The small province of Carabas, located just south of the very heart of the Salvinian continent, was most unique among its neighbors in that it was one of the few regions that, as opposed to being ruled over by a single aristocrat or any noble family, was considered independent and governed itself quite well.

It had been this way for several centuries, and every winter the Carabans celebrated their independence with an event called Festiva d'Antonia. This festival—which typically lasted three days, but in some areas was known to last up to two weeks—was based on the popular myth surrounding Carabas' liberation from the tyrannical Marquis de Carabas. As the story told, in the dead of winter five hundred years ago, the famed witch Antonia came to the aid of the starving Carabans by turning the Marquis into a terrible ogre and driving him from his castle forever. Since then, the castle had long fallen into ruin, but the capital city of Marchosias quickly prospered like never before, and was now considered one of the finest trading cities of Salvin.

However, not everybody living in Carabas was so fortunate. In fact, although many came to Marchosias seeking fortune, few actually acquired it. One such person hoping for an at least decent lifestyle was Mihail, the youngest son of a recently-deceased miller.

Mihail had managed to secure a small room on the second floor of an inn on the outskirts of Marchosias, but it had taken up more than half of his savings, and he was only permitted to stay for a month unless he managed to cough up more money. His father had not exactly been poor, but he had left all of his "wealth" and worldly possessions to Mihail's two older brothers. And what had Mihail inherited? Nothing, of course—nothing except the lousy cat, which apparently had been in the family for generations. The brothers in question seemed only too happy to turn him—and the cat—out of the house, giving him only a small amount of silver and telling him he was sure to find success in Marchosias. Mihail believed them, until it finally dawned on him that they were only trying to get rid of him, and by then it was far too late for him to turn back. So, begrudgingly, he kept on towards Marchosias, followed diligently by the cat.

This cat bothered him; he simply didn't like it one bit. Part of it was simply that he didn't think it fair at all that his brothers were left with everything and he was left with a useless animal, but as it refused to be abandoned, Mihail began started to notice other unsettling quirks about it. For one, it didn't look very old, and Mihail distinctly remembered it living at their mill since before he was born. It was never fed much, either. Its diet seemed to consist solely of mice and the occasional scrap of bread or two, and yet it retained an impossibly healthy look about it; its long, sandy-brown fur was always glossy, and its sharp yellow eyes were always bright. (There must've been more mice in the mill than Mihail had first imagined.) But above all, no matter how many times Mihail had tried to leave it behind, it always, always managed to catch up.

So now the cat was sitting on a small table, licking its paw and seeming rather unconcerned with the entire situation. Mihail stared at it, caught between his intense dislike of the thing and pondering over how he was possibly going to survive over the next month. He certainly had enough money to buy food, but it probably wouldn't last a week. The entire sum at present wasn't nearly enough to pay off the innkeeper to stay another month, and the only other place he had to go was back home. But if he spent his money on food now, he wouldn't have anything left for the long trek home, and even then there was no guarantee that his brothers simply wouldn't throw him out again.

He sighed gloomily. He had gone without food for an entire day, staying active simply because the innkeeper was generous enough to give him free water. But he couldn't go on like this. Any way he looked at it, he was doomed to poverty, starvation…or perhaps even death.

It didn't make sense. In every fairy tale he had ever heard as a child, it was always the youngest of the three siblings who was destined to become the greatest—it was always the youngest who found fame and fortune! Oftentimes this youngest was assisted by a helpful, enchanted animal of some sort, but so far this mangy old cat hadn't done anything particularly unusual. It probably couldn't even talk. And if it was enchanted, wouldn't it have done something useful by now?

Mihail groaned, flopping down on the creaky bed and burying his face in his arms. His future was unbelievably bleak. The only good thing he could see about the cat's presence so far was that, apparently, he had no need to feed it. He glared at it out of the corner of his eye, but it continued to ignore him, and so he returned his gaze to the stiff mattress below him. "…You're good for nothing," he snapped bitterly, "you know that? You useless animal…" Mihail paused, knowing the futility of his words, but he felt the need to voice his thoughts all the same. Who else would listen, anyway? At that moment, however, something occurred to him. "…Hmph. Maybe good for something… If worse comes to worst, I could always eat you, I suppose…"

"What are you, some kind of savage? You'll do absolutely no such thing."

Alarmed at the sudden, unfamiliar voice, Mihail shot up from the bed to see a strange man sitting cross-legged on the table, looking rather dismissively at him. Mihail was in such shock at the sight that it took him another moment to realize that the man was completely naked. "Wh… Who the hell are you?! What are you doing in here?! …And why don't you have any clothes on?!"

The man arched an eyebrow. "Hm…? You seem awfully surprised. Not thirty seconds ago you were busy calling me a useless animal and fixing to eat me. That was a bit rude of you, don't you think?"

