Phew, it's been a while hasn't it been boys?
Anyway, I had a long stream of exams and assignments done, now I only have to wait to see if I passed everything.
In the meantime, here's the chap.
The Hestia Familia recruitment ended and Silver banged Hestia in the night, it's the day after and he is now visiting Loki because she knows something that could be potentially concerning for him.
He went to the Manor, saw the renovations, met with Cruzz, entered the main dinning room, played a little with Loki, and she was eventually knocked out by an angry Riveria.
That's where we left off.
That's about it, see ya at the end if I put anything there.
/A few minutes later…/
'Back inside Loki's Office, Silver sat calmly on a couch as he drank a bit of tea prepared by Line as he waited for the last of the Executives to arrive, the bulky Dwarf, Gareth.'
'Opposite to him, Finn sat with his usual smiling expression, with Loki sitting next to him as she touched the bump on her head with a hurt expression.'
'Behind them, Riveria stood with her arms crossed, waiting.'
"Urg… My head…" Loki said as she laid her head on the couch, looking at Riveria with an upset gaze
'But the girl did not budge, she only stared back, unwilling to compromise.'
'This wasn't frequent, but sometimes, Loki crossed the lines of what she thought was reasonable, so she had to show her that it was not okay.'
'It used to happen more in the past, but maybe Loki grew to respect her boundaries more, either that or Riveria ended up loosening towards her antics.'
'Maybe it was a bit of both...'
'The door opened, and someone entered the room.'
"Sorry for being late, had to make myself somewhat presentable at the very least, can't enter such a tidy place all sweaty and all." Gareth said as he walked inside the room
'He wore light clothes, a simple shirt, and a pair of shorts together with a full body suit that clung to his skin underneath, the usual attire he wore whenever he went to the Dungeon.'
(Image, and you'll have to wait for it)
'To his words, Silver shook his head, he didn't mind, and neither did anyone.'
'Like always, Gareth was rather calm, but the moment he saw Riveria, his expression changed a little.'"?..."
What's up with her?... By the looks of it...
'But upon noticing her cold stare, he chose to do the smart thing and stay silent, walking by her without saying anything.'
"You're here, let's start this discussion then." Finn said with a small smile while Gareth passed by Riveria
'He then sat on a sofa on the side, saying:'
"Discussion? Finn, don't be so serious, let's take it easy." Gareth said with a hearty laugh as he turned to Silver
"It's been a while since we saw each other, and you got pretty hurt during the War game, I imagine you're fine by now? Seeing your arms are still there."
'Smiling slightly, Silver gave him a nod.'
"It was a bit hard at first as I got a few burns, but I'm doing okay now, thanks for asking."
"What about you? As strong as ever?"
"You call that a few burns? From what I recall, you left that battlefield without anything down your shoulder HA!"
"Well... It'll take many years until age starts to catch up to me." Gareth replied with a chuckle
'Meanwhile, Finn and Riveria let out small sighs, since although the pace of the conversation had changed, they didn't mind where it was going anyway.'
'Loki continued to massage her head.'
"What about you guys, you all doing fine?" Silver asked with a smile as he placed a bag on the small table in front of him
"Aside from the preparations for the next expedition, I would say we only have one thing to worry about..." Finn replied as he relaxed his expression
"Well, the only one that is worth mentioning anyway..." He added with a half awkward smile
"Everyone's a bit tense but that's normal." Riveria replied lightly
"Tche, I would be too were it not for this bump on my head." Loki said with a curious expression as she saw the bag
'Her eyes sharpened, more than they already were.'
"Anyhow... What's that on your hand? Trying to buy us with gifts? Heh, that won't work, my standards are…"
'Despite saying all of that Loki was the least reserved of them all, trying to take a sneak peek of the bag's contents before Silver even opened it.'
'But when she did, she saw something rather good!'
'The symbol of the Soma Familia…'
"It's just a small gift anyway, I bought it on my way here." Silver said as he shook his head, taking some of the things out of the bag
She's as unceremoniously as I expected, which is good, I don't want to be too awkward.
"I don't know what you guys like, so I bought whatever I could find."
'First Silver took out a small jar with a black seal on it.'
'It was obvious to all what this was…'
"Humph! Don't you think you can buy my silence with wine!" Loki proclaimed righteously as she looked away, only to take a sneaky peak at the wine once more
"That wasn't for you anyway." Silver said with a smirk as he passed it to Gareth
"I've grown 'acquainted' with the Soma Familia and managed to buy this from them, an exclusive Wine they don't sell to the public… The perfect version of the Wine."
