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Stray Skeleton Crossing

Chapter Text

     The stars twinkled above you as you rode your boat down the calm river, singing and humming your merry little shanties. The air was filled with the droning chirps of crickets, filling you with a sense of peace. It was a quaint little town you lived in, nestled at the heart of Ebott Valley. The town was also relatively modern, enough to have cars, trucks, and other vehicles, so you didn't have much purpose as a transportation service. However, you knew that not everyone could afford a vehicle to drive to where they needed to go. So for those kinds of people, you happily lent a hand whenever you could--free of charge.

     The residents, you note, were mostly (if not all) monsters. You can't recall the last time you saw a human in these parts, if you ever did. Though there hadn't been any major conflicts between the two societies in spite of their differences, you still noticed the traces of segregational tension.

     Whether you, yourself, were a monster or human was hard to tell. You wore obscuring attire reminiscent of a medieval monk, in varied shades of muted purple--namely, a darker cowl that completely overshadowed your face, over lighter, loosely fitted robes that nearly touched the ground, a thin rope tied around your waist, as well as your hands and lower arms completely wrapped in faded cloth bandaging. And the way you spoke in a mildly raspy, almost androgynous-sounding voice certainly didn't help. You were almost an urban legend among the town's inhabitants, with how little else they knew about you. Nobody knew where you came from, how old you were, if you were male or female, or even your real name. You were simply a passerby through their lives, riding on your trusty wooden boat, helping those who need it.

     And thus, they dubbed you "The River Person".
     It was a relatively generic title, but you rolled with it.

     Suddenly, you sensed a disturbance in the air. It sounded like the crying of a child. Now, you rarely left your boat while you weren't at home on a "day off", but it sounded serious. You slowed down, listening for the sound until it was close to earshot, and you stopped your boat. Lifting one foot, then the other, you disembarked to search for the source of this disturbance. You pushed past the once ashen-green reeds, who were now beginning to wither as autumn drew near. Then you made your way past the woodland outskirts of one of the town's main streets. Wandering down the shoulder of said street, you eventually come to a stop.

     There was a small, distraught monster girl on the other side of the street. A skeleton, to be exact. They were a pretty rare sight to see, even in a town like this. Her features were rather “anatomically accurate” as humans say, which was an even rarer sight–often a sign of significant prowess. She wore a rather fancy pink and white short-sleeved dress with a white sash tied into a bow in the back, a large-brimmed white sunhat with a black ribbon around its base and into a bow, and what seemed to be a pair of red rainboots peeking from underneath her skirt. She was crying into her little bony hands, all alone in the darkening night. You became concerned at the sight of this, wondering where the young one’s parents were. You cross the road to approach her, leaving faint, damp footprints on the cracked asphalt.

         "Tra la la... hello, there."

         "Sniff... huh?" the girl uttered, looking up from her hands.

         You crouched down toward her eye level.
         "What's the matter, little one? Are you lost?"

         "I... I'm scared. I want to go home." she replied, wiping away her tears.

         "I see. It is pretty late. Do you know where your house is?"

         "...Yeah." the girl replied.

     She walked towards the middle of the street, and pointed to the left.

         "It's that way." she said.

         "Ah."
         You stood back up. "I can take you home, if you'd like."

         The girl looked at the ground, seeming unsure.

         "...Don't you want to go home? Your parents must be worried sick."

         "...Okay." she conceded.

         "Alright then, follow me."

     You begin to go down the road in the appointed direction, but turned your head and stopped upon noticing that the girl wasn't following. She was twiddling her thumb bones, still looking unsure.

         "Hm? What's the matter now?"

         The girl looked at you nervously. "Wh... what if there are bad things out there? I don't want the bad things to get me."

     You thought to yourself for a moment, then you got an idea. You went back up to her, slipping your hands inside your hood to reach around your neck. You unfastened something that was hanging around your neck, and showed it to her. It was a string of beautiful, shiny, baby-blue pearls.

         "Here, you can borrow this."

         "What is it?" she asked.

         "This is a magical necklace, made of the finest blue pearls in the world. If you wear it, no evil shall harm you. It will keep you safe."

         The girl's eyesockets widened in interest.
         "C... can you help me put it on?"

         "Of course."

         You went behind the girl and looped the string around her neck, fastening it.
         "There we are... Oh drat, it's all tangled up."

         "It's okay. It wasn't your fault." she said.

     It wasn't your fault.
     For some reason, those words echoed in your mind.

         You adjusted the necklace.
         "There. All fixed."

         "Pretty!" the girl said, seeming to cheer up a bit.

         "Glad you like them."

         You walked back in front of her.
         "By-the-by, what's your name?"

         "...Arial." she replied.

         "Arial? That's... a lovely name."

         "Thanks." she muttered, looking away shyly.

