Chapter 1: Injury
Sans dragged his body behind the flimsy, half-destroyed wall that lay in that weird section of Hotland just before Muffet’s home. He couldn’t remember what this section had been remodeled for. It was clearly from before The Human. It offered no security, no camouflage, no warmth. Just like his clothing, really. It, too, had been in place since before The Human had come, and it showed.
Of course, all of the holes, stains, and greasy patches paled before the most recent damage. At least a third of his shirt was already bright red. Giant holes that still smouldered at the edges showed equally giant holes through his ribcage, two overlapping on his left side and one low on his right. Another went through the left sleeve of his hoodie. A piece of bone was snarled in the fabric. His right shin was bruised even before he began dragging it through the dirt.
Sans would have considered himself lucky if he hadn’t known that the Empress had sent her Hound after him. There had been two of them a few weeks ago; Lesser Dog had succumbed to his infected leg despite everything Sans had done. That left Dogamy, who had barely managed to keep from snapping Sans’ neck ever since his SOULmate and wife, Dogaressa, had fallen at The Human’s hands. The skeleton would see no MERCY from him.
It seemed so long since Sans had seen that action. Part of it, he knew, was his own horrible memory. It had been fine once. His brother had...Sans couldn’t remember what he’d done. But Undyne had berated him for losing his memories of the time before The Human. It wasn’t the only thing he’d lost, but no matter what he did in desperation-fueled insanity, nothing had fixed him. It. Them? He didn’t even know anymore. He didn’t know anything anymore.
Well, that wasn’t quite true. He knew he was going to die. He could see it in the dull shine of the axe that came through the wall above him. He couldn’t stop the whimper, even then.
His SOUL was pounding so fast it hurt. His nonexistent throat felt raw and ragged, like it has in the cold of…something. He couldn’t remember what. It was dark and cold and lonely, whatever it was. The feeling overtook him, stealing his sight along with all the warmth of his SOUL. It didn’t steal his hearing, though, and so he could hear the wooden wall breaking and still do nothing about it. His SOUL was just...so broken.
The snarl he expected to follow the axe never came. Instead, someone other than him whimpered. Little scurryings surrounded him. The considerable weight of a bigger monster than him (also known as most of them) made the floorboards wobble despite the ground they were laid on. Muffled curses became even more muffled. Something that struggled was dragged away. Then-
“Oh, dearies, don’t forget the poor morsel she had him hunting. I’d just as soon not have dust all over our territory. It rather defeats the...what is this?”
Footsteps moved around the wall that hid him. A polite gasp broke the silence.
“Is that...? Dearie, can you hear me?”
A small hand lifted his skull off the floorboards. Another two patted his chest ever so gently. A fourth pressed some sort of fabric to the cracks in his cervical vertebrae, as if any amount of compresses would mop up the blood still seeping out of him.
He tried to verbalize, not really knowing what he would say when he did. Either a very sick goat (why did that make him wince?) was yodeling through the other end of a badly-carved didgeridoo, or his vocal cords had been damaged when the Empress lost her patience for him yet again over lunch.
The unseen Muffet, a monster he could only remember because of Undyne’s constant rants about her untouchable little ‘territory’, sighed.
“I am so sorry to do this, dearie, but I need to know something, and this is the only I can learn.”
That was the only warning he got before a fifth hand lifted his shirt enough for the sixth and final hand to snatch his SOUL out of his chest.
Muffet floated in darkness partially lit by a purple glow. She thanked the Stars that her own SOUL shone so brightly. Even a spider’s eyes could not pierce this gloom.
She moved forward. It was the only direction in a place like this. Nothing made a fairly poor navigational marker. But nothing could only last so long before it gave in and became something. She just had to PERSEVERE.
After some time, although not nearly as much as she would have thought, her purple glow was met with a deep blue one. A few steps further and she saw it. A handful of dim fragments of an inverted heart shivered before her. They were all sorts of colors - yellow, indigo, red, orange, blue, silver; no two were the same shade. Several threads of purple magic dangled from half-remaining seams. It was horrible to look at. It was even worse to know that that mangled soul had once been a person.
The spider-girl closed her eyes and let her soul stretch. Purple lines spread out around her. The magic encircled her and Sans’ soul. It cocooned the broken blue glow, hiding it in careful safety from everything that might hurt it. Then she gave it the order and it began the long job of stitching the mess back together.
Muffet stood in front of a decision. In reality it was merely a machine with a sleeping skeleton in it, but in her SOUL it was far more than that. In his SOUL, too, but she knew better now than to let Sans have a say in this choice. He would not consider himself when he answered, and it was for his sake, not hers, that she must make it.
It had been weeks since she had rescued a broken skeleton from the Empress’ Hound. It felt like it had been both longer and shorter than that. Longer, because the strain on her SOUL felt like the accumulation of years. Shorter, because in all that time Sans had healed hardly at all.
She’d thought that with good food and rest his body, at least, might have recovered. It had not. The wounds still leaked every time she changed the bandages, and his voice was all but gone. She hadn’t been able to find a book on skeleton physiology, but she doubted it would help. Nothing would heal as long as there was still that much damage to his SOUL.
Muffet cursed with a repetition-born mechanicality the human who had so utterly broken their world. She, perhaps out of all the monsters in the Underground, had suffered the least damage at their hands. They had been so scared of her spiders, but then that telegram had come through, and there was also evidence of their donut. She had let them go without much fight, only to learn later what all else they had done.
Having Sans near her was comforting after the aggression and disgust most other monsters had turned on her since The Human had come. Her spiders were wonderful, the kindest creatures she had ever known, but Sans was… not a spider. He was taller. He spoke a different language that was as much her own as Spiderspek was. He was a completely separate creature from her. He did things she didn’t anticipate.
Those things included waking her up at all hours of the night with screams and whimpers. They included fixing a hole in her favorite apron that she hadn’t even noticed. They included having a panic attack when she tried to get him to shower, and another whenever she turned on music. They included cuddling with the spiderlings for an entire day while she dealt with another...incursion. They included forgetting how to control his magic halfway through helping her reorganise her long-neglected storage and nearly breaking his own skull.
If she did this, she knew he would eventually find a place where he could recover, really, truly, and without the life sentence of isolation and eventual death staying here would mean. But if she did, she would be alone again.
If she didn’t, he’d stay. Maybe he’d get better, maybe not. But the spiders would have a new monster to lighten their lives. She’d have a friend, a monster friend, for the first time that she could remember. And who knew how long their species would survive in any case? With the way Empress Undyne ran things, they’d probably be dead long before the next human fell.
Muffet sighed. She knew what she had to do, even if it would hurt her to do it. It was why she had given Sans just a smidgen of a sleeping drug in his Spider Cider that night.
With one last look at the skeleton whom her world had dealt so much damage to, she placed the note on his chest, closed the plexiglass door, and sent the final jolt of magic into the machine that would send it flying through the VOID and to its (hopefully) final destination.
The facade of nonchalance and disdain that Muffet wore vanished the moment she closed her basement door. One gloved hand came up to her face. She let it fall slowly as she sunk to the ground. The other five hands were already undoing her outfit.
First off were her gloves. They looked like ordinary enough gloves, although leather was a rare commodity in the Underground, but any unwary monster who crossed her would find a nasty trick or two sewn into their seams. Of course, that was far from surprising in a world where FIGHTs really held up to their name.
The next thing off was her armour. It was layered metal covered in different colors and designs of lace, but it was still armour. It covered her front and back. It also was near impossible to remove without at least three working hands.
Next came her boots. The heels were sharpened, but in order to make the blade actually usable her spiders had had to increase the length so much that wearing them too long at a time hurt her feet. She had several other, more practical shoes, designed for comfort and traction in icy conditions. This pair was reserved for state visits. So was the armour.
As much as Muffet appreciated Toriel’s strength as a leader and her dress sense, she despised her morals and personality even more. The only reason that she even consented to deal with the Queen was for her spiders. It would be so easy for the Queen to villanise them as the humans had done. Muffet prefered not to subject the Underground to the subsequent war. The poor dearies didn’t deserve to be slaughtered over something as simple as a dress.
It was while Muffet was contemplating which “accidental” design flaw to insert this time that Harold approached her. She held back a sigh. He couldn’t help that he was getting old. That was why she had assigned him to house guard duty. It was rare for any trouble to reach this far.
But it seemed some trouble had, “A machine? Not one of Undyne’s, I hope...no? Really?,” Her tone of voice shifted from mildly patronizing to true interest and worry, “Do you think he was messing with it again? After last time, you’d think he’d- never mind. Which room did you say?”
Muffet stood, leaving her shoes on the landing as she practically free-fell down the staircase. Her small, stockinged feet flew down the corridors of a complex far bigger than her Queen was aware of. It was less than three minutes before she reached the crash site. It was a mercy that the room was currently empty storage.
Inside the room sat a machine significantly smaller than the almost identical one sitting in yet another corner of her extended basement. ‘Sat’ might not be the best choice of words. It wasn’t moving, but it also wasn’t oriented the way it was intended to. It was, in fact, upside down.
Other than the size, the charred paint, and the orientation, it was identical to the old Royal Scientist’s greatest invention. Given that, Muffet had a fair suspicion about who might be inside. But when she opened the door, the condition of the occupant almost made her doubt it.
“Oh, dearie, who did this to you?”
She’d honestly thought it would be Papyrus’ form she found inside. Instead, she was faced with Sans - her fierce, cunning Sans. But it was a Sans warped by a cruel mirror. His bones were far too thin and far too yellow- at least, from what she could see around the dirt and bandages. Bloody bandages. Spider silk bandages.
With a feeling of inevitability Muffet picked up the note on this stranger of a Sans’ chest. She noted the handwriting was similar to hers, if a bit smaller than she prefered to write. She scanned it quickly before folding it neatly and tucking it into her bra. Her formal outfit was, sadly, without pockets. Then she carefully picked up the sleeping skeleton and set off towards her two favorite monsters’ basement door.
If you’ve found this note, you’ve probably found my friend with it. He’s been hurt a lot, and he isn’t getting better here. If you can’t help him, or if this isn’t your handwriting, please pass him on to the nearest Muffet. She’ll know what to do. Thank you so much, dearie, and I hope your life will go better than mine.
P.S. His name is Sans, and his favorite food is ketchup.
Papyrus couldn’t help but grin from his position slouching against the upstairs railing. His brother was positively roasting the poor monster on today’s illicit broadcast of Cooking Nightmares with a Killer Robot. Sans, with his crimson gloves, matte black armour, and scarred skull, was positively obsessed with the show.
Even he had to admit that there was something viscerally pleasing in watching Napstaton rail at the pathetic excuses for restauranteurs that made the poor decision to be featured on his show. They always deserved it, and it wasn’t even as though the robot yelled at everyone who showed up. No, that pleasure was reserved for the assholes who didn’t listen, or who just didn’t get that they were horrible.
Food was serious business. Poisoning people was technically illegal, and doing it by accident was just...stupid. Everyone knew they were running short of monsters and food. Why waste anything if you could prevent it?
Papyrus blew a smoke ring across the open expanse of the living room.
“I DID NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO SMOKE IN THE HOUSE. GO OUTSIDE OR PUT IT OUT.”
Papyrus sighed. It had been nice while it lasted. He dropped the cigarette into the Void.
“Sans, what did I tell you about treating your brother like a dog?”
The air in the room hardened, but not much. It was the hardening of cream into butter, rather than the hardening of dough into three-day old bread loaves. It was only enough to be noticed by those who were looking for it, but it vanished before anyone could react to it.
“NOT TO,” Sans voice completely lacked shame. It could even be called smug.
“And what are you doing?”
“WATCHING NAPSTABLOOK MELT A LEAD FRYER DOWN FOR SCRAPS.”
