166. Of Rumina and Hope
『I’m honestly surprised you had it figured out.』
『The fact that she was a Black Tigerkin in particular. I mean, this is your first time ever even hearing about the fact that Black Catkin could actually evolve, right?』
（Given, since same tribe. Can tell just by looking.）
Oh, right, I remember her saying a bit ago that Beastkin could differentiate between the evolved and unevolved. I guess the fact that they’re both Black Catkin only deepens her understanding of Rumina’s state all the more.
「I will prepare you a seat. Do make use of it.」
Rumina, the Dungeon Master, went out of her way to procure Fran a chair. It seemed that she wasn’t a bad person despite the fact that she was extremely intimidating.
Fran rose from her prior position and seated herself in the chair Rumina had prepped for her. You know, this is the first time I’ve ever seen her listen to anyone other than myself with such a degree of earnestness. She was acting in the same manner as one would upon meeting some sort of celebrity or hero that they’d always looked up to.
In fact, her eyes almost seemed to sparkle every time she looked in Rumina’s direction. Likewise, her ears and tail both continued to move around restlessly. I could only gauge the manner in which she was acting to be normal. The person before her held the key that’d allow her realize her desires, or at least the closest thing to it.
「That wolf of yours… No, nevermind me. Let us disregard my mention of the topic and move on.」
Urushi was sitting on the carpet with his limbs sprawled, not because he’d gotten attached to Rumina, but instead because he understood that he should listen to her because she was above him, and therefore should not be offended. Yup, that’s a canine for you.
「I believe you stated that you came on Aurel’s behalf?」
「Oh…? So that is what he intended.」
Rumina nodded in acknowledgement after taking the pendant from Fran’s hands and looking it over.
「It appears to be genuine.」
She fiddled with something at the pendant’s centre and flipped it open to reveal a small piece of paper. It seemed that the paper was actually what we’d been tasked to deliver.
Rumina unfolded the piece of paper, the letter, and looked over its contents with a bit of a pondering expression.
An incredible amount of bloodlust leaked out of Rumina’s body. It’d been sustained for but an instant, but the sheer strength of it had caused Fran to jump with a start, and Urushi to growl whilst raising his body.
「Apologies. I merely happened to recall an unpleasant memory.」
Rumina smiled a gentle, refreshing smile. The bloodlust that stemmed from her body was nowhere to be seen — not that it’d been directed towards us in the first place.
Whew, that had me on edge. It seemed that the same had happened to Fran, as she only just managed to sit herself back down.
「Provide that Aurel kid with my acknowledgement.」
Rumina handed Aurel’s pendant back to Fran.
「I’ve no longer any need for it. Return it to Aurel.」
Turned out she really didn’t care about the pendant itself.
Wait, did she just call Aurel a kid? I swear the dude’s like at least 70. The hell? Rumina looks like she’s around 30.
「Rumina, seems young?」
「Hahaha! You are quite the brave one. I believe this to be the first time anyone has ever asked my age since I became this dungeon’s master.」
Rumina’s words didn’t carry even the slightest hint of anger. In fact, she instead regarded Fran with a kind, grandmotherly expression. It seemed that she was acting a bit more relaxed than she otherwise would have because she and Fran were of the same tribe. Likewise, Fran was continuing to act rather respectfully despite having reverted back to her usual curt manner of speech. I guess that’s just what it meant to be of the same tribe; the relationship they shared was just flat out special.
「I’ve stopped keeping tally ever since becoming a Dungeon Master, but I believe I should at least be five hundred years of age.」
According to Rumina, she stopped aging the moment she became a Dungeon Master. She could apparently only die if the dungeon core was destroyed if someone was to actually just straight up murder her.
「It is possible for Dungeon Masters to alter their appearances through the use of magic, but I myself have chosen to remain as I was on the day that I was first changed.」
In other words, Rumina had lived a long life despite her appearance and attained evolution with her very own hands.
「What is it?」
Fran righted her seating posture and gazed in Rumina’s direction. In doing so, she conveyed to the other party that she wanted to talk about something serious. Rumina seemed to catch her drift, as she returned the younger catgirl’s gaze.
「Black catkin… can evolve?」
Fran cut straight to the point and asked the about the one thing she wanted to know about most.
Rumina had the answer and was right before us, but I still couldn’t help but worry that she wouldn’t be able to get her hands on what she sought.
Fran held her breath and squeezed her hands in anticipation; a moment of silence persisted as she stared straight at Rumina and awaited her answer.
「Without a doubt.」
Fran was flooded with a whole assortment of emotions, all at once. They were so fierce and numerous that they rendered her unable to provide anything but a short response. She didn’t just feel joy or hope. She also recalled all the hardships that she’d gone through, all the her frustrations and pains. Above all, there was relief. She learned that the path she’d walked was not one travelled in vain.
That single short phrase of her’s carried with it every single one of her feelings.
「I want… to evolve.」
「Please tell me what I need to do to evolve.」
Fran immediately placed both her hands on the table and lowered her head as she awaited Rumina’s answer. Chances were she probably would’ve totally genuflected or prostrated had she been on the ground.
I too focused all my attention on Rumina and awaited her reply.
「I would love to instruct you my method of evolution.」
Fran lifted her face as her body leaned itself in Rumina’s direction. Her face was flushed, and her mouth half open. She was clearly as excited as could be.
But Rumina’s next words cut it all short.
「But that is not meant to be… I cannot directly convey to you my methodologies in their entirety.」
Fran’s expression twisted into one of desperation.
「I am sorry…」
Fran fell back into her seat like a puppet with its strings cut. She probably would’ve totally fallen over if not for her chair’s backrest.
She was very clearly disappointed. The key that’d allow her to achieve her goal had been dangled in front of her only to be taken away before she had any chance of actually grabbing at it.
Still, I think she did a good job holding in her discontent.
Rumina’s expression did the same as Fran’s and darkened. But unlike Fran, her eyes were filled with pain.
「My sincerest apologies. I would have been willing to tell you it all if I was not a Dungeon Master.」
「The Goddess of Chaos grants upon Dungeon Masters a large number of blessings. We are given the ability to manage a dungeon and eternal youth, but blessings are not all we are given. The goddess also binds us with a curse.」
Rumina informed us that she wasn’t able to tell us too much. She was restricted in her speech with regards to the dungeon and its workings.
She wasn’t capable of conveying any restricted information, be it through speech or writing.
「So Goddess of Chaos related to Black Catkin evolution?」
「Indeed. We of the Black Cat Tribe were shackled by the will of the Gods five hundred years prior. Thus, I am now the last Black Tigerkin.」
「Very well. I shall answer any question I am capable of answering.」
「Black Catkin, evolution impossible?」
「That would be incorrect. It is simply difficult for our members to attain evolution.」
Rumina’s answer hit Fran with a wave of relief. It seemed she could have hope so long as it was still possible.
「Okay. But, why Gods made more difficult?」
「That… I cannot tell you, for I know not the answer.」
「Then, how to evolve in the past?」
「Kuh… Apologies. I cannot tell you that either.」
Rumina clenched her teeth and lowered her gaze. It seemed that she was feeling just as frustrated as Fran was. She wanted to help her fellow tribesman evolve, but was simply unable to.
「What… if I was to tell you…」
「What manner of choice would you make if I was to tell you that you could evolve if you simply chose to slay me?」