         "Well, it's very nice to meet you, Arial. Now let's get you home. We can walk there, though it may be faster if we take my boat."

         "We can take your boat." she said.

         "Alright. It's right this way."

     As mysterious as you were, you had a good enough reputation to be entrusted with children. In fact, on your "days off", you'd sometimes find work as a babysitter for a few hours while somebody's parents went to work or on a date together. It was one of the ways that you made actual money, since your boat rides were always free and out of goodwill. There were the occasional tips, of course, but you never imposed upon the idea.

     You began to walk away again, with Arial following you this time. You felt her draw nearer, her bony fingers clinging to your sleeve as you two walked along the street and back to the river, where your empty boat resided.

         As you go to step on your boat, Arial gasped.
         "Hey, your boots are red, too!"

         You stretch out a foot, glancing down at the boot it was wearing.
         "Ah, so they are. What are the odds?"

     It was true, as much as they stuck out like a sore thumb alongside your other attire. But they were comparably more weathered than hers, and mostly stayed out of sight under your robes.

         With one foot, then the other, you boarded your boat.
         "Watch your step, little one."

         "Okay." said Arial, carefully boarding after you.

         "Off we go. Tra la la..."

     The boat started moving, briskly floating along the river. The wind softly breezed around you, carrying a few fallen leaves of various autumnal tints. You and Arial watched a car pass by on the road behind the trees, glad that you were nowhere near any danger such as that.

         After a while, Arial tugged at your sleeve.
         "Oh! Stop here, please."

     You stopped the boat, turning your head to see that you were docked in front of a house across the street, seeing it through a clearing in the reeds and trees. The stone path was illuminated by rows of streetlamps on either side, leading up to the front door of the house. The house itself appeared to be two storeys tall, with brown wood panelling. There was also a small shed off to the left, seeming to be made of the same material. There were trimmed bushes surrounding the house, giving it even more of a quaint and cozy look.

         "Is that your house, Arial?"

         "...Yes. Here is fine." she replied.

         "Are you sure?"

         "...Yes." she affirmed.

         "Ah. Well then, take care, little one."

         "...Goodbye!" she said, before disembarking from your boat.

     Taking a few steps up the stone path, she stopped and turned back for  a moment.

         "Um... and thank you!" she added, before heading inside.

         "Wait! My pearls!" you called after her, but she was already gone.

         I can't lose those pearls, you thought.

     As if you suddenly went on autopilot, you disembarked from your boat and headed up the stone path. You went up the wooden steps of the small arched porch framing the front door. The porch’s two arches were illuminated with mounted lamps similar to those on the lampposts, so it wasn't that hard to see. The front door was dark brown with a weathered brass knob, and had an arched glass pane adorned with a simple pine wreath entwined with soft yellow lights hanging in front of it.

     Upon reaching the door, you noticed that it was ajar.

         "Hello?" you called, peeking inside.

         No answer.

     You stood there for a moment, wondering what to do. Should you go in? Wouldn't it be trespassing? Shouldn't Arial's parents be home? Shouldn't any other adult relative, custodian, or babysitter be there, at least? Who would leave a child alone and unsupervised at this time of night?

     Eventually, you decided. You were going in to find Arial, and get your pearls back. You didn't have much of a choice, really. Losing those pearls was not an option. You had to get them back. You had to.

     Taking a deep breath, you pushed the door open and went inside.

Chapter Text

     Upon entering the house, you found yourself standing in the front foyer. The walls were a plain peach-brown color, above brown herringbone flooring. To your immediate left, there was a white door that, when opened, appeared to be the entryway coat closet. Slightly further up to right, there was a wide doorway that appeared to lead into the living room. Towards the top-left corner of the foyer, there was a slightly slimmer doorway that appeared to lead into the kitchen; and a white landline phone mounted on the wall to the right of it. To the left of that doorway, there were two staircases--the left ascending, and the right descending. And to the left of the staircases, there was a another white door that you had no idea what led to.

     You were puzzled to find nobody in sight, even though the lights were on. Taking a few steps further in, you closed the door behind you.

         "Hello?" you called, "Arial, are you in here?"

         Still no answer.

         Where could she be, you wondered.

     You noticed that you were standing on some sort of brown doormat with a golden brown bone-shaped border and thick white text that said "WELCOME", and wiped your boots on it out of consideration. You decided to check the living room first, since it was the first room you spotted.

     The living room was rather large, with walls that were more  of actual peach color; and a large, rectangular rug with a fanciful nature pattern in various complementary hues covering the middle of the floor. There was a standard sliding window in the middle of the north wall with pale apricot curtains, displaying the darkening night outside.

