Yuri looked quite dead.
Solution looked traumatized.
Entoma was looking at the ceiling in a daze.
Narberal was patting the back of Yuri's hand while Lupusregina was waving her hand in front of Solution's boobs to try to draw her attention.
Shizu was serving lord Issei as his assigned maid, so she was not present in the meeting- Even though her presence would have been invaluable in grounding Entoma as the insectomancer looked like she was a moment away from floating off to the metaphorical sunset.
Sebas sweated internally as he looked around the Pleiades's 'barracks' or rather, 'tea room'. 'I was informed by the Homunculus Maids that the Pleiades are acting irregularly and I should probably check on them… B-but what happened?!'
'Alright, let's analyze the situation… And start by gathering information.' Sebas nodded internally while stroking his beard and opened his attack by going for the so-far most reliable source of intel. "Yuri. What is happening? It's unusual for the Pleiades to be this carefree."
Yuri's glazed-over eyes moved towards Sebas, she opened her mouth… And then closed it while looking like she was preparing herself mentally for the grave.
Sebas's level of concern rose even further so she glanced at the human-shaped werewolf in the room, who looked like she was enjoying the situation even though she had a worried expression. "Lupusregina?"
"Yuri's date was a disaster~" Lupusregina's voice was sing-song, even if she was clearly trying to hold herself back. Unfortunately that lapse caused Yuri's pose to turn even more fatalistic.
"I see… In that case, we must make amends before Lord Mo- ahem, lord Issei decides to leave us." The look in Sebas's eyes hardened considerably, which seemed to garner a positive impact in Yuri as the chance of 'making amends' seemed to snap her out of her stupor, and a shock across the whole Pleiades as the latter part of Sebas's sentence reached them. Once the Pleiades looked like they were paying attention Sebas went for another strike- "Solution-san? What about you? You seem to be acting unusually as well."
"I… in the bath, and… t-then… and I licked his bones, and… S-supreme Being broth…" Solution let out a murmur that caused Lupusregina to snicker to the back of her hand, or at least she covered her blush that way. "I was requested to clean Lord Issei's bones but I went overboard with it, and… he asked that I'd sleep in his bed, and…"
"I see… In other words, Solution-san feels that she has inconvenienced the Supreme Being and forced him to look after Solution's desires and wellbeing, when it should have been the other way around?" Sebas analyzed the maid's shaky murmurs. "Entoma?"
"He- heee…" Entoma let out a dreamy chitter before pulling out a talisman and slapping it on her temple.
Her head froze instantly, and melted immediately afterwards, communicating to Sebas that Entoma was utterly lost in daydreams and needed something to snap her out of it. "Se-Sebas-san? I… I think I was asked out by Lord Issei! What should I do?! I ran out of the room before answering, b-but that was only because my body went 'chitter chitter' and my head went 'mush mush', and Lord Issei told me to find another maid so-"
"Please calm down and explain the situation in a coherent manner." Sebas halted Entoma's explanation as the bug-maid was waving her hands like a windmill while trying to mime the happenings of her service to the Supreme Being.
Entoma explained her situation, causing Sebas to nod as it somewhat fit the experiences of the other Pleiades maids who had served the Supreme Being so far… Except for Narberal.
The other maids and Sebas turned to glance at Narberal who didn't seem to get why they were staring at her, before she seemingly realized the implication. "Narberal-san. Did Lord Issei approach you while you served him?"
Narberal had paled utterly white, and her eyes had started to shake just slightly before she coughed to her hand and collected herself. "Yes. I was asked to take a seat by the Supreme Being while he 'explored' his quarters. I refused, as I believed that-"
"Nabe-chan refused the Supreme Being's order?" Lupusregina had a disapproving 'tut-tut' tone to her voice while her eyes had gained a dangerous, sadistic glint and the same look was shared by most of the maids present as well as Sebas.
"I- B- a-" Narberal gulped audibly. "I refused first! And then He asked again if I'd like to take a seat, and I sat down… Did… Did I fail to serve the Supreme Being properly by refusing him?! I- I thought He was intending on allowing me to rest if I was tired, but-"
"Hm… I do not believe that you failed the Supreme Being. After all, Lord Issei attempted to comfort you, so it's likely that your answer could be constituted as a rejection, but at the same time it is a correct answer in that it reassures Lord Issei of your ability to serve in the role of a maid. After all, wasn't the very next order he gave you something that he'd order a maid to do? Bring him something to eat?" Sebas defused the situation as Lupusregina's smirk had started to widen, and even though he was certain the werewolf wouldn't attack her fellow Pleiades, a few hurtful words between the sisters would cause equal amounts of damage so it was up to Sebas to prevent it from happening. "The other Pleiades have had similar experiences with Lord Issei- He offers them comfort, and observes how they react. Since Lord Issei has not taken actions to censure Narberal and Entoma for their actions, I must conclude that Lord Issei is not only testing the capabilities of Pleiades, but also their suitability to be maids by attempting to treat them as women and seeing if they break character. In this case it would be more appropriate to say that only Narberal and Entoma have passed this test."
