The Black Cat Tribe and the Goddess
We headed back over to Rumina shortly after I finished talking to the Goddess.
「I am glad that you have both managed to evolve and remain in good health.」
I’d yet to switch in the Evolution Concealment skill I’d just gotten, so Rumina was immediately able to figure out that Fran had evolved.
「And it appears that your evolution came with quite the pleasant surprise…」
Rumina trailed off and and remained silent for a few seconds as she gazed at Fran. Her emotions were clear from the look on her face. She was both pleased and shocked.
「I… I had failed to even fathom the possibility that you would become a Black Heavenly Tigerkin.」
Honestly, I, as a non-beastkin, didn’t really understand just how much it meant for one to evolve into a Black Heavenly Tigerkin, and thus, I didn’t feel the sense of impact that should’ve accompanied Fran’s ascension even after coming to realize that Rumina had started casting the younger Black Catkin a meek, respectful gaze.
Thinking about it a bit more deeply caused me to realize that she’d basically become the stuff of legends, especially seeing as how even Rumina herself was just a regular Black Tigerkin.
『So what exactly does one need to do in order to evolve into a Black Heavenly Tigerkin in the first place?』
「Hmm… It fortunately appears that I have become capable of explaining Fran’s circumstances to you given her evolution.」
Right, I remember the Goddess making mention of that.
「Black Catkin must fulfill three requirements in order to evolve into Black Heavenly Tigerkin. The first two are numerical, and relate to the agility and magic stats in particular. The third is the ability to use Lightning Magic.」
Equipping me allowed Fran to fulfill all necessary conditions, especially seeing as how my Skill Sharing ability made it so that my skills were treated as if they were her own.
「I never did suspect that you would fulfill all necessary conditions despite my awareness of Master’s abilities. Rather, I did not expect the conditions to take the bonuses provided by his abilities into account. I believe that you, Fran, are the first Black Heavenly Tigerkin not to be of the royal bloodline.」
「Indeed I am. I dare say that the two of you encountering one another was nothing short of a miracle.」
『That’s what the Goddess said too.』
「You have heard the Goddess speak!? Does that mean you have met with her!?」
I once again was left feeling a bit bewildered because of how Rumina ended up suddenly drawing closer to Fran with her face face painted full of shock. But again, I managed to make a bit of sense out of the situation after thinking it through. Rumina was a Dungeon Master, and therefore, one of the Goddess of Chaos’ kin. In other words, there was basically no reason for her not to be a devout believer.
「Not me. Only Master.」
「M-Master, could you please elaborate!?」
Though I was aware of her circumstances, I didn’t really get why hearing about my conversation with the goddess had totally gotten the Black Tigerkin all fired up and excited.
Like, seriously, what the hell? I’d been expecting Rumina to resent the Goddess of Chaos given that she seemed to be responsible for the curse that’d been afflicting the Black Cat Tribe for the past 500 odd years. She’d administered a collective punishment that involved pretty much all the tribe’s members despite the fact that many of them them hadn’t deserved to be held responsible. In fact, the decision seemed to have been one made and mandated by the former royal family.
I decided to ask Rumina for a bit of an explanation, which in turn made her switch to an expression that was much more difficult to read.
「I do admit to have entertained the thought on at least one occasion… However, one must consider that the gods differ greatly from us mortals.」
Some gods, like the God of Nature, were so fundamentally different from the races that they held no tolerance for their actions. As a result, the punishments and retributions delivered by gods like the God of Nature were often considered harsh and unjust.
I remember hearing mention of stuff like that back on Earth, and so, I honestly wasn’t all that surprised by it. I’d heard many tales of people who regarded the gods as unreasonable because the two parties weren’t able to come to any sort of mutual understanding. It was only natural that different gods would have different standards, and that many of these standards would vary from the ones mortals would find reasonable.
「The Goddess of Chaos is one of the more understanding gods, as she shares many a similarity with the mortal races.」
The hell’s that supposed to mean?
「It was none other than she that deprived the Black Catkin of their ability to evolve and wiped all memories of their evolutions.」
『Wasn’t that just her oppressing you guys?』
「I believe it to be the opposite.」
Apparently, the Goddess of Chaos had done a lot for the Black Cat Tribe as a whole. Many of the other gods had demanded that the entire race be purged, but she’d managed to talk them down and negotiate. That is, she managed to get the other gods to agree to a compromise that allowed them to survive in exchange for a difficult trial and the erasure of any and all memories relating to the Black Cat Tribe’s former glory.