     Below the window, there was an old-timey TV sitting on a dark wood stand, displaying creepy--yet mesmerizing--static. To the left of the TV, there was a tall potted plant that looked rather artificial (and it probably was). There was also a door located to the far-left corner of the room that looked similar to the one you entered through, and surmised that it was the entry to the backyard. However, it was locked.

     To the right of the TV, there was a large, fancy-looking, russet-colored bookcase displaying a wide array of books to read. You couldn't help but "browse" through these books, and found yourself some... interesting ones.

     First was a short story titled "The White Room".

         It sounds familiar, you thought.

     Second was a thin book titled "The Empress and the Shinigami".

         Must be an old Eastern fairytale, you thought.

     Third was a book titled  "Complete Monster Mythos: Gerson Boom".

         I've heard of him, you thought.

     And last was a romance novel titled "The Neighbor's Daughter".

         It looks so worn, you noticed.

     In front of the TV was a large, turquoise-colored sofa that looked like it had seen better days. Adjacent to the east wall was a vermilion-colored armchair that looked incredibly worn out as well. Between the sofa and armchair was a polished wood sidetable with an illuminated, cream-colored ceramic lamp plugged in the nearby socket. As you passed by the sofa, you caught a glimpse of something shiny buried between its cushions, and tried to dig it out. You ended up finding 17 goldpieces, but decided to leave it on the sidetable since it's not polite to steal.

     Behind the couch, you saw a large oil painting hung on the wall depicting a group of various she-monsters in fancy dresses and hats during an afternoon tea party, against a lovely spring backdrop. You could recognize some of the species that were being depicted, such as a merperson, an earth elemental, and--of course--a skeleton. The painting seemed so authentic that you could feel its brushstrokes against your gauze-covered fingers.

         Arial was nowhere to be found in here, so you decided to check somewhere else.

     But suddenly, as you were leaving, you noticed someone standing near the bottom-right corner of the room, gently swaying their body to and fro. They looked like a young, greyscale, reptilian monster with two spikes on the back of their head, and no visible arms. They were wearing a plain hospital gown that looked a little too big for them; and had medical gauze wrapped around their eyes, indicating that they were blinded for some reason. They also had a polaroid camera hanging around their neck by a strap, which was strange given their supposed visual impairment.

     Almost right away, you had a feeling there was something "off" about the little monster. It was mainly because of their monochromatic color, and how it seemed to clash with their more colorful surroundings. They seemed harmless enough, though, so you decided to strike up a friendly chat with them.

         "Excuse me."

     The little monster looked around in confusion. You took the initiative to gently guide their chin with your hand towards your direction.

         "...Oh! H-Hello." they said.

         "Do you live here?"

         "N-No." they said.

         "I see. Well, I hope I'm not being a bother by snooping around a stranger's home."

         "No, y-you're not bothering anybody." they said, "Th-This house has been abandoned f-for years, ha ha."

         "But isn’t there a little skeleton girl named Arial that lives here? I need to find her because she has something of mine."

         They said nothing.

     Feeling awkward, you decide to leave it at that, turning away to continue your search for Arial. She had to be somewhere else in the--

         "Wait." you heard the little monster say.

         You turned around.

         "Pi-Picture?" they offered, holding the camera up with their tail.

         "Well... I suppose."

         The little monster held their camera up a bit higher.
         "Hold... st-still..." they uttered, before bopping the snapshot button with their snout.

     The camera flashed, and a polaroid of you scrolled out of the camera. The little monster pulled it out with the tip of their tail (it was a rather prehensile, you noticed) and put it aside. With a nod of gratitude, they left you to your own devices once more.

     Then, you suddenly notice the white door that the "Picture Kid" (which is what you've decided to call the young monster with the camera) was standing near. Curious, you opened it and found yourself in a small and relatively minimalist room with violet-colored walls. There was another rectangular rug with a rather fancy pattern on it covering the center of the floor, another fancy-looking bookcase (grape-colored this time) to the immediate right of the doorway, a burgundy-colored armchair sitting against the west wall, and another painting that was hanging on the east wall. The painting was a military portrait of an eighteenth-century skeleton general, one who had a rather stern expression on his viscerocranium.

     On the bookshelf in this room, you found a few more interesting titles:

     First was an old textbook titled "Monsters in Theatre: A Comprehensive History".

         It looks humongous, you noticed.

     Second was a horror novel titled "False Visage".

         Sounds horrifying, you thought.

     Third was a book titled "The Compiled Works of Billiam Shakespire".

         Whole sections are torn out, you noticed.

     And last was just a bunch of different encyclopedias.

         There's a whole plethora of subjects here, you noticed.

     To the south wall was another window, with red curtains akin to what one would find at an old-fashioned theatre. It, too, showed how dark it was getting outside, making you wonder what time it was--and how long you've been here snooping around in an apparently abandoned house.

