Surrounded by mountains and forests, the survivors of the latest barrage of violence against their kind, hid in terror as their kind beyond the contains of their little encampment were being decimated. The thinning winter trees and the rocky outcropping offered little in the way of cover but it gave them at least some semblance of protection. Amidst the frightened folk. Toriel, a beacon of hope, did her best to allay their fears. Currently she was tending to a young Moldsmal, curled into the warmth of her side, shuddering in it's simple terror. Trying to take comfort from the boss monster.
“It's OK.” She soothed, stroking it's gluttonous membrane. The Moldsmal managed a little wriggle in response to the kind and gentle voice but Toriel could still feel the trembles emanating from it's entire body.
Toriel smiled sadly. The poor thing was too young and too naïve to truly understand what was going on. It only knew that bad things were happening and that it should fear them. It should never have had to feel like this. None of them should. Everything had gone so wrong.
“Papa, Where's mummy? Is she coming back soon? I miss her. Where is she?”
In the huddled mass further in, a Flamesman child fretted at her father's arm, Tugging with confused hope. Her eyes tearful and needy as her father helplessly fumbled with his words. He looked lost as he tried to answer her.
“Your mama.... your mama... your mama is...”
The Flamesman father broke down, rivulets of lava like tears dropping like petals as his daughter continued to tug and query until he merely scooped her up and held her as his tears fell over her. She whined, her voice nearly muffled as he held her to his chest. Every word a twist to Toriel's motherly soul.
“Where is mama?”
She demanded, twisting in her father's grip.
“Papa, where is Mama?”
She squirmed harder, little hands twisting on her father's arm. Twisting and clinging and desperate. Trying to catch his attention until realisation started to set in.
“Mama. Mama. MAMA!”
Her voice grew louder and louder until the damn burst as the child started to realise what her father could not say. Toriel could not bear it. She sweetly patted the Moldsmal in her lap before gently lifting it to place it near it's own brethren. The Group of Moldsmal wobbled and vibrated in greeting to their new member. Oscillating in sympathy and distress as the young one melded it's membrane to their mass, seeking comfort.
Toriel turned her attention to the father and daughter, kindly smiling as she knelt down to the pair. The father, eyes still a torrent, turned his ache towards the kindly monster with the faint of a smile through his tears, his gaze beseeching, even as the child continued wailing in his arms.
Toriel gestured to the child and the Flamesman father with almost a sense of hope, adjusted his daughter for her attention to the new presence. The child alert to a change of her father's grip, struggled harder a moment more, fearing a second separation until she caught sight of the boss monster. She stilled, even her cries fading as she stared into the caring face.
Toriel moved one paw to wipe away the tears staining down the child's face. Inside her soul ached at seeing a child so distressed but her caring upturned mouth remained.
“Child. It will be OK.“ She gently spoke.
“Your father is still here. And I know it hurts but you are safe now. Your mama...”
Toriel paused, thinking of the gentlest way to continue.
“Your mama would be very proud of you. I lost my parents a long time ago. It was hard, but I know they still loved me. Still love me. Your mama is... gone. But she left you a precious gift. The magic in your soul. That's from her and your father.”
The child on the brink once more looked achingly at where her soul would reside. She whimpered at the loss as tears started to over spill again. Toriel cupped the child's hands in a gentle gesture, so tiny against her own, before putting them to the child's own chest.
“In here. Your mama will always be here. The warmth you sometimes feel in your soul is her love spilling over even when she can no longer tell you the words herself.”
“Mommy is here?” The child's voice pained with a touch of curiosity.
“Always, child. Always. A mother's love never fades.”
“But she's gone? The humans took her away?” Hope and dread spilled in the child's tears but she looked straight at Toriel despite the emotions flowing through her little body.
“I am sorry, but yes. She is gone from the world as you know her. But that does not mean she is gone from the world completely. It will hurt. It will hurt for a long time but never forget. And your father. “
The Flamesman adult, seemingly all but forgotten whilst his gaze was solely on his daughter looked up again. Toriel clasped his arm. His pain was more raw, more aware then the innocence of a child but she saw he took the words in as much as his daughter.
“Your father is here. Your father loves you. He will be there through the pain as you grieve. There is no shame in that. But he is here and we, myself, Asgore and the entire monster army will protect you. I promise. You will not be alone in this. You will not be parted. “
The child hugged her father something fierce. There was a possessiveness in it that was soulbreaking to see in a child but Toriel felt the hope in it too. The child would have her father. Toriel would make sure of that. They just needed to survive.
The moment was broken when the loud pounding of heavy footsteps interrupted the melancholy. The refugees huddled and cried out and shook in anticipation of an attack. Only for it to partial sate when a single monsters ran past the huddled masses. Toriel frowned as she watched the soldier storm past the group with not even a glance. She recognised the monster. Captain Trebuchet was hard not to recognise. He wore the standard armour of a Skeleton Captain; white like his bones and the tattered feather wilting from his helmet. And his face even for a skeleton was sunken in. One eye hole cracked and frayed around the edges but still sighted and the patch of plastered bone around his jaw from an old injury. And yet the smile he always aimed for was replaced with a deep scowl.
Worry pitted her soul as he stormed towards the enclosed area where her Husband was. The Captain should have been at his post, ordering his men but the fact he had abandoned that role to speak to the King directly was a truly bad omen. He didn't even bother to announce his arrival as he pulled open the slit and barged inside. There was an urgency in his actions that stirred ill omens.
Toriel gave the young Flamesman and her father a gentle pat, vowing to keep her promise to them, before setting off towards the large tent, Ensconced by a jutting rock at the mountain base. Even as she approached, the clear precise voice of the Captain carried. She fretted more as the usually tactician skeleton had an uncommon edge to it. She braced herself before following into the tent.
