We headed back to the inn after we finished going through the formal rank up procedure.
『Looks like we’re finally officially C rankers.』
『Let’s throw a bit of a celebration. How about this, I’ll let you guys can eat as much curry as you want tonight. There won’t be any limit on the number of toppings you can have either.』
「Nn! Want curry with hamburgers, karaage, tonkatsu, egg on top. Extra large.」
I gave Fran exactly what she asked for. The end result turned into something that looked like it came straight out of a food challenge, but whatever. She was happy, and that was all that mattered.
『Try not to bloat yourself too much, alright?』
『And as for you, Urushi, I’ve finally made that super spicy stuff I promised you yesterday.』
The pot of curry I showed Urushi was a modified version of the spiciest curry I had sitting around in storage. I added a whole sloth of extra spice to it and caused the amount of capsaicin within to skyrocket. The liquid within had been turned crimson, and almost looked like a boiling vat of blood that’d come straight out of hell. To Urushi, however, the mixture evidently looked and smelled delicious, as he immediately began to drool the moment I procured it.
I honestly didn’t really get how or why he was actually looking forward to consuming the stuff. It was so spicy that it even caused Fran to reel back; she didn’t even want to try it. I felt that I probably would’ve reacted the exact same way had I still been human.
The pair went through their curry incredibly quickly, so I decided to serve them some desert in the form of ice cream as I began getting my thoughts in order. I decided not to think about the possibility of me having been made by a God-tier blacksmith, and only focused on concepts related to Fran and evolution.
The Black Cat Tribe was one of the original ten, and the tribe had originally held either the Beast Lord’s position or something similar. That, however, all changed somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 years ago.
We were never able to figure out exactly what the Black Cat Tribe’s sin had been, but whatever it was, it was enough to merit having the Gods deliver onto them Divine Retribution. Specifically, the Gods changed the conditions under which Black Catkin evolved; they made it much more difficult. Not a single individual had managed to fulfill the necessary requirements ever since.
And that was when the Red Cat Tribe’s Golden Lionkin stepped in. They toppled the powerless Black Cat Tribe’s rule, and stole for themselves the Beast Lord’s seat. They then ordered the Blue Cat Tribe’s members to persecute the Black Catkin in order to prevent them from ever regaining their former glory. It was an order the Blue Cat Tribe had likely abided by due to the fact that the Red Cat Tribe was one of the original 10, and therefore of a higher status. It was a firm measure, but it alone failed to sate the Red Cat Tribe’s concerns. They still feared that the Black Cat Tribe could one day rise again to power, and thus, they destroyed any and all texts relating to the Black Cat Tribe’s evolution. It was a plan that, in their eyes, ensured that no Black Catkin would ever evolve again.
Their efforts paid off; the combination of the Gods manipulating everyone’s memory and the Red Cat Tribe eliminating all the relevant documentation made it so that the Black Cat Tribe’s history had almost been forgotten. The number of people possessing knowledge of their ability to evolve had been cut down to just a few handfuls at best.
But, 53 years ago, someone had pulled off the nigh impossible. That someone, Kiara, had started solving the mysteries that shrouded the Black Cat Tribe’s past. She managed to get in touch with Rumina, and in doing so, somehow managed to find a clue that led her towards her goal, evolution. She’d asked both Dias and Aurel for their assistance in evolving, but disappeared before telling either of the two any further details.
All three of the people that Kiara had bonded with, Rumina, Dias, and Aurel, attempted to figure out what had happened to her. They gathered information from all over, only to ultimately arrive at the deduction that her disappearance most likely had something to do with the Beast Lord. They were fairly confident in what they’d thought up, but had no way of confirming it for certain. For that reason, all three individuals happened to regard the Beast Lord with a sense of animosity.
To be frank, I thought their theory seemed like it’d pretty much hit the nail on the head. The royal family being afraid Black Catkin even to this very day was honestly quite plausible.
Either way, Kiara’s whereabouts ended up remaining as an unknown. None of the three were really ever able to move on, and so, they ended up banding together in order to protect any that followed in their friend’s footsteps.