     But you didn't find Arial in here either, so you left to check somewhere else.

     The next possible location was the kitchen. It was comparably smaller than the living room, with pastel yellow walls and muted orange-and-white checkerboard tile flooring. In the middle of the room, there was a light wooden table with three regular chairs and two high chairs--one being light blue while the other was light orange. Seeing the high chairs, you wondered if there were other children living here aside from Arial. There was also a vase with lovely flowers in the center of the table, sitting atop a lace doily mat. At the bottom-right corner was a semi-filled trash can with a wooden-sticked broom leaning against the wall beside it.

     Against the north wall, from left to right, was the main kitchen area. First was a counter with a toaster plugged into a nearby wall socket off to the side. Next to the counter was a stove with a fanciful-looking tea kettle sitting on its right backburner, and an equally cutesy kitchen towel hanging from the oven door handle.

         Better not play with fire, you told yourself.

     Mounted above the stove was a microwave. The microwave's LED panel was blank, and nothing happened when you tried to push the buttons, making you wonder if the appliance was tripped or broken. There was also a pot rack mounted on the wall between the counter and stove, displaying various cookware items. Next to the stove was a simple sink, and next to the sink was a simple refrigerator.

     Located above the sink was another window, with an orange valance-style curtain as well as a small "garden" of some potted plants sitting on the sill. Outside, it was so dark that you could hardly see anything.

     Cupboards were mounted on the upper half of the north wall, above the appliances, but they appeared to be sealed shut. The oven, sink, and refrigerator weren't, though (which made no sense if this were an attempt of child-proofing).

     When you opened the oven door, there was only an empty pie tin with a few stray crumbs strewn about inside it, looking like it's been there for a while.

     When you opened the refrigerator (as well as the freezer), the contents looked relatively normal--save for the several containers labeled "spaghetti".

         Boy, this family sure seemed to like spaghetti, you thought.

     But the sink? It wasn't anything like you expected. You were expecting things like a bottle of dish soap, or some dish sponges, or a pair of dishwashing gloves... but there wasn't any. In fact, there was nothing at all. It was a completely empty space. As you examined this space, you noticed that it almost looked like a passage to somewhere. It even looked big enough to crawl through.

     Looking around for a moment, you decided to crawl through to see where it led.

~~~

     You found yourself crawling across a cold, damp, indigo stone ground; surrounded by wavy, sandy, blue stone walls. The space around you felt quite cramped, just big enough to fit you. But luckily, it was a fairly short trip, as you found a slightly wider opening to somewhere else. As you squeezed yourself into the larger space, you got up on your feet to observe your destination. What you saw made your obscured eyes widen in shock.

         "What in the goddamn...?"

     There were odd, extremely random items littering the space, in front of what appears to be the ruins of some kind of shrine. Exactly what kind of shrine it could be, you hadn't the slightest idea--though you noticed that the debris from the "roof" had tarnished golden adornments that looked vaguely shaped like a pointy-eared dog. The "donation box" was all the way across the room for some reason, with a single goldpiece sitting at the bottom (making you wonder if that was the source of this travesty). A long string of broken fairy lights hung above the ruins, looking like they've been there for quite a while judging by how dull they were.

     Among the junk that trashed the ground, you saw a radio that looked so old that it seemed fossilized, a hardened half-eaten stick of dumplings, two frayed pieces of rope, a sprinkle-covered rock sitting on a plate, an empty bag of chips, and a moldy old sock.

     You also found what you thought was just a joke book laying on the ground, and picked it up to read it. But when you opened it, you found a quantum physics book inside, which opened to another joke book, which opened to another quantum physics book (you decided to stop at that point).

     Greatly confused, you began to question why Arial's family would have such an absurd space in an even more absurd place, and how it could possibly have any purpose other than being a inconspicuous hiding spot or storm shelter. But even then, why would they have all this silly clutter lying about? This just all seems like a waste of...!

     Suddenly, you noticed the massive wooden door in the middle of the ruins. It was dark violet in color, and had four strange symbols that resemble playing card suits painted on it. The door appeared to be sealed shut by a massive golden lock with four keyholes. As you went up to inspect this mysterious locked door, you saw an crudely-written inscription etched on the floor, which read:

         "FOUR ARCANE KEYS
         HIDDEN BEFORE YOUR EYES
         FIND THEM TO DISCOVER
         AN ENLIGHTENING SURPRISE."

         Uh... okay? you thought.

     You decided to leave at this point, since you didn't have any of these "keys" to open the door. You didn't even know if this was a quest meant for you specifically, so it really wasn't any of your concern. Plus, Arial wasn't even in here anyway, so there was no reason to stay here.

~~~

     Crawling back out into the kitchen, you stood up and leaned against the sink, sighing in exhaustion. You still haven't found Arial yet, and it seemed you were running out of options. There was only one possible place left to look.