"Huh? But… You…" At that point Mihail realized that the cat was nowhere to be seen; on top of that, the man had two furred, feline ears on either side of his head, as well as a long, bushy tail curled around his leg, and his tousled hair was the exact same color that the cat's fur had been. As Mihail added up all of this in his mind, the truth of what had just happened finally came to him. "…You… The cat… It…was enchanted…?"

"You could say that, I suppose. And I am a he, not an it, understand? Now… I'll be needing some clothes…"

The man—cat?—"catman" slid off the table, apparently ignoring Mihail's disbelief, and began to rummage through his things. Mihail continued to stare at him until he suddenly remembered the fact that he was naked, and quickly averted his gaze. "So… You… You're supposed to help me…?"

"That's the idea. …Hn, you're an awfully small lad… These'll never fit—"

"Then why couldn't you have shown up sooner?!" Mihail exclaimed angrily. "Do you know what I've had to go through this past week?!"

"Of course I do, I've been following you all this time. Ah, here we go—did your brother lend you this?"

Mihail paused, realizing that he was only being ignored again; by the sound of shifting cloth, the catman was obviously far more interested in getting dressed than Mihail's woes. "…They're just hand-me-downs."

"But they're far too large to fit you."

"I know."

"…Well, at least they fit me. Although…" Mihail looked up to see the catman fully dressed and inspecting himself; however, he didn't seem pleased. "…Hmph. Peasant rags… But I suppose they'll have to do for now."

"…Why did you wait until just now to show yourself?"

"Oh?" His ears pricked forward, and he turned to face Mihail, frowning. "You make it sound like I have a choice in these matters. I could not have entered this form until the last faint ember of hope was fully extinguished from your heart—and it's a good thing that happened before you decided to eat me. Otherwise, you and I both would be in a good deal of trouble."

Mihail glared at him. "Excuse me for being such a pain, then."

"Unfortunately, I'll have to…at least until I exit your service, whether by helping you attain your wildest dreams, or exceeding my time limit in doing so."

"Wild… Wildest dreams?!" Mihail was stunned, but perhaps not in the way that the catman had anticipated. "Look, I don't know who you think you are, but I don't have any 'wild dreams,' all right?! I much prefer 'reasonable goals,' since that's all I'll ever amount to, anyway!"

The catman was silent. "…Just like your ancestors, I see… Depressingly like your ancestors, rather…"

"And just what is that supposed to mean?!"

"All it means is that you simply lack the confidence to do anything worthwhile with yourself," he said pointedly. "Generation after generation, your family has been content with mere mediocrity, despite all my efforts to lead them to success…"

"And what's wrong with that?" Mihail snapped. "You don't have to be rich to be happy or successful, you know!"

"True, true. But in your case…" The catman stepped closer, roughly jabbing Mihail in the chest with his index finger. "You are neither rich nor successful nor happy, and it's my job to amend that. Understand?"

"Er…" At this proximity, it occurred to Mihail that the catman was much taller than him; however, he couldn't allow it to deter him. "…Well, I don't need your help!"

"Pardon? You don't need my help? Oh, well, allow me to apologize—I had no idea you enjoyed starving so much. Well, I'll just be on my way…"

"No, wait—I didn't mean—"

"Hm? What's that? So you do need my help after all? Oh, all right, but I don't know if there's much I can do—you seem to be pretty well off to me…"

Oh, great; now he was starting to pout. "Look, there's no need to throw a fit—!"

"A fit, you say?" He laughed calmly. "If anyone here's throwing a fit, it would be you. Look, your face is all flushed."

Realizing that he spoke the truth only served to make poor Mihail even more flustered and frustrated. "You—you're just making fun of me! What kind of an 'enchanted companion' are you supposed to be, anyway?!"

"One who has been saddled with an unfortunately hopeless human," the catman said with a heavy sigh. "But there may be hope for you yet… Since those brothers of yours won't exactly be doing you any favors anytime soon, it looks like you're going to have to start from scratch."

"Don't remind me."

"And that's where I come in. Starting from the moment I first stood before you as a human…er, at least semi-human," he added, considering his feline ears and tail, "I have exactly six months to help you—"

"Attain my wildest dreams? Yeah, yeah, I think I've got it," Mihail grumbled. There really wasn't much he could do to get rid of this guy at the moment, so he might as well go along with it for now.

"Er, something like that, yes. Now, let me see your funds."

"Funds…?" Then it dawned on Mihail just what this sort of person might do with his money. "Ohh, no—absolutely not! You'll just go and gamble it all, won't you?! Is that some part of your 'get-rich-quick' scheme?!"

"Of course not—at least not this early in the game, far too risky. But before we can do anything to make you successful, we're going to need money, and in order to make money, we have to spend money. Is that understood?"

"But how am I supposed to eat if you spend everything I've got?"

"We, how are we supposed to eat. Might not seem like it, but I need food too, you know. Just relax, would you? I've already got a surefire plan that'll ensure us a feast fit for a king…or, rather, a marquis, as you'll soon discover—"

"What?"

"Hm?"

"What did you just say?"

"Nothing, I've got it all worked out. Now cough it up."