Muffet sighed, although there was hardly any emotion in it; she’d known them for too long to be surprised.
“One of these days you won’t have a flippant reply ready, dearie.”
Sans picked up his glass of wine and took a sip. The alcohol was a luxury they couldn’t do without. Safe drinking water carried nearly fifteen times the price.
“YES, AND ONE OF THESE DAYS THE QUEEN WILL HAND OUT FREE WATER.”
Papyrus decided he might as well come downstairs at this point. If he didn’t, he knew the two of them would keep at it until they’d both forgotten the bundle of rags Muffet had brought up from the basement.
“what’d’ya bring us, muffler?”
She gave him the half-hearted scowl that old nickname deserved. Considering he’d been six when he’d first said it, Papyrus thought it was pretty good.
“A conundrum. Help me get him on the couch.”
The skeleton brothers had already taken the bundle from her arms and laid it out flat when the word struck them.
Muffet’s hand waved them off. Sans was already scowling when she pushed past him and began undoing the knots of fabric. Papyrus had summoned a Blaster with as much surreptition as he could muster.
The skull dissolved when a lifted rag revealed a skeletal face. It was small, but even he would admit he knew who it looked like.
“A machine like yours crash landed into storage, ‘pyrus. Smaller, upside-down, but intact. This was inside - on his chest.”
Sans’ eye lights were scanning the letter before she’d even let go.
“HMPH. HARDLY A HELPFUL DESCRIPTION.”
The feeling of five eyes rolling in sync is so much more pervasive than two would be.
“If you do your job right the poor thing will be able to tell us more himself. Get the first aid kit. There’s too much squelch to this blanket for my liking. Sans, run interference. The queen just ordered another dress, gods know why, so I’ll ‘steal’ your brother again.”
“SHE NEVER EVEN WEARS THEM. I’VE SEEN HER CLOSET,” Sans tossed the comment over his shoulder as he stalked his way over to the ‘official’ phone line.
“Oh? Isn’t it considered bad taste to kiss and tell?”
Papyrus spluttered and tripped on his way up the stairs. He never got used to their more risque banter.
“AND HERE I THOUGHT KISSING REQUIRED LIPS.”
Muffet’s titter cut off mid hee. Both brothers stopped moving. They crouched in almost an identical manner. Amber magic dripped like smoke from atop the stairs; shadowed-garnet magic fizzled from the kitchen floor. The barest outlines of bones hung in the air. Some threatened the windows and doorways. Others surrounded the couch’s occupant.
Muffet’s thin voice barely rose above the magics’ roar, “Papyrus?”
He fought to keep the shadows out of his voice, “yes?”
“Bring the plaster kit and extra splints.”
An hour or so passed. Phone calls were made, skeletons were shouted at, and blood flowed. Muffet hated to admit it, but there was no ignoring the obvious any longer.
“We need more congelants. Papyrus-”
The spider gave Sans a disappointed look.
“Yes. You will run out of bandages before this...other Sans stops bleeding.”
Sans growled, “THEN LET HIM! WE DON’T EVEN KNEW HIM! WHY SHOULD WE HELP SOMEONE WE DON’T KNOW? NO ONE ELSE DID!”
Sans looked absolutely furious. Magic crackled around his skull. If his shirt wasn’t black and fireproof already, singe marks would be decorating it now. Muffet didn’t bother to react. She continued constructing the framework of splinters and splints that would hopefully be a ribcage again, someday. She knew what would happen next.
“she did, bro.”
There it was. Was it even a surprise when they devolved into this anymore?
“WE DIDN’T NEED HER TO! WE WERE FINE ON OUR OWN!”
Papyrus sighed. He let the blood-soaked rag in his hand plop into the bloody vodka. He was sick of this argument, too.
“bro, you can’t get angry at people for not helping and then refuse to admit you needed help in the first place. we’ve talked about this.”
If Muffet didn’t know any better, she’d say Sans was pouting. But she did know better, so she’d have to call it Evil Pouting™.
“bro, come on. i won’t even be there 15 minutes. ‘dyne isn’t gonna-”
“DON’T BE STUPID. SHE SPLIT YOUR MAXILLA. I WON’T GIVE HER THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO IT AGAIN.”
Muffet split the silence with a suggestion she knew would be refused, “You could go ask Alphys. I’m sure she’d love to help her most pathetic trainee.”
Both brothers glared at her. She let her smile bend just enough to slip under their non-existent skin. Sans scoffed and turned his attention to a stain on the carpet. Papyrus snuck a look at his brother before returning his glare to her.
“No? But I thought she told you to rely on her for anything.”
The growl was about as loud as Muffet expected. She couldn’t quite make out the words Sans muttered under his breath, but she could guess. Swearing was highly likely.
“Then the labs it is. Try not to get yourself killed, Papyrus dear. It might be a tad bit hard to collect your dust.”
Papyrus saluted her, middle finger firmly extended. She grinned back.
Sans voice was barely audible when he said, “PLEASE BE SAFE.”
Papyrus’ whole expression softened when he looked at his brother. Muffet’s, in turn, softened when she saw that. She hated making them angry, but sometimes there was no other choice.
“welp. guess i’m going to see a fish. see you soon, bro. muffler.”
He didn’t give them a moment to reply before he was gone. Rude.
Papyrus had been silent. He knew he had been silent. He’d avoided every tripwire, every motion detector, and every squeaky door. So how was it that Undyne was waiting for him at the door to supply room #108?
“What did you do this time, Papyrus? Trip down the stairs and snap your collarbone? Trip off the dock and lose a toe? Trip over your morals and slice your integrity in half?”
Papyrus hid his wince under a shrug. His friend (even if they were legally supposed to be trying to kill one another at the moment) was clearly getting sick of his go to lie for things like this. Tripping wasn’t that common occurrence, after all. But he thought she would let him get away with it just a little bit longer. Apparently not.
“would’ja believe me if I said it wasn’t for me?”
Undyne’s mind quickly jumped to a conclusion.
“What did that maggot-colored, glue-stick carrying, goodie two-shoes of a monster do to your brother now?”
The insult was spoken with a complete lack of interest. Papyrus wondered whether the piscine scientist was coming up on her heat cycle. He always had a hard time with complex emotional games when his was happening.
“alphys taught him about muffins yesterday, although i think the recipe she was using is more commonly used as cake batter.”
He smiled hopefully. It would be really nice to see his best friend able to forgive the Captain. He knew getting along would be a much harder journey, but forgiveness? He thought he could manage to bring about forgiveness if he tried.
Undyne did not look like forgiveness was in the cards for today. She did, in fact, look pissed.
“You tell me what’s happening or I'll inject you with fire ants. I hear they're very painful. Extremely, even.
Papyrus gulped. He'd had fire ants fall into his eye sockets once. He'd not like to repeat the experiment.
“a copy of our dimension hopper crash landed in the basement. There was a smaller version of my brother inside. he looked like he'd barely come out of one of her majesty's “tea parties” with his life. we got my brother to agree to helping the poor guy, but he just won't stop bleeding.”
Undyne's eyebrows had stayed down though most of the spiel, but right at the end they shot up in horror before the reaction was quickly repressed. But she did turn around and unlock the triple wards and a new deadbolt Papyrus hadn't seen before. She then turned her back to the door and pointedly ignored him. Overjoyed at his friend’s sympathy and generosity, Papyrus slipped into the storage room with a grin.
That grin quickly evaporated when he saw just how little supplies were in the room. Almost every shelf had been emptied completely. There were maybe five boxes in the entire room. He could still remember the days when it was so full a clumsy person couldn’t walk around without bumping five or six boxes off the shelves. He could remember filling these boxes; not long ago there was a platoon of interns who did nothing else.
But then Her Majesty, filled with the wisdom of a broken toothpick, had declared that any monster with less than 80,000G to their name was to be hunted down, dusted, and their possessions brought to her to be stored up for the day that whatever remained of their dying population would follow her up through the Barrier to the Surface.
About a third of their population was that poor. Sentries and interns were especially hard hit. A few survived, as Papyrus and Sans had, by combining households. But when the guards arrived at doors across the Underground, they found houses empty and monsters gone.
The Royal Scientist, just elected and extremely young, had taken one look at the order and rebelled. Undyne had taken almost two hundred monsters under her care. Most were old. Some were children. All were desperate. All fled into the True Lab while Undyne locked the doors.
As the weeks went by, many Fell Down from the cramped conditions, sparse food, and lack of hope. In desperation Undyne tried to bring them back. The Amalgamations were the result. Few monsters outside the Lab knew of them.
Papyrus and Sans we among these, for Papyrus had teleported food from Muffet into the Lab as soon as he could. Now the Spiders snuck through tunnels and ventilation shafts to bring fresh, healing food on a daily basis. Partly this was due to Undyne's fury at the brothers’ refusal to leave the Queen's service. They refused to leave either population, the Queen's or the Scientist’s, without a method to communicate with the other.
This empty storeroom made it clear to Papyrus that he needed to get more medicinal ingredients “dropped” into the Scientist's domain. Muffet had plenty; her spiders did not have the knowledge and ability to combine them. Then maybe Undyne would be less acerbic the next time he needed medical supplies.
He grabbed two of the congealants he needed and teleported out.
When he arrives back home it's to a pair of empty sockets lined in blood. Not his brother’s, although that little detail escaped him. Their guest looked close enough for his imagination to spiral out of control.
Papyrus felt the tremors in his hands starting at the same time he noticed his phalanges clutching at his chest. His breathing was already faster. The sockets before him were starting to dissolve in static.
But before things got further than that he heard his brother’s voice shout, “OH FOR THE STARS’ SAKE-”
Muffet interrupted him. “Papyrus, what is seventeen to the thirty-second power?”
17^32? Well, 17^32 was the same as (17^2)^16. 17^2 was 17*17, or 289, which made 289^16, or (289^2)^8. Then 289^2 was 83,521, so you got (83,521^2)^4, and then 83,521^2 was 6.9757*10^9 ish. You put that in and you got (6.9757*10^9)^4, or 6.9757^4 * (10^9)^4, which became 2,367.831 * 10^36. Clean that up and you get 2.367*10^39.
About halfway through the calculation Papyrus recognized that his would-be panic attack was over. He finished the calculation anyway, though, because he knew firsthand how Muffet could get if he didn’t. Also, you never knew when that kind of mental math might come in useful.
“Two point three-six-seven times ten to the thirty-ninth.”
No one was looking at him. No one acknowledged his effort, not that he expected them to. They knew he could do it already, so why waste time listening. Even in here, the Underground’s motto still rang true. He hated it.
Muffet was using the first bottle of Slime-be-made™ on the other Sans. It's mottled green soon showed on every inch of the foreign skeleton’s neck and chest areas. After the most dangerous wounds were sealed (or at least beginning to seal) she dabbed a few splotches around the breaks in the arms and legs. The missing spans of bone would need to be regrown inch by painful inch. At least this time it wasn’t him.
When the wounds were wrapped up to her meticulous satisfaction, Muffet sat up and let the obviously frail skeleton collapse on the couch. He still wasn't moving, but that was fine. Papyrus wasn't ready for his brother's double to be speaking yet. He could barely handle him existing; speaking would be too much.
Papyrus was just beginning to process what having their guest would mean.
When Sans opened his sockets he immediately felt lost. The ceiling looked wrong. Not wrong as in completely unknown, but wrong as in the ceiling looked exactly like the living room ceiling at his house, only flipped on a diagonal. Every mark was reversed. Every stain was in a different place than he remembered. His soul screamed that it was wrong.
Where was he, then? It wasn’t his house, that was certain. And, from what he could remember, it wasn’t the Empress’ palace. Nor was it her old house. He didn’t think it was Muffet’s home, but her caverns stretched so far; he’d only seen a fraction of the total. Maybe he was there.
