"Curiosity killed the cat..."
You glance at the wooden sign, the words 'keep out' nearly completely faded away. Then you gaze up at the mountain, a slow smile spreading across your face.
"But cats have nine lives for a reason, right?"
The ancient Greeks had had some pretty awesome myths and legends. The historic tales of gods and goddesses had been your favourite subject at school, and you had spent many a long night buried in library books because of it. Then you had found out that, not only was Mount Olympus a real place, but it was very accessible. The Greeks had never hiked the mountain to see if their legends really existed, whether from fear, laziness, or the determination to believe no matter what the facts were. Of nothing else, this little fact amused you to no end.
Your penchant for myths and stories had grown over the years, blossoming into something of an obsession. As soon as you were able to, you had decided to investigate any urban legends you could.
The ancient Greeks were not the only legends you had grown up hearing about. Long long ago, another species had coexisted with humans. Monsters, beings made almost entirely from magic, back when magic was readily accessible and human Mages were more common. Of course, humans, being the idiots they were, had been afraid of some kind of uprising, and a war had started. With the help of some very powerful Mages, the remaining monsters had been sealed underground with a spell- under Mt Ebott, to be exact.
Over the years, the story had become just that- a story. You had researched as much as you could, but real information was hard to come by. While most people seemed to know the epic tales of history, it seemed that humans had wanted to forget this whole species had ever existed.
It was after your second year at university that you decided to take matters into your own hands.
Taking a gap year had been the best decision you ever made. It gave you time to hone your fact-gathering and journalism skills without deadlines looming over your head. Out of all the projects you had set for yourself this year, Mt Ebott had been high on the list. You had travelled the world, gathering information on the urban legend that was monsters, and now you had ended up here. With any luck, whatever the outcome was, you'd have the makings of a great piece for your local newspaper.
You adjusted the bag on your back and took a deep breath. Mt Ebott was climbable, and just waiting for you to investigate it. You would be a Greek no longer.
Your first night on the mountain was a tough one. You scouted the base of it, looking for signs something, anything, that could be taken as magical, and you didn't come up completely empty-handed. Coming across the entrance to a large cave, you almost missed the faded markings on the wall- runes of some kind? Excited, you continued into the cave, only to reach a dead end. The smooth wall of rock was definitely not naturally made, but other than that, you couldn't find anything suspicious. No hidden latches or doors. Mind you, if magic had been involved...
Annoyed, you snapped a few pictures and left the cave, continuing up the mountain.
You camped out about half-way up, and the next day you were sore and grumpy. Still undaunted, you meticulously searched the forest-laden mountain, enjoying the wonders of nature as you did so. The view was spectacular, through the gaps in the trees, and you stopped every so often to gaze down at the township that had grown under the mountain, despite the stories and speculation. Or maybe because of. The town did moderately well for itself, being the site of a well-known legend, but not many were brave enough to actually go up.
You weren't afraid. You had provisions and equipment to last days, and you were careful. You refused to let the stories of the occasional missing child who had wandered up here bother you. And... you were a little bit too curious for your own good, but that had served you well so far...
It was late afternoon when you found it. A large hole sunken into the earth, too wide to be made by an animal. "Unless it was a fucking huge rabbit," you mutter, shining your torch into the darkness.
It feels like an understatement to say that it's deep. You throw rocks and sticks into the gaping hole, listening for them to bounce off boulders or water, but only silence follows. The largest branch you can comfortably carry does not touch the bottom, and neither does your coil of rope.
It should come as no surprise when you eventually lose your balance and fall in, but you still have the nerve to be shocked. Your shriek drops into fearful gasping as you fall through the air just like Alice, daylight rapidly disappearing behind you. How deep is this hole?
You're going to die, aren't you?
Tears track down your face as the air rushes past you in the dark, and the breath out of your lungs.
When you open your eyes next, you're lying on something soft, and everything aches. It's not as painful as you thought a fall to your death would feel. You spend a few moments making sure your arms and legs can move, and roll onto your hands and knees. And blink at the yellow flowers that seem to have cushioned your fall, somehow.
You pull off your backpack and quickly check what you're carrying. The tent and most of your food and clothes are still on the surface. Your water bottle, a few chocolate bars, electric toothbrush, cell phone, wet-wipes and other random items you had thought you might need in the few days away from your hotel were all safe. However, your torch didn't survive the fall, and after quickly checking your camera, you find that only the detachable lens has cracked right through. It had been an expensive addition, but at least you don't have to replace the entire camera. Not that any of that would matter if you were stuck down here forever.
"Okay." You repeat the word to yourself, to ground you. The sound of your own voice is comforting when facing potential death. You remember the stories of missing people and your heart sinks as you remember that no one lost on Ebott has ever been found. It takes you a moment, but when you're breathing normally, you stand up and clench your fists. You're okay. You're not dead yet. You've got this.
There's a corridor in front of you, and it seems to be the only option, so you square your shoulders and walk forward, into the dark.
You're starting to change your mind about being dead. A bed of flowers is one thing, but one large, moving, TALKING flower?
"Howdy!" it says. It has a face. It HAS A FACE. IT IS TALKING. A TALKING FLOWER. "I'm Flowey! Flowey the Flower!"
You stare. What kind of afterlife have you been delivered into? At this point, you're too confused to panic.
"Hmm..." it- he?- muses, gazing at you expectantly. "You're new to the Underground, aren't-cha?"
Underground. In your foggy, confused mind, it makes sense that this place would be called where it is. You feel like you're missing something vital.
As if reading your thoughts, Flowey gives you a sympathetic look. "Golly, you must be so confused. Someone ought to teach you how things work around here."
Actually, you're more interested in knowing wheERE THE HELL YOU ARE.
"I guess little old me will have to do." Somehow, his grin widens. "Ready? Here we go!"