Mihail hesitated, but saw no other way around it. Groaning heavily, he reached into his pocket and handed over a small pouch of silver. "There. That's all of it."

A surprised expression came over the catman's face as he emptied the contents of the pouch into his hand. "That's it…? Really?"

"Really."

"…Well, it'll do, I suppose. I won't be needing much more than that for now. Now, we make haste; to the tailor's!"

The catman started for the door, but Mihail remained standing in disbelief. "The… The tailor's? Why do we need to go there?"

"You don't expect me to keep wearing these rags forever, do you? I am in dire need of a proper outfit…"

"But what about me?! What happened to 'my wildest dreams,' and all that?!"

"Looking the part is just as important as playing it, young Mihail. …Are you coming with me or not?"

"…I think I'll just stay here and kill myself."

"Stay here all you like, but try not to do any of the latter. For someone like me, unemployment is a rather dire situation, you see." With that, he strode out the door—but poked his head back in barely a moment later, adding, "I'll have returned here by sundown. By then I hope you realize that sticking with me is a far better alternative to starvation, or death."

"…Whatever."

The door shut, and Mihail now found himself alone. It was the first time on this entire journey that he had been completely alone; before, he had always been accompanied in some way or another by the cat, whether with or without his knowledge. But now the very same cat, albeit in a very different form, was off spending the last of his money on some (probably) lavish clothing for himself. He rolled over onto his stomach, wondering if he any better or worse off with this sudden change in his situation.

…If he doesn't come back with anything to eat, I'm really going to kill him.

He closed his eyes, trying to think of more pleasant thoughts, and within the hour he was asleep.


"Mister… Mister Mihail, please wake up…!"

Several hours later, Mihail awoke to a female voice and someone heavily prodding his shoulder. He recognized the voice as belonging to the innkeeper's wife, and once he was able to comprehend just what she was saying, he realized that he had just been asleep. Memories of the "catman" and his scheme came soon after, causing him to groan. But if he was just asleep, it had to be a dream…right? There was no way that cat could have been—

"Mister Mihail, there's a strange man calling for you—the one with funny ears and a tail? He says that he's rooming with you."

Apparently, it had been no mere dream. Mihail groaned again with this realization, more loudly this time, and pulled his meager blanket over his head. "…I'm not paying for him."

"Oh, there won't be any need! Please come downstairs; he's been calling for you for the last half-hour or so…"

Silently cursing, Mihail begrudgingly sat up, wondering what in the world the catman had done. The innkeeper's wife left the room upon seeing that he was fully awake, leaving Mihail alone once more. He continued to sit on the edge of his bed for a few moments longer, wondering if he should go downstairs after all or just not even bother. However, a curious scent had begun to waft into the room, one which took him a bit to recognize. It was sufficient enough to catch his attention, and, temporarily forgetting his enmity towards the catman, he decided to find out its source.

Mihail cautiously headed downstairs, and was greeted with a welcome sight—a veritable feast was laid out in the dining area below, far larger than anything he had ever seen. He was so amazed by the sight of so much food all at once that he failed to notice the catman's presence.

"Impressed, eh?"

"Huh?" He looked over to see him sitting leisurely, arms stretched behind his head and boots propped up on the table, flicking his tail from side to side. The change in his appearance was a rather drastic one, for although he retained the same cocky, carefree air as before, his visage had gone from that of a dusty old granary cat to that of a well-to-do noble on the town; he had abandoned his former "peasant rags" for an outfit made of fine, expensive-looking materials (Mihail wasn't too keen on learning just how much they cost), and topped it off with a wide-brimmed hat decorated with a single large plume, as well as a prominent pair of leather boots (Mihail especially wasn't too keen on learning just how much they cost.) The flicker of hope that Mihail had felt upon seeing the marvelous feast was quickly extinguished when he thought of just how much of his silver the catman had spent. "…Something tells me I don't even want to know…"

"It's about time you rolled out of bed," the catman scoffed. "I was about to quit waiting for you and dig in."

"…Wait…" Mihail glanced back at the feast, and something clicked in his mind. "…Don't tell me… You did all this…?"

"Well, I didn't cook it. Never was very good at that. But…" He smirked triumphantly. "It's amazing how far a piece of silver can go in this town; just one fetched me all I needed to trap a fair amount of game."

"You… You caught all this…?!"

"More than that, actually. I had to make a profit somehow, didn't I? How did you expect me to pay for this?" he added, indicating his clothing. "Oh, but don't start crying just yet—there's still a good amount left over…"

Mihail was stunned. Never in his life could he have imagined that this cat could be capable of anything like that. "…You… But… How…?"

The catman, smiling, stood up and came closer to Mihail, speaking in a quiet tone. "Did I not tell you before? You can hate me all you want, but you'd be well inclined to stick with me and do as I say. At the very least, you'll eat well."

Mihail remained silent, nodding in awe. He was still dubious of just what this man had in store for him, but if it meant that he wouldn't have to go hungry for at least one more day, he might as well go along with his plans.