“muffet?” Sans quavered. Why did his voice sound like that? He’d been doing so much better; now he sounded like he had when he’d first met her.
Instead of an answer, a semi-familiar skull leaned into view. It was longer than his. The jaw was articulated instead of attached. A single crack split his maxilla from his left eye down to a golden fang in a mouthful of sharpened teeth. Sans winced. Damage to the skull always hurt more than any other area.
The skeleton was smiling, though. At least, Sans thought it was a smile. It was very small. Then the skull turned and a voice that had his soul singing with happiness said, “he’s awake!”
“do i know you?” Sans asked.
The other skeleton turned his skull back to face him. His brows were furrowed. His smile had turned down at the corners. The other looked confused, but also a little angry? Sans wasn’t sure what to think.
“don’t you have a brother of your own?” The other asked in return.
Sans looked away. If he’d been standing, he’d have hunched over. A couple of tears leaked out of his sockets. He mumbled, “i did, but i can’t really remember him.”
The other skeleton looked even more angry than before when Sans snuck a peek at him. He said, “how can you forget your own brother? didn’t you care about him at all?”
Sans could feel himself shaking now. He was scared. The Empress had asked him the same things. Was this stranger going to treat him the same way she had? He probably would, Sans decided. After all, what kind of a monster would forget their own family? He deserved it.
“Papyrus,” another voice said lowly. It sounded a bit like Muffet, but older and considerably more annoyed. The almost-Muffet continued, “May I speak to you for a moment?”
Sans felt the flash of fear in the magic above him. The anger returned to replace it, but the fear had been there. Maybe this strange skeleton wasn’t the biggest one to be scared of. What had she called him - Papyrus, was it? That name sounded familiar. He couldn’t place it, but maybe...he was drawing a blank. A painful blank. His soul felt like it was on fire, especially down a line from tip to bell. Sans started coughing. It was the kind of coughing that might mean he’d be throwing up shortly.
Several hands slipped underneath him and helped him sit up straight. He was still coughing. His throat hurt even more than it had before. Someone pressed a bowl into his arms. He took it just in time to catch the liquid that came up.
“Oh, dear. Try not to cough up any more, dearie. It’s better to keep your blood inside your body. Can you try for me?” The voice like Muffet said. He started to nod, thought better of it, and signed a “yes” instead.
Someone gasped, probably not-Muffet given the pitch. Then the not-Muffet said, “You can sign? Can you sign your name for me, dearie?”
Sans did so. His name was very easy to sign. All of the letters were variations on a fist.
The high-pitched voice hummed. Then it said, “That’s going to be a problem. We can’t have two Sanses running around, can we? Do you have a nickname, dearie?”
Sans signed a no. Then he added, -not any good ones.-
The voice sighed. Then it said, “Yes, Papyrus.”
The long-faced skeleton spoke up. He said, “we could call him brakes, y’know, as in-”
“No,” the voice said. Sans decided he could risk opening up one eye socket.
What he saw shocked him into opening them both. Muffet was standing over him, but she wasn’t the Muffet he knew. This Muffet was much older. Her skin was redder, her hair darker, her clothes thicker. It looked as though she was dressed for a blizzard of black snow. She had on a thick maroon jacket. Under that was a black turtleneck. She was wearing high-waisted black slacks with maroon and gold detailing. Her above-the-ankle boots were black with gold details.
“m-muffet?” Sans asked.
The face above him smiled. Muffet reached one hand over and smoothed the bandages on his skull. She said, “Yes, dearie?”
Sans gulped and said, “you look...different.”
She shook her head. “No, you’re the one who looks different. But that’s to be expected. Do you know how you got here, dearie?”
“um...no?” Sans squeaked.
She sighed and said, “I was afraid of that. Do you know about the machine in your basement?”
Sans nodded. He’d worked on that machine, worked so hard. He’d been trying to get...what? What had he been trying to do? What had she asked him again?
Muffet’s face was full of pity. She said, softly, “I’m sorry, dear. I know it hurts. Do you know what that machine of yours does?”
He nodded. The machine was a teleporter, just like him. It took a whole lot of magic to get that going, but this machine could go places he couldn’t. Something had broken it, but he couldn't remember what.
“Okay. Someone sent you here in that machine. We found you with a note.”
Sans blinked. He looked around the room, searching for the machine or the note. He couldn't see either. He signed a question, -where?-
She waved her hand dismissively and said, “It doesn't matter. What I want to know is this: who hurt you so badly, and why were you sent here?”
Sans twisted his head away from her only to meet the gaze of Papyrus. The other reached out and held his head. Sans didn't have the strength to resist him. He panicked. Why was Papyrus holding him like that? Had he done something wrong? Was he going to hurt him? Why?
“just answer the questions,” Papyrus growled. His jaw moved when he talked. That was so weird. Sans’ jaw didn't move like that, did it? How did it work?
“Sans,” Muffet interrupted. He tried to look at her. Papyrus let him, releasing his hold on Sans’ chin, “did your Soul hurt when I asked you those questions?”
He nodded and signed, -it hurts a lot.-
She nodded sadly and said, “I know. Can you tell me if your Muffet tried to heal you with magic?”
-yes,- he admitted, -it didn't work-
She shook her head and said, “No, it wouldn't have. Magic healing won't work on you for a long time.”
Sans began to shake. How can he heal if magic won't work.
Muffet chuckled. She answered his unasked question, “I take it your world always used magic?”
He signed back, -i think so.-
“Our world is... Not so fortunate as to afford that,” Muffet said, then added, “We have a saying here. Don't love, and don't be loved.”
Sans frowned. He signed, -that sounds wrong.-
Muffet sighed and said, “I know. Nevertheless, it is what most monsters here live by.”
Sans signed, -i can only remember one person saying something like that. i think he said, “kill or be killed”, but that sounds wrong too. it feels like... like that person got it wrong. at least, before The Human.-
Both of the others stiffened. Papyrus asked, with a great deal of repressed emotion in his voice, “what human?”
Sans closed his eyes and signed, -The Human came through and killed most of the monsters in the underground. everything sort of fell apart after that. The Empress took control and things got worse. i think...i think she is the reason i was hurt so badly.-
Papyrus sighed and Muffet smiled sympathetically. She said, “That sound dreadful, dearie. Can you tell me who this Empress is?”
Sans signed, -it’s Undyne.-
Papyrus spoke up, “undyne? the scientist?”
Sans hesitated. Undyne wasn't a scientist by any means. He signed, -she was the captain of the royal guard.-
Papyrus snorted. He said, “undyne? she trips over her own feet every two hundred feet. and she hates the queen. there's no way she'd be in the guard, let alone in charge of it.”
Sans looked down. Was he wrong? She'd said she was the captain, but he couldn't remember anything except her shouting at him. He was probably-
“Sans,” Muffet interrupted his thoughts, “Who is the Royal Scientist in your world?”
-alphys was,- Sans signed, -but nobody has seen her since The Human.-
“she’s the captain of the royal guard here. maybe they’re mixed up. we could call you mix,” Papyrus suggested.
Muffet shook her head and said, “No.”
“why not?” Papyrus asked, miffed.
Muffet looked him in the sockets and said, “Because I can already tell you’re going to make horrible puns with it.”
Papyrus huffed. Then he smiled and said, “is there anything i can’t make puns out of?”
Muffet hummed and said, “You have a point. Sans, how do you feel about the name Mix?”
-i’ve got mixed feelings about it.- Sans signed, spelling the word ‘mixed’ for emphasis.
Muffet groaned while Papyrus laughed. “Now there’s two of them,” She said.
Sans grinned and turned his skull to face Papyrus. The other was choking back his laugh behind two clasped hands. His eye lights were sparkling like stars. The effect, combined with the glint from his false tooth, was dazzling. Sans fought back a blush and turned his head back to Muffet. She was eyeing him thoughtfully.
“How about Blue? You certainly have that color painted all over your face. That, and it’s the color of your magic,” Muffet added, sternly, “I’m sure you can come up with a pun, but please, spare me.”
Sans deflated. Looks like he hadn’t been able to hide his blush at all. He thought about the name. It was pretty simple, but since he hadn’t come up with anything better, it would have to do.There was one problem, though. What if the other Sans’ magic was blue? Muffet wouldn’t have suggested it if that were the case, right? Right? Maybe he should ask.
Sans signed, -is your sans’ magic a different color?-
Muffet's eyes softened. She said, “Yes. How sweet of you for asking, dearie,” Papyrus scoffed. Sans eyed him dubiously, but she waved it away, saying, “Do you like it, then?”
Sans signed out, -yes.-
She said, “Then I think you have a new name.”
“don’t be blue about it,” Papyrus said. It earned him a glare from Muffet and a wet chuckle from Sa- Blue. He’d better get used to the name, even in his head. Papyrus shrugged in Sans’ peripheral vision. He said, “what? you didn’t say anything about me punning about it.”
Muffet sighed and said, “I’m already regretting my decision.”
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Muffet was just finishing rebandaging his arm when the front door opened. Blue had been watching the door as a way to avoid looking at the wound. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Papyrus and Muffet stiffen. Then the short skeleton in the doorway slammed the door and they relaxed.
The new skeleton was about Blue’s height, probably taller. He had on a black leather jumpsuit on that had pointed shoulders. His boots and gloves were a very red purple. So was the bandanna tied around his neck. He looked a lot like Blue might if he’d had better food and actually took exercise. The major difference was his eye lights and the scars. His eye lights were maroon stars just slightly tilted. The scars were deep. Three cracks came down from above his left socket and down a bit below. They looked painful, but they weren’t fresh. Blue wondered if he could see out of that eye. Blue had problems with his right one; it wouldn’t surprise him if his alternative had problems too.
The sockets in question scrunched up in disgust when they saw him.
“OH. YOU’RE AWAKE. HOW NICE.”
Then the other spun on his heels and began opening the door. There were a lot of bolts, Blue noticed. Like, more than ten of them. That seemed excessive.
“Sans,” Muffet’s voice was low. Blue flinched guiltily.
“I DON’T WANT TO DEAL WITH IT.”
“ Sans ,” She repeated.
He spun around, snarling. His maroon magic started to fizzle up from his shoulders and the ground around him. Half-visible bones hovered in the air. Blue started to shake.
Muffet stepped between him and the other- and Sans. Her purple magic dripped in strands from her fingertips. Citrine smoke billowed out from behind the couch, where Papyrus had been standing.
Sans composed himself. The three different magics faded out.
“FINE. HELLO, INTERLOPER.”
Blue signed, hands shaking, -hello. my name is blue now. i like your bandanna.- He added the last in a desperate attempt to get the other to like him.
Sans blinked. He looked down at the bandanna around his neck, then back at Blue. He looked...uncomfortable.
Eventually he said, “OF COURSE YOU DO. I, THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE SANS, WOULD WEAR NOTHING BUT THE MOST PERFECT OF ACCESSORIES.”
Blue closed his eyes, fighting the pain that was creeping over his soul. It really hurt. Like, an 8/10 with a 10 being him throwing up or passing out. He tried some breathing exercises. In. Out. In. Out.
“WHY AREN'T YOU ADMIRING ME?”
Blue opened his eyes and snorted. Sans was watching him with a haughty expression that almost managed to hide the hurt in his eyes. He had one hand held up to his chest, elbow out. The other arm was straight with the hand at the end splayed elegantly. The pose hurt to see, but at the same time it felt good. Like when his baby teeth had fallen out. It hurt but was also a relief. His soul really was a mess, wasn't it?
Blue managed to cough out, “you’re too much to take in.”
The hurt in Sans’ eyes lessened. Instead, fierce pride took its place.
