It rose up almost ominously through the morning mist that engulfed the valley.
Nestled in the looming shadow of Mt. Ebott it was barely large enough to be called a town and, while older than dirt, most outsiders were damned if they'd ever heard of the area before the Ascension. For the most part, it was little more than a collection of homes and businesses all squeezed together and seemingly dropped in the middle of the sprawling forest that draped itself over the eastern slopes of the historical mountain. Hardly more than a blip on any map, the town itself was nearly an hours' drive to the city and surrounded by miles upon miles of wilderness.
It was the boonies.
It was home.
You stood before the display window of the small boutique, drawing your coat closer around you as you shivered against the chilly spring air. You had spent the better part of five minutes admiring the array of items within and were currently attempting to figure out how many paychecks it would take to afford the lovely spring dress you were eyeing - not that you had any actual desire to purchase it at that particular moment. Or would ever be able to afford it, really, with how close you cut it on living expenses each month. But it was a routine you often did each time you passed by and spotted a new item showcased within. A way to break up the monotony of your walks to work.
You turned your focus away from the dress and scrutinized your reflection in the window before you as you attempted to envision yourself in the outfit... no, it would probably look adorable on anyone but you.
A single bright eye returned your judgemental stare from out under the bangs framing your face. Your brow furrowed in mild disdain as you brushed back a few rogue strands of hair that had fallen loose from the long braid cascading down your back.
The other eye was hidden behind the plain black eyepatch you always wore for work. It did well in concealing your damaged eye, but you couldn't help but lift a hand and trail your fingers lightly over the scar that still managed to peer out from its edges. It had always seemed too noticeable for your liking; a thick, smooth white line that stood out against your fair skin and ran an inch or so down your cheek. Makeup, you knew, did little to conceal it - not that you had ever been fond of wearing the stuff anyways.
The patch itself was often the first thing that drove people to take any notice of you nowadays. At only 5'4" you had always been a small wisp of a thing, lithe in figure thanks mostly to the trek you made each day between the ramshackle home you rented and work. The long overcoat and uniform you were garbed in did nothing to help how scrawny you looked. Not that you had ever had any issues with your weight, of course; such a thing was nearly impossible when one of your few good friends had a passion for baked goods that outshone even your own, and insisted on you eating one of her famous Spider Dohnuts each time you stopped by to say hi. Which seemed to be quite often as of late.
No, the real issue with your appearance was how it affected your job.
You scoffed at your reflection and, turning on your heel, continued your usual walk down Main Street at a casual pace.
Employed by a security firm as a regular guard and contracted out to the small historical museum in town since you had first been hired on, you'd always thought yourself the furthest thing from intimidating. It seemed that by the way your co-workers often light-heartedly joked about you, you knew you weren't the only one who thought so too.
Your job typically entailed standing around and simply being a presence to visitors, a deterrent of sorts. People were less likely to cause mischief if they knew they were being watched, but it proved easier said than done when you hardly had much of a presence about you to begin with. Everything about you seemed unfit for the job when you'd first started: your typically reserved demeanor; your soft-spoken voice that often had you repeating your words several times before you were properly heard; the way you tended to shy away and close in from others whenever the opportunity presented itself. You had always been the sort who could stand in the heart of a crowd yet go utterly unnoticed by those around you, and damn if it hadn't taken you what felt like an eternity to learn how to play the role of 'security guard' well.
Your co-workers knew you were easily the best when it came to customer service and calming patrons, perhaps because you were such a tiny, soft-spoken little thing. And by all the stars in the night sky, you used it to your advantage when dealing with people on the job whenever possible. Hell, it was only after you'd started sporting your eyepatch that people began to take more note of you silently observing them from whatever corner you and your fellow guard were posted in that particular day. But you had always felt ill-suited for the job when compared to the rest of your family.
In all honesty the only reason you had applied in the first place was because you'd felt it had been expected of you. Your father had been employed with the same business for nearly two decades, as had your mother for a time, and even your younger sister had eventually taken up a job working security within Ebott City under a different company when she'd finally graduated. It had often been joked about when you were younger that you'd follow in your father's footsteps when you were old enough to apply. When those jokes had stopped being mere jokes and had become expectations, you weren't even entirely sure, but you'd eventually caved under the weight of them and your parents had never been more proud of you.
