It turned out that Rumina really hadn’t been lying about being busy. Her familiars came to consult her almost constantly, to which she would always respond by giving out a series of orders. The familiars she had out this time around seemed to be designed a bit differently from the one we saw last time we visited. They looked more like mannequins and had the ability to communicate through human speech.
「Do we need to summon any more go-」
「No, that is enough.」
「In fact, I believe it is time for us to stop summoning Evil Beings altogether.」
Given that she was still in the middle of something, we decided to ask her a few final questions before heading back on our way.
『Is it true that the only reason it’s hard for Black Catkin to evolve is because the tribe suffered from from Divine Retribution?』
「Indeed. That is precisely the truth.」
『So what happened? Why’d they get punished in the first place?』
「That… I cannot say.」
Damn it, I figured as much. Her answer was a bit disappointing, but I was satisfied nonetheless. We weren’t able to learn the juicy details we wanted to hear, but I was at least able to verify that Aurel’s theory had been on the mark.
『So Aurel told us about that whole Ten Original Tribes thing. Was the Black Cat Tribe one of them?』
「I cannot say.」
It seemed that her saying she couldn’t tell us was more or less equivalent to her affirming our statements, so I decided to continue asking her stuff to see if we could really dig at what we wanted to know. Naturally, the whole affirmative thing was just an assumption on my part, but something was better than nothing, and I was pretty confident I was right.
『So I remember seeing a cloak by the name of the “Black Heavenly Tiger’s Mantle.” Does it have anything to do with the Black Catkin?』
The item I happened to be thinking of was one of the things Salrut had been wearing. Taking the item’s name and assuming the worst possible scenario allowed me to come up with the conjecture that it was something made out of one or more evolved Black Catkin. Using a deceased beastkin as a material wasn’t something that you could call within the realm of common sense, but the fact that he was a Reidosian made it so it didn’t actually seem like too far a stretch.
「I believe that the most understandable reply to your inquiry would be one that comes in the form of an example. You are aware of the White Snow Wolves of the White Dog Tribe, correct? There used to exist a monster that shared the same name. It was referred to as the White Snow Wolf, and, like the Beastkin Tribe, descended from the Divine Beast. The difference between the two is that one was created through the union of a Divine Beast and a human, whereas the other was born from the union of the Divine Beast and an animal.」
You know, that actually doesn’t even weird me out or anything. Earth’s supposed Gods would do stuff like that too. Some went around taking different forms and having children with pretty much anything and everything.
「The two were once the same, but have now been separated in classification. One side is treated as would a human, while the other, as would a magic beast, a definition born from a time in which there was no choice but for them to consume one another for sustenance. But again, ’tis simply the talk of old. The magic beasts have long devolved and lost all resemblance to the Divine Beast save for their form. Moreover, the White Dog Tribe cares not whether one hunts the White Snow Wolf magic beast. This same concept also applies to all the remaining nine original tribes.」
I guess that made sense. It seemed to be kinda like how I wouldn’t think much of people killing monkeys. There wasn’t any reason for me to accuse them for picking a fight with one of my ancestors just because they happened to murder one.
Welp, that was all I happened to want to know for now, so I figured it was time to go.
「I have heard that the Beast Lord has come to Ulmutt. Do be on your guard. Very little good is said of him.」
Fran grimaced in response to Rumina mentioning the Beast Lord; she wasn’t completely over what’d happened yet.
『We’ve already met him.』
「What!? Has he done anything to you? Are you unharmed?」
『We’re fine, least for now. All he did was intimidate us a bit.』
The way I saw it, the Beast Lord hadn’t been intending on completely crushing Fran’s will. He just happened to be a bit too strong for his own good was all.
「A-Are you certain?」
「S-Still, I believe it would be best for you to be on your toes. Not even I have the slightest clue as to the manner in which he will act.」
「The current Beast Lord is known for the act of parricide. I doubt it is even possible to be too careful when in his vicinity.」
Rumina made a bit of a dreadful face as she issued us a warning. She bore for the Beast Lord what appeared to be a rather deep seated sense of resentment, one that I couldn’t help but want to assume came from a personal grudge she bore for one of his ancestors.