“WELL...I SUPPOSE I MUST MAKE AN ALLOWANCE. YOU WERE NOT EXPECTING SUCH A FINE SPECIMEN TO WALK IN THE DOOR. BE GRATEFUL, FOR I WILL GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE IN THE FULL PERFECTION AS YOU HEAL.”
Blue nodded as vigorously as he dared. His throat was burning again. He shouldn’t have talked.
Sans eyed him thoughtfully. Then he came closer, brushing past Muffet. She was watching Sans like a hawk.
Blue flinched when Sans reached for his neck. The other ignored him. Sans’ fingers lightly traced his vertebrae from the bottom up. They lingered over a few, then gripped his chin in much the same way that Papyrus had. Blue was forced to look Sans in the eye. He started to tremble.
Sans sighed and let him go. He said, “WEAK. WHAT KIND OF SKILLS CAN YOU POSSIBLY HAVE THAT WILL MAKE UP FOR ALL OF THE RESOURCES WE’RE WASTING HEALING YOU?”
Blue trembled even more. He didn’t want to be a waste of space. That was what the Empress had hated most about him. He couldn’t fight. He couldn’t heal. He couldn’t cook. What use was he? The only thing he was good at was sewing.
“You can sew?” Muffet asked. Blue startled out of the hunched ball he’d become. He didn’t realize he’d been signing along with his thoughts.
He signed a very cautious, -yes. i’m not as good with velvet or knits, but i’ve done everything from satin to leather to denim to linen.-
Muffet clapped happily. Blue turned to her with one lifted brow bone.
She elaborated, “I run a shop, dearie. Armour, clothing, formal wear - anything a monster might need. These two handsome skeletons,” Papyrus snorted, “have been helping me for years, but they aren’t very good. Another pair of hands who knows their way around a needle will be wonderful! It also frees up Papyrus to go back to his sentry duties, which means another source of income we don’t have to worry about losing.”
Blue fiddled with his phalanges. Then he signed, -it still doesn’t feel like enough.-
Sans tsked at him and said, “JUST WAIT UNTIL SHE GETS YOU WORKING. TRUST ME, YOU’LL REGRET EVER MENTIONING IT. AND WITH THE PRICES SHE CHARGES, WE’LL MORE THAN BREAK EVEN.”
Blue’s face scrunched up. He signed, -wouldn’t charging high prices make it harder for people to afford them?-
Sans gave him a patronizing look, but Papyrus interrupted whatever he was going to say.
“his world was nicer than ours, bro. sunshine and rainbows, not ash and dust.”
Blue shook his head and signed, -no sunshine. we were trapped underground. the only place where there is sunshine is in the judgement hall. there were some rainbows in waterfall, though. i don’t know who set them up.-
Sans sighed. His whole body drooped.
“THE ONLY PERSON WHO HAS EVER GONE THAT NEAR TO HER MAJESTY UNINVITED IS ALPHYS. SHE CAME BACK WITH A BROKEN LEG.”
Muffet stiffened and said, “Sans. When did this-”
He scowled at her.
“JUST TODAY. SHE REFUSED TO LET ME HEAL IT, SO I SPENT OUR ‘TRAINING’ TIME SPLINTING AND BANDAGING HER.”
Muffet just stood there, breathing. Blue looked around and Papyrus was fiddling with his phone. That seemed wrong. Why weren’t they comforting Sans? He’d just had to see his friend injured!
Blue made up his mind and held out his arms for a hug. Sans eyed him as if he was some alien creature.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
Blue pulled his hands back just enough to sign, -i’m trying to comfort you? it must have been hard to see your friend in pain.-
Now Muffet was staring at him too. He felt like he was an exhibit at some museum. Look but don’t touch.
“We don’t...do that here,” Muffet explained slowly, “Touching is not encouraged.”
Blue frowned and said, -that’s dumb. physical contact is hugely important to a monster’s general health. It causes the soul to release certain magical compounds that help relax and reassure. It’s been proven that living without it causes the soul to atrophy and cracks to form.-
Sans and Muffet blinked at him. Behind the couch, something hard clattered to the floor. Blue turned his head. Papyrus looked like someone had slapped him in the face with a wet fish.
“how do you know that?”
Blue thought and winced and clutched at his chest. Slowly he signed, -i don’t know. i think i might have done some of the research. i can remember working with alphys in a lab and examining a lot of souls.-
Sans snorted. He said, “AS IF YOU COULD GET ALPHYS TO GO ANYWHERE NEAR THE LAB. SHE HATES UNDYNE WITH A PASSION.”
Muffet explained, “His world is mixed up from ours. His Alphys was the Royal Scientist, and his Undyne was the Captain of the Guard until a human came through and slaughtered indiscriminately. Then she took over as the Empress of the Underground.”
Sans narrowed his eyes, the stars hiding under lidded brows.
“HOW COULD A HUMAN KILL THE QUEEN? SHE HAS MORE LV THAN ANY OTHER MONSTER IN THE UNDERGROUND.”
Blue stiffened. He whispered, “lv? monsters here have lv?”
Blue asked, “do...do you have lv?”
Sans scoffed, “OF COURSE WE DO. WE’D STILL BE IN STRIPES IF WE DIDN’T. LV MAKES YOU STRONGER. WITHOUT IT, YOU’RE JUST EASY XP.”
Muffet had been watching Blue closely. He wasn’t sure what signals he was giving off, but she was reading something that told her how terrified he must be. Then again, she might just be listening to the rattling of bone against bone.
“Your world does not have lv. you do not have lv.”
Blue closed his eyes and signed, -no. the only ones who do are criminals or guardsmen. the empress had lv. dogamy had lv because the empress ordered him to kill people. he...he hurt me. so did she.-
Sans huffed. “I CAN’T BELIEVE THERE’S A VERSION OF ME WHO IS THAT WEAK. WE SHOULD JUST PUT YOU OUT OF YOUR MISERY.”
Blue opened his eyes in time to see the hoard of maroon bone shards plummeting towards his body. He also saw the blaster heads rush in and take the blows. He turned to see Papyrus once again fiddling with his phone. Sans snarled behind him.
Muffet sighed and said, “Sans, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t Dust my new assistant on the couch. We’d be vacuuming up the Dust for days.”
Sans called off his magic and stomped off, heading for the stairs. The steps creaked under his booted feet. A door slammed somewhere above him. Blue took in a gasping breath.
“he’ll get over it. he always does,” Papyrus said into the waiting silence.
Blue gulped and signed, -i don’t...okay. i’ll try not to get him angry again.-
Papyrus chuckled and said, “good luck with that. just about everything makes him mad. Sometimes he’s just mad for no apparent reason. ”
Blue tried to force his shoulders back down to a more reasonable height.
-can you try and fix up my machine? that way i’ll not be the burden on you i already am.-
Muffet looked at him with sad eyes. She said, “Of course we can, if that’s what you really want.”
Blue nodded. The sooner he could get out of this world, which made his soul ache and his palms sweat, the better.
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“What are you doing, Papyrus?”
Papyrus stood up from his kneeling position and turned around. Alphys, in all her scarred, muscle-bound glory was standing behind him. Her arms were crossed over her chest. She would have been tapping her booted right foot if the other one wasn’t stuck in a cast.
“nothing,” Papyrus said, holding his hands behind his back and trying to look as innocent as possible.
Alphys wasn’t buying it. Her scowl was growing by the minute. “You were doing something, that’s for sure. Why would you even be here? This is my house. I certainly didn’t call you here.”
Papyrus tilted his head. He wanted to look like he was thinking hard about his answer. Not that he was. No, he was trying to think of a way to get out of this situation without the Captain seeing the arson device he had left underneath the frill of her house. No one made his brother hurt like that and got away with it. His eyes lit up as he came up with something.
“sans said he dropped something here. i was just looking around the training yard. the way you two train, it could be anywhere. but i didn’t find anything. did you see anything?”
Alphys huffed and her eyes skittered around the yard. Less than 10 seconds had gone by before she stopped looking and drew herself up. She scowled and said, “As if I’d care. If he wanted it so much, he shouldn’t have left it,” then she hesitated and said, “What even was it, anyway? Just so I know what to burn, mind you.”
Shit. He hadn’t expected her to ask that. What could he say that would get her off his back? He might as well fall back on their reputations. He and Sans tried to keep each other at arm’s length outside of the house. They did the same thing with Muffet. It was the only way to survive out here. After all, don’t love, and don’t be loved. Their neighbors would jump down their throats if they thought there was anything more than indifference between them. So Sans ordered his brother around, and Papyrus complained loudly wherever he went. It had worked so far, why not now?
“He didn’t say. He just shouted at me to go get the thing he’d left here and locked me out of the house. I figured I might as well go look while I waited for him to decide to leave the house or, you know, let me in.”
Alphys eyed him sideways, then looked away. “Well, go and do it somewhere else.”
He saluted maliciously. Then he couldn’t resist one little barb.
“Of course, Captain. Tell me, did her Majesty lock you out of the throne room this time, or just break your leg?”
Her lightning chased him out of the yard.
Blue pushed himself off the wall he had been leaning heavily against. He’d only just managed to catch his breath, but he knew that moving along would make him feel better, at least in his mind. He didn’t want to be so exhausted. He hadn’t done anything but lay there since he’d come to this universe. He should be able to limp along without too much difficulty.
At least it was warm, he said to himself. Snowdin itself might be cold and wet, but these tunnels under the snow stayed the same temperature no matter how far he walked. He knew caves tended to have that effect, at least as long as they didn’t open to the Surface.
“And over to your left is the food quarter. Farms, storage, kitchens, dining hall - we found that keeping them all together made for less traffic accidents,” Muffet explained. They were only going from the skeletons’ house to her dress shop, but she had decided to give Sans a full tour on the way there. He was trying to be a good audience by making his own comments every so often. He hoped it made up for having to stop so frequently.
Now seemed like a good time to add in a comment of his own. He sucked in a deep, painful breath and said, “my muffet didn’t have any farms in her tunnels. the human never made it out to the common farms, and the farmers didn’t hold with the territorial wars that followed, so muffet just bought what she needed from them. so did everyone else.”
This older Muffet huffed. “We don’t have common farms here. The Royal Family supposedly owns all the farms in the Underground. They charge ridiculous prices for a very poor product, just like the water. The spider clan has maintained our own farms for centuries.”
Blue winced his way to a resting spot on yet another section of wall. He was panting hard to try and deal with the pain. He managed to gather enough breath to say, “that’s sad.”
Muffet sighed as she sat on the staircase not 10 feet in front of him. She’d had to hear him say that so many times during this short trip. She must be sick of hearing it. But when she spoke, she said, “Your world sounds like it was so...carefree...before the human arrived. Even after, you didn’t have to worry about having your basic needs met. You had food, water, a place to sleep...and yet here you are, barely able to walk. For the kindness of your world to fall apart so fast...I wonder how our world would change in the wake of a human. What would it take for our world to become like yours?”
Blue breathed for a minute in the uncomfortable silence. He was trying to come up with an answer. A part of him was still afraid to see Muffet’s dark side. He needed to please her, needed to make sure she wasn’t angry with him. But he didn’t know how to do that and he probably never would. He was supposed to have been friends with the Empress before everything went wrong. It was probably only because his brother kept him safe.
“I think...I think it would have to become nice first. You said the motto of your world was, ‘Don’t love, and don’t be loved’. I think people would need to learn how to care about others before they could learn to hate,” Blue said sadly.
Muffet chuckled. “I believe you are more perceptive than you give yourself credit for, little Blue. There is hatred here, but it is rare. Mostly, there is apathy.”
Blue blushed and looked down and away at the compliment. It made his heart twinge. He had to remind himself that she could hurt him easily. She could not hurt his soul if he didn’t let himself get attached. They wouldn’t want him to get attached. He couldn’t afford to lose anyone else.