Sebas finished the speech while lifting his finger up to make a point, causing a shock to run through the Pleiades's faces who were present.
Yuri looked utterly mortified. "I-in other words, since I fell into the trap of allowing myself to be treated as a woman and not as a maid… I- I disappointed the Supreme Being twice over?!"
"It is likely that Lord Issei has expected this result, however, so I do not think that he is disappointed in Yuri-san, but rather taught her about her role in Nazarick while he simultaneously used the situation to communicate something to Albedo-sama, since I heard that there was an altercation on the Eighth Floor involving Yuri-san, Albedo-sama and Aureole-san." Sebas calmed Yuri before she could pull her head off and grind it to dust in mortar and pestle over the shame. "Lord Issei no doubt knew how the date would end, considering that he prevented myself and Lupusregina from affecting the outcome of the date, and used the chance to show Yuri that she would serve better as his maid rather than as a woman, as harsh as it sounds."
"No, it's not harsh… But rather, it's the truth. Lord Issei asked me about my hobbies and the air became somewhat awkward between us, in my opinion. I should have realized what was happening by then- Indeed, my place is to be Lord Issei's Pleiades Combat-Maid and not as his woman! Ah-!" Yuri blushed to the color of a ripe tomato as she seemed to remember some embarrassing memory. "S-Sebas-san, I now remember and realize why this whole charade was necessary… When Lord Momonga became Lord Issei, he was naked in the throne-room and I glanced at him, and he glanced at me with lust in his eyes after his encounter with Albedo-sama, I… I…"
The maid blushed even harder, which showed quite well on her deathly pale complexion. "...I felt wanton lust and delusion take over me even though the look was most certainly intended for Albedo instead of me! And Lord Issei realized that I had misinterpreted his desire! In other words… This whole dating-situation between me and Lord Issei was his way of showing me that he still desired me to be his maid, but I could not accomplish the task of being his woman in practice, while allowing me a moment to indulge in the useless fantasy before it is broken!"
"Indeed, this seems to be the most likely scenario." Sebas nodded while stroking his beard and the other Pleiades nodded, with Solution just shaking like a pudding instead of nodding. "Lord Issei is quite compassionate, so such a scenario is not at all unlikely. The same compassion, I suspect, is why Lord Issei has also given Solution a chance to rest after exerting all of her power in cleaning his body…"
"...not…" Solution whimpered, causing Sebas to pause his speech and motion for the maid to continue. "...I wasn't tired at all, it was just… I was just… I… I forgot my position, and indulged myself like how a female would, after I had already cleaned Lord Mo- Issei's body. I could have stopped, but instead Lord Issei reached to grasp my core and I… I…"
"Hm…" Sebas rubbed his beard a bit while thinking. '...Solution is clearly traumatized due to her display of unprofessional actions towards the Supreme One. Could it be that Lord Issei showed Solution her weakness in the same way he did for Yuri? However, I doubt Solution showed such a romantic interest in Lord Issei as Yuri clearly did, which would imply that Solution was… Oh.'
"Solution-san, could it be that you were too hungry to control yourself, and lost control of your mind and body?"
"I… I wasn't overly hungry either, it was just… too delicious, I couldn't stop myself… And since Lord Issei didn't push me away either, I thought it was alright for me to indulge…" Solution quivered like pudding. "A-are you saying that…"
"Indeed, it's likely that much like Lord Issei showing Yuri her place, he also allowed you to indulge yourself without actively stopping you in order to show you where your willpower was lacking, and where you needed to improve yourself. After all, you mentioned that Lord Issei grabbed your core? Indeed, I suspect that if Lord Issei considered himself to be threatened, he could have extinguished you at any time. Therefore he likely expected you to control yourself by yourself, without him needing to expressly do so for you or order you." Sebas nodded as things seemed to fall in place while a clear pattern emerged from the interactions between Lord Issei and the Pleiades- That is, Lord Issei allowed the Pleiades to run amok, showing their weaknesses to them without crushing them too harshly by outright saying what they were lacking, and then expecting them to correct their behavior once the situation winded down and allowed the maids to think back on what had happened.
He explained his theory to the Pleiades who looked utterly shocked that they hadn't entirely realized what had been going on.