「The gods miscommunicated and misunderstood each other. They had only robbed the non-beastkin races of their memories. The few Black Catkin that had avoided the gods’ retribution still knew of their evolutionary methods. Likewise, the same applied to all the other Beastkin races. Thus, the Black Cat Tribe found itself capable of passing on its knowledge through works of literature.」
『So how’d all that knowledge and stuff end up getting lost between then and now?』
「That was in fact a result of the actions perpetrated by the new Beast Lord and his subordinates, the Blue Catkin. They stole and erased all the literature and records they could while selling the Black Cat Tribe’s members into slavery. They forbade the act of disclosing any information relating to the Black Cat Tribe’s evolutionary methods and in doing so, prevented our tribe’s newborn members from learning them. The passage of time amplified the effects of their bans and ultimately eliminated the very notion that we Black Catkin were capable of evolution.」
『Alright, I get that. I can totally see why you hate both the Beast Lord and the Blue Catkin, and that all makes sense to me, but, like, there’s still one thing I don’t get. How do you not resent the Gods for what they’ve done? Like, seriously. The Divine Punishment they threw at you guys is the whole reason you guys ended up turning into slaves for what was a whole 500 years.』
「Don’t understand either.」
Fran agreed with me given that she’d just learned about everything that happened, but Rumina, who happened to know much more than us, didn’t.
「Undoing the Evil God’s seal and thereby endangering the entire world is an act that merits none other than our tribe’s complete and utter destruction. If given the choice, I would prefer to describe the span of time that has elapsed as a mere 500 years as opposed to an entire 500 years.」
It wasn’t until Rumina mentioned literally destroying the entire world that I realized the weight the Black Cat Tribe’s sin, and a bit of further thought led me to realize that 500 years wasn’t actually all that much here considering there were elves and whatnot.
「I would also venture to claim that we, as a tribe, deserved to lose access to the throne and descend into slavery. Our behaviour was once nothing short of tyrannical, as evidenced by our downfall. We would have been assisted by many a tribe had we been reasonable rulers and beloved by our people. I do pity our tribe’s modern members, I lament the need for them to bear their ancestors’ sins, but even so, I harbour only the slightest bit of resentment for the gods.」
She, unlike us, didn’t really feel that the gods were in the wrong. In fact, she seemed to feel extremely grateful that the Goddess of Chaos had managed to prevent the other gods from driving the Black Cat Tribe to extinction.
「I believe that should function to answer your questions. Might you now be willing to elaborate on the Goddess’ words?」
I figured that there wasn’t really any point in being all secretive around Rumina, so I decided to just tell her everything I’d been told.
That said, half the stuff the Goddess told me was stuff she definitely already knew, so I kinda expected the conversation to end up revolving around evolution and the fact that the Goddess had jacked my Awakening skill.
『The weird part is that we’d kinda already defeated something that should’ve counted as an A ranked Evil Being in the past…』
There was no way Rynford wasn’t at least an A ranked threat, and we were 100% sure we killed him. Fran not being able to evolve in spite of that didn’t really make all that much sense.
「Was that act one you accomplished with the aid of any other individuals?」
「Yeah, we had a few other adventurers help us out.」
「I believe that is why. The condition allows only a single individual to evolve. Thus, the curse should only be undone in the case that one functions to defeat an A ranked Evil Being as an individual.」
In other words, anyone that wanted to evolve would have to clear the trial’s conditions without any help.
Rumina suddenly bowed her head and apologized to Fran as I shifted topics and brought up the Black Cat Tribe’s sins.
「I am sorry.」
「I was once in a role akin to that of one of the royal family’s advisors. Despite my position, I was unable to convince the royal family’s members to cease their actions, but in doing so, incurred their displeasure. Thus, I was removed from my post. I was unable to regain my honor. I became an adventurer and then a Dungeon Master. Since then, I have simply lived, and nothing more.」
「Not your fault.」
「That is not true, not in the slightest! It should have been possible for me to convince them and change their minds!」
Rumina’s failure was clearly bothering her, and had likely been on her mind for the entirety of the past 500 years. I could tell that she’d been blaming herself, that she thought it was her fault, and not the gods’, that the Black Cat Tribe had been forced to suffer.
That would explain why she was so eager and willing to harm herself in order to help Fran evolve. She definitely had taken a liking to Fran, but that wasn’t all. She’d also wanted to atone.