Muffet was looking at him with a sorrowful expression. He didn’t know why. She sighed and stood up with an elegant ease he tried not to admire.
“Come on, Blue. Get up the stairs and we can start on the dress.”
Blue pushed himself off the wall and pushed himself to walk towards the stairs. He could do this. If he did this, he’d be useful, and if he was useful, they wouldn’t regret taking him in.
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Blue finally comes to rest at the top of the stairs. They had been difficult to climb, but he had made it. Now was the time for him to step forward and get his first look at the dress shop where he would be spending his time until he was well enough to go home. Then he wouldn’t be in these nice people’s hair any longer.
He reached out and turned the worn brass doorknob. It was unlocked, but getting it to open up was a challenge. The hinges really needed some oil. He wondered if that was on purpose.
When he got the door open, he took some time to lean on it and get his breathing to come down to a less frantic pace. The shop was small, maybe 14’ by 20’. The black counter with the cash register ran the length of the room so that the door to the outside was on one side of the counter and all the dresses, sewing machines, and work tables were on the other. There were three mannequins, two with dresses in mid-construction and one empty. All the tables were empty. The chairs looked hard. The carpet below them was pink and grey. The walls were painted light pink with black wainscotting.
All in all, it looked nice. Upscale, even. He would definitely be intimidated if he were coming in here to buy something. He’d never be able to afford it. Even if it had been for…
Muffet pulled his hand gently away from where it was clutching against his chest.
“I’m sorry, dearie. Did something in the shop upset you?” She asked. Several of her eyes were scanning the room for whatever might have upset the smallest skeleton.
Blue shook his head. “My mind just started wandering and it went somewhere that hurt.”
“That’s alright then. Do you want to go take a seat at the cutting table, dearie?” Muffet asked, but the way she said it made it not really a question at all.
Blue sucked in a small breath, wincing as his ribs protested, and pushed himself off of the wall. His steps were tiny. His soles never fully left the ground. But it kept his leg from hurting too much when he had to put weight on it, and it was just a little enough of a step that he wouldn't call over or passed out from lack of oxygen. With those steps it took him about five minutes to make his way to the chair by the cutting room table and sit down at it. He felt like he'd just run a marathon.
He turned in his chair to watch Muffet. To his surprise, she was carrying the uncovered mannequin over from where it stood. With her standing next to it, it looked huge! Blue wondered what kind of monster would need a mannequin that big.
“This one stays permanently set up to the Queen's measurements. She orders so many elaborate dresses that it's needed. Now, this is the sketch she gave me for her latest dress,” Muffet said, playing him a crumpled piece of paper.
Blue examined it closely. Then he flipped it to the other side. Then he turned it upside down. Then he went back to try flipping the first side again. “this is…” he stopped, at a loss for words.
“Childish? Cartoon- like? Crumpled beyond all recognition? Useless?” Muffet said, deadpan.
“... not the worst thing I've worked from. I think. Here, let me show you,” Blue pulled out his phone and swiped his way through some pictures. Finally he found the one he wanted after enduring all the pain from the other photos. It was a composite photo, which he handed to Muffet.
On the left was a drawing on green construction . The top half was white, with yellow squiggles at the breast and hems. A red blob with corners kind of outlined the white top. Below that was a blue triangle with a yellow squiggle above that.
On the right was an outfit laid out on grey carpet. It had a white painted breastplate with a yellow insignia on the breast. The lower edge was painted yellow. So was the armband that closed off an almost perfect spherical sleeve. The spheres were white. A red cape with a deep cowl was laid out next to the top. Below that was a pair of blue mini-shorts with a yellow waistband.
Muffet whistled and looked at him. She wasn't quite so much impressed as she was approving with a slight hint of commiserating.
“This is quite good. If you made it then I'm sure to put those skills to use here. If you didn't, we'll, at least you had good taste. You'll be working here regardless,” Muffet paused, then continued, “Either way, also, we both have our work cut out for us turning Her Majesty's latest sketch into a dress. And when I say ‘cut out’ I do not mean literally.”
It took Blue a few moments to get it, but when he did, he laughed out loud. He immediately regretted it. His ribs ached.
Muffet tilted her head at him, a soft smile on her face. She stated, “ Sew you like puns, too. I can work with that. I’m glad you satin that chair, because you’ll be in stitches over these ones. Do jersey my point?”
With every pun, Blue was sent back into another bout of laughter. His ribs were really hurting now, but somehow he didn’t care. It felt good to laugh like this.
When he sat up, Blue saw a fleeting glimpse of a indulgent smile before Muffet’s face became a barely-tolerant, tight-lipped mess again. He wondered what had prompted it. Was it just that she was happy to have someone appreciate her puns? Part of him was saying that she’d done it to make him happy. The rest of him was having doubts. Did she really care about him that much? She’d said that people here didn’t care about others. Which should he believe?
Muffet cleared her throat, drawing him out of his own head. Blue looked up at her and saw the crumpled sketch she was holding out to him, saying, “Be a dearie and make a proper sketch of this, will you? There’s butcher paper in a roll under the table, and pencils in the drawer.”
Blue nodded and took the sketch. Then he grabbed a pencil, pulled out a stretch of butcher paper, and set to work.
Papyrus woke from a nice long nap to the sound of heavy pounding on their house’s door. He yawned, stretched, and pulled out his phone to check the time. 1:33pm. Right on time.
He stood up lazily and slunk over to the front door. He peered out the peephole, just to make sure. Yep, there was Alphys. Her face was twisted in a scowl with her teeth showing. Her pants and tank top looked slightly singed. She usually had her armour to protect her from fire magic. It was metal, though, and once it got hot enough, not even she could stand touching it. She’d probably left it behind.
“I know you’re in there, Papyrus,” Alphys called through the door. “Open the door right now. That’s an order.”
Papyrus tilted his head. Did he really feel like listening to her, or could he get away with messing with her some more? She was fun to mess with. On the other hand, he really didn’t want her leaving, not with that leg. She was too stubborn to take it easy on it, and she was too stupid to let his brother heal her. All this effort had been to get her to come here. It would be a shame to waste that.
“fine. you’re really lucky i’m on my break right now. otherwise you’d be stuck out in the cold where you belong.”
As he spoke, Papyrus started to undo the multitude of locks on the door. All in all there were 16 different ways this door couldn’t be broken open, and any time any of the trio found another it was added to the array. He started with the mechanical ones, saving the magical ones and the wards for last. He wasn’t stupid. She could turn on him at any point.
Alphys growled out, “You’re lucky I’m not arresting you right now. I know you had to have planted something. Natural fires don’t spread that fast. But killing you would be a waste of time and effort. Hell, you probably would give me negative EXP.”
Papyrus swung the door open with an over-exaggerated, elegant bow. Alphys rolled her eyes at the typically aggravating gesture and stepped in.
The lizard quickly hobbled over to the couch and plopped on the left side of his perfect napping spot. He sighed. She shot him an unamused look and picked up the tv remote. “Make yourself useful and go grab a sandwich for me.”
Papyrus sighed again. This was going to get old really fast. But as long as that meant his older brother and new guest wouldn’t be stressed by Alphys’ injury, then it was worth it.
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Chapter 9: Sleep Sounds so Good
The artificial lights of the cavern had long since gone dark when Muffet finished cutting out the last piece of the pattern for the Queen’s new dress. She set aside the x-acto knife and stretched her stiff body. A few vertebrae popped. She held each stretch long enough for her muscles to relax. Every stretch made her feel more and more like an actual monster.
Once she felt better, Muffet picked up the cutout and added it to the stack beside Blue. He was fast asleep with his head down on a pile of folded fabric. He had been going through some of her samples to make the fabric choices that would define this dress. Muffet had to admit, going through the swatches he had chosen, that he certainly had an eye for color. It seemed odd that someone wearing ratty old gym shorts and a once-blue hoodie.
Muffet buried the temptation to grab him a set of new clothes. She couldn’t afford to clothe someone who was just going to leave. Well, she could. But it would hurt all the more when he decided to leave. She’d give it another week. If he wasn’t gone by then, she would give in.
For now, she should probably get him to a more comfortable bed. She could carry him, but she knew better than to have her hands full. You never knew when you might need to attack.
So Muffet laid her hand on an uninjured part of Blue and shook him gently. He startled awake. His hand went to his chest and his skull jerked to look at her. It was a few seconds before his eye lights lit up. He blinked at her. His hand slowly relaxed.
“oh. hey, muffet. i’m sorry i fell asleep. what’s it you need me to do?”
Muffet stepped back and motioned him up. He wobbled to his feet even before Muffet could explain herself. She appreciated that. It might save his life someday.
“We’re heading back for the night. And you can sleep as long as you want once we get there. I’ve got a generator for the shop, so we can work even after curfew. I’d rather have a well-rested assistant than a regular schedule. Well-rested assistants do better work. So let’s get you back to the boys’ house to sleep.”
Blue slumped, but nodded. He probably wasn’t looking forward to the long walk. It had taken so much time to get him here this morning. But she didn’t have any beds big enough for him to sleep underground. So back to the house they go. At least he wouldn’t have to fight the snow.
Blue, panting, leaned on the door to the skeleton brothers’ house. Muffet had left him to climb the last staircase alone. He’d done it, but it had taken every drop of energy he had. Now he just wanted to sleep. Preferably on something soft.
He pushed open the door quietly. Blue didn’t want to disturb anyone who might be on the other side of it. He had already taken so many resources from Sans and Papyrus. He didn’t want them to decide they couldn’t afford to give him anymore. He didn’t want to irritate them either. That might make them kick him out, too. And waking them up from their sleep or nap would definitely count as annoying.
Silently, Blue took in the room in front of him. It was dark, but his night vision had always been good. The couch was still right next to the basement door. The stairs were to his right. The TV was across the living room from him. No one seemed to be up. Good.
Blue padded over to the couch. When he rounded the corner, he froze. There, on the couch he usually slept on, was another monster. He didn’t recognize them, although some part of him told him he should have. The sight of their heavily-muscled body, with its scars, missing scales, and heavy calluses, made him tremble. The scarring looked so much like Undyne. Even if this monster had yellow skin and a splinted leg, Blue was still terrified of them. His soul was beating hard in his chest, and Blue couldn’t help but clutch at the fabric over the top of it. It felt like his soul would burst at any second. He didn’t know how to deal with this. It hurt bad.
He was so anxious about his soul, so lost in the pain, that he didn’t notice the figure on the couch stirring in their sleep.
Alphys woke up to the almost pitch black of the skeleton brothers’ house. She knew it was their house because it was pitch black. Her bedroom had a nightlight on at all times because of her really bad night vision, so she wasn’t there. The inn and the hotel both had low ceilings - low enough that she could actually see them. The skeleton brothers’ house was huge and barely lit. They both had good night vision. It was infuriating.
She sat up and stretched. A few bones popped, but nothing too extreme. The brothers actually had a decently comfortable couch, which was nice considering how much time she spent sleeping here.
But even the most comfortable couch in the Underground was no use against a full bladder. She had to get up. Alphys groaned and forced herself to sit up. As she swivelled her legs over the edge of the couch, Alphys caught the hint of a figure in her peripheral vision. She snapped her head towards it, and yes, there was a short monster standing there. They looked to be about 4 feet tall, several inches shorter than her best fr- than her barely-tolerated trainee. No one had told her that there was another guest here, so it had to be an intruder.
Alphys growled, summoned several axes that glowed ambery yellow in the darkness. They lit a small, quivering monster. She aimed her array of axes and hurled them at him.
Chapter 10: Alphys Learns
Garnet-colored bones fizzled into existence just in time to stop the yellow-amber axes from hitting their targets. Some of the bones cracked. Some of the axes shattered. But, for the most part, the two attacks met head on.