"I-In other words… Ah. Indeed. It makes sense." Yuri adjusted herself on her seat and breathed out while closing her eyes… And then opened them to show that her eyes were once again calm, while putting her hand on her chest as if to show that her mind was at peace. "Indeed. I shall learn from this, and proceed with the calm professionalism that I was made for. Thank you for helping me translate the deep meanings behind Lord Issei's actions, Sebas-san- I fear that I could not have fully understood him by myself. I thank you too, my sisters, for being there for me in my darkest hour."
"Haa… Haha." Solution sighed and then let a small, mirthless and muted laugh. "I must confess that I feel like such a fool. Indeed, I received but a simple task of cleaning the Supreme Being's body, and thought of myself as special, and let it go to my head. Indeed, just because Lord Issei doesn't outright deny us, it doesn't mean he also wishes us to let our base nature run amok- It was something that we should have realized, but instead I allowed myself to fall to flight of fancy. Truly, Lord Issei's cunning and compassion befits the name of the Supreme Being."
"Indeed. And to that end, I must apologize to Lupusregina-san and to the other Pleiades present, for two different reasons." Sebas bowed deep towards the werewolf who jumped a bit as if she hadn't expected such a reaction from the steward-butler at all. "After all, by speaking my thoughts out loud, I've already denied Lupusregina her chance to experience Lord Issei's gentle guidance since she would be able to spot it and prevent herself from doing the same mistakes her sisters had done during their tests. Likewise I've done injustice to those who have already passed or failed their tests, as I've given Lupusregina an unfair advantage."
"It is alright, Sebas-san. After all, such is your task as the leader of Pleiades and Steward of Ninth Floor." Yuri had a small smile as she spoke and she adjusted her glasses. "I forgive you."
A similar chorus came from the rest of the Pleiades, and Sebas bowed once more.
"I thank you for your forgiveness. Now then- Shizu is currently accompanying Lord M-Issei, and I believe that they have departed Ninth Floor. We should hear back on Shizu soon, as I believe that she and Lupusregina will swap places as Lord Issei's assigned maid in a few hours." Sebas clapped his hands a bit to bring the meeting forward. "We should prepare for the possibility that Shizu has done something strange, but I suspect that she would be the most likely out of all of us to survive the tests without a flaw. But in the meanwhile, we should see to cleaning in preparation for our lord's return to the Ninth Floor."
"Yes!" The chorus that came in response was happy and high-spirited.
Shalltear let out a petulant whine.
The barrier wouldn't budge.
Neither would her will, but it was starting to slowly dawn on Shalltear that just hitting the thing over and over again wouldn't break it.
Granted, Shalltear had already used a compliment of her abilities including sending her familiars out to whack the seal that was closing Nazarick's First Floor from the outside.
She thought about Lord Issei's orders while squatting for a moment and poking the petulant barrier with a stick, trying to figure out what she was doing wrong as she got a feeling she was missing something crucial.
'Lord Issei said that I should try to break through the wall or something, but surely he mis-spoke? After all, aren't walls nearly indestructible terrain as long as Nazarick remains unconquered? And since I'm a NPC of Nazarick, I am not able to damage friendly structures anyway? Not to mention, structural manipulation of Nazarick should be done very carefully in order to not trigger the Ardiane system…' Shalltear thought while watching the colors swirl in the blocking energy field. She had thought she had seen something huge on the other side of it at one point when she had been hitting the barrier non-stop, but chalked it up to shadows and blur since it was incredibly hard to discern shapes on the barrier even at the best of times. 'I know about that path-blocking search-system since avoiding triggering it is part of my duties as a Floor Guardian… But wouldn't this barrier trigger the Ardiane System anyway? It's preventing anyone from accessing Nazarick… Unless it's actually a one-way barrier in that it prevents us from exiting in this spot but allows entry from outside? I'm fairly certain that the Ardiane System triggers if the path from the entrance of the base to the heart of the base is blocked, but I'm not certain if it triggers if the case is reversed in that one can't leave the base at all… In which case the entrance would actually pose a huge threat right now, since we could come under attack at any time but couldn't sally out to destroy the attackers once they withdrew from Nazarick…'
Shalltear contemplated the situation and then finally came to the conclusion that she should try to break through a wall 'or something', like she was instructed. "Let's see… Hooora!"
She struck at the nearby wall, and to her surprise there was a small scratch on the wall after she pulled the lance back. 'W-wait? The structure was damaged by my attack? D-doesn't that mean… Ah! Friendly Fire was enabled some time ago, and since I can attack friendly entities now, it looks like I can actually damage the walls! In other words… I need to do as Lord Issei said! He didn't mis-speak after all- I was just too dumb to realize what he was implying!'
Feeling re-energized, Shalltear struck out once again in a frenzy of stabs aimed at the exact same spot on the wall beside the blocked exit.
