As he stared at Kilian, gentleness shone in the man's blue eyes, yet in those eyes, Kilian could only see the repetition of the previous day's events. The slaughter replayed, the deaths clutched at his soul, screaming with their burning hands, and asking him why, why, and why.
Why did they have to perish in such wretched manners?
Why did he lead them all into damnation?
Why did he now lie on velvet sheets, alone occupying a king-size bed as their ashes and blood stench still rankled the north?
The questions turned into needles, pricking Kilian's brain from the inside out. The world around him spun, and he clutched his head with full force, howling in grief! Klaus made no move, still eying Kilian with the same gaze, and not missing the tiniest of his gestures as if it was a priceless jewel and not a grieving boy standing before him.
In that instant, Kilian felt something inside him snap. He couldn't name it, but it did. He thus raised his eyes at Klaus, facing that new father with a calm, inexpressive gaze. Without a word, Klaus stretched out his right hand, made a revolver appear out of thin air, and lowered it before Kilian.
"This is a toy I got from a technomancer friend. You might not have come across this sort of thing in your tribe, but it's a fully charged, lethal weapon. Fires faster than the average man's arrow, and kills with more certainty. I give you one chance to take revenge. I will not evade or block.
Choose carefully." Klaus explained, making Kilian's eyes narrow for a second. Unlike what Klaus expected, he knew very well of guns' prowesses. The average bullet flew at around 760 m/s. Men could neither dodge nor block bullets. Therefore, on Earth, firearms soon replaced traditional blades.
According to Earth's logic, if the gun was truly charged, Klaus was putting his life in Kilian's hands. But surprisingly, although he recognized Klaus as the true root of his woes, Kilian's gaze didn't linger on the revolver for more than three seconds. He then pushed it back toward Klaus.
"Oh? Don't you want to give it a try? Don't you want to avenge your loss?" Klaus inquired with apparent amusement, more interested in the reasoning than the move.
"Your guard captain uses a sword," Kilian coolly replied. And hearing such words from the 12 years old, Klaus couldn't help but nod in approval.
"Good boy. Indeed, trinkets like these are utterly worthless before the likes of us. Even for mere templars, they have no use. Only peasants and commoners could find a purpose for those tools. Alas, bottom-tier soldiers aside, commoners cannot even glance at them," Klaus turned his head away from Kilian and stood up.
"You promptly learned to swallow your hatred, to put judgment before wrath, and make the rational call. Well done.
Remember, the first rule of vengeance is to bide your time. Follow my teachings, outpace me, and when you mature into the man house von Karsten requires, you can take my life," Klaus declared, and with his arms crossed behind his back, stepped out, leaving a dumbfounded Kilian to seek the tricks in his words.
The Kingdom of Orloth had existed for over 3,000 years, ruled by the von Draken since its founding. Likewise, the von Karsten had been the dukes of Kars for 3,000 years, always ranking among the most powerful nobles of the state. But all changed in two generations, two names: Otto von Karsten and Klaus von Karsten.
Otto, Klaus' father, was the textbook example of the self-imbued, depraved noble. Abusing his power to oppress commoners and vassals alike, terrorizing men and taking their women—summarily slaughtering those that opposed him—and making an enemy out of the entirety of Orloth. As the closest cousin of King Erik, he enjoyed great privileges, with few daring to oppose him—outwardly at least.
In the shadows, however, disgruntled nobles plotted the destruction of the von Karsten, forcing the young Klaus, Otto's sixth son, to mature beyond his years. By the time he revealed himself as the number one magus talent of Orloth, Klaus had murdered all those that preceded him in the succession line, tried and beheaded his father in public, and assumed the scepter of duke. From that moment on, Kars thrived unceasingly, leaving behind even the king's demesne.
In Orloth, magi were split into three ranks: Lesser Emissary, Core Emissary, and High Emissary. Templars wielded similar titles. Klaus, however, went beyond the High Emissary limit, now standing as the first Archon of Orloth's history. For a man such as him, overthrowing the von Draken rule was child's play. However, that was never his intention.