The thought jogged my memory and reminded me about something we’d heard from Dias. He’d said that the Beast Lord was the first to order the Black Cat Tribe to be sold into slavery. If that were true, then Rumina herself most likely knew quite a bit more about it, not that she’d be able tell us anything either way.
「I would just like to say it once more to emphasize that I really do mean it. Be careful, the both of you.」
『Yeah, we know.』
Rumina nodded before continuing.
「Ah, right. Before you leave, I would like to ask you to complete a task. Could you relay for me a message to Dias?」
「I would simply like for you to ask him to come see me.」
「Now go. Do be careful on your way back, and look forward to what is to come.」
『Look forward to what now?』
「Hahaha! That, I cannot say. What I can say, however, is that Fran was lucky to have met you, Master. And for that, I am thankful.」
Rumina refused to say another word, so ended up bidding her farewell without learning any additional details.
We hurried over to the guild the moment we left the dungeon. This time, we’d actually managed to get ahold of Dias. We weren’t unlucky enough to actually end up having a second run in with the Beast Lord.
「Have you already completed all your remaining requests?」
Fran handed the materials we’d gotten over to Dias, who immediately confirmed that there wasn’t anything wrong with any of the stuff we’d procured. He was a bit surprised at how quick we managed to get everything done, but ended up conforming he could now elavate Fran’s rank regardless.
Dias called over one of his subordinates and issued to him a few orders. Specifically, he told him to queue two announcements. The first was that Fran had been promoted to C rank. The second was that she’d accepted a designated request.
『You sure it’s okay to announce that she’s accepted a designated request?』
「Don’t sweat it. It’s just a little something I’m doing to keep a few certain individuals in check. I know for sure that the Beast Lord wouldn’t want to antagonize us in any which way.」
Well, I guess that’s fine then.
「Want to ask something.」
「What is it?」
『You remember the Black Catkin you used to talk to about 53 years ago?』
「I see… I guess that means Aurel let the cat out of the bag.」
「Oh, right, that reminds me. Did you guys happen to have some sort of run in with the Beast Lord?」
『How’d you know?』
I had Perfect Thought Isolation up and running, so there was no way for him to have read our minds.
「Heh. Just wanted to remind you that I am technically a professional. Did you really think I wouldn’t be able to read you just because I’m not actually reading your mind anymore? I’m not actually totally reliant on the skill, you know?」
「Seriously. It’s mostly because Fran happened to react the moment I mentioned the Beast Lord is all.」
Honestly, I should’ve seen this coming. Dias was not only a Guildmaster, but also someone whose skills focused around the concept of taking advantage of other people’s’ weaknesses.
「Met in front of guild.」
「I’m guessing you ran into him yesterday then?」
『We happened to run into him when we tried checking in with you yesterday.』
「That’s unfortunate. He happens to be the type of person that considers intimidation as a method of negotiation. You know how he was pretty much full force when he came to visit? I guess it still is a passable behaviour though, since it stops people from picking fights with him…」
『What’s that supposed to mean?』
「Well, I guess I might as well tell you. Have a seat.」
「Nn. Got it.」
Dias personally brewed us a pot of tea, sat down, and started to speak.
「It all happened 53 years ago. Both Aurel and I were still just D ranked newbies back then.」
Wait wait, wouldn’t that mean they managed to become D rankers while they were still in their teens? Honestly, that sounded pretty damned impressive if you asked me.
「I was really proud back then. I loved to brag about all my achievements. But one day, she showed up, and in doing so, tore my beloved pride to shreds.」
「Black catkin girl?」
「The Black Catkin girl indeed. Her name was Kiara, and back then, she’d only been a mere 15 years old. Me and Aurel, we honestly used to look down on her, but not because she was a Black Catkin. The reason we didn’t really approve of her was because she was younger than us. We didn’t really think adventuring was something a kid could pull off.」
I guess adventurer culture really hasn’t changed in the last 50 odd years, has it?