“It's not possible, Your Highness! We are being pushed back faster then we can defend. It's just not tenable. My men are dying left and right. There is more dust then dirt and we, are, losing!”
The Captain paced the tent like a tethered dog. He still ignored Toriel as his ranting increased. His focus entirely on her husband. Asgore himself did not look like he was enjoying the conversation any more then the Captain. Toriel saw the worry lines in his usually jovial face along with a hardened stare so unlike his kind nature.
“Captain Trebuchet. I know very well what the situation is. I have gone over the plans numerous times. We cannot pull back our troops now. Not when we are pushed as far as we are already.”
Trebuchet slammed his calloused fist hard on the sturdy table dominating the tent. His eyes glowed purple with magic and anger.
“We can't win, SIR. If there is nowhere to go behind us then we must go around the threat. These people need to be moved. It's only a matter of time before the humans surround us completely. ”
Asgore stood to his full height, making Trebuchet look small in his shadow. His teeth showed, and his claws flexed as his gaze bore the Captain down. Toriel felt a shift of something inside of her. Something faintly new and unwanted. A feeling that she never really felt towards Asgore before. It was fear she realised. Fear of her husband. He had made her feel many things but this was different. Fear of her husband, not for him. The war was pulling the dark part of his soul up and out like a weed. Fractured like their lives had become.
“Enough! I will hear no more. You have abandoned your post to tell me nothing of worth. If you fear for your men's lives then go back and stand by them. I WILL NOT BE MOVED!”
Yet Trebuchet was not cowed. He cared not for the height or the power difference in them. It was his relentlessness that garnered him the Captain armour in the first place after all.
“You know what you are really asking, My king?” His voice cold, “We cannot win with what remains of my army. We will need new recruits. You know what that requires. The humans already despise us...”
“Needs must.” Asgore finished harshly for the Skeleton. His mood unchanged. His conviction the same. Toriel wondered what the weight was doing to her husband's soul. This was not the monster she had married all those years ago but then for a glimpse she saw the one she loved appear.
“It is a fool's errand to attempt to escape now. They will hunt us down,” The King spoke tiredly, though still the firmness remained. “They outnumber us. Here we know the land. Here we have... hope.”
Trebuchet, stubborn as he was, showed no signs of being swayed. Toriel could understand. Here they were sheltered mostly from the cruelty of war whilst the Captain had seen death and carnage face on. She drifted to her husband's side. Paw hovering just out of reach of his arm. Asgore glanced her way but said nothing to her. Toriel's paw fell limply. Her support would do nothing here.
“I can have my colleagues prepare for the new recruits, Your majesty.”
Everyone startled at the new voice. From the edges of the tent another Skeleton stepped forth, his existence appearing as if by magic, although it was only because he had been forgotten in his silence until now. He had a habit of doing that; Doctor Gaster. It did not help that his bones were as snow. Bleached from sun and heat. A ghost among skeletons.
“I had considered the possibility and brought the necessary equipment with me. The only hardship would be requiring the materials.”
Captain Trebuchet frowned at his fellow Skeleton monster. His mandible pulling down as such to show the edging of where his jaw had been re-affixed. The look of disdain clear in his eye sockets. The Captain did not like Doctor Gaster. Not one bit. Trebuchet saw Skeletons as strong; monsters of action and deeds. Doctor Gaster had hid in the shadows, cloistered away from his own like a pariah, entirely of his own choice. The fact the Doctor had little dealings with his own kind was a slap in the face to his fellow Skeletons. Trebuchet saw Gaster as a Skeleton who looked down on his own, as if he was better then them. But really the doctor was kidding himself, the Captain thought. He wasn't above them, he was merely the Royal lapdog. His frown turned into a sneer as he considered the doctor's own moral compass. The Doctor would side with the King no matter what.
For his part, Doctor Gaster paid no mind to the whirling contempt his brethren was sending his way. It wasn't the first time the Captain or some of the other Skeletons were openly disgusted with his presence and likely it wouldn't be the last. Over the years he had developed a thicker skin so to speak. Names like lapdog and royal pet that once would have sent him crying to his creator had long since dried in their hurt. Growing up with Asgore, the King and his open friendship was like a dam against the pain. Asgore did not shun or treat him lesser for being a Skeleton, and on the days the insults hurt the most, the King was there by his side. It did not matter that he was there in service to the crown; a child prodigy being moulded as an advisor, Asgore only saw a fellow child in need of a friend. A relationship that bloomed into a lasting friendship and deep respect and with it, Gaster had grown in confidence. Gaster would do anything for the monster that stood by his side despite their differences.
“Captain you have your orders,” the King commanded. Trebuchet hesitated. His conscience warred with his duty, daring him to defy the King and leave, but, he knew that he could not stand aside. If it must be so, then at least those doomed to die should have someone on their side.
“If that is what you wish, but know this, Asgore, and have it stain upon your soul. These will not be hardened warriors. These we will be new life sent to die. It will be a short brutal life and they will ask, why? Why must I be born to die?”
Not waiting or caring for a reply, The Captain turned on his heel and stormed out. Asgore stood firm for almost a minute as the clank of armour receded in the distance. Silent and steady until at last he sighed and slumped where he stood.
“Husband.” Toriel whispered, finally being allowed to place her paw about his arm. Feeling the spring of taut muscles lying beneath the fur and robes of his station. It was hard like rock but beneath it she could sense the vibration of undercurrent of stress he held beneath the surface. She leaned closer to him, hoping to offer her calming nature to quell his disquieted soul. She also hoped the closeness would ease the thoughts slowly clouding her own mind. Trebuchet's parting words... troubled her.
“I'm sorry, my dearest wife. This is not how I envisioned our future.”