The strikes landed, and a fist-sized chunk of the wall was gouged out.
It pained Shalltear to destroy parts of Nazarick so casually, but since she was expressly ordered to do so by the Supreme Being, she did it without complaint.
"Hyyaaah-arisu!" Shalltear activated [Penetrate Boost] and struck with all her might… And the lance buried itself into the weakened structure, penetrating the stone and finally bouncing off of something.
She hurriedly pulled the weapon off the hole and looked into it, only to see the now-familiar swirling of the barrier that seemed to have expanded to cover the hole Shalltear had made.
However, that was when Shalltear realized that Lord Issei had ordered her to break through the wall 'some distance away', which made her realize that she had struck the wall too close to the seal. 'Ah! Of course, I was just too dumb to realize what Lord Issei was ordering… He must have known that as well, and gave orders that were expressly stated with expectation that I'd do exactly as he said! I made a mistake when I tried to think! In other words, I should just do as I am told because the Supreme Being knows the best-arisu!'
Shalltear nodded to herself and waved her lance at her summons which had been gnawing and pawing at the barrier all the while she had been experimenting with hitting the wall with her lance, and the group set off to find a place 'some distance away' from the exit so that she could complete Lord Issei's orders. 'Hee… It feels strange to think of Lord Momonga with that 'Issei'-name-arisu… But I won't be found lacking! This I swear!'
True to her thoughts, she found a long hallway that was a walking distance away from the exit but with its wall facing towards it. Shalltear thought about the layout of the First Floor for some time and realized that the wall would be fairly close to the surface-level of Nazarick, or rather to the Mausoleum that was built on top of Nazarick to serve as its entrance. 'If I dig through here, I should reach the surface in a few hours or days, depending how thick the stone and soil is…'
Shalltear began striking the wall with renewed vigor now that her goal was in sight.
…And a few hours later, she had dug a decent-sized hole to the wall, and ordered her familiars to strike while she paused to allow her mana to regenerate as constantly buffing her attacks had started to weigh on her mana pool. 'H-haa, hoo, haa… t-this is surprisingly tiring- I don't have the same unlimited stamina that regular undead have, so getting through this wall will take some time since I have to pause to allow my mana and stamina to regenerate… It's good that I don't need to sleep, since that gives me eight extra hours to work with, without needing to swap rings…'
A pair of footsteps came from the end of the hallway, making Shalltear pause her panting so that she could appear presentable if her lord had come to see the results of her handiwork…
…And Shalltear saw Albedo walking towards her in the hallway, making her good mood wane instantly.
"Hoo…" Shalltear sighed to the side while giving Albedo the same kind of look one would give to a buzzing fly that had flown itself to one's food.
"My, what am I to think when a Floor Guardian sees the Guardian Overseer and gives such a dismissive sigh and disgusted look?" Albedo had a vein ticking on her forehead the instant Shalltear gave her a disappointed sigh.
"I merely thought about the Guardian Overseer losing control over her wits and being locked up due to assaulting our lord, and then coming to lecture someone who's been hard at work." Shalltear countered while an air of frost extended around her, if only in her imagination as she didn't have abilities that could replicate her mood in reality.
"Oho? Are you perhaps assuming the reason for my visit?" Albedo gave Shalltear a smile while she had her eyes closed and multiple veins began to pulse in her forehead, all the while she gave off the air of a uncouth animal that was preparing to attack- Or at least that was how Shalltear decided to mentally represent the killing intent washing her way from the succubus.
"Grr… Whatever! I am busy with my task that I was personally assigned to do by Lord Moo- Issei, with a date as a reward! Get off my back, big-tit cow! Or did your brains turn to slush and goop down to fill your breasts since you're distracting me from obeying the Supreme Being's orders?!" Shalltear growled at Albedo while lifting her lance.
"...In that case, I'll help you dig." Albedo collected herself with considerable effort and spoke, causing Shalltear to pause for a moment… Before she radiated power and killing intent with all her might towards the interfering succubus!
"You're trying to snatch my date!" Shalltear realized Albedo's implication in an instant, and Albedo's crooked, sadistic smile confirmed her suspicion.
"In that case, wouldn't it only be justified if I was rewarded in your stead, seeing that you seem to just laze around while your subordinates do the digging?" Albedo waved her hand in the direction of the group of undead who were hammering away at the hole that Shalltear had made, and Shalltear realized that Albedo had caught her the moment she had been catching her breath and therefore hadn't been working, thus…
"I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO TAKE MY DAATEEE! DIEEE!" Shalltear let out a desperate cry and charged while Albedo flung her arm to the side to pull out her bardiche, now mostly armored except for her helmet after swapping her equipment on the fly.