「Our negative view of her, however, was incredibly short lived. She shut us up almost immediately by putting her strength on display, as she would always beat up anyone that mocked her. I can’t deny that she had the tendency to go a bit overboard, but that only served to emphasize her ability. Though she only went solo, her dungeon raids could only be described as extremely successful. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but she ended up earning herself a nickname, we adventurers had started referring to her as “The Black Cat.” 」
That’s pretty damned impressive. I wonder, did she have some sort of magic item that assisted her? Or was she simply a genius of some sort?
「So a few things happened, and she ended up saving both Aurel and I from certain death. The three of us started partying up thereafter from time to time. Honestly, she was a lot of fun to be around. I don’t recall ever being bored in her presence.」
「Fell in love?」
「Ahahahaha! Man, you just went straight there without a moment’s hesitation. Hmmm… I’m not quite sure, to be honest. What I can say for sure though is that I used to look up to her, and that she was indeed quite the beauty.」
Dias’ smile was tinged with an ever so slight bit of sadness. It seemed he still missed her.
「Kiara… wanted to evolve. She’d already hit her maximum level, but didn’t know what to do thereafter, or at least until she met Rumina. The two talked about several different things on several different occasions. One of their conversations seemed to have ended up giving Kiara a hint as to what she needed to do, and thus, prompted her disappearance.」
「I put it that way because I don’t actually know what happened to her. She disappeared before telling me any details.」
『Did she disappear so she could go evolve?』
「I doubt it. At one point, she’d told both Aurel and I that she wanted to us to accompany her and lend her our abilities so that she could evolve.」
Huh, then why’d she end up leaving without saying anything to either of them then? She had to have a pretty damned good reason to just up and vanish.
「Aurel and I both came to the conclusion that she got involved in some sort of incident, so we tried our best to find her. In the end, all we managed to get were a few hints.」
「The first hint was that Rumina and Kiara seemed to have ended up arguing with each other just before it happened. Aurel happened to overhear the latter shout at the former while telling her to mind her own business, and that she was going too far.」
I wonder what ended up leading to that? Rumina didn’t really seem to be the type that’d try to harm a Black Catkin.
「Well, that part’s actually not too relevant. Kiara’s disappearance wasn’t Rumina’s fault. That much, I verified with by reading Rumina’s mind.」
Specifically, he’d drawn the conclusion because Rumina had ended up reacting with both surprise and sorrow when she caught wind of Kiara’s disappearance.
「However, it seemed that Kiara really had caught on to what Black Catkin needed to do to evolve. Hence why I thought it to be something to do with her disappearing.」
『Did someone end up targeting her because they found out she knew what to do in order to evolve?』
「That’s what I thought too. I even actually ended up identifying the person likely responsible for her disappearance..」
「I was convinced it was the Beast Lord that happened to be in power at the time, the current Beast Lord’s father. To be more exact, the perpetrators had been the Blue Catkin that worked under him. I don’t have any real proof, but I did manage to get myself enough evidence to at least make them out to be suspects.」
Dias and Aurel had heard rumours of several Blue Catkin often visiting the place she stayed at immediately following her disappearance. Thus, they investigated them.
They used Aurel’s influence and information network to snoop around until they came across a piece of information that stated that the the Beast Lords of old weren’t actually Golden Lionkin, but instead Black Tigerkin.
From that, the two came to the conclusion that the Golden Lionkin had ended up usurping the Black Tigerkin after the latter incurred the Gods’ wrath.
The Golden Lionkin had obtained dominion over the Beastkin. But even then, they were still afraid, terrified that the Black Tigerkin may one day reclaim what was once theirs. Hence, they eliminated any and all documents pertaining to the the past, destroyed anything that would hint at what the Black Catkin needed to do in order to evolve, and ordered the Blue Catkin to persecute them and keep them as weak as possible. And that, in turn, explained precisely why none of the other tribes give the Blue Cat Tribe flak for selling their fellow beastkin into slavery; the ruling tribe had their backs.
It was a deal the Blue Cat Tribe only derived benefit from. They not only rose in prestige, but also gained a significant source of income from their dealings in the slave trade. Plus, it was an opportunity for them to trample upon those that’d been thought of as superior to them, an opportunity they took with glee. Through this, one could clearly tell that the Blue Cat Tribe’s disdain for the Black Cat Tribe remained despite the fact that the Gods had erased from their memories the other tribe’s sins.
