The picture of the cat climbing onto the child’s face and suffocating them to death was shocking, but not entirely unrealistic.
I had read about such accidents in my previous life.
Plus, this world had oracles, and it was over 500 years old at this point, so it could have been a metaphor for demons or other forces.
I reached for the page, and this time Killian’s hand flipped it over.
「Seventeenth year of the Empire. The rise of the Oracles and the defacement of the texts.」
; A week after the Oracle came down, the manuscript was torn and defaced. A priest was killed in the line of duty.
A priest was murdered.
My heart sank, and I turned to the page where the remaining portion of the oracle had been torn and printed.
The sharp words and torn parchment reproduction were somehow devastating.
「The one who took a noble life.
Eight darkness and nine nights.
Light shall fade and flesh shall rise.
He who has no remorse, who cannot destroy destruction, who has left glory behind…….」
What does this mean?
The Oracle was warning its subjects with a list of death-ridden words.
A special being would bring destruction.
If this is an allusion to cats…….
Flipping to the back page, I was gripped with suspense as an interpretation followed by a picture of six priests standing hand in hand with dead cats in the center.
“18th year of the Empire. Announcement of the interpretation of the oracle”
; After the death of one priest, the original interpretation was inferred and synthesized based on the memories of six priests.
‘When the cat (with nine lives) is revealed, its flesh will rise and all hell will break loose, and the empire of Huppert will sleep in the shadows of history, its glory left behind by a beast unable to repent for its sins.’
Even I was horrified by the cats, whose cruel faces looked like demons in ancient paintings, contrasting with the piety of the priests.
I didn’t want to look anymore, but strangely enough, I couldn’t look away, my mouth suddenly going dry and my vision flashing black.
Horrible, creepy black claws seemed to crawl up its slimy spine, clutching at its hindquarters and breathing its bitchy breath on me.
「Imperial Calendar 17-21, implementation of the cat extermination policy and its consequences.」
; Eighteenth Imperial Year, Oracle accepted and interpretation published.
Imperial Year 19, Extermination Policy Implemented.
Imperial Year 21, Infant mortality plummets; light birth rate restored and maintained.
The big picture and terse footnotes that I finally came face to face with finally made me let out a harsh groan as if they were pulling at my soul.
It was a picture of angry people herding cats together and brutally killing them.
Did they really say that infant mortality rates plummeted after exterminating cats……?
A black cast iron pot of boiling water.
Swords with gleaming blades.
Sharp tridents and scorching skewers.
I shuddered at the grotesque images of cats attacking with fearsome teeth and claws bared.
The ugly instruments loomed over me as if they would pounce on me if they saw me.
My stomach churned at the sight of those sharp, piercing tools, and a chill of fear ran down my spine.
The cats were finally and cruelly slaughtered to save their lives, but their legacy lives on and continues to this day…….
I suddenly remembered the destruction of the original work that contained this world.
The moment when Huppert, the strongest empire, suddenly and uncontrollably crumbled like a sand castle.
If cats had been around for generations, there was a good chance they were still alive at the time of the original story.
Furthermore, the oracle did not mention when it would end.
The oracle had been torn apart, and there was no telling what the stolen parts might contain.
I wondered if I, a cat who was still alive and well, was really the cause of its destruction.
I may be a cat, but I’m also a human.
I wiped my tongue across my parched lips, my mind racing.
It couldn’t be.
I forced myself to recall the words of the righteous Count Duchsen, who had told me that by the grace of God, a cat could have lived this long.
I can’t be one hundred percent sure of those words, but I’m glad I’m here to hear them with Killian.
I looked back down at the book Killian was looking at.
The oracle would have been supported by an infant death, which would have led to a cat-related interpretation, which would have been more palatable to people.
Infant deaths. The oracle. How is a cat involved in any of this?
Finding a way to become human aside, if cats were the cause of the empire’s demise, there’s no way I’d have stuck around to save my own life when I knew all the good people in the original story were going to die a horrible death.
I could not do this to Killian, who had risked his life to keep me alive.
I wondered if I could tell Killian what I knew without lying to him, who had no idea what happened in the original.
Maybe it was just as well for my sanity that my paws wouldn’t listen to me whenever I tried to write to him about the original.
My breath caught in my throat and my heart thumped wildly, as if I knew a terrible secret I couldn’t tell.
“A year after the oracle came down, they made it public…….”
Killian, who would never know me like this, frowned his attention elsewhere.