     You went up to the white door by the staircases to see what was behind it. It appeared to be a small bathroom, with cyan-colored walls and coral pink tile flooring. There was no toilet to be seen (which was understandable since monsters don't--ahem--"produce excrement" like humans do). But there was a bathtub (that faintly smelled like bleach) as well as a sink with a mirror. The bathtub was located against the west wall, with a muted magenta shower curtain as well as a fluffy muted purple bath mat in front of it. There were a few bottles of body wash sitting in the top-left corner of the tub, which smelled rather nice in your opinion.

     There was also another window that was (rather foolishly) located above the bathtub, with aqua green curtains. The night was so dark out it was virtually pitch black. You began to wonder if you were even in the same dimension anymore.

     As you tried to look in the mirror above the sink, you were disgusted by how dirty it was. It was so dirty, in fact, you could hardly see your reflection! Then you decided to examine the cabinet below the sink (since you were sooo good at not being a snoop), where you found nothing but a huge jug of bleach.

         Figures, you thought.

     Arial was not present in any of the rooms you've checked, but you refused to give up hope. This was only the first floor, right? There was a flight of stairs out in the foyer that went up, so there had to be a second floor.

     You approached the ascending staircase, standing at the bottom step for a moment before slowly reaching for the banister. Your spindly, gauze-covered fingers curled  around the top rail as you began your climb, the steps softly creaking beneath your feet. As you climbed, though, you felt a strange chill in the air that you couldn't seem to shake off for some reason.

     Then, upon reaching the top step, you were stopped dead in your tracks by a shadowy, humanoid being that blocked your path. The being vaguely resembled a tall, pale man wearing a black suit with long coattails, a purple undershirt, and a black tie. His face was obscured by a mauve-colored mask depicting a smiling, wrinkled face. You noticed that the exposed parts of his face and neck, as well as his hands, had vaguely skeletal features. You also noticed that his hands had gaping holes in their palms, that looked like they were artificially cut out.

     You watched as this strange man stood in front, slightly hunched over, in front of the nearmost door in the hallway--the first of three it seemed, though it was hard to tell from your obstructed point of view. His hunched stance was quite firm, as if he were "guarding" something. Not wanting to be seen, you swiftly absconded down the stairs, looking back to see if the strange man followed. But he was nowhere to be found.

         What the hell was that? you wondered.

     Suddenly, you noticed a trail of muddy footprints going down the descending staircase, vaguely recognizing the type of footwear that left them.

         Arial must've gone this way, you thought.

     You were bemused by how you didn't notice them before--that is, unless they somehow didn't appear until now. But regardless, you finally found a clue to your little fugitive's whereabouts. You proceeded to follow the trail down the stairs, and found yourself in a dark, mono-grey corridor upon reaching the bottom. You continued to follow the trail, still wary of seeing more strange men blocking your way. There weren't, fortunately, but you noticed that there was a chill in the air again--though this time, it felt like a literal drop in temperature.

         Brrr! Why is it so chilly down here? you wondered.

     You were nearly startled by the sight of your breaths puffing out into a vaporous cloud, as if you were standing outside on a winter day. Admittedly, though, the apparent drop in temperature didn't really bother you all that much. You had taken people across the river through all four seasons--rain, shine, heat, cold, it didn't really matter. You'd actually receive surprised remarks from people wondering why you didn't seem bothered by any of the weather's hardships. And you'd always assure them no matter what, they could always count on you.

     But still, you couldn't help but wonder how Arial's family could allow their basement to get this cold. And for it to be this cold, there had to be a broken heating apparatus they couldn't afford (or be bothered) to fix--for a very, very long time. On the other hand, it could simply mean that you may be near some sort of cold storage area, and the cold air was just leaking through neighboring walls. Though after seeing those strange beings upstairs earlier, as well as that weird space under the sink in the kitchen, you were now beginning to realize that this was no ordinary house. Was it cursed? Haunted? Perhaps. All you knew was that there was something bigger lying deep below the surface of this mystery.

     The trail eventually stopped, and looked like they went under yet another white door. You reached for the handle, only to nearly jump in shock at how cold it was, even for your gauze-covered touch. In fact, you thought you saw something lightly covering the knob.

         Is that... frost? you wondered.

     Hesitantly, you turned the handle and opened the door. When you arrived at what seemed to be the basement, you were blinded by a thick, hazy flurry that coated the entire room.

         What the... Why is it snowing indoors...? you wondered.

     You stepped in further, only to hear the door suddenly shut itself, followed by an audible click. You rushed back and tried the handle, but the door wouldn't budge.

         I'm locked in, you sighed.