「I would… also like to apologize for putting you in danger’s wake.」
Hearing me describe my conversation with the Goddess had caused her to issue yet another apology with her face paled. It seemed she was worried that we’d managed to incur the gods’ wrath.
「Not your fault. No mistakes.」
「That is not true. My considerations were far too shallow.」
The look on her face was terrifyingly sincere.
「I mind not facing my own demise, but risking yours is a mistake that my life alone would not suffice to correct.」
「Rumina, dying not allowed.」
Fran gazed at Rumina with a pained look on her face. Even just thinking about Rumina one day upping and vanishing had made her start feeling a sense of sorrow.
「There was nothing else I could have possibly done for you.」
「Don’t need to do anything.」
「Staying by my side, more than enough.」
Fran’s spoke in a soft but clear tone of voice as she latched onto Rumina, hugged her, and buried her face in her chest.
The older Black Catkin directed her gaze down at Fran with a bit of a troubled look on her face, but she ended up gently stroking her back regardless.
「I recall Kiara had once said those precise words.」
「It is almost as if nothing has changed, despite the passage of over 50 years.」
Both parties ended up smiling awkwardly as soon as they’d calmed down. Neither seemed used to the roles they’d suddenly taken; Fran was unaccustomed to being doted on, whereas Rumina was unaccustomed to being fawned on.
Rumina was a bit tired, so she ended up taking a seat and leaning back into her chair after they separated.
『Oh yeah, Rumina, how are you feeling anyways?』
I recalled the Goddess saying something about how Rumina had exhausted herself or her energies or something. She’d probably been pushing herself real hard.
「It will not take long for I myself to recover. However, I will require a significant amount of time to recover the power that I had been storing up as this dungeon’s master.」
The dungeon was going to end up being easier to deal with, but that wasn’t actually really a problem at all given that Dias was doing a bunch on his end in order to make sure she didn’t end up getting killed.
「I would be more concerned about yourselves than me. Fortunately, it appears that the skill the goddess bestowed to you should allow you to remain unhindered in your activities.」
『I’m pretty sure there’s not really much for anyone to be worrying about on our end.』
「Master, am I correct in my understanding that the Goddess’ restrictions were applied to you, but not Fran?」
『Yup, pretty much.』
「I believe that should in turn mean that Fran is allowed to share information that relates to the Black Cat Tribe’s evolutionary methods.」
『Oh, you too?』
『You sure it’s okay though? She kinda cheated the system a bit.』
Rumina’s conclusion was one I’d come to as well, but I wasn’t 100% sure whether or not she’d actually be allowed to talk about it.
「I highly doubt that the Goddess merely overlooked the possibility of Fran disclosing the information you were provided. Did she make any particular mention of actions you were disallowed from taking?」
『Not at all.』
「I cannot possibly claim that I am capable of understanding the gods’ thoughts. However, I believe that you are permitted to speak of any fact they do not explicitly restrict you from conveying in situations akin to the one we have at hand. Your ability to discuss the topic with myself should serve as enough evidence to prove my hypothesis.」
I couldn’t really tell whether or not we were able to discuss the topic because the system simply happened to work that way, or if it was instead because the Goddess of Chaos had decided to allow it out of goodwill, but either way, it seemed like we were allowed to convey a fact that had a good chance of plunging the world into chaos if we weren’t careful about how we relayed it.
「It would be to your benefit to direct your attention away from the gods and instead towards other beastkin. It is likely that the Beast Lord and the Blue Catkin that serve him will make note of you should you spread your knowledge.」
Her conjecture seemed fairly plausible. We had to be careful with who we told. The most ideal situation would be for us to spread the info through an information network inaccessible to all but Black Catkin.
『Are there like, any Black Catkin-exclusive communities we could try spreading the word to?』
「There should be several within the Beastkin’s Country. However, I highly doubt you will find anything more than a slum or village comprised solely of slaves.」
I really did want to go check out the Beastkin’s Country, but I felt it was honestly way too dangerous for it to be worth visiting.
「Are you planning to visit it? I believe you did make mention of there being a God-tier Blacksmith.」
『Nah. It’s not worth the risk.』
「But might learn more about Master.」
『Doesn’t matter. There’s only a chance the blacksmith’ll be able to tell me anything about me. I can’t really see taking that chance to be even remotely worth the amount of danger going there’ll put you in.』
『It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get our hands on more clues about my identity eventually, and I’m pretty sure there are better ways for us to tell other Black Catkin about what they need to do in order to evolve.』
Again, I really did want to pay the place a visit, but it just wasn’t worth it.
