The maid we met the first time we visited, Shara, led us through Aurel’s mashion and towards our destination, the dining room.
「Sorry it had to be here of all places. I was stuck in a meeting with a bigshot all day, so I haven’t really had a chance to eat anything yet.」
「Care to join me? My personal chef just happened to get back from Barbra last night. I’m sure his dishes will be able to catch your interest.」
Why the hell not? The fact that Aurel called the chef his personal one pretty much instantly convinced me that the person in question was incredibly skilled.
It looked like Fran shared the same sentiment, as she immediately consented to having another meal.
「Shara, make sure the chef makes enough for her as well.」
It was only then that I finally realized the implication of Aurel’s statement. He was a pretty influential figure, but he was so busy that he hadn’t a chance to eat until the afternoon had come to pass. That could only mean that the person he’d been entertaining was even more influential than he was.
「Weird people outside.」
「Some sort of mercenary band, I hear.」
「Well, it’s not a group I’ve ever heard of, at least. My guess is they want to talk to me so they can boost their prestige.」
「Yeah, it’s something that happens all the time. People love to make claims about how well known they are elsewhere. They’ll boast about slaying powerful demons and knowing influential nobles.」
Oh, I get it. So everyone new in town is just desperate to leave an impression on all of Ulmutt’s more important people.
「Aren’t’t they aware that I can tell how strong they are just by looking at them?」
「Blue Catkin mercs, all weaklings.」
「Gahahaha! That so? If so, then there’s only be two possible ways for them to truly be well known. The first would be because one of their members happens to be incredibly strong. The second would be because they were cruel.」
「To be honest, I didn’t like their attitudes. Their leader had sent a representative instead of coming on his own. At first, I’d almost wondered if said leader was a noble instead. Either way, I ended up deciding to just leave them be. I was hoping they’d eventually give up and go home.」
Huh, so they really were just scrubs after all. I guess that makes sense given that they seemed rather weak.
「Hmmm… I see, I take it you’ve completed my request then?」
Aurel opened the pendant and confirmed that we’d delivered the letter he wrote.
「Want to ask about evolution.」
「Well, it does look like you did as you were asked and got the pendant to Rumina.」
「I guess that must mean I’ll have to pay my dues.」
「Won’t need payment if told about evolution.」
「I’m not capable of providing you enough knowledge to have made the request I gave you worth your time.」
「I wouldn’t have sent you to see Rumina if I was capable of telling you what you wanted to know. I simply would have told you it myself. I myself have spent many years looking into the the Black Cat Tribe and its potential for evolution, but I’ve never been able to find satisfactory results. All I know is one has to do more than just reach a certain level.」
Damn… Not even Aurel’s figured anything out after spending several years researching the topic despite the fact that he’s an influential B ranked adventurer…?
「Then would like to ask about the Black Catkin in the past.」
「…Where’d you catch wind of that?」
「That loose-lipped son of a…!」
「Was told about incredible strength.」
「Yeah… She was quite the strong one…」
Aurel began speaking in a quieter tone as he recalled his youth. He told us about the Black Catkin he met, how she saved him, and how the two of them had hit it off.
「It’s already been 53 years since then.」
「That person. Couldn’t evolve?」
「She couldn’t. She, like you, had been out on a journey in search of a way to evolve. She’d even visited Rumina fairly frequently in hopes of finding a clue.」
「But still failed?」
「I presume so.」
Wait, he presumed so? Did that mean he wasn’t certain?
Fran had also caught onto his lack of confidence, and tilted her head in response.
「A few things happened, and she ended up leaving town. We haven’t been in touch since then.」
「A few things indeed. Anyways, that’s enough of that. There’s no point talking about someone that’s been long gone. You’d best try talking to Dias if you’d like to know more about her. The two of them got along quite well. Anyway, why don’t we get back on track?」
I didn’t even need to activate the Principle of Falsehood in order to know that he was still hiding something, but I figure out exactly what that thing happened to be.
If I had to guess, I’d probably assume it was because she’d died off in a dungeon somewhere. If that were the case, then Aurel would probably find it rather difficult to talk about her. He also probably thought that Fran would end up mourning her predecessor’s death as well. I figured that there was no point putting a damper on Aurel’s mood, and that we could probably get Dias to tell us everything we wanted to know, so we just went with the flow and allowed him to change the topic.
「I’m sure you already know this seeing as how you’ve spoken to Rumina, but it used to be much less difficult for Black Catkin to attain evolution.」
「That, however, has changed. It is exactly that change that leads us to our next question: why? Why did the circumstances change? I personally believe that the answer is that the change is most likely a result of divine retribution.」
「Divine retribution? Punished by Gods?」
「It’s something often applied to those that have committed grave sins or opposed the Gods. The most famous example would be what occured on the continent of Goldishia.」
Oh right. I remember hearing about that. Trismegistus, Lord of the Dragonmen, made use of the Evil God’s power in order to create a magic beast. Said magic beast went berserk and basically fucked the whole continent. Trismegistus was punished by being forced to fight his creation for the all of eternity.