     Having no choice but to go forward, you entered a wider region of the area. It was hard to see anything, and you were worried that you would accidentally bump into something. After walking a few feet into this wider space, you stopped to see two shadowy shapes, with eyes like scarlet lights that glowed brightly in the haze. Standing warily, you noticed that the shape on the left was much taller than the one on the right They almost seemed like an adult and a child, respectively. The shapes stood there, silent and still, their glowering eyes seeming to burn right through your very being.

     Then suddenly, the haze began to dissipate.

Chapter Text

You stood in uneasy silence before the two strange beings, watching them suspiciously under your obscuring hood. Though you were basically used to this by now, there was something about these two that set them apart from the other beings you've encountered in this house so far. For example, they were not grayscale, but in full, popping color.

The being to the left was taller; wearing a red suit with large, pointed shoulders and long coattails, a white undershirt with a standing collar, and a large, white jabot, white gloves, and a black bow-tie. He also wore a matching tall top hat with a black diamond on it, and held a rather fancy cane between his hands; the tip of which appearing to be made of gold, and in the shape of a canine-like skull with horns. To the left of him was what appeared to be a fluffy white dog snoozing at his feet.

The being off to the right was shorter, wearing a similar red suit with a white undershirt, a frilled bib-like cravat, white gloves, and a black bow-tie. He also wore a large, unstructured red top hat with a white ribbon around its base. You could've sworn you saw some faded red stains here and there on his cravat, but tried not to think about it too much.

You noticed that the two beings were both quite skeletal in appearence, and wondered if they had any relation to Arial. The only thing that sets the pair apart, however, is that they had piercing, glass-like red eyes that looked like they belonged to dolls. The black, clown-like markings painted around said eyes only made their appearence even more unsettling.

"Heh heh heh... Hey bro, look who it is." said the short being.

"Nyeh-heh-heh! Look what the dog dragged in!" said the tall being.

"Heh heh... Has death come knocking at our door?" the short being asked.

"No, you fool!" the tall being scolded, "What we have is a guest! And I daresay, we must look our best! We've never had a guest before."

"A sight for sore eyesockets, isn't it?" the short being asked.

"That's a sore lie, isn't it?" asked the tall being.

"Isn't it? Heh heh heh." said the short being, letting out a bone-rattling cackle.

You were greatly bemused. "Ah... I'm sorry, but who are you?"

"Nyeh-heh-heh! Don't be so innocent, my cloaked compadre!" said the tall being, letting out his own bone-rattling cackle.

"Ya hear that?" the short being asked.

"Weird, that." said the tall being.

"Eh... to be fair, they've never met us before, have they?" the short being conceded.

"Have they? Have they? Adorable, aren't they?" said the tall being.

You tried to brush off their strange comments.
"Pardon me, but have you seen a little skeleton girl around here?"

"Eh? A little girl?" the short being asked.

"Why, aren't you a little girl?" the tall being asked.

"Or are you a little boy?" the short being asked.

"Does it really matter?" the tall being asked, followed by another bone-rattling cackle.

You let out an irritated sigh.
"I would like to leave, please."

"Whaaat? They'd like to leave?" the short being complained.

"Nyeh? And why, pray tell, is that?" the tall being asked, clearly annoyed.

"Man, you just got here and you already wanna bolt?" the short being asked.

"Is there not a way out?" you asked.

"Out? Yes." said the tall being.

"Doubt? Yes." said the short being.

"A favor! I declare a favor!" cried the tall being.

"A favor?" the short being asked.

"Honor the favor, and then they can leave." said the tall being.

"Man, what a lousy guest..." the short being muttered.

You readied yourself.
"...Alright, what is the favor?"

"Our favor, they ask!" said the tall being.

"C'mon, it ain't a hard task." said the short being.

"It is a simple puzzle! A riddle, to challenge their mind!" said the tall being.
He cleared his throat.
"This stupid, useless, aggravating, infuriating, pea-brained, flea-bitten, bone-stealing, feet-tripping fuzzball of a mutt here."
He pointed to the little white dog laying near his feet.
"Can you tell me it's name?"

"Hear, hear." the short being chimed in.

"Then you may leave." the tall being finished.

"Good luck, pal." said the short being, "You're gonna need it."

With that, you set out on your little "quest". You passed by the strange pair to the west side of the basement, only to be blocked off by some sort of ice sculpture in the shape of a snowman.

It looks rather well-crafted, you thought.

Having no choice but to go east instead, you passed by the strange pair again. Suddenly, you heard the short being discreetly attempt to get your attention.

"Pssst, hey buddy, it might help to check the lab downstairs." he said in a quieted tone.

"Shush!" the tall being scolded under his breath, "You're not supposed to give them any hints!"

"Whoops, sorry." the short being whispered back.