"STAND ASIDE, LEECH! I WILL FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED AND REGAIN LORD MOO-ISSEI'S FAVOR!" Albedo let out a howling warcry and clashed with Shalltear, causing the whole hallway to reverborate from the power of the clash.
The undead POP-monsters who had been digging the hole looked behind them, saw Albedo pulling Shalltear's mouth wide and stretching it while Shalltear was drawing lewd pictures on Albedo's face with a crayon she had pulled from somewhere, and the undead creatures returned to their task of digging a tunnel to the hallway of the First Floor.
The squabble of the Guardian Overseer and the Floor Guardian continued in the background.
Shizu was somewhat confused as she followed the Supreme Being while keeping a respectable distance between the two, after the lord had declared that Shalltear was in danger but hadn't told Shizu to go inform everyone about it, nor inform the defenders of Nazarick about the danger himself, but instead he had ran towards the teleportation gate from the Ninth Floor to First Floor as if he had no plan.
Naturally, Shizu detected a false-positive on 'her lord having no plan', and promptly concluded that the Supreme Being's plan was therefore something that was too complicated for her to understand, and thus she defaulted to following him around until he'd see fit to give Shizu an order.
"Haa, haa… I don't actually get tired but somehow that feels weird…" Lord Issei made a sound of panting despite not needing to do so, making Shizu somewhat worried that she was missing some sort of clue or order aimed at her, since she was the only one present other than the lord as the two of them ran towards some unknown objective.
Shizu thought about it, thought about it some more, and finally came up with a theory.
She opened her mouth as well. "Haa. Haa. Yes, I do not get tired either."
The sound was flat and laconic and outright eerie when it was delivered without emotion whatsoever from an equally emotionless face, and from a body that wasn't tired in the least, causing Lord Issei to stop and stare at Shizu for a moment. "O-oh! S-sorry, I forgot you were there! Shizu-san! I think Shalltear is in danger!"
Shizu tilted her head, wondering if she was being complimented as having no presence was a benefit for a proper maid, at least in her opinion. '...My camouflage items reduce my visibility in woodland territory, so my camouflage rating isn't affected… However, how should I respond regarding Shalltear-sama…'
Shizu didn't really know what to say, so she went with the default option. "It is as the Supreme Being says."
"No, I mean, Shalltear needs help! I can see red flags from a mile away! Albedo is going to kill her!I made a huge mistake!" The Supreme Being pleaded to Shizu, making her somewhat worried internally that she was missing something even though her face stayed in the emotionless stare.
"Red… flags?" Shizu tilted her head in the other direction as the connection didn't make sense to her. 'There are no red flags in my view, but it is only natural for the Supreme Being to see through walls, have x-ray vision, thermal vision, and red-flag vision. As expected of Lord Moo-ssei, I am in awe. So cool.'
Even her thoughts were delivered with laconic 'words', although she was genuinely impressed by Lord Issei's optical ability.
However, that left her with the problem of what to do about the rest of the sentence. 'Lord Issei made a mistake? However, the Supreme Beings don't make mistakes. Therefore this is a logical contradiction.'
Shizu thought about it for another while, and came to a conclusion. 'This, naturally, implies that Lord Issei is not the Supreme Being. However, since that can't be the case as Lord Momonga became Lord Issei, this too has to be a logical contradiction.'
There was a small trail of smoke rising from Shizu's head even though her expression didn't change as the number of false-positives and logical contradictions was making her processor overload and overheat. 'What is Issei-sama saying? With that mention of Shalltear-sama being in danger… Hm… But if the Supreme Being says that he made a mistake, even though a Supreme Being couldn't make a mistake- does that mean the multiplier counts as negative one, in which case since it cannot be applied to a unmodifiable constant 'the Supreme Being is always right and never makes mistakes', does the 'mistake' modifier overflow to next available? Therefore, the statement becomes 'Shalltear needs help', 'The Supreme Being can see "red flags" from the distance of one mile', 'Shalltear is going to get killed by Albedo-sama', 'I/Supreme Being', 'made a mistake', and since the 'mistake' modifier cannot be applied to Supreme Being, the 'mistake' is a modifier is applied to next available, 'going to get killed by Albedo-sama', therefore Shalltear, is, in fact, safe but needs help?'
Shizu found a logical answer to the question and saluted the Supreme Being. "Very well. I shall request assistance."
"Thanks, Shizu- But we need to go and help Shalltear!" Lord Issei responded instantly, making Shizu nod as everything made logical sense.
"Yes, Lord Issei." Shizu responded, still with a laconic voice even though she was in high spirits since everything was becoming clear to her, and she had even been praised by being thanked.
