? She’s actually my…?

“She’s my aunt?” I open my mouth wide in disbelief. I have another living relative?!

“That she is,” he confirms. “Sadly, she didn’t inherit the Royal gift. She’s my biological sister, but she’s not royalty.”

“How could she not inherit it when she’s your sister?” I don’t understand.

“It’s not so easy to explain,” he sighs and the elevator stops. “We’re here.”

We’re reunited with the rest of my entourage, the Divementis chancellors and also Nyx. Is that why I found her so strangely familiar? Because she’s family? How am I going to address her now? Do the Divementis have special names for aunts and uncles? And do I have other relatives?

“Please, leave it for later, son,” my father says when he notices me eyeing Nyx. “There will be time for getting to know the rest of your Divementis family.”

We pass several corridors until we reach huge open-space laboratories that are full of the latest VR equipment and futuristic-looking computers humans can only dream of. I expected that I was about to meet the real developers of Draconia Online—Divementis scientists. I certainly didn’t expect that the person who would rush towards me, pushing everybody aside quite rudely, would be a Celestial.

“Your Majesty!!!” a young woman with grey black-patterned wings and short blue hair cries and bows deeply in front of me.

“Ehm, what?!” I instinctively step back. What is one of my subjects doing here? I’m so confused right now.

“You… don’t recognise me, Your Majesty?” the woman panics. “It’s me—Uriel.”

“Uriel,” I repeat and it takes me a few moments to recognise her wing pattern. “One of the missing dungeon masters?!”

“Well, I wasn’t exactly missing,” she admits nervously. “I’m actually one of the Nebula’s VR developers.”

Celestial wrath mixed with my Emperor’s nature unfolds within me in an instant and I get furious with Uriel. How could she conspire with the Divementis? She knew about their plot since the beginning and left us in the dark for all those months! It feels like betrayal and I have to try hard to remind myself that she was human when she signed the contract.

Still, I need to verify her story. I pull her up, grab her chin and connect to her instantly. I don’t bother with being gentle, she deserves to be punished. I decide to scrutinise everything I need to see without mercy or any regard for her privacy. Privacy is reserved for those who have my trust.

“Aefener!” my father warns me, but Uriel isn’t in his jurisdiction anymore.

“She’s my subject,” I hiss. “Besides, you promised no more secrets so I take it you’re not afraid I’m going to see something you wouldn’t want.”

The Divementis Emperor frowns, but he doesn’t move to stop me. I dive into Uriel’s mind and fast-forward check her memories before and after the transformation. I don’t have time to go into detail, of course, but I can get a good overview of what she’s been up to.

I discover that she was a brilliant VR programmer and that’s how she caught the attention of the Divementis who needed to outsource part of the project. She got hired and proved herself after a year of relentless work so they decided to tell her the truth and invite her to the Nebula headquarters.

She knew from the beginning what she was signing up for. Little did she know, however, how much the transformation would change her thinking. Just as any other Celestial, she desperately wanted to flock to the embodiment of magic and the Divementis had to even lock her up. When my father learned that I was his son, she was promised to meet me eventually which calmed her down and she became reluctantly cooperative again.

“Y-Your M-Majesty, I…,” Uriel is shaking and there’s shame in her eyes.

“Uriel was forbidden to contact you, Your Celestial Majesty,” Nyx stands up for her because she can see how angry I am. “Believe me, she wanted to. She might have started as a human collaborator, but she’s a Celestial now. She continued to cooperate with us again only because she didn’t have any other option.”

“I want her contract with Nebula terminated,” I click my tongue.

“Done,” my father approves instantly and it’s as simple as that.

“My Emperor…,” Uriel starts crying. “I’m so sorry… I… really didn’t mean… I…”

“You couldn’t fly enough,” I frown and inspect her wings. They look okay from the outside, but when I touch her wing muscles, I can easily tell that they are atrophied.

“She tried to fly away every time we wanted to let her get some exercise,” Nyx explains quickly. “Your Majesty, we assure you that we weren’t trying to torture her. We just couldn’t let her go because she knew all our secrets. Wiping out one’s memory isn’t in our power.”

“Vermiel, take her to my maids and tell them to calm her down,” I order. “She will probably be disoriented for a few hours, I dug into her memories a bit too forcibly. I bet she has accommodation on the premises, but I want her to stay with us from now on. She’s not used to being around her kind so assign her a friendly flatmate.”

I see panic in Uriel’s eyes, but also huge relief. She’s not bound to the Divementis anymore and no matter how she started, she’s one of us now. Yes, I am angry with her, but I would never give up on my subject.

“Uriel, go with Vermiel, I’ll visit you in the evening,” I promise because Uriel is hesitant to go and is clutching the hem of my robe. Her hand is shaking, her breath is rapid and she’s afraid to get separated from me again. From my own experience, I can recognise someone on the verge of a panic attack.