And without any other warning, you feel a pull in your chest, and a little red heart pops out in front of you.
That's right. A little red heart. It bobs in the air, shiny and solid, like plastic. You want to touch it, but you're terrified.
Flowey looks on, pleased. "See that heart? That's your soul, the very culmination of your being. It starts off weak, but can become strong if you gain a lot of LV. What's LV, you ask? Why, love, of course! You want some love, don't-cha?"
Your head is spinning. What kind of video-gamey shit-?
"Don't worry, I'll share some with you!" The flower winks, and you get a strange sense of foreboding. No one ever means well when they wink, especially not huge sentient flowers. Not a sentence you thought you'd ever think...
"Down here, love is shared through little, white 'friendliness pellets!'" To your terror, said pellets materialise behind him and start drifting towards you. "Move around! Try to get as many as you can."
You back away as the pellets pick up speed, but you're not fast enough as they all converge on you at once, slamming into your soul-heart. You feel a great jolt and the breath is knocked out of your lungs, forcing you to your knees. "Fuck!"
Flowey cackles, his face suddenly twisted into something grotesque. "You idiot! In this world, it's kill or BE killed! Why would ANYONE pass up an opportunity like this?"
Before you even have time to get your breath, your are surrounded by the death-pellets. They start to close in on you, spinning too fast for you to follow. You gaze in despair at the evil flower as he laughs at you impending demise.
Then, suddenly, they disappear, and you shriek as a fireball knocks Flowey away, out of sight. In his place stands a tall, bipedal goat. Your head starts to spin as it finally puts two and two together.
"What a terrible creature, torturing such a poor, innocent youth." Her voice is soft, like her fur looks. She takes a step forward, and you shrink back. "Ah, do not be afraid, my child. I am Toriel, caretaker of the ruins. And you are?"
"I... Um..." You wrack your brain to remember your name, but the spinning is getting worse. Why do you feel so weak? You just have to sit down for a minute.
Darkness comes quicker than expected for the second time that day.
The next thing you know, you're jolting awake with a gasp, fireballs and flowers behind your eyes. You rub your eyes and take a few breaths, and realise you're somewhere comfortable yet again. More so than a bed of flowers. For a second, you hope that you're back in your hotel in Ebott City, that the insanity you remember was just a dream. But you're not, so it mustn't be.
Instead, you're in a darkened room, in a bed almost too small for you. You're no longer in pain. In fact, you feel amazing, and you can even smell something delicious cooking.
You swing your legs over the side and pull yourself up slowly. You take the fact that you're not falling over to be a good sign, and so open the door and shuffle into the bright hallway. Following your nose, you head up the corridor and find yourself in a living room.
It's warm, with a fire crackling off to the side, and the goat monster (for this is what you're sure she is) sitting in an armchair nearby. She looks up from her book and smiles pleasantly. "Ah, you're awake. Are you feeling better?"
"Y-yes, thank you. Um..." You take a few steps forward, heart racing. "Where exactly am I?" You're sure you already know the answer, but you need to hear it confirmed.
"You are Underground. This is my home. I carried you here through The Ruins when you fainted."
"I'm assuming, from both you and that creature before, that this is where the monsters live?"
Suddenly your knees won't support your weight. From your new position the floor, laughter bubbles out of your chest, nervous and disbelieving. "I found the monsters. The living, breathing, magical monsters. No one is ever going to believe me..." Toriel is gazing at you curiously, and you shift nervously. "I-I'm sorry. I'm just a little overwhelmed. I wasn't expecting you to be real."
"What do you mean, my dear?"
"Oh..." You wonder if she, or any other monsters, would be upset to know that humanity has forgotten they are real. "On the surface, monsters are the stuff of legends. We know the story of how you came to be down here, and I know a lot of people believe it, but so many others don't. You're just... legends now, I suppose."
"We have been down here for a long time..." She took a moment to reflect, then nodded slowly. "And I suppose you came looking for proof that we exist?"
"That's right." You suddenly feel silly, sitting on the floor, so you clamber to your feet and approach her. She rises to meet you, and you hold out your hand. "I suppose this is first contact, then. Hello. I'm _____."
She smiles gently and slowly shakes your hand, and you marvel at how large and soft her hand- paw?- is. "Hello, _____. I am Toriel. Welcome to the Underground, and my home."
You giggle again, unable to quench the giddy feeling. "I'm so excited and terrified to be here. And I'm so glad you're friendly."
Toriel's smile widens, eye crinkling. "I try my best to be. But, human, I must know..." She grips your hand tighter, smile turning to worry. "Do you intend to leave?"
Nervousness starts to rise at her tone. "Well, yes, eventually. I can't stay down here forever. I need to get home sometime. Why, is there really no way out of here?"
She sighs, glancing down at your clasped hands. "That... is a very difficult matter. There are only two ways to break the barrier between the Underground and the surface. One requires both a human soul and a monster soul. The other requires seven human souls, to mirror the seven Mages who sealed the barrier. Neither options are easy to accomplish."
You swallow, your heart clenching. "That's... heavy. And specific. And... there's no other options? I can't go back the way I came?"
"I'm afraid not. That place is one of only two weak spots connecting the outside world to us, and both of them only go one way."
You withdraw your hands, tears pricking your vision. "I guess... I'm stuck here then?"
She looks away, and her eyes are surprisingly sad. "I will make sure you are comfortable. You may come to like it here." She meets your eyes before turning away and heading towards another door. "In the meantime, you should eat something. I baked a pie for you while you were sleeping."
Though your world had just been turned upside down and you were ready to burst into tears at any moment, you were always down for pie. So you forced a smile and followed behind her, determined to make the best of what you now had. "Thank you, Toriel. I appreciate it."
And so begins your new life.