Alphys turned, snarling, to the stairs. Sans was standing on the second-to-the-top step. He was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. Magic fire raged around Sans’ body. Alphys would bet serious money that his pjs would have burn marks come morning. They usually did. Alphys had wondered if Sans suffered from nightmares. Then she had deliberately forgotten that thought. She was the Captain of the Royal Guard. She couldn’t even consider actually caring about a mere trainee. That was against this world’s rules. “Don’t love, and don’t be loved” bit hard.
“DON’T HURT HIM. HE’S BEEN HURT ENOUGH,” Razz called out.
Alphys frowned. “He’s an intruder! A thief, probably. Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental over a thief.”
“I’M NOT,” Sans said condescendingly.
She hated that. Just because he was standing on something that made him taller than her, (which he wasn’t! She was three inches taller than he was, even if they both were the shortest people in the Underground at 4’3” and 4’6”) even then, he still didn’t have the right to talk to her like that.
Still, she couldn’t help but take his bait. “Then what are you doing?”
“PREVENTING ONE HOUSEGUEST FROM MURDERING ANOTHER. I’D RATHER NOT HAVE TO CLEAN UP ANYMORE DUST,” Sans stated.
Alphys’ eyes narrowed. “If he’s a houseguest, then why didn’t you tell me about him earlier? Where will he be sleeping? Who is he?”
Sans rolled his eyes. “BECAUSE IT WASN’T RELEVANT. HE IS MY HOUSEGUEST. YOU ARE MY HOUSEGUEST. PAPYRUS SET UP A CAMP BED FOR HIM IN HIS ROOM. HE’LL SLEEP THERE. HE’LL BE NO BOTHER TO YOU. AND WHO HE IS IS IRRELEVANT.”
Blue spoke up from between them, capturing both of their attention. He was still trembling, but now he looked even smaller than he actually was. “i’m b-b-blue. nice to...meet you?”
Alphys knocked back her head in a full-bodied laugh. When it ended, she wiped her eye. Sans rolled his eyes at her. She snorted and laughed some more. Sans and Blue were starting to get uncomfortable. Why was she laughing so hard?
“Sorry,” She said without an ounce of apology in her voice, “but that’s hilarious. I just tried to kill you and your first response is to say ‘it’s nice to meet you’? What kind of sugar-coated place have you been hiding? No one acts like that here. No one.”
Blue’s eye lights slid to Sans, who shrugged and said, “DOES IT MATTER?”
Alphys gave him a hard look and said, her voice full of steel, “Of course it does. That kind of behaviour is against the law. Or didn’t you know that? I thought you’d read the codex back to front.”
“I HAVE. THE RULES ABOUT CONDUCT ARE JUST THAT. RULES. THEY’VE NEVER BEEN CODIFIED INTO LAW. IN ANY CASE, THIS IS A PRIVATE DWELLING. THE RULES DO NOT APPLY HERE. IF THEY DID, WE’D NEVER HAVE A POPULATION TO REGULATE IN THE FUTURE,” Sans said smugly. He was exactly the sort of person who would read and memorize the entirety of all the laws. It suited him perfectly.
Alphys pouted. “Fine. But where would he even have learned to act like that? No one acts like that.”
Blue’s eyes slid towards Sans again. The other rolled his eyes and answered with the truth. It was so unbelievable he doubted she would accept it. “ANOTHER UNIVERSE. HIS MACHINE CRASH LANDED IN OUR BASEMENT.”
“Yeah, right,” Alphys nearly snarled, “And I’m the fucking Royal Scientist. There’s no way that’s true.”
“BELIEVE WHAT YOU WANT, THEN. I’VE TOLD YOU THE TRUTH,” Sans said distainfully.
Alphys moved with a speed that was impressive. She was standing with Blue pinned to the wall in less than a second. He started coughing up blood, but she didn’t care. Her hand had slid under his shirt and ribcage and wrapped around his soul.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” Sans screamed.
Alphys shouted back, “Finding out where the hell he’s from. His soul will tell me, I just-”
Her voice stopped dead as she stared at the mess of a soul in her hands. It was barely held together by the faint web of purple magic wrapped around it. Cracks didn’t so much criss-cross it as dissect it. There were eight pieces, each a different color. The smallest was the orange piece. The largest two were the dark and light blue fragments. Only the two blue pieces, the yellow piece, and the green piece were at all glowing. The rest were dim like a crystal through the smoke.
“What. The. Hell,” Alphys looked ashen, “How is he still alive. How are you still alive?” She shifted her attention to Blue.
The smallest skeleton was dark eyed and shaking like a leaf. When he did speak, it was in a croak. “i’m...someone helped me. back home, someone helped me. muffet, only not this muffet. she was much smaller and younger.”
Alphys looked at his soul for a moment, bringing up his complete check for all to see:
“Sans / Blue” (Undertale)
“His home is as broken as his soul.”
“He’s traveled the longest way.”
0.3 / 0.3 HP
60 / 60 MP
AT: 1 (0)
DF: 1 (-1)
ARMOUR: None (Injured!)
Silence reigned for almost a minute. Then Papyrus’ voice floated down from above them. “welp. that’s certainly something.”
“What. The. Hell,” Alphys repeated herself. She looked almost ashy white. Then she shook it off and said, “Sans. Explain.”
“I ALREADY TOLD YOU. HE SHOWED UP IN A MACHINE IN OUR BASEMENT. HE LOOKS LIKE ME, AND HIS NAME IS MINE, SO WE TOOK HIM IN. HE’S CLEARLY NOT FROM HERE. AREN’T HIS STATS PATHETIC? NO ONE IN HIS WORLD HAS EXP.”
“Then who the hell hurt him?!” Alphys demanded.
Blue croaked again. “there was a human. they killed almost everyone in the underground. the ones that are left are being ruled by the empress, undyne. she hurt me.”
Silence reigned for another few seconds. Alphys broke it. She spoke as if her words were coming from a long ways away. “I suppose self-interest applies to another version of yourself. Since we no longer have a Royal Scientist, I suppose I can’t demand you turn him over. I’m not giving you any supplies for him, though. If he lives, fine. If he dies, even better. I expect you not to let this...houseguest...get in the way of your training.”
Sans sneered, “AS IF I WOULD ALLOW ANYTHING TO GET IN THE WAY OF THAT. WHO DO YOU TAKE ME FOR, A WEAKLING?”
Papyrus butted in with a laugh barely hidden under his serious voice, “nah, bro. that’s what we take him for.”
“GO BACK TO BED, MUTT,” Sans said with annoyance, “THIS DOESN’T CONCERN YOU.”
Papyrus was openly grinning now, “can’t go to bed without my new roommate.”
Sans sighed. “ALPHYS, PUT HIM DOWN. LET’S ALL GO TO BED AND WE CAN SORT THIS OUT IN THE MORNING.”
Alphys let Blue go, and he collapsed into a small huddle of bones on the floor. Sans sighed and waved his brother down. Papyrus picked him up and carried the exhausted and overwhelmed skeleton off to bed.
Two days passed. Alphys’ house was repaired and she left, reluctantly letting Blue continue to be his weak, scared self at the brothers’ home. Blue and Muffet came and went from the store. The dress slowly took shape, with ruffles and embroidery and trains in excess. Sans went to training and pretended to be the pathetically blundering fool that he wasn’t. Papyrus sat at his station and lazed about. Things became normal.
But even that hesitant normal couldn’t last forever. Blue continued to eat up their medical supplies, and while things were healing (so slowly you wouldn’t notice unless you looked for it) they still needed to change medicine and bandages every day. And that was a lot of medicine.
So when Muffet had demanded the next tube of medicine and found out that there was none, Papyrus had explained about the complete lack of extra supplies at the lab. It had to be fixed. Even if Blue wasn’t around and needing fresh supplies, it needed to be fixed. Muffet had decided that that meant that they had to fix it.
Blue was walking as fast as he could, trying to keep up with the others as they walked through the wet halls of Waterfall. He was having trouble with one of his legs today. His left leg felt like one solid bruise, which was ridiculous because it hadn’t even been hurt. He was having so much trouble with his leg that he’d completely lost track of where they were. The room was irrelevant. Only the pain mattered. That is, until he bumped into Papyrus and nearly fell over.
Blue registered what Muffet was saying as he picked himself up. “...and that is why we came to talk to you today. Is it possible for us to strike a deal?”
Blue looked up, and almost immediately he froze. There, on the other side of a small clearing, were a bunch of yellow flowers. A few of them were swaying to some unheard music. One of them was bobbing rhythmically. But what struck him most was the boredom on all of their faces.
Before he knew it, Blue was surrounded by a fountain of aggressive magic. A forest of blue and white bones sprouted from the floor of the cave. Even more dropped down like bars from the ceiling. And from behind him came the familiar whine of a charging blaster. All of this and barely any drain on his magic reserves.
A collective gasp erupted from the Floweys. Some looked impressed. Others were furious. Even more looked cunning, fascinated, and amused. None of these expressions made Blue want to dismiss his magic. The inherent threat that they posed was too great.
“Blue!” Muffet turned on him and cried out, sharp and hard, “What the hell do you think you are doing? We’re in the middle of negotiations, not a fight. We need those ingredients for medicine. The Floweys are peaceful creatures. Drop those attacks right now!”
Blue shook his head defiantly. Didn’t she see that the Floweys were a threat? They’d hurt him so much, they’d kill...ed…
Big, boney hands wrapped around him with cautious concern. Blue shook inside them. He was scared now, a deep fear that didn’t seem to come from anything real. It was the kind of fear that made him want to fight. A desperate fear that wouldn’t back down.
Papyrus’ hands slowly brought him closer until he was inside a hug. The big monster dropped down into a tailor’s seat. Only when Blue was pressed against his chest did the attacks erode. Blue let out a sob and turned into Papyrus’ arms. He buried his face against Papyrus’ shoulder and cried. He didn’t know what he was crying about other than being scared. Maybe he just needed to cry. No one seemed to mind, the Floweys included.
Blue was once again leaning against the wall and slowly making progress towards his goal. This time the wall was in Waterfall, and his pace was somewhat faster than it had been last time. There were still Moldsmaals that were faster than him, but at least he didn’t feel like a snail. But it still left him with enough time to memorize every pebble and rock on the road as it went by. There were a lot. He could vaguely remember a time when the paths of his distant home had been neat and tidy. It had to have been before the human. Afterwards, no one had the energy to care.
A raised and metallic patch of wall had Blue stumbling into the middle of the road. Nobody caught him. The other two had all their hands full with the baskets of medicinal ingredients they had acquired from the Floweys. So Blue was left to fall over on his own, get up, and turn to examine the wall more closely.
It was a plaque. The metal was grimy and stained, completely disfiguring the image, but the words could just barely be made out. [There is no way to reverse this power. Trapped forever, we will die in this hole. There is no point in hoping. The humans only fall to mock our pain.]
Blue frowned. That...didn’t sound right.
Blue could vaguely remember a different message. What had it been? He closed his eyes to better see the glyphs in his memory. He spoke them aloud slowly, trying to will them into being. “there is one way to reverse this spell. if a huge power, equivalent to seven human souls, attacks the barrier… it will be destroyed.”
He hadn’t realized the others were listening until Muffet said, just over his shoulder, “Dearie, that’s not what the it says. Nothing can defeat the power of the Barrier. Everyone knows that.”
Blue shook his head. “that’s not true. at least, not in my universe. we just had to wait until we had seven souls. seven souls like the seven wizards. once we had them, then we could be free. we already had six souls, but the human...the human stole them.”
Only the sound of condensation dripping down from the cave ceiling broke the silence. The other two were staring at him. They didn’t look happy. Blue shrunk back with his arms coming up to hug his body. He sucked in a breath to speak, but Muffet beat him to it.