Or at least that was what I’d thought at the time. My opinion changed when we learned that the Beast Lord was in fact working to the Black Cat Tribe’s benefit. That is, he was eliminating Blue Catkin groups and releasing any enslaved Black Catkin he came across.
One could almost say that he might as well have been raised by a Black Catkin.
We later went on to tell Rumina about what’d happened to Kiara.
It seemed she’d really been lamenting what she’d thought to be Kiara’s fate, as hearing the news caused her to immediately break down into tears. She clung to Fran, who’d been patting her on the shoulder, and silently sobbed into the younger girl’s perfectly flat chest.
Several minutes passed before she finally stood back up, her face red as a tomato.
「I apologize, I was simply overcome with emotion.」
『Well, least it seemed to be a positive emotion.』
「The information you provided me was truly the most wonderful news I have ever heard, and for that, I thank you.」
Rumina obviously wasn’t over the fact that she’d failed to stop the Beast Lord 500 years prior, but she’d at least managed to get that whole Kiara thing off her shoulders. Thanks to that, she managed draw out a happy smile.
「Does the Beast Lord’s alignment perhaps denote that you are now capable of disseminating information regarding the Black Cat Tribe’s evolutionary methods?」
The truth of the matter was that we’d actually long told Aurel what we’d learned. I hadn’t actually been all that willing to tell him because I feared the gods and their wrath. Fran, however, wasn’t able to help herself and ended up spilling the beans.
As a result, I’d basically spent the entire conversation worrying whether or not the Goddess of Chaos would suddenly show up and throw a shitstorm.
I valued Fran’s safety over all else, but she didn’t feel the same. She valued her tribe much more than her life, and so, I didn’t end up being able to stop her.
Fortunately, the gods hadn’t deemed our actions as ones befitting any sort of retribution and hadn’t shown up.
In fact, the meeting had turned out to be a beneficial one, as Aurel had promised to help us spread the word by making use of the beastkin’s information network. It looked like all this continent’s beastkin would end up learning the truth if all went well.
「And I presume your newfound knowledge has changed your opinion of whether you wish to visit the Beastkin’s Country?」
『Pretty much. All we have to do now is try figuring out whether or not the Beast Lord knows anything about the God-tier Blacksmith we’re looking for.』
I was expecting him to know exactly who we were talking about, but you could never really be too sure given that God-tier Blacksmiths were more or less living legends. It was possible that the person we happened to be looking for had holed themselves up somewhere far away from society.
「It appears that you have no choice but to win the first three rounds through any means possible.」
「Leave to me. Will win and ask lots about Kiara and Black Cat Tribe. Will also get permission to visit Beastkin’s Country.」
「Would you be willing to deliver to Kiara a souvenir on my behalf?」
「Leave to me.」
『Consider it done.』
It seemed we’d pretty much become dead set on heading over to the Beastkin’s Country, with our only blocker being that we needed to win the third round.
I was pretty confident that the goal we’d set was one we’d be able to accomplish. We’d experimented quite a bit with Awakening over the course of the past few days, and in doing so, learned just how powerful a tool it could be.
A huge chunk of the data we’d collected was data that related to Fran’s Brilliant Lightning Rush.
It had risks that Rumina had made sure to make us aware of, but its payoffs made it a ridiculously good skill nonetheless. It gave us such a huge boost to speed that it allowed us to compete with A rankers.
The Black Lightning that enveloped Fran’s body was ridiculously powerful as well. The sheer amount of destruction it wrought was nothing short of absurd, it could bring a High Ogre to the verge of death with just a single tap. Moreover, it also possessed the ability to pierce through armour and anything else that functioned to a similar effect. Lightning was already an element that centered around the negation of one’s defenses, as it would remain perfectly effective in the face of metals and other conductive materials. The Black Lightning took that concept a step further and allowed us to almost completely ignore the tough skin that some magic beasts tended to have. Both these bonuses were passive and applied to all Fran’s attacks unless we made the conscious decision to negate them.
Using the ability would slowly eat away at Fran’s health and mana, but the costs were, in my opinion, effectively insignificant. The firepower it brought was so immense that it rendered me unable to even imagine a foe capable of tanking her attacks head on.
Conferring with Rumina also allowed us to figure out which skills we’d be best off leveling.
「Will at least try to win third round.」
『But it goes without saying that our goal is of course…』
『Hell yeah! Let’s win this shit and then visit Kiara with our heads held hella high!』