W-What did he say?
'Loki's expression turned white.'
"Ho? Perfect you say? You got my attention, you wouldn't mind if I opened it now, right?" Gareth said with a chuckle as he grabbed the jar
'Riveria's eyelids twitched while Finn let out a sigh, Gareth was usually extremely professional but seeing the sight of a rare Wine he never tasted and the otherwise gentle atmosphere might've snapped his strings.'
Hum... It does have a different feel from the usual Soma wine, the seal is also genuine…
Did they really have this kind of thing stashed away?
To only sell the worst products... Do they consume so much Wine on a daily basis? Or do they underestimate everyone else too much?
Is it hard to make? Controlling the prices?
Something's a bit odd.
'Gareth did not doubt Silver's words, there was no point in him even lying, he was instead very excited yet also a bit concerned.'
'There was a strange rumor about conflicts in the Soma Familia, apart from the usual ones everyone hears about every once in a while.'
'Though no one here knew Silver was also at fault for that...'
"It's all yours, be careful though, I heard it's quite good."
"You heard about it? Why not give it a try?" Finn asked as he raised an eyebrow
"Ha… I'm not really a fan of Soma's wine, it's a bit too 'strong' for me." Silver replied as he shook his head
I'll never drink from that, there is a fine line between that and drugs and it's a tad too close for my taste.
Wine lovers may see it as something else but I have my limits.
It's too easy to fall prey to the sweetness that is the Gods' creations.
"I'm not really a fan of these extreme drinks, I like to keep my head straight if possible, and at all times at that."
'That was something Finn couldn't agree more.'
'Meanwhile, Loki's ears perked up when she heard the word "perfect"...'
'Because that implied that the wine she loved was… A failure.'
'Her eyes twitching, Loki stood silent as she watched Gareth open the seal effortlessly with his hands.'
"Ouia, I like the sound of that."
'And the moment he did so, the smell reached everyone's noses, causing even Riveria to be surprised.'
"It's quite... Aromatic." She said as she looked at the Wine
"Ho! This causes my throat to go dry." Gareth said as he felt the smell of the wine
I don't even need to sip it to know this is good, must've been pretty expensive.
"Don't even think about it Dwarf." Riveria said on the side as she looked at Gareth
"... I wasn't going to! Even I know when to stop…" He replied as he sealed the wine again, putting it on the side
I'll enjoy this later, and give a bit to Finn too, he needs it.
It's so small though… Barely two mugs worth of Wine.
'Disclaimer, Dwarven Mugs are around twice the ordinary size of a tavern ale jug.'
'Meanwhile, Loki stared daggers at Silver, displeased written on her face.'
"What a GOOD wine, I can't believe they hid such goodies from me."
I'll butcher that neet with my own hands next time we meet!
'Smiling awkwardly, Silver took out a small box from the bag.'
'It had a rather earthy smell.'
"This is a small box of coffee beans, my Vice Captain likes the brand quite a bit so maybe you'll enjoy it too."
'Finn's eyes opened in surprise as he grabbed the box, he recognized the brand.'
"AHH! Are you really going to be like that?!" Loki exclaimed as she pointed at Silver, interrupting Finn
"Don't act as if everything's fine and give me my gift!"
'While the Executives exhaled, Silver smiled.'
"Fine, I'll stop fooling around, you win."
"Here." He said as he took another bag from behind the couch, it had another wine Jar inside
'Opon seeing it, Loki's expression beamed as she smiled like a child.'
"Hehehe, so you know courtesy, I'll forget that ever happened." She said as she hugged the jar and caressed it, treating it like a baby as she even kissed it once
"Tell me what you think of it later." Silver said as he rolled his eyes
Loki is a sucker for the Soma Wine, I wonder what she'll think about the perfect version.
For such a complex being, she has rather simple desires.
'In the end, after this, Silver gave Riveria a small bag of tea leaves from the same Elven forest she was born, though, through her expression, it was hard to say she liked it or not.'
'It was clear that she was still upset from what he did before, not that it was his fault.'
'But with everything out of the way, they started their discussion.'
"So?... I don't want to sound rude, but I take you all don't have all day to entertain me in here, so how about we just go back to the topic at hand, leave the rest for another time?" Silver asked as he gave Riveria the two bags, they had the gifts for the other Executives as well since they weren't here
'Silver wasn't close to the other members of the Familia that much, at least he didn't expect to have the time to meet them as he did with Cruzz, and it would be too much to buy gifts for everyone.'