Kilian dared not call himself a genius, but he believed himself reasonably intelligent. And based on his observations, he didn't doubt that if he dared take the revolver, Klaus would have ended him. Not out of self-preservation, but because he would have proved incompetent.
From then on, rigorous training began. Mondays started with lectures, Sundays ended with lectures. Kilian woke up at 6 am and slept at 10 pm, spending the first half of his days following and listening to Klaus' teachings, and the other half digesting them through homework and self-meditation. From history to geography, from mathematics to physics, across the weeks and months that followed, there was no topic Klaus didn't cover.
"Because of the particular ritual I used during your conception, and your own talent, your Innate Dra Reserves are outstanding, surpassing that of the majority of Lesser Emissaries. But for that same reason, you cannot rush into learning magic.
Magic builds on knowledge. Understanding all you weave is the core foundation. Without sufficient understanding, you don't just risk ruining your mind; in the worst cases, you can even blow yourself up. The more Innate Dra you have, the easier it is to slip. Therefore, for the first six years, we will focus on building your knowledge of this world," Klaus explained, and as usual, Kilian didn't respond.
Klaus didn't mind the silence. Seeing his son's rapid progress was delightful enough. When he performed outstandingly, Klaus heartily praised Kilian, in those rare cases where he failed, he reproved and guided him to correctness. Kilian soon realized that the scientific knowledge at this world's disposal had long-since surpassed Earth's. At the same time, there was no such thing as religious beliefs. None believed in God.
This was a strange notion that took Kilian several weeks to accept. But ultimately, he had to. In this world, "God died" long ago. When magic first appeared, when men first obtained the ability to shape Dra, form Arcane Circles, and weave spells, their various beliefs collapsed.
Initially, the clerical orders attempted to control magic, making it a priest only discipline, a reward of God for the truly pious, and forcing the masses into subservience. Unfortunately for them, piety didn't grant arcane talent—nature did.
When they formed the Grand Orders to build vast armies and "spread the faith," the impious became magi and leaked the secrets to their houses. It didn't take three centuries for an aristocracy to form and become a power of its own. Templars and magi joined hands to obliterate the clergy, establishing strong realms in their stead.
Although the battles to wipe out the clergy stretched across years, the continent of Arcadia now refers to them as the Night of God's Final Breath. In the millennia that followed, magi wiped out all traces of religious belief, making magic and arcane knowledge the sole faith. They formed the arcane noble houses, established intermarriage alliances to ensure the purity of magical blood and multiply the magi in the following generation.
Over the years, they polished and mastered their craft, separating themselves from the ordinary men and women to become an elitist circle. Now, magocracies ruled the world, and though they only represented 0.1% of the population, magi held the commoners with an irresistible grasp. There was absolutely no way for the many to topple the reign of the few.
When the nobles noticed this truth, all hell broke loose, giving birth to a dystopian society where commoners had no right before the aristocracy. Only now did Kilian understand how dark this world truly was.
But he didn't merely learn science textbooks. Klaus taught him music, psychology, statecraft, swordplay, killing arts, and reinforced his already outstanding artistic skills. Still, above all, Klaus taught him life lessons. Two of them, Kilian found particularly striking, and would always remember:
"Do not trick yourself with self-righteous nonsense such as the end justifies the means. You do what you do for you understand that those who make the world run, those who build countries and change regimes, always thrive on evil. Evil is the root of man's hegemony. History sings the praise of despoilers, of murderers, and makes martyrs out of the good folks." Those words marked the first moment where Kilian eyed his biological father with a hint of interest.
"Whoever tells you that you can trust no one is aiming for your neck. Throughout this vast world, none can claim invincibility. If you can't even trust the ones guarding your door, how can you sleep at night? If there isn't a single person you can give your back to, how can you breathe? If those that draw their swords and unleash spells for your cause are not even worth your trust, how can you fight?
Trust is not wrong. The true issue lies in its basis. Beware, for it might one day become the root of a betrayal. Know why you trust your folks, why they answer your call, why they back you and put their lives at your service. Learn your worth in their hearts and the source of that worth. Only then can you make the proper judgment on whom to trust." Kilian thus realized that Klaus didn't want a son, but an heir of monstrous perfection.
He got it.