Dias was unaware as to the details, and hence, unable to inform us, but we were still made to know that Rumina had been storing magical energy for decades, and that said magical energy would be used in order to aid one or more Black Catkin in their quest for evolution. Both Aurel and Dias were assigned the role of protecting her in the meantime, as saving up her magical energy was equivalent to her lowering her defenses. I’d say the two were quite persistent in their task. Dias had even gone as far as becoming the master of Ulmutt’s Adventurer’s Guild.
Fast forward a few years to present day, and finally, enter Fran, a young Black Catkin girl out on a journey to achieve the exact thing they’d been looking to facilitate. Unaware to us, the three had played a bunch of cards under the table in order to assist us in the whole ordeal. Specifically, Aurel had arranged for us to meet Rumina while Dias had tried his best to help us rank up so he could confer upon us the guild’s protection.
Rumina had also started setting something up. I didn’t know exactly what that something was, but I did know that it was something that’d work to Fran’s benefit.
My lack of understanding was precisely what fueled me to think further on the topic. Why exactly did she start summoning Evil Beings? For what reason did she try driving Fran away? Her changing her attitude the moment she heard about my ability to absorb skills made it obvious that said ability must in some way be related to helping Fran evolve, but how? Did I need some sort of skill in particular? Was it something we could get from Evil Beings?
There were too many holes and missing links for me to go any further with my deductions. I couldn’t figure out anything unless I had a bit more information, and so, I decided to shelve my thoughts for the time being. The Martial Arts Tournament was coming up, we didn’t have time for me to just sit around and think myself into a ditch. What we needed to do now was to train and level our skills if possible.
『Oh yeah, Fran, remember how I told you to think about how you wanted me to use my Self-Evolution Points? Did you ever end up figuring out what skills you wanted to level?』
I’d originally been planning to ask her about this last night, but you know, shit happened.
My guess was that she probably wanted to at least put a few points in both Divine Sword Arts and Divine Sword Techniques, as they were straight forward, something she used often, and probably two of the skills that’d give us the greatest boost in strength.
Presence Detection was a pretty likely contender as well. It was pretty close to its maximum level, and could see some decent use in battle. Its sensing abilities aided us in reading the opponent’s next move.
The other fairly likely contenders were Flame Magic, Lightning Magic, and Elemental Blade.
『So what’ve you decided on?』
I was fairly confident in my deductions.
But I was wrong nonetheless.
『Wait. What? Blacksmithing!?』
My predictions were off by a mile. They were so far off, in fact, that I ended up shouting in surprise.
『What? I don’t recall you ever having even the slightest interest in Blacksmithing. Shouldn’t you try investing in something that’ll help you out in battle seeing as how the tourney’s right around the corner? Why choose it all of a sudden?』
It seemed that Fran had totally made up her mind, and that I wasn’t going to be able to convince her to change it.
「Master’s maintenance, important.」
『That’s why you wanted to level up the Blacksmithing skill? I really appreciate the thought, but I don’t think you need to use points on it. Go ahead and just level up the skills you actually want.』
And so, given the fact that Fran was being stubborn, I ended up maxing out the Blacksmithing skill.
《Blacksmithing has reached its maximum level. You have obtained the Blacksmith Magic skill. It is currently at level 1.》
I ended up getting the Blacksmith Magic skill as an added bonus. That was nice and all, seeing as how it became possible for me to maintain myself and whatnot, but I had a bit of a hard time accepting the fact that we ended up using my self evolution points for Blacksmithing of all things. It just felt wasteful.
『Wait, Fran, what’re you doing?』
I really had to admit, Lv 10 Blacksmithing really did prove quite effective. Fran was pretty much doing exactly the same thing she’d always been doing, but it ended up feeling just as good as when Zerld did it. Fran rubbing a cloth across my blade felt as good as a full body massage.
『Ahhhhhh, yeahhhhh, that’s the spot.』
I ended up getting polished for a whole 30 minutes; I wasn’t really able to ask her to stop because of how good it felt.
Thinking about the fact that Fran planned to polish me every day put a huge grin on my face. Man, this is the life. I guess I finally understand why fathers love it so much when their daughters give them backrubs.
『Oh man, that was refreshing. Thanks.』
「Will polish more in future.」
I’d been planning on using most of the rest of my remaining self-evolution points on a few specific skills, but realized that Fran hadn’t benefited at all from me maxing out Blacksmithing, so I offered to let her use all the points I had left on whatever she wanted.