'He would buy a drink for Cruzz if they met on the road one day, but that's how it is.'
'So he just chose a demographic and gave them gifts, though it was a bit two-faced he only gave gifts to the upper echelon of the Familia…'
'Albeit they knew he was well-intentioned, for the most part.'
"First, I would like to thank you for coming so soon, I know you're very occupied with the recent Recruitment, training recruits isn't easy." Finn said with a light smile as he looked at Silver
Ais alone gave me the desire to retire altogether, not to say the Amazons and Bete...
"I had some time, though I can see I came at a rather inconvenient time, next time I'll send a message."
"That would be great, but don't get yourself worked up over it, we wanted you to come, it's up to us to make the time and not the other way around."
"Besides, if you're willing to visit, just do so."
"I will, and I can say the same for you guys, I just can't promise to be present, haha..."
"And I can't promise to always welcome you." Finn replied with a chuckle as his expression grew a tad serious
"The thing is… We would like to inquire you about something."
'Riveria approached the table, putting several papers atop it the moment Finn finished his words.'
"A few weeks ago, on the Deep floors, the 37th Floor to be exact, Ais, Tione, Tiona, and Lefiya met with a unique irregular monster we've never seen before."
"We've asked a few confidants, but so far, we haven't been able to properly identify it."
"... So you're going to ask me if I know anything about it?" Silver asked as he also got serious
Sigh... This confirms it.
I don't even need to have them flip the pages, I know what this is about now.
After all, if this was indeed a normal Irregular monster situation, they would just send a report to the Guild to warn all adventurers about it while also issuing a bounty for the beast.
Not that they would be able to tackle the monster.
From here on out, it's a battle of Wits against these damn monsters…
I can't win, so I'll have to make them think they've won.
It'll depend on what they want.
'Silver's expression seemed resolute, but behind his eyes, a light seemed to flash.'
"Hum… Before I check, I would like to ask, what made you think I knew anything about the matter?"
"I'm not exactly your to-go guy regarding these kinds of things."
I need to gather anything so I can minimize the chances of me saying something incriminatory.
Then again, if I'm overly defensive, this is only going to confirm their suspicions... Because if I'm here, there certainly are some.
They could just hold me to a very high stem too, but it can always be both, especially when one is dealing with Loki.
"So why not go directly to the Guild and issue a bounty as per usual?" He asked after a slight pause
Tell me what is so special about this monster...
What do you know?
'Finn smiled, grabbing one of the papers, and flipping it to show Silver its contents.'
'It was a rough sketch of a single-horned Minotaur holding a spear, it was rather well drawn, but since it was done in black ink on a brown piece of parchment, it was hard to identify any peculiarities in its coloration.'
"This was the monster they met, an Irregular Minotaur with dark skin and white fur, it wore simple armor and held a weapon of an unknown maker."
"It prowled the Deep floors in one of the Outer Rings of the 37th floor, hunting all monsters on its path."
'Finn's expression then grew heavy as he continued:'
"However, from here on out, we'll have to ask you to keep this discussion private, at least until we can figure out what's going on."
"That I can do, you can take my lips as sealed, upon the honor of my Goddess." Silver said seriously as he looked at them
I never had any intention of sharing anything in the first place, however, I'll have to find a way to warn the Xenos and the Guild about the situation the Loki Familia is looking into the matter.
I swore to my Goddess so they would trust me, especially Loki, otherwise she wouldn't take me seriously or at least raise her suspicion on me.
But this now puts me in a bind.
"Heh, you're quite serious, almost as if you know the seriousness of this aye?" Loki said with a sneaky smile as she looked at him
"Loki, stop, don't throw baseless accusations around." Riveria added as she closed her eyes
"Thank you, it's not an easy thing to say, I won't forget this." Finn said with a nod
"I trust you guys but I'm already rather tired so don't shove my head with too many conspiracies please." Silver said with a chuckle as he sipped his tea
I wonder how much of this conversation is going the way he expected? Maybe he predicted I would make a promise, maybe he has several possibilities where he'll judge me based on which path I follow.
Enemy, friend, neutral, what side does he think I belong to?
"Going on, in the first place, what made this monster unique to us and a target of attention was a combination of several factors." Finn said as he raised his hand
"First, the presence of a Minotaur in the Deep floors, over double the depth where they're commonly found."
"One thing is for an Enhanced Species or Irregular to appear, they tend to move a few floors before they're spotted, but it's usually up, not down, and even if they do descend, it's not much and it's usually temporary."