“It’s going to be okay,” I say, softly now. I kiss her on her forehead, giving her my strongest blessing.

Uriel faints, but that was my intention. I catch her and give her to Vermiel. When I look up again, I realise that every Divementis in the room is staring at me, shocked.

“His Highness can do THAT without prior training?” Chancellor of Science Sythara, standing with a group of the Divementis scientists nearby, gasps.

“I projected some of my mana as well,” I set the record straight because I don’t like the way they’re looking at me. “My blessings are half-Divementis, half-Celestial.”

“I have to thank you, son, for taking her off our hands,” my father appreciates. “Celestials are fiercely loyal to their race and almost impossible to contain. We didn’t have it as difficult with other dungeon masters.”

“Right, one dungeon master in disguise for each race,” I recall. “What about them? Will you finally release them as well?”

“We already did, just yesterday,” he surprises me. “Their last mission from us is to find their race rulers and tell them what I’m about to tell you now. We need all Draconian races on board to have at least a chance to win. With you, my son, those chances rose even higher.”

“Start explaining then,” I encourage him.

He nods and makes a hand gesture above some console. The lights dim and a huge hologram appears in the middle of the room. It’s a planet that’s more green than blue so it’s definitely not Earth.

“This is Draconia, our home,” my father starts. “Unlike this planet, it was inhabited by five sentient races. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but after centuries of conflicts in our early history, we reached fragile peace, established trade and divided our spheres of influence. The Earthborn took over deep rainforests, the Dragonkin claimed mountains, Clawfangs thrived in thinner forests and grassy plains, Celestials ruled the skies and the Divementis took the mildest climates.”

“It’s admirable that you were able to coexist in peace considering that humans can’t even coexist with each other,” Liana comments bitterly.

“Draconia is twice as big as Earth and bountiful, we could make it work,” my father summarises. “We do have our bloody history, we just had longer to evolve than humans. We coexisted in peace for one millennium until one day a rift opened from another dimension and the Enemy came to invade our home world.”

“War,” I twitch.

“A global planetary war,” he nods. “We were defending Draconia bravely and were holding for ten long years, but we were too divided and uncoordinated. Every race just wanted to protect their territory and people and that was our downfall.

First, the Earthborn fell—the Enemy burned down their rainforests. Clawfangs were next; the Enemy took over the minds of their animal companions who turned against their masters. The Dragonkin held resiliently in the mountains and fortified themselves, but their rations eventually ran out. As proud warriors, they didn’t want to die of starvation so they organised one last glorious battle. They were wiped out almost overnight.

Celestials defended for the longest. Their flying cities had protective shields and their elemental magic was nothing to trifle with. However, even flying cities started to fall one by one. After their Emperor, the embodiment of magic, was killed during a fierce battle with the Enemy, the rest of his subjects couldn’t hold on for much longer.

As for the Divementis, we had the best protection against the Enemy who was also telepathic. Nevertheless, this advantage soon turned out to be our ruin. The Enemy found a way how to invade our minds and either instantly kill us or make us lose our sanity. After my mother, the previous Divementis Empress, was killed, I was still too young to properly defend my people.”

“How did you escape then?” I blurt out. “How did you know about the Earth in the first place?”

“We didn’t,” he shakes his head. “We were desperate and just miraculously managed to seize one of the Enemy’s dimensional transport devices during a raid on one of their strongholds. With other Draconian races completely extinct and the Divementis counting barely ten thousand individuals left, we decided to flee. We evacuated on our remaining ships, opened a rift and jumped.”

“Blindly?” Erik tilts his head.

“Partially,” my father answers. “There were two dozen coordinates recorded in the dimensional device—worlds which the Enemy had on the lists after Draconia as next targets. So, before you ask—no, we didn’t bring the war here. The Enemy would come here sooner or later. The Enemy knew we stole the device and fled, but they didn’t know where. We came here in 1924 so it took the Enemy almost two centuries to find us. During that time, we had time to prepare.”

“Prepare,” Gotrid murmurs. “You mean to resurrect the extinct Draconian races.”

“Yes,” he confirms. “Humans were too underdeveloped when we came, it was impossible to count on their help. They surprised us with their rapid advancement, but we still needed Draconians. This time, we wouldn’t make the same mistake, though. This time, we would make sure that Draconians are eager to cooperate. Sythara, can you take over?”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” the Chancellor of Science nods. “We created a game, an exact copy of our home world, in which Draconians were forced to cooperate from the beginning, hoping it would change their mindset, and we were successful. Races of Draconia complemented each other brilliantly during simulated fights as well as in the real world when monsters started appearing here.”

“You mentioned once that you were suppressing the rifts,” I remember. “How?”