Curious, you decided to find out where this laboratory was. You continued passing by to the east side of the basement, and found a door that seemed to lead down a flight of stairs. You followed the stairs down to the bottom, now finding yourself in a short corridor. It was rather dank, dark and creepy. The walls were a faded, decaying, mold-ridden, dark celadon color; with dry-rotted, dark brown baseboards; and the floor beneath your feet made of dirty, cracked, muted teal tiling.

As you went down the corridor, you saw the walls were lined with full-length mirrors nearly all the way across. The mirrors, though not as dirty as the one in the bathroom upstairs, were still rather weathered in appearence, not to mention that you saw a few of them having cracks here and there. As you were already ill-at-ease, you dared not look at whatever reflection they showed.

You finally reach another door, and opened it. Looks like you found the laboratory. It was a rather large room, with the same creepy walls and flooring as the corridor you entered through. There is an old desk down against the south wall, with what appeared to be an old journal lying open on it. To the right of the desk, a rusted, empty cage sat on the floor. On the opposite side of the wall, there is an old yet sturdy table with a set of test tubes and various beakers filled with strange-looking chemicals.

In the middle of the room, there were three empty cribs-- a row of two at the top, and one at the bottom. The first of the top two looked like it was just recently assembled, lined with light blue sheets, and with a small planet model hanging above it. The second of the top two looked just as new as its "mate", lined with light orange sheets, and with a small plane model hanging above it. And last but not least, the third crib. The third crib looked surprisingly old and beat-down compared to the other two, lined with worn pink sheets, and--shock of all shocks--had a dead yellow bird hung by its leg above it.

The room was dimly light by the light of the fireplace located in the middle of the north wall. Mounted above the fireplace was some sort of large, horned, caprine-looking skull with black markings underneath its eyesockets, its mouth chained and locked tight for some reason. At either side of the fireplace, there was what seemed to be baby blankets nailed to the wall. The one on the left was light blue with yellow stars on it, while the one on the right was light orange with pastel pink bunnies on it.

The first thing you decided to do was read the open journal on the desk, hoping that it may hold any helpful clues. On the old, faded pages in view, it read:

"May 18th, 191X

Today, after being granted permission, I took an afternoon
excursion into their back garden.

And... if I am to be honest with myself, I found the area rather
terrifying in spite of my fascination.

Unidentifiable beasts, lurking about in the shadows,
piercing me with their leering gaze... it filled me with the
utmost paranoia.

And yet, the flora that grows here... they are far beyond my
wildest dreams.

They may seem ordinary to the naked eye, but their
properties are, I daresay... magical.

For example the ruddy rosette extract emanates incredible
warmth, even in the most bitter cold."

The entry stopped there, as the rest of it was scribbled out.

Next, you decided to check the desk containing the test tubes and chemicals. You see three types of chemicals before you: a blue chemical, a green chemical, and a red chemical. You viewed the red chemical closer, wondering if it was this "ruddy rosette extract" described in the journal. You decide to take one of the three test tubes, and poured the red chemical into it.

Got RED POTION.

You decide to bring it upstairs and try to see if it can do anything about the snowman sculpture blocking the other side of the basement. Once you were back in the basement, you went up to the snowman sculpture and poured the potion on it.

...It melts!

You pass through the puddle of the now-melted sculpture and find another staircase leading down to another room. Unlike the laboratory, this room had a much less threatening atmosphere. To the south wall, there was a film projector running on its own, facing a blank projecter screen in the middle of the north wall. To the left of the film projector, there was a phonograph playing a serene yet peculiar song. There were various broken instruments strewn about the room, such as a guitar with a broken neck, and a bass with snapped strings.

To the right of the projector screen, you saw a rather large, caprine monster with yellow hair and a matching beard. You realized that he was a nutcracker, as he was not only dressed like a toy soldier, but he also had the characteristic stiff posture and pivoting jaw. In spite of his large size, though, he seemed perfectly harmless; so you decided to go ahead and greet him.

"Ahh... nuts..." he simply uttered, "Ahh... nuts..."

You felt awkward by his apparent lack of acknowledgement, so you left him be. Then, you suddenly noticed a big film reel lying on the ground next to the film projector, which you somehow managed to miss until now. You went over to pick it up.

Got FILM REEL.

Curious, you put the reel in the film projecter to see what was on it. After it was inserted, you watched as it started up on the projecter screen. Then, it showed a title card to a short film, complete with ragtime music playing in the background. It read:

"SKULLFACE PRODUCSHUNS
presents
A
SKULLFACE
MOTION PICTURE

Starring TOBY the DOG"

You watched as the film began with a small white dog playing with a squeaky toy bone. He had eyes that were strangely similar to the strange pair who tasked you. Then you watched as a stout human boy walked up to the dog. The dog looked at the camera with a mischievous glint in its eye, then looked at the boy. There was a blur of motion between the two characters, before revealing that the dog was now lying motionless on the ground, its eyes gone; and the human boy now appearing like that short being from upstairs. Then you watched as a man, who appeared to be the human boy's father, approached the short being, clearly startled by the sight. Then you watched as the short being, now in the father's arms, look at the camera with a wink, before another blur of motion occured. Now the short being hung limp like a ragdoll, his eyes lifeless and empty; and the father now appearing as the tall being from upstairs. You watched as the tall being laughed mischieviously, and the film ended.