「Already chose what wanted. Will let Master use rest.」
I ended up conceding to Fran and spending points on whatever I wanted. Specifically, I ended up throwing a bunch into Divine Sword Arts. It went without saying that leveling the skill worked to Fran’s benefit, but that wasn’t the only reason I pointed it.
The other was something that I’d ended up becoming curious about after seeing the Beast Lord’s skillset. He was a bonafide spearman. His job described him as a Spear Lord and he evidently had one equipped. However, he didn’t have access to Spear Arts or Divine Spear Arts. He instead had a skill by the name of Spear Lord Arts.
Spear Lord Arts was, in all likelihood, what one would obtain after completely maxing out one’s Divine Spear Arts. From that, I figured that maxing Divine Sword Arts could potentially unlock a new skill, and hence, wanted to try getting my hands on it.
『Alright, here we go.』
Maxing both Blacksmithing and Divine Sword Arts ended up eating a total of 34 points, and left me with only 20 remaining.
《Divine Sword Arts has reached its maximum level. You have obtained the Enhanced Sword Arts skill.》
Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting, but hey, that works too I guess.
《You have unlocked a unique skill by the name of Sword Lord Arts, as all necessary requirements have been fulfilled. All Sword Art related skills have been merged into the Sword Lord arts skill. Acquisition of the Sword Lord Arts skill has caused your wielder, Fran, to obtain the Sword Lord title.》
Woah, that was a lot all at once! It looked like I actually did manage to get the Sword Lord Arts skill that I’d been hoping for. The merged part confused me, so I quickly appraised myself. Every single last one of my Sword Art related skills had ended up disappearing. Naturally, I wasn’t just referring to the Divine Sword Arts skill, but also stuff like Short Sword Arts and Katana Arts.
For a moment, I was tempted to immediately begin screaming in frustration, but stopped almost immediately as I realized what the word “merged” meant. I decided to give the skill a quick once over just to be sure.
Sword Lord Arts: Allows use of all swords.
Oh hell yes. This means what I think it means, right?
『I’m going to shapeshift a bit. Do me a favour and try swinging me around when I do.』
The first form I took was that of a dagger, otherwise known as a short sword. Fran readily grabbed ahold of me and began swinging me around. She cycled between a series of relaxed and more intense actions so easily that one could probably mistake her as a sword dancer.
『Alright, how about this?』
The next form I took was that of a foil, a fencer’s sword. Again, Fran managed to wield me with ease. They way she moved around and used the sword’s flexibility made it seem like she’d trained with a foil for years and in doing so, completely mastered the blade’s use.
「Interesting to use. Boingy.」
『Does it feel even the slightest bit unnatural?』
「Nope. No issues.」
The skill did exactly what I thought it did. It basically allowed the person that had it to use any type of sword they wished. Better yet, they’d be able to use it just as well as if they had they maxed out the divine arts for whatever sword subcategory they happened to be working with. To us, that was nothing but good news, as it meant that there wouldn’t be any issues even if I was to warp myself into an actual katana and not just something that happened to resemble one.
With that out of the way, I decided to check Fran’s new title.
Sword Lord: A title granted to one that mastered the way of the sword and obtained the Sword Lord skill.
Effect: All stats increased by 20. Bolsters the Enhanced Sword Arts skill. Allows one to judge the quality of a sword.
Sword Lord looked to be even more effective a title than both Match For a Thousand and Big Game Eater despite the fact that both titles were typically only bestowed to heroes. Boosting all one’s stats by 20 provided the same amount of effective strength as four or five levels.
Though, thinking about it, I realized that maxing out one’s Divine Weapon Arts was actually incredibly difficult under normal circumstances. In fact, neither Amanda nor Forrund had actually managed to do so, and they were both famous A ranked adventurers.
It looked like maxing out Divine Sword Arts was indeed the right choice to make. I immediately considered maxing out Divine Sword Techniques to match, but I wasn’t 100% sure if that was the best idea. I had a few other skills I wanted to pump points into as well.
『Hey Fran, you sure you didn’t want me to point anything else in particular?』
「Nn… Dimensional Magic?」