You didn't even really like the job, but damn if you weren't determined to prove yourself capable to everyone regardless. Unlike your spitfire sister whom you had always envied for her bold and daring and rambunxious personality, you'd always felt like the square trying to fit properly in a circular hole. It paid well enough to allow you to keep a roof over your head and you got along with a majority of your co-workers, sure, but there was something about only interacting with people were when things went wrong that had always rubbed you the wrong way. Nowadays you often found yourself lamenting the fact that you'd never applied for a position in a flower or pastry shop instead.
Turning left you made your way down a smaller, more narrowed road. Around you, the buildings were gradually giving way to wide, spacious grounds dotted heavily with mighty oaks. It was just as you began the long walk down a gravel path that wove its way across the well-kept lawns now surrounding you that your steady stride faltered for a moment.
A distant chanting of voices rose up almost hauntingly through the morning mist that had settled across the grounds in front of the museum. You had a sinking suspicion you knew what lay ahead given the sounds weren't that of the usual din of visitors that typically congregated outside before the grand opening of an exhibition. It took only a minute or so before the large doors of the museum proper came in to view, and you couldn't stifle a string of quiet curses at the sight that greeted you; several dozen individuals had gathered before a large banner draped across the side of the building featuring the opening of the latest exhibit due to debut in a few hours (HISTORY REDISCOVERED - A BREATHTAKING EXHIBITION OF A MAGICAL WORLD BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE). The sea of bright signs above their head was enough to wipe away any doubts you might have had.
Anti-monster demonstrators intent on stating their obvious discontent for the exhibition, no doubt. You and your fellow guards had heard of the troubles the Ebott Museum of Nature and Science in the city had faced with a similar situation when they had held an event on the topic of Souls. Every one of your fellow guards had quietly hoped that this exhibit would, by some small miracle, pass under the radar of those people. Most of the hype had died down in the past year or so as the world slowly came to accept that monsters were more than just bedtime stories, but it had changed the area nonetheless.
And where there was change, there would always be resistance.
While there had been no shortage of people who welcomed these new neighbors, there had been just as many who openly scorned their existence. At first, the protests were small; things like quiet demonstrations usually held outside the city hall when the first monster-run business opened its doors or a daycare dubbed itself 'monster-friendly'. But all too soon they grew and became more violent until it climaxed with the full-scale riots. One series in particular, you recalled with bitter clarity, had swallowed the nearby city as well as surrounding areas, your own town included. Madness had run rampant for a whopping four days after monsters had been granted full citizenship and the rights to purchase and own land, and both their kind as well as your own had suffered losses as a result of the insanity.
Hell, your small town was STILL reeling after word had spread of an attack that occurred in a monster neighborhood on the outskirts of the city following the signing of a bill that allowed inter-racial marriages. An innocent couple, murdered in cold blood simply because they had fallen in love.
You felt your blood boil at the unfairness of it all.
Over the past six years, monster kind had fought hard for - and won - the same legal rights as any human, with the sole exception being a ban still in effect on the public use or display of magic. But while it all sounded pretty enough on paper, you knew you'd never be able to truly imagine the suffering their kind was still subjected to at the hands of humanity.
Yeah, you weren't even going to deny it. Humans were assholes.
And now you were going to get to have to put up a full group of the worst sort of assholes for the rest of the day if things didn't change soon.
You grumbled quietly at what the day seemed to have in store for you as you straightened yourself and made every effort to hide the biting anger that cascaded over you as you realized the demonstrators were now busying themselves by shouting slurs at a particular group of monsters gathered amidst the crowd of visitors patiently waiting for the doors to open. Your eye darted towards the camera set over the front entrance to find that, rather than facing down upon on the doors as it usually was, it had been redirected to oversee the commotion out front.
No doubt Albert, the night-shift guard in the command center, was likely sitting in his plush chair with a bag of popcorn in his lap this very second. He wouldn't be able to leave, that much you already knew - policy stated that someone always remained in that room - but that didn't mean he couldn't have someone else do it for him. If you read the atmosphere around correctly (something that you'll admit you never were quite the best at), then the patrolling guard should have been notified of the goings-on by now and sent to deter any troublemakers from potentially dusting someone. Or vice versa.
Yet the patrol officer on duty at the moment was Deacon, and if you knew anything at all about the man then he was likely off in some corner out of the view of cameras napping again, his radio turned down low so as to not disturb his slumber. The lazy bastard.