She guessed that Lord Issei didn't ask for help through [Message] by himself because expending mana for such a simple task was below him.. "[Message]- Demiurge-sama, Lord Issei requests that Shalltear is given assistance. Thank you, Demiurge-sama. I shall relay this."
"Um?" Lord Issei let out an uncertain sound, which Shizu translated as him being impatient over what Demiurge had said, and made Shizu realize that she was being rude when she hadn't auto-transcribed Demiurge's words.
"Demiurge-sama has dispatched reinforcements to the First Floor through the Seventh Floor's teleportation gate. Time to arrival: Estimated eight minutes." Shizu struck a salute instantly. "This maid-unit apologizes for failing to instantly transcribe Demiurge's message."
"U-um..u…" Issei let out an uncertain sound and drawed it out as if to think, before he shook his head and turned around. "Good, but we should still go and see Shalltear now!"
Shizu tilted her head as she had thought she heard a feminine shriek from somewhere, and thought about informing her lord of it, or sending Shalltear a message that there was odd feminine sound on the First Floor, but decided not to since it was clear that Lord Issei heard of it as well with his superior sensory auspex. 'I wonder if that's what 'red flag vision' allows one to see? I have to ask Sebas-sama if he knows what that sensory system does, and if I can be equipped with it as well…'
Issei felt panic grip his chest, metaphorically speaking, as he ran through the First Floor of Nazarick after asking Shizu to call for help.
He had grown somewhat used to the traps that Nazarick was chock-full of, specifically after the disasters that had been his visits to the Eighth and Fifth Floors of Nazarick, and with Shizu's help he was able to easily avoid all of the traps that had been laid on the First Floor.
"Thanks for helping me, Shizu- You know these traps really well!" Issei complimented the maid while he paused again to catch his breath, or rather paused to struggle with the odd feeling of his mind feeling that he was tired but his body wasn't. Or perhaps it was his mind coming to terms with the fact he was an undead, as strange as the whole concept sounded and felt. 'There are devils, and all sorts of other things as well, so it shouldn't surprise me that there are undead too… I just didn't think I'd become one of them!'
A feeling of regret wallowed inside Issei, lamenting the fact he hadn't fondled all the breasts in the world before dying and turning undead, but he squashed the feeling as he realized that the feeling came from Beast-Ise side of him and he had more important matters to attend to- Namely, Shalltear's safety.
'And after Shalltear is safe, I need to find a way to safeguard Yuri as well… She was alright in the end since Aureole-san said so, but Albedo might just go after her later…' Issei concentrated on Shizu's words to draw himself from his internal struggle as the perverted side of him was severely damaging his ability to function at the crucial moment.
"...And as such, I was programmed with the knowledge of all of the traps of Nazarick:" Shizu finished while striking a salute, as emotionless-looking as ever, although Issei caught a sparkle in her eyes which betrayed her true mood.
"That's impressive, Shizu-san." Issei spoke his feelings into words, as the fact the maid had such extensive knowledge was genuinely impressive. '...I can barely remember school-things for the next test, and I tend to forget everything after the test, so my grades are just about mediocre… It's super impressive how Shizu can remember everything here…'
"Right, let's keep going." Issei turned to walk, missing how Shizu's aura practically sparkled due to being complimented even if she looked almost bored expression-wise.
A few moments later Issei thought he heard something… And realized that it was a female sound! Another similar sound followed, and Issei realized who the sounds belonged to!
'No! Albedo got here first! Shalltear- Don't die!' Issei broke into a sprint, with Shizu keeping pace with him without the slightest effort.
Issei rounded the corner after jumping over a floor-trap without breaking a stride now that he had become accustomed to them, and came to see a view that he feared:
Albedo was glaring at Shalltear with weapon in hand, clad in plate armor even if she didn't have a helmet, and Shalltear was glaring at Albedo in turn while she was growling furiously, still clad in her red full plate armor and wings.
Both of them were panting and their faces were streaked with sweat, almost as if they had engaged in prolonged melee and had paused to catch their breaths.
"Stoop!" Issei flung himself between the two of them, arms open wide on both sides to stop both of the Guardians from attacking one another.
"Of course, Issei-sama."
The two Guardians were all smiles in an instant and gave a reverent curtsy in unison, making Issei stumble a bit as he had been prepared to break up a brutal melee… Somehow.
He hadn't actually thought that far ahead, as usual.