"Second, its appearance, not only was the Minotaur an Irregular with Ice-related abilities, we have determined it to be a Black-Variant of the standard Minotaur."
"Black Variants do not appear from ordinary creatures, so it must've been birthed by the Dungeon, although we can't tell when."
"Third, following the second reason, the Black Minotaur possesses the strength of a Monster Rex, overpowering Ais in every instance be it in combat ability, situational awareness, physical prowess, and more."
"Then I would like to ask I question." Silver said as his eyes sharpened
"If Ais was overpowered in every instance, how did she survive the encounter with the monster? You mentioned the others, what happened?"
Something's missing in his description.
"It was due to a cave-in, their fight caused a portion of the Dungeon to collapse, leading to the separation between her and the Irregular." Finn said with a casual smile
"How lucky, what about the others, are they okay too?" Silver asked with some concern
'He wasn't faking his concern, he really wanted to know if everyone was okay.'
'If they have indeed met that Minotaur, then there was a chance they wouldn't return alive.'
'This may be all well beyond his expectations, but he knew what the Minotaur was capable of if it wished to maintain the secrecy of its people.'
'Thus it raises the question, why let them go? What went through its head'
'Was it… Due to who they were?'
'Silver wasn't really regretful that it ended up leaking its own existence, after all, that allowed Ais and her group to return alive...'
'But at the same time, what did he do to bring forth such a reaction from the Loki Familia? Couldn't he have just fled? How troublesome.' Was what Silver thought
In any case, he's lying... At the very least, he's not being entirely honest here.
Finn's trying to bait me into an unavoidable trap.
So far, he has been vague, not asking me anything and just telling me things, informing me.
He's trying to lower my guard and lead me into a series of trap questions and assumptions, or to pave the outside so he can infer the inside.
Leading to me committing a mistake due to a clash of information.
I know much more then he does, and he's testing if that's the case, waiting for me to commit one inconsistency.
If I question the veracity of his words, he can then ask why I'm certain that was not the case, just like how Loki did just now.
Anything then would be a lie or half-truth, which they can then confirm with Loki later on or even confront me about it.
It wouldn't be good to clash with three Level 6s right now, but given how Loki is here in the first place, they are either confident in themselves, in the fact I won't attack them, or they don't see me as a threat at all.
Which I don't believe is possible.
Perhaps they just don't expect that, in a situation we grow hostile, I won't attack her... Which they are correct.
Partially at least, it would take a lot to force my hand.
But this is problematic, Finn alone would be hard, with a Goddess by his side… How am I supposed to keep quiet?
They're bringing the highest IQ detective and giving him the most precise lie detector in existence, what am I supposed to say and do here?
Was the right option to ignore them and go on a Vacation? At least then I could've mended my relationship with them at a later time… Or bought me some time to explain things and think...
"Everyone's okay, they weren't caught up in their fight but it left quite an impact on them." Gareth added on the side as he nodded lightly, interrupting Silver's speedy thoughts
"It's not every time you face death, and when it does come, especially in such an unexpected moment, it can break even the sturdiest of minds."
"It's as Gareth says, they should all be resting in preparation for the next Expedition." Finn said as he crossed his fingers
"This leads to the next section, it's armory."
"The monster was equipped with Magical weapons, the like that had little use if any."
"That is, if Ais' testimony is precise."
"... I see where this is going." Silver said as he face-palmed
"You're all paranoid that a monster got his hands on high-end gear, which would make sense if he defeated an adventurer, yet this monster held a newly-looking weapon, and now you all think someone is intentionally arming it?" He asked deeply as he tapped on the table
"Let's go over this again, an Irregular Black Variant minotaur wielding magic weapons of questionable origin with the ability to context against a party of First Class adventurers just as equally equipped and with good synergy was found on the Deep floors..."
"... What do you think?" Finn asked as his eyes remained firm
"... I'm concerned." Silver said as he closed his eyes to think
Years ago, during the dark age, Evilus made use of Knossos to move an army of monsters to the surface and attack Orario from the outside while mayhem ensued on the inside.
It was mostly a distraction, but the fact they did it was never forgotten, at least not for this Pallum.
He must be thinking that the monster they met may in some way be connected to what happened that day, and if he believes so, then this matter is much more serious than just them finding out about the Xenos.
The Loki Familia hates Evilus, almost on the same level as Ryuu because they also lost precious people that day.
Their veterans, the previous Executives, and their Captain were lost that day as many elderly adventures sacrificed themselves to stop the monster horde and allow the younger adventurers to impede Evilus' plans.