「I know that it’s something that happened far in the past, but I still find it strange that there’s so little information that links evolution to the Black Cat Tribe. It almost seems to be exactly like the method in which one manufactures magic beasts in the sense that all pertinent information is simply gone. It’s like the Gods have simply erased all records of it. I dare say that they have even gone as far as to fiddle with people’s memories.」
Well I mean, that does sound like something a God would be capable of.
「Some beastkin tribes practice the art of keeping their evolutionary methods a secret, but it’s relatively easy for one to discover the methodologies so long as they refer to books or other works of literature. It’s not like that with the Black Cat Tribe’s evolutionary methods. Only a few works remain at best. I’ve also tried asking the Elves, but none of them seem to remember it at all. In fact, they seem to have completely forgotten the fact that the Black Cat Tribe was even capable of evolution to begin with.」
Okay yeah, that does sound pretty damn unnatural. I wouldn’t really be surprised if the Gods had just tinkered with people’s heads and forced them to forget stuff. Again, that sounds like something they’d be capable of.
I ruminated on it for a bit, but none of that God stuff actually served for anything more than an afterthought. I was much more focused on one of the other things that Aurel had said, as it simply couldn’t be ignored.
「Still some remaining literature?」
Fran had addressed the exact same point I’d caught onto. Aurel hadn’t stated that there were no longer any works of literature containing details regarding the Black Cat Tribe’s evolutions. He’d only said that most were no longer present.
「Truth be told, I did happen to find a single work that contained a few pertinent details.」
「Calm down. What I found was not something that addressed the matter directly.」
Aurel smiled bitterly at the fact that Fran had gotten so excited that she ended up slamming the table while rising to her feet. Apparently the book he found wasn’t one that’d addressed the topic directly, but only mentioned it in passing.
「Have you ever heard of The Ten Original Tribes?」
「Ten original tribes? No.」
「The Ten Original Tribes refer to the first ten groups of beastkin that the God of Beasts and Insects had birthed into the world. Each is said to possess the power of a Divine Beast laying dormant within.」
「Divine Beast? Cool sounding.」
「Nine of the Ten Original Tribes have been known since ancient times: The Golden Flame Lionkin, The White Snow Wolfkin, The Yellow Dust Ratkin, The Purple Wind Elephantkin, The Orange Iron Foxkin, The Red Earth Horsekin, The Green Water Turtlekin, The Blue Life Snakekin, and The Cherry Blossom Cowkin. The tenth was, for some odd reason, unknown. For many years, its identity was thought of as one of the Beastkin’s greatest mysteries…」
「Last is Black Catkin?」
「Possibly, yes. The work I happened to procure stated that the last tribe was the Black Heavenly Tigerkin, and it just so happens to be that Rumina is of the Black Tigerkin race.」
「Black Heavenly Tigerkin same as Black Tigerkin? Then, Aurel, White Wolfkin same as White Snow Wolfkin?」
「Not exactly. We, the White Dog Tribe’s members, are capable of evolving into White Snow Wolfkin as opposed to White Wolfkin if we happen to fulfill a certain set of conditions. I myself was only capable of becoming a White Wolfkin.」
According to Aurel, his species, the White Dogkin, descended from a line of White Snow Wolfkin. Hence, its members were also capable of becoming a White Snow Wolfkin so long as they were qualified to do so.
Through extrapolation, one could then assume that it was possible for Black Catkin to either evolve into Black Heavenly Tigerkin if they too met a certain set of conditions. Else, they do as Rumina did and simply evolve into Black Tigerkin instead.
As a tribe that descended from one of the ten, White Dogkin were and are to this day respected by their beastkin peers.
「And that is why I believe it to be odd for the beastkin to have simply forgotten about the Black Cat Tribe, which has likely also descended from one of The Original Ten Tribes.」
Many tribes have performed investigations in order to determine which of the tribes was supposed to be the last of the ten, many of which ended in an assertion of the superiority of one’s own lineage. Naturally, most of these assertions were false. Had he not known of Rumina, Aurel would have disregarded the work that made mention of the Black Heavenly Tigerkin as one of these false claims. But he didn’t. His knowledge of her made it so he simply couldn’t. Instead, he’d been convinced that the work he came across spoke merely of the truth.
But that, again, begged a question. Why exactly had that one work been left behind if all the rest had been purged?
「And that is all I have come to know.」
Aurel’s face twisted in what could only be expressed as deep rooted frustration. He’d evidently thought at length about the topic, quite possibly because of the Black Catkin girl he’d known in the past.
「However, I do still have one thing to say. Divine retribution comes not without salvation. Even Trismegistus may one day be released from his curse if he simply defeats the magic beast he spawned. By that logic, the Black Cat Tribe must also be capable of the same. There must be a way for you and your kin to release yourselves from the fetters that bind you.」
「But again, that is the extent of my knowledge. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be of much use.」
「Not useless. Helped lots. Thank you.」
「You really think so?」
「That’s quite comforting to hear.」
Fran’s words caused Aurel’s expression to blossom into a heartfelt smile.