"Um…u…" Issei let his voice die out in an attempt to buy time for him to think, since he realized he'd probably need to figure out something now that the situation was at hand. "Albedo? W- um…"
Issei had tried to ask 'what are you doing', but bit his metaphorical tongue midway through as he realized that if he asked a yandere 'Why are you stabbing your rival in love', the result would most certainly be dead end- One with a sweet smirk stating 'getting rid of dead ends', after which an all-out attack would crush Shalltear before Issei's eyes and gorey xxx scene would ensue. 'Matsuda, I'm glad that I played that yandere game you gave me… It was disturbing, but at the time I didn't think I'd actually come across a real-life Yandere…'
'In other words, the key here is to act clueless in order to not trigger Albedo's 'Yandere Kill Kill Murder Death'-mode, while I keep my attention on Shalltear so that Albedo can't find a covert way of turning her into a red-coloured lunchbox filling or something… Guh, that scene from that game still haunts me…' Issei waved his hand a bit at Shalltear while moving a step back so that he was not between the two. "Greetings, Shalltear, Albedo. Fancy meeting you two here. Everything's going alright, I hope? No problems with the digging?"
Issei glanced at the hole which was almost the size where one could squeeze through it, although there was nothing behind it as it was more of a gouge off the wall than actual pathway. Moreover, there was a group of undead creatures hammering at it with various implements. "Ah, it looks like you've enlisted help. Very good."
'...It feels strange to be in charge of something, but with all of these dangerous people seemingly considering me as their leader, I should at least appear leaderly… Right?' Issei nonetheless felt he was overstepping and hesitated. Moreover he had turned his back partially to Albedo since her breasts were seriously distracting Issei's concentration, although Shalltear didn't help the effort as she sparkled from the praise, which in turn made her quite cute. Not that she needed help in that department, though… And with that, Issei realized that his thoughts were getting scattered once again. 'Hmmng… I should probably… eh… It should be alright if I say that I'd want to help her in her task? But if she accepts that, uh, I'm really useless at digging since I've never dug anything but holes in the garden, and digging through stone like that has to be super hard…'
A stomping sound came from the distance and Issei glanced behind him to see a cavalcade of demonic horrors coming his way.
Issei wanted to instinctively shout out in terror for the fraction of a second, but the instinct was quickly squashed since it wasn't his first time seeing Demiurge's followers as he had seen them by glance when Sebas had guided him through the Seventh Floor. Moreover Shizu had requested for them, which had given Issei time to prepare to be jump-scared by literal demons.
"Ah, those would be the reinforcements I requested from Demiurge." Issei mentioned to the pair of Guardians, mostly to buy time as he guessed the pair had met the demons before.
"R-reinforcements, Issei-sama?" Shalltear's voice wavered a bit while her mood took a clear downturn to sadness. "Ah… I see, I was unable to complete this mission on my own within the allotted time-frame…"
Albedo let a faint 'kukuku' sound behind Issei, making him sweat as the yandere behind his back probably enjoyed seeing her rival get dressed down. However, that was something Issei had counted on as it allowed Albedo to look down on Shalltear rather than see her as a threat that needed to be 'removed' in a similar manner she had done for Yuri. 'I just need to remove Shalltear from the scene without angering Albedo… Although, that leaves me alone with Albedo, and who knows what might happen?!'
Beast-Ise instantly railed against its cage inside Issei's head, demanding for him to go all-in for the 'alone with Albedo' scenario, but his rational side stabbed the beast through the cage-bars to wound it and calm it down. 'Sticking ye old stick into the crazy is not worth it! Well, maybe if they're hot, and Albedo certainly is… It's not worth getting splattered though! Moreover I don't have that 'stick' anymore so it's a loss-loss scenario!'
"Ahem, I asked for help some time ago, but it seems that it isn't necessary anymore… Although, seeing that you're using undead to dig, maybe these guys could help the undead?" Issei thumbed in the direction of the demons who stomped over and fell to one knee behind Issei. 'T-that feels really weird, that those guys are bowing to me… I literally get a 'who are you to approach ME, worthless human?!' vibes from them, but they're actually respectful?'
Shalltear gained a conflicted expression. "Y-you knew I was taking a break and sent reinforcements because I wasn't doing my hardest? Ah- I should have just kept stabbing even though I ran out of stamina and mana! I am deeply sorry, my lord-arisu!"
Albedo's 'kukuku' sounds intensified, making Issei sweat internally.
"It's alright! If you're tired then feel free to rest- ahem, I mean…" Issei spoke before he thought, and realized that by giving Shalltear some breathing space he also probably raised her 'affinity score', and also put her back to Albedo's 'kill all rivals' scope. "I mean, I figured that the digging would go faster with those guys since they're big and strong."
The demons shuddered a bit, making Momonga fairly certain that his awkward praise had been overheard. He snuck a small glance in their direction and saw that the monstrous creatures all had a determined expression, although it was difficult to tell with how inhuman the facial features of the creatures were.