“By studying the dimensional device we stole,” Sythara explains. “We found a way how to use it to prevent rifts from opening. Unfortunately, it requires a tremendous amount of energy and it stopped working 100% when the Enemy started to really push entry, finally convinced that we hid here. Still, if it wasn’t for our efforts, the Enemy would have invaded this dimension five years ago when we just barely launched the game.”

“A game capable of changing one’s very DNA,” Liana shakes her head in disbelief. “How is such a thing possible in the first place? Don’t take me wrong, you’re much more advanced than humans, I just don’t see how it would be possible even with your amazing tech.”

“You’re right, it wouldn’t be possible using conventional science,” Sythara admits. “However, Divementis tech works differently. You might have noticed already that we don’t use buttons or voice commands. That’s because we send these commands telepathically.”

“Your tech is telepathic?!” Erik widens his eyes. Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that to them. When I was forced to sit in that special chair on Aurora, the ship’s interface popped directly into my mind.

“That’s right, Royal Consort,” Sythara nods. “I know it’s a difficult concept to grasp for anyone who isn’t a Divementis. You can imagine it like this: Humans store data online, but it’s still on a physical server somewhere. We store data in the telepathic matrix—in the consciousness of our entire species.”

“That doesn’t explain how Draconia Online managed to change us,” Gotrid purses his lips.

“Mind is much more powerful than you think,” Sythara explains patiently. “I know that it might sound esoteric, but the principle behind it was to convince a player’s brain that they are the race they play as. For that, we needed to make the game as realistic as possible—to convincingly simulate that one has extra limbs, scales or fur. We made players eat in VR, we made them clean their avatars, change clothes and, most importantly, we made them feel pain. And not just any pain, we made them feel pain in body parts they didn’t have in real life.”

“But there are many games similar to Dragonia on the market,” Liana opposes. “Maybe not as gore when it comes to pain, but similarly detailed.”

“True, but hidden in the game’s code, there was Divementis telepathic architecture and hundreds of Divementis powering it each day,” Sythara reveals. “We were carefully instilling belief systems in the form of lore and DNA sequences of extinct Draconian races. We gave you the input, but the rest is the job of your own brains.”

“Son, I said that humans were underdeveloped when we came here, but I didn’t mean it as an insult,” my father sets the record straight. “In fact, we were extremely lucky that humans, as a species, were still developing.

Human brains have amazing plasticity and, unlike Draconian races, they aren’t that closely adjusted for a single biotope. Human brains are ready to embrace any beneficial change and their plain humanoid bodies are the best neutral canvas we could hope for. It’s difficult to get rid of something, but quite easy to grow new body parts.”

“How come everybody changed at the same time? Each player had a different starting point,” Gotrid points out. “My beloved started the game with its launch while I jumped in much later.”

“A year of intense gameplay is actually quite enough,” Sythara says. “What we needed was to reach a critical mass. The VR world needed to be as vibrant as real life. Six years after launch, we finally had 15 million active players who were logging in almost every day and spending at least four hours in the game on average. We were confident that if we gave your brains the final push at that peak, we could hope for 10 million transformed players. In the end, we got 12 million—a huge success.”

“That is quite an esoteric explanation,” Erik frowns.

“Is it really?” my father shrugs. “For us, telepathy is as natural as breathing, it’s the power of our brains. It only seems esoteric to you because it’s beyond human comprehension. Ask your husband if he considers Celestial magic to be esoteric.”

“What? Of course, it’s not,” I shake my head and Erik gives me a raised eyebrow. “Magic is just a fancy term for the power of Celestial brains to harness the energy our bodies naturally produce and project it outwards. We call it spells for simplicity, but it’s a manipulation of elements. We use mana as a power source and manipulate matter with our minds. It’s more science than actual magic.”

“See?” the corners of my father’s lips twitch into a smile. “Admittedly, it’s difficult even for the Divementis to understand. Celestials were always mysterious to us just as we were to them. My son is the first person in the Draconian history who can understand both.”

Ryuu, you never mentioned that magic isn’t really magic, Erik pulls my sleeve and pouts. I must have looked stupid just now.

I haven’t thought about it in this way either, Gotrid notes. As always, our beloved is in a different league.

Sorry, I didn’t realise you didn’t realise, I apologise and chew my lip. I thought it became obvious ever since we started creating magical technology and using crystals. Rina and our research department are aware of it. They’ve been calling it Celestial Science for quite a while now.

Guiltily, I look at Liana. I’m afraid to be scolded by her for keeping important information, but my Viceroy doesn’t act surprised at all. Phew, at least she knew.

“Now then,” my father claps his hands to catch my attention because he can tell that I’m lost in thoughts with my partners. “I guess now’s the time for the big reveal.”

I frown. What can be possibly bigger than this?

“It’s time to introduce the Enemy,” he says solemnly.