“You mean...we could have gotten free already? We could have reached the sun?”
Blue focused on her. Now she looked wistfull with a side order of despair. Two of her arms were wrapped around her body. Another two were wringing each other. The last two were clenching and unclenching, revealing the upset anger that was slowly growing.
When Blue turned to Papyrus, he could see that anger in full force.
Papyrus snarled, “there’s no way that’s true. you’re lying. you haven’t seen the barrier break. someone made that up to give you false hope.”
Blue looked down and rubbed his arm. “i think it’s real. i know someone was collecting the souls...someone important? and i know the prince was able to cross the barrier once he absorbed the human prinx’ soul. not just once, but twice.”
Blue couldn’t see Papyrus’ face, but he could see his feet as he took a step back. This time it was Muffet who sounded angry.
“We don’t talk about that. Nobody talks about that lying little minx. They don’t deserve it.”
Blue flinched from the anger in her voice. Her anger sounded scary in its calm. Papyrus sounded angry with energy behind it, like someone who was getting out all his anger in his words. Muffet sounded composed, and, in Blue’s experience, that was a much more dangerous kind of anger. That was the kind of anger that lashed out physically to relieve its pressure.
He quickly apologized, “i’m sorry. i won’t talk about it again.”
“Good. Now let’s get out of here. We have a dress to finish and the faster we make it the more money we make.”
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The sound of driving snow impacting against the glass windows was the only sound to break the still night of the house. Outside a blizzard raged on, but inside nothing moved. Nothing stirred. Well, something stirred. It was a skeleton.
Papyrus stared up at his empty ceiling. There were no stars, although there once had been. The ceiling still had the pale shadows of where they once were.
His mind was going a mile a minute. Places where someone had lied to him were standing out in his brain in the same way those empty patches stood out on the ceiling. The resulting shape was starting to build constellations in his mind. Who knew? Who knew that there was a way to reach the Surface?
Not Alphys. She killed humans in the same way they all did, destroying the soul so that the human had no chance of coming back.
Maybe Undyne. The way she took in everyone the Queen wanted dead...that spoke of a monster who had hope. Hope that things would change. Hope that people might live. Hope that there was a future for monsterkind to look forward to.
The monster behind the door definitely knew. That promise to look after the souls of the humans who came was a huge hint that there was a reason to keep them around. And the anticipation that filled his voice when he spoke of the Surface...he definitely knew. It was pointless to speculate about how and why until Papyrus could get his hands on a clue as to who that monster was.
The Queen had to know. All those speeches? All those lies? She wanted monsterkind to rot under the mountain. Not that surprising considering the gory nature of her tea parties, and the way she made food and water impossible to come by? She definitely wanted them dead.
The more he thought about it, the more people’s actions started to make sense. The Riverperson’s cryptic conversations at the shop? Gerson’s talk about the angel? Grillby’s messed up trivia about survival techniques on the Surface? So many monsters seemed to be in on the conspiracy. Gyftrot. Knight Knight. Pyrope. Ice Cap. So many.
Why hadn’t they done anything, though? Did that stupid rule of “don’t love and don’t be loved” really hold that much weight? Not only in itself, but in its ability to overrule self-interest? All they needed was seven human souls.
Once they had the human souls, how did they use them? Did you stick them in a jar and throw it at the Barrier? That seemed dangerous and wrong. Did you absorb them and walk through? How did you do it? Did anyone know? Scratch that, would anyone who knew willingly tell him? Probably not, except…
Papyrus squeaked his way upright from his old spring mattress, then slid his feet over the edge and into their shoes. He wiggled his toes until they were comfortable, wrapped them around his ankle, and tied them off. Then he stood up and started walking silently over to the sleeping skeleton that shared a room with him. Blue was fast asleep, curled up into a little ball around his ball of sheets. It was such a ridiculous way to sleep. Better to throw the blankets off entirely and sleep like a normal monster.
Once he was beside Blue’s bed, he reached out and shook him gently. Blue blinked his eyes slowly up at him and then smiled. It was an easy, happy smile that sent shivers down Papyrus’ spine. He made a note to try and get smiled at like that more often. It definitely felt good.
He was so completely wrapped up in looking at the smile that he completely forgot to ask his question. Luckily Blue was there to remind him.
“hey there, papyrus. why’d you wake me up? it’s, like, 3 am.”
Papyrus breathed in a big breath. “how do you use the souls to break the barrier? how do they affect it? why only human souls? what would it look like? would there be magical interference? would there be blowback? do you need to be a boss monster to use them? how-”
Blue held up his hands defensively, wincing a little at the movement. “whoa, whoa. whoa. slow down. i can only answer so fast. now, what do you want me to tell you?”
“how do you use the souls to break the barrier? Not in general, I need the specifics.”
Blue sighed. “i promised muffet i wouldn’t talk about it. sorry.”
“no you didn’t,” Papyrus said quickly, “you just said you ‘wouldn’t talk about it’, and, by context, you implied that you wouldn’t talk about the prinx, not the souls. muffet won’t hold it against you if you tell. she’s used to me weaseling my way around my words.”
Blue shivered, but nodded. “fine. just...promise me she won’t get mad? she seemed really mad.”
He didn’t even hesitate. He knew Muffet, and she wasn’t the type to blow up over something like that. It was just things relating to the former Prinx that were the problem. Everything else was fine.
“i promise. now, tell. the suspense is killing me.”
Blue worked himself up into a sitting position and explained, “well, first you need all seven souls in stable format, which means they’ve got to be in a living body or a magical vacuum chamber. human bodies do a good job of filtering out outside magic. Out in the open, a soul has no chance, hence the vacuum. i think ours were in a vacuum tube.”
“once you’ve got that, you need a way to channel it. um...i think i helped design a runic circle to do that? i can see it in my head, but i...yeah. i think you also need a chant, but i don’t remember that part. i think it’d be easy enough to figure out once we have the magic circle.”
“then you take all that raw soul power that’s coming out of the souls and throw it with a widdershins rotation of -90 degrees. i can actually remember doing the research for that. humans do most of their magic with a clockwise rotation, and the vectors need to cancel out. the original mages’ average vector of rotation was 90 degrees. ergo, the vector of rotation we needed was -90, or 180. The clockwise piece decided it.”
** “it should shatter like a piece of glass when the energy hits. the shards should dissolve, too. They need an energy supply, and the soul energy should destroy that. the other possibility is that the soul energy will eat away at the barrier like acid, but that’s only a 30% chance.”
“um,” Blue hesitated, “i think that’s it. do you have any other questions?”
Papyrus shook himself out of the shock and asked, “would there be magical interference? would there be blowback? do we need to be worried about a magical pulse?”
Blue said, slowly, “there might be a shockwave if it shatters, but not enough to knock out any devices. so, a low grade magical pulse would be possible. it might be enough to give people a headache, though.”
Papyrus jumped into the silence with more questions. “why only human souls? do you need to be a boss monster to use them?”
Blue answered, “human souls are insanely powerful. it would have taken every soul in my underground, which was more than two million, to equal the power of one human soul. they’re just that powerful. and anyone can do the spell. you’re not using your magic, just channeling energy.”
Papyrus nodded understandingly. He let out a big huff of air and asked, “if i brought you the materials, would you be willing to build the vacuum tubes? i can handle getting the human souls.”
“why?” Blue asked, stunned. “i thought everyone here looked after themselves. why do you want to break the barrier?”
“for sans,” Papyrus answered bluntly, “and muffet, too. and me. we used to have dogs, you know. five of them. they’d been thrown in the garbage to die. sans found them and brought them home. he took care of them, fed them, healed them, and loved them so much. he wanted to become the first monster vet. then they got out of the house one day and someone killed them. it was so hard, watching him bury their bodies. no other pups have fallen, but i can’t forget about his dream. i know there must be more dogs on the surface. even if he can’t become a vet, he needs more dogs.”
“and muffet? she hates it down here. the people, the rules, the gloom; all of it wears on her. she’s always wanted to see the sun, and i know there are more spiders up there she’d love to meet.”
“...and i’d like to study fish. not monster fish, just fish. i love everything about them; the scales, the slime, the barbels, everything! i love the water, and i’ve read every scrap of information i can find about them, but i’ve always dreamed of holding one in my hands. i want to see every species of fish i can. i want to learn about fishing, fly-fishing, and nets. i want to walk underwater and see fish all around. i just...i love them.”
“for those reasons, i want to break the barrier and see the sun. if it’s possible, then i want it. will you help me?”
Blue nodded. “i will. i’ve always wanted to see the stars. the real ones, i mean. i want to learn the names of every constellation and all the planets. i want to be an astrophysicist. I already have the science down. I just need to see the things behind it.”
Papyrus grinned. “it’s a deal, then. you help me break the barrier, and i’ll get the souls to do it.”
Blue smiled back. “deal.”
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Crisp snow fell from the ceiling of the grey cave that held the Underground. It drifted down lazily until it fell onto the bare skull of a very tall skeleton. He didn’t seem to notice it; he was too occupied with what he was working on.
Papyrus was just about finished installing the camera that would cover this section of the path to Snowdin. He was having a hard time anchoring the camera to the tree.
When he finally got the camera anchored at the right angle, he let out a huge breath of relief and went to turn away. Then he hesitated, turned back to the camera, and gently wiped the lens with his shirt. He really needed to get a good picture quality on these, and that meant the lenses needed to be as clean as possible.
Once that was done, Papyrus nodded decisively and set off towards the next spot in need of a camera. He had four left. He was deliberately spacing them so that nobody could sneak past.
He needed these cameras to be up and functioning as soon as possible. He wanted to see the stars more than anything. If he needed to kill a hundred humans to get out he would, but he only needed seven. Seven souls to break the Barrier. He could already taste that freedom on his tongue.
The bell above the front door of the shop rang. Both Muffet and Blue looked up quickly. They both relaxed. It was only Sans. He was dressed in cut off jeans, a grey tank top, and a purple flannel shirt. He was carrying his armour folded up in his hands.
“MUFFET! MY ARMOUR GOT CUT AGAIN. I NEED YOU TO STITCH IT BACK TOGETHER!”
Muffet sighed and walked over to the counter, taking the clothing and starting to inspect it. There was about a three inch slice through the breast of the outfit.
Muffet smiled. “It shouldn’t take me too long to fix this. Why don’t you come back here and chat? You might as well spend the time to interrogate Blue about his world. Then you can share that information with Alphys.”
Sans gave her an unamused look, but he did take the time to come behind the counter. He went and sat down next to Blue, watching what he was doing with interest.
“WHERE DID YOU LEARN HOW TO SEW?”
Blue jumped and smiled nervously at Sans. “from books, i think. i remember stabbing myself so many times before i finally got good at it. i can even see the illustrations.”
Sans nodded. He silently watched for a few more minutes before he asked, “DO YOU LIKE SEWING? YOU SEEM QUITE ACCOMPLISHED AT IT. WAS THAT WHAT YOU USED TO DO? BEFORE YOUR CATASTROPHIC HUMAN, I MEAN.”
Blue thought for a minute. “i don’t think so. most of my memories are of the same few spots. i think...i think i used to be a sentry, but it wasn’t fun. i was so bored!”
Sans agreed, “SENTRY DUTY IS BORING, BUT IT IS NECESSARY. EVEN THE MAGNIFICENT SANS HAS HAD TO ENDURE IT ONCE IN A WHILE. IT IS FAR FROM MY FAVORITE ACTIVITY, ALTHOUGH PAPYRUS SEEMS TO ENJOY IT. HE SAYS IT’S RESTFUL. I SWEAR HE MUST SPEND SOME OF THE TIME SLEEPING, BUT I’VE NEVER CAUGHT HIM AT IT.”