"Uuu…" Shalltear let a defeated whine and fell to her knees. "I am ready for my judgment for failing my lord-arisu…"
The lance fell from her grip and clattered on the floor, making Momonga realize that he had insinuated that Shalltear was being too slow. However, Issei realized that he couldn't be too lenient and just say 'it's alright, don't sweat it' since Albedo would likely react badly and go after Shalltear once Issei's concentration lapsed. '...Or am I thinking too heavily about that dating game? They're real hu- er, real people, so… Things like that probably won't work one-to-one, so I should forget about that whole 'affinity points' thing…'
Shizu was giving the whole group a long 'staaaaaaaare', and after a moment lifted her hand like a student asking for a chance to talk from a teacher.
Momonga realized that the emotionless girl was giving him the stare, and latched onto Shizu's interruption. "Go ahead, Shizu-san."
Shizu nodded her head seriously while speaking without the slightest shred of emotion in her voice. "I heard from the other maids that they were tested. Am I being tested right now?"
'Er, what?' Issei paused utterly still and stared a bit as Shizu looked like she was completely serious.
Shalltear blinked as well as she had clearly expected something else to happen.
Albedo hissed quite violently at Shizu. "You- Shizu! Do not interrupt the Supreme Being's verdict!"
'Oh no!' Issei turned to look at Albedo, prepared to jump between her and Shizu if the worst-case scenario happened… And saw that he had severely misjudged Albedo's tone and voice, likely due to his earlier thoughts, as Albedo was giving Shizu a reprimanding glare while she had her arms bunched up in annoyance. Which was nowhere as fatal as what Issei had been thinking.
"Ahem, that is- umu, I figured that…" Issei paused for words while readjusting his mental threat level for Albedo, and wondered if he was still judging her through Raynare-lenses after the recent 'incidents'. And he realized that he must have relapsed into that way of thinking, and realized that he had treated Shalltear like he had treated Asia when Raynare had kidnapped her. "Yes, the tunnel you've dug is quite good. A good start, anyway. I'm satisfied, so let the undead and the demons dig for now, and relax a bit."
"I… Yes, my lord. D-does that mean, I get my promised reward?" Shalltear sounded a bit hopeful and light returned to her eyes while she looked up in amazement.
"U-umu…" Issei paused once again as he heard a faint growl somewhere behind him. 'Should I… On one hand, a date with Shalltear sounds great, but… Albedo…'
He racked his nonexistent brain for an answer… And came across one, even if it was fraught with peril for everyone involved.
'It's going to be a sink-or-swim moment… ' Issei paused a bit, gulped audibly, or rather made the sound of gulping, realized what he had done and promptly went for it before he could be misunderstood. "Sure! A date for Shalltear… B-but since Albedo was here, and probably helped with the digging, I propose that the three of us go on a date together! It's going to be a double-date! Yes, I see no red flags here… T-that is, if you two agree to it?"
Issei turned to look at Albedo and noticed that she had a serene smile on her face, and for all intents and purposes it looked as if she was merely someone who was glad that she had been asked out.
Issei, however, knew better and could only hope that he had gone for the right answer. 'It's much more difficult to deal with yanderes in real life than in games! There are no easy prompts with clear death flags! Please don't die, Shalltear-chan! You have so much to live for! I just have to hope that I was misjudging Albedo because of my experience with Raynare…'
"Of course, my lord. I gladly accept." Albedo curtsied cutely, even if she was still in her armor and it made clang-sounds.
"Yes, my lord, I accept-arisu!" Shalltear looked determined and spirited as she stood up from the floor and grabbed her lance. "It is a victory for the Third Floor!"
"Grroooaaaahh…!" A howling, hollow and dead groan-howl came from the collected undead who were hammering at the hole in the wall, like they had been doing for the entire conversation.
Albedo had a vein ticking on her forehead in response, and Issei quickly jumped on the case before it could get out of hand.
"So, shall we prepare? I'll head to, u-um… to prepare, and Albedo heads to the Ninth Floor to prepare, and Shalltear heads to the Third Floor to prepare." Issei broke the two apart by sending them to different Floors, hoping that by doing so he would prevent the bloodshed for the time being. "I'll come and meet you there."
"Of course, Issei-sama." Came the response, and Issei shooed the two on their way as soon as it looked like both were waiting for Issei to move first.
However, that left Issei with a problem: Planning the date.
'...I hope we all survive. And Nazarick stays intact afterwards… Hoo…'
A part of Issei's mind reminded that he was supposed to try to escape Nazarick and go save Rias, and not to try to land dates on people of Nazarick, but the annoying part was pushed to it's corner as Issei knew that he couldn't afford to let his guard down or be distracted.
So, he departed the First Floor, leaving the hyped-up looking demons and the emotionless undead to their task.
…Although, Issei did get jump-scared once by Shizu on the way, as she followed his every step like a shadow.