Still, simply storming up and asking every last person with a sign to get the hell off the grounds wouldn't exactly be earning you any favors with your supervisors. Observe and report and all that jazz. Unless someone started an actual physical confrontation, there wasn't much that could be-
And you jinxed it.
You didn't even bother suppressing a groan as you watched some idiot with arms as thick as tree trunks step forward to shove a figure in blue, immediately resulting in the rest of the latter's party gathering around defensively. You hurried forward before the demonstrators could successfully encircle the monsters.
Stars, but you hated dealing with crowds. And to think, you wouldn't even be getting paid to deal with this as you were still off the clock.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" You bellowed out over the cacophony as you quickly settled into your usual role. Several protestors ceased their hate-filled chanting and turned to look at you angrily, as did the group of monsters. Skeletons, you took a quick moment to realize. Huh. You'd never seen their kind before. You silently thanked your stars you hadn't waited any longer to intervene, because it honestly looked like at least two particularly edgy ones had been itching for a reason to fight, if not for the arm their companion in an orange hoodie who was currently trying to dissuade them. They each froze, their gazes lingering on you as you approached.
You quickly redirected your attention back to the chanting protestors and the task at hand.
"I said EXCUSE ME!" You bellowed.
Silence finally fell over the crowd.
For someone so petite, you could certainly make yourself heard when you really wanted to.
You took a defiant step between the two groups and turned your attention to the demonstrators...
Only to find yourself standing before the man who had started the conflict. Now that you got a good look at him he really seemed a lot more intimidating close-up. Like a damn mountain, you thought nervously as you turned to face him fully. You tried not to think about how easily those massive hands could break bones (be them the bones of one of the skeletons behind you or your own).
"You have somethin' t' say, miss?" He loomed over you, apparently sizing you up. You didn't fail to notice his gaze lingering on the patch over your left breast that signified your position at the museum and the corner of your mouth turned down into a faint scowl at the sight of the cocky grin he soon had plastered to his face. "Hehe, you know this is publicly-funded property, right?" His grin widened as though daring you to challenge his words. "We got every right to be he-"
"-I'm not saying you don't," you interjected, your voice level as you attempted to stomp out the tension in the air. "In fact, you are well within your rights to voice your opinions on site." The ghost of a smirk played its way across your lips at the look of mild surprise that quickly crossed the features of the man before you. He clearly hadn't been expecting you to give him the okay so casually.
Behind you came a noise you could only describe as a low growl, undoubtedly from one of the skeletons. You only just managed to suppress a shudder at the sound.
"You will, however," you continued, "be requested to remove yourself from the property if your presence is deemed by security to pose a threat to the safety of visitors. Likewise, the act of verbally or physically harassing visitors while on museum property," you turned slightly to face the skeletons behind you, "is grounds for your removal as well." Your gaze met the eyelights of the short skeleton that had been shoved. Despite the seemingly permanent smile his teeth were set in, it seemed... strained, but all too soon you saw his posture relax slightly as they rested their hands in the pockets of their blue hoodie. A smile graced your features to mimic his own as you turned back to the man looming over you. "Are there any questions?"
You spared only a moment before continuing, cutting off any opportunity for a rebuttal. "Wonderful! Then if that is all, " you motioned up the long walkway you'd just come down from, "I'll kindly have to request that this demonstration be taken further up the road." Hopefully being so far away from the building would mean the rest of society wouldn't have to be too bothered with their bullshit for the remainder of the morning.
The mountainous man, however, refused to budge.
"And we'll kindly have to refuse," he seemed to growl in reply. Your smile faltered slightly as you felt the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You weren't the best at reading people, you wouldn't even TRY to deny that, but you even you couldn't miss the hostility in his voice now.
"That's fine too," came your reply, your good eye narrowing to match your now stern tone. "But please be aware that, by refusing the requests of security, you choose to be escorted offsite by law enforcement instead."
You really hated playing that card. They rarely if ever had to resort to actually calling in P.D. to deal with troublemakers and when they did, it often took them so long to arrive on site that the situation was eventually resolved long before then anyway. But these people didn't know that, and you could work the threat masterfully when you needed to.
"Relocation or removal. Your choice."
Several tense moments passed as you stared down the man before you before murmurs and the shuffling of feet made him look away. Around him, others were slowly gathering their belongings to move. Eventually, he too seemed to cave, as he stepped back and slowly followed his peers in resignation.