Already quite engrossed in the book, he flipped it open to the road.
He pointed to where the Oracle had come down in the seventeenth year of the Imperium, and where the Interpretation had been published in the eighteenth.
I tried to listen to Killian’s words, forcing down the fear that choked me.
Nothing is certain.
There has to be a reason why the gods are favoring the cat.
Killian didn’t bring me here to scare me.
So I shouldn’t bother him by making him feel uncomfortable.
I looked at where Killian’s finger was pointing.
Where ‘The Implementation of the Cat Eradication Policy and its Consequences’ appeared, the title said 17 to 21, but the description below said 18th Imperial Year, the same year I received the oracle and published the Interpretation.
What could it be? A misprint?
I was so focused on the text and illustrations that I didn’t notice the numbers, but sure enough, the title and the year in the text were different!
I wondered if the 17th year was simply a typographical error, or if the book hadn’t made it through censorship.
Or was this an intentional mistake in hopes that someone would notice the timing confusion?
But Killian’s next words were more surprising.
“Up until now, my people have been taught that the year of the Oracle and the year of the publication of the Interpretation were both in the 18th year of the Empire.”
I looked at Killian in surprise.
Then what are these books here that say 17? It wasn’t just one section, it was all over the place.
“The training books were revisions, of course, but this first edition is…….”
Killian laid out all the books that mentioned the oracle.
“The rest of the books are lumped together as 18, but these two mention 17, as if it were a mistake. In plain sight.”
Indeed, in only two books does the year of the oracle appear as 17, and a few pages later does it appear as 18.
Killian was right: the two first editions here were the only ones to have left in the 17th year, which was not mentioned anywhere else.
It was too obvious to be a simple mistake to have two volumes and 17 years.
These were books published about the empire, so they should have been more careful.
“Either the authors of these books referring to the seventeenth year of the Empire were humans who happened to be messing things up at the same time, around the same time, or…….”
Killian paused, flipping through the books thoughtfully.
“Or they were coerced into marking the years as 18 by those who never wanted to be found out for publishing their interpretations a year after the Oracle came down.”
Forced to manipulate?
The hairs on my neck stood on end.
But who would dare to do such a thing to a God-given oracle?
Killian tore himself away from the picture and closed the book.
Then he began to put all the first editions back in their proper places.
On second glance, the books Killian had removed were, on the face of it, about the history and social phenomena of the Huppert Empire.
The sort of thing you’d expect to see from a crown prince studying the empire, and, after all, they didn’t seem to have anything to do with a cat-related oracle.
It was both surprising and bitter, as he was used to not having the outside world easily recognize what he really wanted to see.
He turned and began to walk away, hoping to find another book this time.
But it wasn’t long before he came to a screeching halt.
His eyes turned cold, like a sharpened blade, and he began to scrutinize me.
It wasn’t until he looked down at me, puzzled by his demeanor, that I realized why Killian was staring at me.
Oh, I was trembling without realizing it…….
My body was shaking like an aspen tree, and now that I realized what I looked like, I realized that I was also feeling the chill.
I raised my head to make a gesture that I was okay.
But I moved as stiffly as a leaf that had lost its moisture, which only made Killian’s complexion look worse.
I didn’t mean to do this.
The horror that Killian had so obviously brought to light by pointing out the errors in the book had burrowed into me like a rat or a bird and gnawed at my bones.
My fur stood on end and my body shivered as my vision became blurry.
A strange glow slowly appeared in Killian’s eyes as he spoke.
I instinctively curled into the warmth of his palm.
Killian stared down at me as if he hadn’t seen this coming.
He looked like he hadn’t expected to be scared by something as simple as that.
But a normal person would have been terrified.
“Let’s go back.”
His red lips curled into a smile, his eyes complex.
After checking every inch of my body with a hard stare, Killian sighed heavily as I buried my face in his palm.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have let you see that.”
I snap. There was a short tongue-lashing sound at the end.
As expected, I felt like I had made it annoying.
Plus, it was embarrassing for me to have to leave him in the middle of his search when he might have stumbled upon another clue about the cat.
My mind was racing, wanting to stop him, but my body was sinking deeper into Killian’s hands, trying to rely on his body heat.
Black, this is not my will.
Came to my senses and tried to get up, wondering if I was bothering him, but my legs didn’t have any strength at all.
“I told you I wouldn’t let you get hurt.”
He said quietly, stroking my back.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep my word.”