Blue smiled as he finished one seam and shifted the fabric to start the next. “i think i used to do that. it drove my brother crazy. i had a little sensor that i set up one room away from my stations that only went off if my...brother…”
All three of them froze and stared at Blue. He stared at his own hands in shock. They were shaking.
“i...i can remember my brother. he- he looks like papyrus, only with blunt teeth and no implants. his cheekbones are rounder, too. i think they’re about the same height. his face...he just lights up when he smiles. he even looks happy when he’s frustrated. he...he…what did he sound like? what did he move like? i...i can’t remember.”
Blue’s hand had unconsciously moved up to clutch at his chest. He was breathing heavy from the pain. His eye sockets were scrunched closed.
Muffet finished the last stitch on Sans’ outfit and handed it to him. Then she cupped Blue’s chin and made him look at her. “Don’t hurt yourself trying to remember. You’ve already unlocked so much today. Let your soul rest and recuperate.”
Blue whimpered and turned into her arms, crying against her chest. She was startled and slightly uncomfortable. Her stiffness was due to her lack of familiarity with hugs. But she did not push him away. She let him soak her shirt in salty tears. She even used one of her hands to gently stroke his back.
Sans shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. He was staring at Blue with a look of longing. Then he surrendered himself to his urge and wrapped his arms around Blue. Muffet raised her eyebrow at him. He stuck his tongue out at her.
Blue eventually ended the hug, wiping his tears off on his stained sleeve. “thank you for letting me cry on you, muffet. and thank you both for the hug.”
Muffet nodded. Sans reacted in a much more energetic manner. He blushed hugely and stammered, “S-SO WHAT IF I HUGGED YOU? IT’S NOT GOING TO BEC-C-COME A HABIT. YOU SHOULD FEEL LUCKY THAT I CHOSE TO GRACE YOU WITH THE TOUCH OF THE MAGNIFICENT SANS.”
Blue smiled softly at him, a trace of a blue blush painting his cheeks. “i feel truly blessed, sans. thank you for this wonderful gift. i don’t think there’s anything greater i could have been given.”
Sans chest inflated with pride once more. “OF COURSE! A LITTLE GIFT LIKE THIS MEANS NOTHING TO THE MAGNIFICENT SANS! I MAY EVEN GIVE YOU SUCH A GIFT AGAIN. LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY WHEN I MAY TOUCH YOU AGAIN!”
“i will, i promise,” Blue said with a sincere smile. He most definitely was looking forward to the next hug.
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Chapter 14: Ambitions
Papyrus raced through the snow. His long legs carried him far and fast. He had to be the first one to get there. He just had to!
Finally he rounded a corner and caught sight of them. There they were. A human. The first human he would be able to collect a soul from. They were maybe a few inches taller than his brother, so something like five foot two. Their skin was a rich tan, maybe a little darker than the color of cinnamon. They had small brown eyes set high in their face. A broad nose filled out most of the rest of their face. They had prominent cheekbones and thin lips. They were wearing a loose black t-shirt and jeans over leather moccasins.
The human stopped walking the moment they spotted him. They held their hands up, showing that they held no weapons. Papyrus slowed to a stop about three feet away. The monster and the human stared at each other in silence. It was broken by a racking cough from the human that brought up blood.
“Heh. Sorry about that,” The human said quietly as they wiped off the little trail of blood. “It is why I am here. Are you a policeman?”
Papyrus blinked. He’d heard that word before. What did it mean again? “oh. i’m not a member of the guard, but i am a sentry. kind of like the next tier down. i can still make arrests and such. i just don’t have to wear the stupid armour. why?”
The human smiled. “The old man wouldn’t take my soul. I asked if a policeman would have the proper authority. He said yes.”
“why do you want someone to take your soul?” Papyrus asked with a frown. “you do know you’ll have to die for that to happen, right? why would you want to die?’
The human laughed. It fell apart into another coughing fit. More blood came up. “Heh. Pain will do odd things to a person, and I am in a great deal of pain. And even if I did not want it, death is coming to me. I am dying of cancer. It has already spread to too many places for even the best doctor to fight it. If I am going to die, it is better to make use of it to right a wrong than to waste it. My people have many stories, stories that have been passed down for generations in such a way that nothing is lost. Others may have forgotten about the monsters we locked down below, but we have not. We remember your bravery, your kindness, your generosity. You saved many of my ancestors’ lives. We were wrong to help lock you below. I am here to help you regain the sunlight you never should have lost.”
Papyrus blinked, dumbfounded at the passion in the speech this human had brought. Their eyes sparkled with a light he had seen before. A sense of justice was hard to deny. Who was he to argue with it?
“What is your name, human?” Papyrus asked as he summoned his weapon. It was a four foot glaive with a one foot blade of pure amber magic on the end of it.
The human eyed it with a calm acceptance he couldn’t help but admire. They closed their eyes and tilted their head back, ready to die. “Ama. My name is Ama. It means water in my people’s language, tsaligi gawonihisdi, or Cherokee in the language we are speaking.”
Papyrus readied his weapon, pointing it at their throat. “Thank you for your sacrifice, Ama. It will not be for nothing.
With that, Papyrus quickly sliced through their throat. Blood spurted out for a few seconds, then it died off to a trickle. Ama smiled weakly, closed their eyes, and collapsed to the ground. A few seconds later their soul floated into being above their chest. It was bright yellow. The bells faced upward. There were no pockmarks or scars on it. Papyrus could almost be jealous.
He didn’t take a lot of time to admire it. He dismissed his weapon and quickly grabbed the soul. He pulled a canister out of his pocket. It was a modified vacuum tube. The yellow soul fit perfectly into it. Papyrus smiled and pocketed the tube. One down, six to go.
Blue pulled himself up the staircase one hand at a time. He was exhausted and shaky and he really wasn’t in the mood for a fall. He was still too fragile; he wouldn’t survive. So he dragged himself up by the railing with a white-knuckled grip - at least, it would have been white knuckled if he had skin.
When he reached the top of the landing he paused. His breathing was harsh. Best to take a little break. He looked around at all the decorations, comparing them to what he could remember of his own. They matched up pretty well - a bone flag replaced their painting, the door to Sans’ room still had warning signs and caution tape, green and blue fire flickered from underneath Papyrus’ door - but then Blue noticed the shrine.
In the far corner of the upstairs hallway, wedged in between the balcony door and Sans’ room, was a little wooden shrine. It hung about three feet off the ground and was made of wood so dark it was almost black. Little candles riddled the shelf. In the center of them all were five jars.
“I SEE YOU HAVE NOTICED OUR SHRINE,” Sans said from just behind him. “IT WAS HARD TO FIND THE WOOD, BUT THEY DESERVED IT.”
Blue gulped and asked shakily, “um...who are they?”
Sans frowned at him. “IS IT NOT THE CUSTOM IN YOUR WORLD TO HONOR YOUR LOVED ONES IN THIS MANNER?”
Blue shook his head. “we spread their dust on the thing they loved most.”
“AH. I SEE,” Sans said quietly. “THAT IS NOT THE CUSTOM HERE. WE PUT THEIR ASHES OR DUST IN JARS AND KEEP THEM AROUND SO WE CAN REMEMBER THEM AND INCLUDE THEM IN OUR LIVES.”
Blue smiled. “that sounds nice. i’ve always felt weird about the dust scattering. you can never get the grit off of the item, and that means you can never use it again.”
“WHAT A WASTE. THIS IS MUCH MORE PRACTICAL,” Sans said proudly.
“it’s definitely different, that’s for sure,” Blue said noncommittally. “um...is it alright if i ask who is in your jars? i can’t remember having anyone that close to me and paps...although that doesn’t mean there wasn’t.”
Sans walked over to the shrine and pointed to each jar in turn. There were the suspicion of tears in the corners of his eye sockets.
“THIS IS POE. HE WAS A GOOD DOG - BETTER THAN SOME OF OUR SENTIENT DOGS. HE WAS NOT VERY SMART, BUT HIS SHEER SIZE MADE HIM A GOOD GUARD. HE WAS A NEWFOUNDLAND THAT FELL DOWN INTO THE DUMP AS A PUPPY. HE HAD A COLLAR AND MICROCHIP, SO WE THINK HE FELL DOWN BY ACCIDENT. WE HAD HIM FOR 6 YEARS. HE SLIPPED ON THE ICE ON ONE OF OUR WALKS AND BROKE HIS NECK.”
Sans moved on to the next jar and said angrily, “LOVECRAFT WAS A BASSET HOUND. HE WAS TALKATIVE AND FIERCE WHEN PROVOKED. SOMEBODY SHOT HIM, BUT THEY DIDN’T KILL HIM. HE WAS LAYING THERE SUFFERING FOR HOURS. WHEN I FOUND HIM I HAD TO PUT HIM OUT OF HIS MISERY. THE BULLET COLLAPSED ONE OF HIS LUNGS.”
Blue was horrified. “who would shoot a creature like that? non-sentient dogs are so rare. there… there was a waiting list in my world. we were pretty low on it, but we would have gotten one eventually.”
Sans smiled. “WE HAVE LOTS OF DOGS FALLING DOWN INTO THE DUMP OR BEING BORN IN LITTERS. CATS, TOO, ALTHOUGH THE CATS ARE LESS HAPPY ABOUT IT.”
“i can imagine,” Blue said quietly. “are the rest of the jars all pets?”
“YES,” Sans nodded. “THEY WERE ALL MUTTS, BUT GOOD DOGS. SHELLEY LOVED TO DIG. SHE ACCIDENTALLY CAUSED AN AVALANCHE THAT CRUSHED HER SPINE. STOKER WE GOT AS A PUPPY. HE LIVED FOR 14 YEARS BEFORE CANCER OVERWHELMED HIM. THE LAST JAR IS STEVENSON. SHE WOULD EAT ANYTHING. SHE ATE SOME RAT POISON AND BLED OUT FROM A CUT BEFORE WE COULD SAVE HER.”
“i’m so sorry for your loss,” Blue said, holding his hands out for a hug. “It must have hurt to lose them.”
Sans waved the hug away. “IT’S BEEN YEARS. POE WAS THE LAST OF OUR PACK. THE MAGNIFICENT SANS WOULD NOT BE SO CRUEL AS TO CARE FOR A DOG KNOWING IT WAS GOING TO DIE. THE DOCTORS HERE DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM.”
Blue tentatively asked, “are there no veterinarians here?”
Sans blinked at him as if he were speaking gibberish. “WHAT SORT OF NONSENSE IS THAT? YOU MUST HAVE HIT YOUR HEAD HARDER THAN WE THOUGHT.”
“a veterinarian,” Blue said quietly, “is like a doctor who only sees non-sentient creatures. we had a few back home. it’s a lot of schooling and studying. there’s way more people who want to be vets than there are spots for them in the schools. it’s a huge challenge.”
Sans stroked his chin thoughtfully, a wicked gleam glittering in his eyes. “THAT SOUNDS LIKE A PERFECT CHALLENGE FOR THE MAGNIFICENT SANS! I WILL BECOME THE BEST VET THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN! NO ANIMAL WILL DIE FROM SOMETHING I CAN PREVENT. ILLNESS AND PARASITES WILL TREMBLE BEFORE ME! I CAN SEE IT NOW! DR. SANS, THE GREATEST VETERINARIAN OF ALL TIME! MWAH HAH HAH!”
Blue felt a little overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm of the monster next to him. He couldn’t help but grin. “i’m sure you will be. if there’s anything i can do to help you achieve that, let me know.”
“I WILL DO IT ON MY OWN!” Sans said fiercely. Then, quietly, he said, “THANK YOU.”
Blue nodded happily. He was glad Sans was willing to acknowledge him. He knew he had it in him.