「We tortured and interrogated all the Blue Catkin in town at the time, only to find that one of their higher ups, one that still resided within the Beastkin’s country, had ordered Kiara’s capture. Through that, we also learned that the Beast Lord had sent a skilled warrior that hailed from a tribe that’d served by his side for generations, and that said warrior had happened to come in contact with Kiara.」
In other words, the Beast Lord had either killed, kidnapped, or silenced Kiara…
Hearing Dias’ tale had caused Fran to become angrier than I’d ever seen her before. She trembled in rage and irradiated an air of bloodlust so powerful that I actually felt grateful we were talking to Dias in particular. Her desire to kill had swollen up to the point where it’d probably terrify just about anyone else.
「Again, I can’t really say 100% for certain, as these are just my deductions, nothing more, nothing less. That said, I’m convinced that she did end up getting involved with the Beast Lord.」
Fran’s expression turned dark. I felt as if she probably would’ve charged straight at the Beast Lord and challenged him had she not been aware of the extent of his strength. Having met him, she and I were now both aware just how bad an idea that was. Approaching him without a plan could only lead to death. To make matters worse, his guards were highly capable. We’d at least need Fran to evolve before even thinking of challenging him. Knowing that, Fran held herself back, but in doing so, ended up clenching her fists so hard that she started bleeding.
「I know you’re angry, but don’t go challenging the Beast Lord, alright?」
Fran nodded despite being about as frustrated as could be. She probably would’ve immediately stormed over, beat the crap out of him, and made him divulge everything she knew if she could.
「Listen. Don’t throw your life away. Evolve and get stronger before even thinking of challenging him.」
Dias shifted gears and began talking about his association with Rumina.
The two of them suffered a mental blow from Kiara’s disappearance, and thus, ended up agreeing to a pact, one in which both parties would work to support any Black Catkin that happened to follow in her footsteps, any Black Catkin that sought evolution.
Rumina used her abilities in order to create a second dungeon, Ulmutt’s western dungeon. She’d intentionally crafted it as a training ground for new adventurers, for Black Catkin that wished to become more powerful. The western dungeon was advertised as a second dungeon, its own independent labyrinth. But in reality, that wasn’t the case. It was merely an extension of the eastern one. There was no second Dungeon Master. The role had simply been played by Rumina all along.
That wasn’t all she did either. She’d also saved up as much strength as she could in order to assist any and all Black Catkin that’d reached their level caps in the process of evolution. Dias didn’t know the particulars himself. Rumina couldn’t tell him what was needed for Black Catkin to evolve. However, she was able to tell him that he was still able to be of assistance. She would need an exorbitant amount of magical energy in order to provide the assistance she wished to. It wasn’t an amount that was outside of the scope of her abilities so long as she conserved as much as she could over the course of several decades. That, however, wasn’t something she could just do. There were naturally downsides to her actively conserving her magical energy. The act of it left the dungeon defenseless. She needed a method by which she could ward off powerful adventurers in the meantime.
And that was where Dias came in.
He reported to the Adventurer’s Guild and state that he’d managed to negotiate with the Dungeon Master. That, of course, wasn’t all. He also spoke to the country’s leaders and convinced them that the dungeon was valuable, both for its resources and for its ability to rear new adventurers. The scheme paid off. The Kingdom viewed his contributions as phenomenal, and hence, he was not only able to guarantee Rumina’s safety, but also become the city’s Guildmaster.
Dias had done it.
He’d obtained all the power he needed in order to protect the Black Cat Tribe.
The elderly adventurer’s words hadn’t contained even the slightest shred of falsehood. He, Aurel and Rumina were all truly working towards the same two goals: identifying Kiara’s enemies and protecting the Black Cat Tribe as a whole. That was why all three individuals had treated Fran so favourably.
「We’ll announce that you’ve ranked up some time tomorrow.」
「Nn. Got it.」
「That said, there is an official process that we need to go through. Why don’t we go ahead and get all that out of the way right here and now?」