114 The Cursed Pair Makes its Move
While Kilian and his peers tackled the Fortress' Zones, Klaus sat in his study—studying the last transmissions he received from his crystal lords while the bleeding head of an old man floated beside him. Anke and Jezebel could have recognized him as Alaric von Rulweil: Anke's grandfather, and Jezebel's father while she posed as Viscellia von Rulweil. After Urag successfully escaped with Anke, Klaus snuck into the Grand Duke's domain, and following a grim battle, captured him. But as soon as Urag brought Anke to Kilian's side, Klaus exhausted the old dukes' extra lives, and beheaded him.
By the time Klaus had analyzed the last bits of the transmission, a whirlwind of amber light had appeared at his right, and from it, Niklas emerged. For once, the emperor's eyes didn't immediately lock on his beloved son, instead staring at Alaric's floating head.
"Don't worry, he was weaker than he should have been. Something must have happened before my visit, so I didn't sustain as many injuries as I should have," Klaus shifted his eyes toward Niklas, unsurprised by the sudden visit. But for a second, the emperor seemed dazed, and blinked at Alaric. The Grand Duke of Rulweil was the only non-von Skoll Exarch known to the Arcadians. Though a mid-level Exarch, he possessed many unique abilities that made dealing with him a chore. However, that Klaus could kill him wasn't what intrigued Niklas.
"I dare say that I understand your goals and motivations better than anyone, but this time, I'm confused. Why did you kill him?" Niklas seriously asked. The murder of Alaric von Rulweil was a grueling, thankless task that brought no benefit whatsoever. His prestige among commoners and nobles alike reached a near-mythical level, and his death was sure to throw the world into more chaos. Did they not have enough trouble on their hands? Why add this one to the list? Such a move went against Klaus' thought process—preventing Niklas from making sense of the situation.
Standing up, Klaus stepped toward Niklas, and pressed his right hand on his forehead. "Third Circle Spell: Memory Transmission," Klaus transferred all relevant memories to Niklas, enabling him to see all the information the crystal lords gathered on Anke and Kilian till they stepped into the Fortress of Vice and lost the ability to transfer their data.
"You already told me that the damnable brat survived and is—that—Kilian. And from what I'm seeing now, his current progression speed outpaced all our expectations. All the better. At the end of the day, when you bring him into the Altar of Eternity, the stronger he is, the more likely you are to succeed. Unless you're trying to trigger a certain chain of events, I still don't see anything that justif...hateful fiend." Niklas' eyes widened at the realization of Klaus' true motive, and the latter returned to his seat.
"I am Anke's teacher and closest kin, while Alaric is her foundation and backing. By killing him, I am not only destroying her background, but alienating myself from her. By the time she returns from the Sura Plane, one of her uncles would have inherited the Grand Duchy and branded her a traitor. She cannot return to the von Rulweils and, out of hatred, will never return to Kars until she feels ready to challenge me. With the psychological damage that situation will create, Kilian will become her sole source of comfort, the only one she can lean on. At the same time, seeing her suffer a fate so similar to what I did to him, the new Kilian will go easier on her. Thus, I become the focus of Anke's negativity, and they can get rid of all past issues. That's the first reason," Klaus calmly said, and while Niklas' eyed him from head to toe, he carried on.
"But more importantly, we need to force the technocrats to make a bold move, and the nobility to despair. Alaric's death is a free flag they can use to, at last, split Arcadia into two factions: Pro and Anti von Skolls, Imperial vs. Aristocrat.
You will get the blame for the old man's death. In fear, all nobles that haven't already will submit to the Technocracy and unite for a brutal war. There is no room for hesitation, because if you can kill Alaric, none of them are safe. Once driven to breaking point, men rebel, and this war will not only see the end of all aristocratic houses, but may enable us to find the Technocrats' main base. We can then destroy them before they carry out their plan. That would be for the best," Klaus explained, and Niklas was forced to admit that he didn't see those moves coming.
Again, Klaus proved as callous as paradoxical. Why did he need to push Anke back into Kilian's arms when, from the start, he was the one ruining them? Perhaps, knowing that his death approached, Klaus wished to straighten the life of a girl he loved but ruined for his heir's upbringing?
Stretching out his right hand, Klaus gathered his dra, and cleft open a space gash toward the Sura Plane.
"However, while all this brews, there is one thing I must personally deal with. We can't allow Kilian to obtain the Fortress of Vice. Because once he does, he will have enough strength to challenge us both. At that point, even if he learns of the Altar's meaning and location, he will have no reason to brave its dangers, and can just attack us instead. This makes everything I've put him through pointless, and I will not stand for it. Therefore, I must join the race for the Fortress, and claim it before he does," Klaus declared, and his gaze hardened. Niklas could count all the times such a look appeared on Klaus' face and knew there was no point dissuading him. So he just went along.
"That being the case, I must join you. Can't let you burn your remaining lifespan before the Altar's gates open, can I? Otherwise, everything I've put you through will also become...pointless." With a gentle smile, Niklas emulated Klaus' words. Of course, they didn't have the same meaning. Klaus spoke with a sense of purpose, whereas Niklas's tone only carried bitter regret.
"Didn't you plan to invade Nargoz?"
"Their queen left, which makes the invasion pointless. In fact, from what you've shown me, she left to find her husband. All the more reason to head there," Niklas argued.
Neither could dissuade the other, so the first two of the cursed lineage walked toward the portal, and stepped into the Sura Plane to compete with their junior.