Participating in the tourney had provided us with a large number of benefits and gains, the most significant of which being Fran’s evolution. I was pretty sure that we would’ve probably still just been grasping at straws had we not come to Ulmutt.
Our stay in the city had also allowed us to learn what Black Catkin needed to do to evolve, both as individuals, and as a race. Those two pieces of knowledge were. in Fran’s opinion, probably two of the most important bits of intel we’d learned to date.
Another important thing to note was that we’d been able to face off against a series of incredibly powerful opponents. Us losing to Amanda had caused us a bit of frustration, but we ultimately ended up accepting it and moving on. We both understood that it was important for us to learn from the loss, and thus, we’d used it, and our other battles, to come to a better understanding of our strengths and weakness. We’d even gone as far as deriving a few new strategies we could use in combat.
Honestly, the only reason we were able to learn so much was because we’d understood that there was a safety net, and that neither we nor our opponents would die regardless of how the battle ended.
The connections we built with the Beast Lord allowed us to hear of the Black Cat Tribe’s current state. That too was a pretty significant gain considering it took a load off Fran’s mind.
Last but not least was the fact Fran had gotten a really cool sounding nickname.
『Oh god damn it Fran! At least try to stay awake!』
「Mmph… Still… awake…」
『Just hold on a little bit longer alright? Especially cause it’s finally your turn.』
『How ’bout this? I’ll give you some sort of reward if you make it all the way through the ceremony without falling asleep.』
「Nn. Type of curry I haven’t tried.」
『Alright, sure. I’ll make you something, so just think about it, hang tight, and don’t fall asleep.』
「Uhmmm… Is there a Black Catkin named Fran present? If so, its your turn now, so please step up onto the stage.」
『Let’s go, they’re calling you up.』
Ulmutt’s feudal lord, a man we were seeing for the first time, awarded Fran with a medal of honour as she got up onto the stage.
Apparently the guy wasn’t actually responsible for anything, and kinda just sat there and existed. His approach to governing Ulmutt was a rather hands off one; Dias was the person really running the city and managing its inner workings.
The medal we were given had both Ulmutt’s crest and the number 3 carved into it. Apparently, that wasn’t all we would be getting, a prize of 100k Golde would be delivered to us later on.
「You fought splendidly.」
Fran replied in her usual manner, but ended up using her Court Etiquette skill to deliver a tasteful bow. Though the combination of the two didn’t actually end up seeming all that polite, it did lead to a series of loud cheers and huge round of applause.
The only reason she’d even bothered bowing in the first place was because I incessantly reminded her that she needed to make sure she was being polite. I didn’t want people to suddenly start keeping tabs on us because we hadn’t good manners.
And so, three hours flew right by.
We’d slated ourselves to visit the Beast Lord again after the ceremony came to an end. Hence we found ourselves in front of the city’s most expensive inn alongside a large number of other beastkin.
Our destination was the room, or rather, the floor, that he’d rented out.
I listened to the other beastkin speak as we moved through the crowd.
Most of the crowd’s members were nobles that served under the Beast Lord or their associates. They had apparently come because they’d realized that the Beast Lord was in a good mood. Despite that, he wasn’t actually willing to see any of them. He’d shut them out because he hadn’t wanted to deal with them, he thought it too much of a pain in the ass and ultimately not worth his time.
Surprisingly, the crowds members hadn’t been infuriated by his actions. It seemed that most had actually expected him to act the way he did, as apparently, his current attitude wasn’t one that deviated at all from what he considered the norm. A large portion of the crowd had still decided to visit in spite of their expectations because they figured that a chance was a chance, and that they didn’t really have anything to lose by standing around and double checking his intentions. The rest seemed to think that it was improper for them ignore the king that ruled over their homeland regardless of what sort of attitude he planned to take.
The fact that all the individuals present were beastkin also meant that they all knew exactly who Fran was. As a result, she ended up garnering a whole ton of attention.
A few of the nobles seemed to have wanted to call out to Fran, but they were momentarily dissuaded the moment Urushi, who was currently at his regular size, turned his glare towards them. We used the impact to slip through the crowd and make our way over to the inn.
I had the sneaking suspicion that he wouldn’t actually agree to see us, but it turned out I was way off the mark. He’d specifically instructed the inn’s staff to let Fran see him, so she got past security without any issue.
「Well, I didn’t expect to see you so soon.」
「Tell about Kiara.」
「Yeah, yeah, I get it. Sit yourself down and I’ll talk.」
Fran perked up her ears and got ready to listen to the Beast Lord as she enjoyed the tea Roche made for her.