You mustered your most professional smile as he passed. "And, please, be mindful of all incoming and outgoing traffic. Have a fantastic day!"
Your smile only grew as the mountainous man whipped around to glare at you one more time before murmuring something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like fucking monster lover. But any further actions he may have had in mind were never acted upon as one of his companions down the road shouted for him. Shooting one final scowl your way the man stormed off.
Only when you were certain every last demonstrator was out of earshot did you finally let your shoulders slump slightly with an audible sigh of relief. When had you become so tense? Stars. You really hadn't needed this trouble so early on in your morning.
"I am so, so terribly sorry about that," you said as you hastily wheeled around to face the group of monsters behind you, only to find them staring at you with an expression you couldn't quite place. Surprise, perhaps? Or was it suspicion? How strange. Did bones typically have that wide a range of movement? Eeh. You would just dismiss it as being magic. It would save you the headache of trying to figure out the finer aspects of it all.
"HUMAN!" You were shaken from your thoughts as the smallest of the six pushed past two of the others and rushed forward to take your hands in his own gloved ones, making you flinch. You weren't a big fan of people touching you out of the blue.
He stood equal in height to you, but spoke with a volume you could have never imagined would come from someone of his stature. "THAT WAS AMAZING!" Their gaze met your own, their eyelights twinkling like stars in their pitch-black sockets. No, wait. They were literal star-shaped lights, wide and bright and as brilliant a cyan blue as you'd ever seen as they beamed up at you in adoration. You felt your cheeks redden at his compliment.
He was officially the cutest thing in the history of ever.
"A-ah... thank you..?" You stammered shyly, a ghost of a small smile betraying your attempt to remain professional before a bony hand rested on the shoulder of the skeleton before you.
"ya can let her go now, blue," the one in the orange hoodie chuckled. Blue begrudgingly did as he was told and you withdrew your hands back the moment they were free to flex your fingertips as you willed the tingle from lack of blood flow away. Another of their group - the one who'd been shoved, you realized - stepped forward to take Blue's place as the latter drew back amongst his friends. While this one had looked a bit tense during the altercation, he now seemed perfectly relaxed as he shot you a lazy grin.
"thanks for the hand, kid. eye really appreciate it."
Wait. Did he really just...?
Several of the other skeletons, including Blue, groaned at the puns, though you noted a snicker from a taller one in orange and the shorter of the two edge-lords who had taken to standing side-by-side in the back. One of the taller ones, in particular, seemed especially ruffled by the jokes as he groaned into the brilliant crimson scarf fluttering around his neck.
"SANS, THAT WAS HARDLY NECESSARY!" Came his voice with a loudness that could rival Blue's. He buried his head in his gloved hands as if trying to hide his shame.
"aww, c'mon paps. that was a real rib-tickler."
Even you couldn't repress a quiet chuckle at the awfulness of it all. It seemed to be the reaction he'd been hoping for though, as his smile only widened and his eyelights flickered merrily.
Whatever pun the skeleton - Sans? - had in store for you next was cut short as the museum doors were thrown open and a guard bolted out looking breathless.
Looks like Albert had managed to wake up Deacon after all.
"Well. Good morning sunshine," you said with a knowing smirk. A faint dusting of red appeared on his cheeks as he stared at you, then to the monsters before you and back again.
"Ah.. G-Good morning. I was just about t-to-"
"Already taken care of," came your reply. You trained your good eye over the group and beamed at them each in turn. "I'm afraid I have to head in, but I do hope you all enjoy the exhibition!" You gave a quick bow of farewell before hurrying up the steps and through the doors before calling over your shoulder, "I'll keep an eye out for you all inside!"
You saw grins spread across the faces of half of the group in response to your joke while the other half practically threw their hands up in resigned defeat before they vanished behind the closing doors.
Inside the lobby, the only sound that broke the silence was Deacon's still-labored breathing. "S-Sorry about that, Y/N. I got... err.. caught up in a few things. You alright?" He looked you over as though searching for any missing limb, but you dismissed his concerns with a wave of your hand.
"Of course you were," The sarcasm that laced your innocently sweet tone did not go unnoticed. "Did'ja enjoy your nap?"
His hearty chuckle echoed in the empty lobby as the two of you made for the command center.