That is why you rarely see any adventurer over the age of fifty within Orario, if there is one, they either chose to not act on that day, making them cowards, or they fought somewhere isolated and survived.
The rest likely weren't in Orario at the time.
If Finn sets his mind on killing the Minotaur by believing it is a monster controlled by Evilus, then all Xenos will be in danger by default, because their status will go from just monsters to monsters controlled by an evil faction.
Especially if they seek something like revenge, the Xenos care for each other, and if one of them dies, they won't let it go easily.
Even if I were to tell him the whole truth to try and change that status, it may only backfire.
He may choose to kill all Xenos for the sake of stability and or his own Reputation, since Finn values that more than anything, behind maybe only his companions.
No... Maybe even that is below his Reputation, as Finn may create a plan that sacrifices others for the sake of an even greater goal that benefits all and the Familia as a whole if he cannot find any other rational way to deal with the root of the issue.
His absolute last resort, but one that does exist...
Yet if he does so, I won't be able to treat the Loki Familia as an ally anymore.
Yes, I see those monsters on the same level as any other living being, they're alive for me, and what I believe is what matters, that's all.
But that's the same for them, for them, they're monsters on the same level as any other, and their opinions won't be easy to change.
That was one of the reasons I told the Xenos to grow strong, because opinions can change over time, but you need to be alive to do so.
Peace is not something the weak are entitled to, it's a choice those with the ability to protect themselves make and may enforce if they feel like it.
Either by themselves or by someone else's hand.
"... I kind of understand this situation, and I do believe you have a point."
"A magic weapon won't find its way down there easily, much less silently, unless we assume something extremely absurd is going on like smuggling in the deep floors." Silver added as he crossed his arms, shaking his head
"Nonetheless, that is easily traceable and any adventurer that wielded such a thing would have some degree of fame, one such person losing their lives in the Dungeon to provide a monster with such gear wouldn't be forgotten so easily."
"The same for its maker."
"That is, if this Magic weapon is of a high quality." He said as his eyes flashed as he unraveled one of Finn's traps
"But still, I can't understand, why not contact the Guild like normal and why contact me?"
At this point in time, apart from finding Ouranos a bore, there's no point in being suspicious of him or the Guild.
For 1000 years Ouranos kept the world safe, why would he do anything against it now?
"... It was a hunch." Loki added on the side without a care in the world
"A hunch? About what?" Silver asked as his eyes opened a little
"I had a hunch that old guy and the Guild knew something... What? You think I'm spitting bull?" Loki said with a spiteful expression as she looked at Silver
"Now? No." Silver said with a small smile as he looked at the scenery outside
"That's what I tho... Huh?! Say that again!" Loki replied as she snickered
Now?! You're saying I do so at other times?!?!
Just you wait brat...
"Anyway… As Loki said, it was a hunch." Finn said as he interrupted his goddess
"We believe you may know something about it, if you don't, it's okay."
"As you said, we have nothing against the Guild, in fact, they're our next target."
"We just want to know if you ever saw it before." He asked as he pointed at the creature in the picture
Here it is, the question.
If I say I did, then I'll have to explain when and how.
If I lie, Loki will know, she may choose to confront me now or later, either way, it wouldn't do good to my psyche to know she has something to hold against me.
There are too many variables missing and I can't tell how much Finn is lying, using my Plasmids here would only backfire.
I'm in the presence of the greatest mage alive, she'll notice even the slightest fluctuation around her.1
They could be lying about most of this as far as I'm aware, waiting for me to commit a blunder on my own.
'After a moment deep in thought, Silver let out a sigh.'
"I can't say I've ever seen it before, this is the first time I've seen a Black Variant."
'Silver wasn't lying, this was his first time meeting such a variant as he never really met with the Minotaur face to face nor did he meet such a variant, much to his disappointment.'
"... But, I did meet with something similar before, if that can be used as an answer."
"It's hard to explain, so it would be simpler to show." He said as he turned his head to the side
It's true that I never met or seen him before, I only ever heard about his might.
Oh well, knowing Loki, she'll definitely feel I'm playing her...
As such, I'll diverge the conversation.
This is the only way to escape from this… In short, I'll throw this problem back to Ouranos.
Sorry, but you'll have to deal with Loki on your own.
'Smiling slightly, Silver turned to Loki…'
This chapter was about 5K words long, following the string of lengthy blocks.
Anyway, I'll sleep for now and prepare the next few chapters, hopefully, one of those being, you guessed it, Zero Fate.
See ya tomorrow, peace.