「It would probably make more sense for me to tell you about my old man, the Beast Lord I overthrew, before telling you ’bout anything else.」
The Beast Lord’s predecessor was a man that went by the name Vairsas Narasimha. He was a weak man that harboured much more doubt than trust. He would always be paranoid that everyone was out to get him. His vassals were terrified, not of him, but rather, of the fact that he was king. He was extremely weak for a Golden Flame Lionkin, and only barely managed to obtain the evolution by leeching his predecessors. That, in and of itself, wasn’t too much of a problem. He wasn’t the only Beast Lord to have ever been in such a circumstance, but, unlike his predecessors, he had no talent for war; he wasn’t suited to the act of commanding an army. The sheer extent of his weakness caused him to develop a sort of inferiority complex. Said complex led Vairsas to be terrified of those that possessed greater power than him. And thus, he soon began to ostracize and purge any that caught his eye.
His ridiculous, idiotic antics had caused his country to fall into a weakened state, one that lasted until Rigdis overthrew him.
Vairsas’ weakness led him to set his eyes on the Black Cat Tribe. He hadn’t minded the tribe at all prior to his ascension to the throne, but, learning the secrets the royal family retained caused him to change his views.
He immediately ordered the Blue Cat Tribe to redouble their efforts in enslaving the Black Cat Tribe’s members while also ordering them to keep an eye on any Black Catkin living outside his country’s borders. Of course, the reason that he issued the order was because he was paranoid. He was afraid that a Black Catkin would one day evolve and dethrone him.
「My old man was so pathetic that he wasn’t able to do anything beyond just ordering the enslavement the Black Cat Tribe.」
Vairsas could’ve easily issued a royal decree that demanded the Black Cat Tribe be driven to extinction. It’s what would’ve made the most sense.
But he didn’t.
He was too cowardly.
The former Beast Lord was afraid that eliminating the Black Cat Tribe would incur the Gods’ wrath. He didn’t know whether or not his actions would ultimately be forgiven. Moreover, he was worried that the any Black Catkin that slipped through his fingers would vow to take revenge. His many concerns plagued him and prevented him from so much as even thinking the option through.
「Not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing. It’s the only reason Grandma Kiara’s still alive and kickin’.」
He’d told his subordinates to bring Kiara to him upon hearing of her through the Blue Cat Tribe.
Rigdis’ father hesitated, he wasn’t able to convince himself to execute her, and thus, he’d thought up a few reasons to keep her around.
The first was to make an example out of her. He wanted to demonstrate to the Black Cat Tribe’s members that it was impossible for them to disobey him regardless of how strong they ended up getting.
The second was to demonstrate the extent of the royal family’s noble dignity. He wanted to show off the fact that he could make a powerful Black Catkin obey him.
That was why Kiara had been working in the palace on the day it was attacked and nearly overrun.
「My old man used her tribesmen has hostages and forced her to become his slave.」
She was assigned to trash duty, and thus, she ultimately ended up meeting Rigdis, Royce, and Goldalfa.
Kiara’s spirit had never broken despite the many years of slave labour she’d been forced to endure. In fact, she’d vouched that working as a slave was something that required way less effort than diving into dungeons, and as a result, she’d never actually suffered so long as one disregarded the horrible stench she had to endure on a daily basis.
The Black Cat Tribe as a whole had seemed to have grown accustomed to slavery, as they were more resistant to suffering than any of the other tribes.
「Meeting the old lady made us question our beliefs. We no longer understood why all the other tribes looked down on the Black Cat Tribe, nor why their members always got turned into slaves.」
The Beast Lord and his companions had been made to recognize Kiara’s strength. She was so overwhelmingly powerful that she completely blew their notions of the Black Cat Tribe’s inferiority out of the water.
For that reason, the Beast Lord ended up doing research, research that led him to discover the sin the Black Catkin had committed in the past, and the reason that things were currently how they were.
He came to believe that the way they were being treated was unjust, that there was no point in persecuting them any further because they’d already been punished by the Gods. He even started believing that it was his duty as a member of the royal family to aid them in their quest for atonement.
Rigdis realized that his predecessor had only made everything worse. The fact that they’d gone as far as destroying documents pertaining to Black Catkin evolutions had left him baffled.
As a result, not even the royal family knew exactly what a Black Catkin had to do in order to evolve. That, in part, was why he promised Fran that he’d spread the methodology all around his country if she was willing to share it.
「I guess you could say I was just a bit disgusted by how my old man was handling things. That’s why I trained myself up as per Grandma Kiara’s instructions, made myself even stronger through adventuring, got supporters, beat his ass, and took his throne for myself.」
Rigdis would probably never admit it regardless of how we questioned him, but it seemed to me that the whole reason he’d gone as far as soiling his reputation by murdering his father was because he wanted to do something for Kiara and her tribesmen.
Fran understood his sentiments as well, and for that reason, she even ended up bowing in gratitude.
「Yeah, yeah, knock that off already. I only did what I did to satisfy my own ego. Having you thank me is just making me feel awkward and shit.」
「Nn. Got it.」
Fran acknowledged his words with her own, but never did end up budging. She instead simply continued to maintain a respectful bow.