Suddenly, you turn around to see a humanoid, faceless white creature roughly half your height standing beside you. You stared at it in uneasy silence, watching for its next move in anticipation. Then, you watched as the creature slowly reached into itself...

...and pulled out a rather fancy-looking painted egg.

The creature held the egg out, seeming to  offer it to you. You hesistantly agreed and took it.

Got EGG.

You watched as the creature slowly walked away and disappeared from sight, wondering what that was all about. After that, you brushed it off and went back upstairs to speak with the strange pair again.

"Nyeh? This stupid, useless, aggravating, infuriating, pea-brained, flea-bitten, bone-stealing, feet-tripping fuzzball of a mutt here." said the tall being, "Can you tell me its name?"

"Yes." you told him.

"Well? What is it?" the tall being pressed on.

You cleared your throat.
"Is it... Toby?"

The tall being was silent for a moment.
"Why... that's exactly correct!"

"Whaaat? That can't be." said the short being.

"Hm! My sentiments exactly! No doubt this is foul play!" the tall being declared.

"Probably." the short being remarked.

The tall being sighed. "Must we ask for another favor?"

"Probably." the short being said again.

"Nyeh... now, now, we musn't hate them." said the tall being, "Another favor will right this wrong!"

"Favors for favors, buddy." said the short being.

"Ahem! Now, my friend..." said the tall being, "Your next challenge is... to bring me the favorite food of the beast!"

"Now get outta here." the short being dismissed.

"And no hints this time!" the tall being angrily whispered to the short being.

"Okay, jeez." the short being whispered back.

But you already had the jist of what you needed to do, and returned to the laboratory. You truly hoped that this would be it, the real chance to earn your freedom.

Chapter Text

Upon entering the laboratory again, you notice the diary you read earlier flipping pages on its own. You went up to read it once more.

"May 18th, 191X

Today, after being granted permission, I took an afternoon
excursion into their back garden.

And... if I am to be honest with myself, I found the area rather
terrifying in spite of my fascination.

Unidentifiable beasts, lurking about in the shadows,
piercing me with their leering gaze... it filled me with the
utmost paranoia.

And yet, the flora that grows here... they are far beyond my
wildest dreams.

They may seem ordinary to the naked eye, but their
properties are, I daresay... magical.

For example, the ruddy rosette extract emanates incredible
warmth, even in the most bitter cold."

It was the exact same words as last time... until you noticed something new was added at the end.

"The fairy clover concentrate appears to sharpen one's
mind, allowing them to read long-forgotten tongues.

The entry stopped there, as the rest was scribbled out.

As you walked across the room, you suddenly saw a pair of inanimate, unidentifiable skeletal objects appeared sitting in front of the east wall. You went to investigate, noticing that each of the two skulls had something written in red on their frontal bones. The words appeared to be inscriptions that were divided in half, in a language you couldn't understand at all.

Then, recalling the new information in that journal entry, you go up to the table of chemicals. Assuming that, since the red chemical was the "ruddy rosette extract", the green chemical must be the "fairy clover concentrate". You take a test tube from the rack, and poured the green chemical into it.

Got GREEN POTION.

Going back to the inscripted "skeletons", you take out the potion.

"Bottoms up." you muttered to yourself, before drinking it down.

...Feeling great!

You read the inscriptions once more, and now saw what they truly said more clearly.

The first half said: "What does..."
And the second half said: "...the beast see?"

You pondered the meaning for a moment, before turning to the horned skull mounted above the fireplace. Was that the "beast" you were looking for? Only one way to find out.

You went up to the horned skull, trying to match your line of sight with its own.

It seems to be facing the south wall, you noticed.

From where you stood, you saw an empty space between the desk and the chemical table. You went down there, passing by the empty cribs, and felt around the wall for any signs of a hidden switch or weak spot.

There's nothing here, you noticed.

But just as you walked away from the wall, you heard a loud crumbling sound. You turned to find a gaping hole where the empty space once was. You decided to crawl through to see where it lead.

It appears you have reached a small, hidden room. There is another fancy bookshelf (much like the ones upstairs) next to the entrance, some creaky stools at the bottom-right corner, and... a lonely peanut sitting on a plate?

Wondering if this peanut is the answer, you took it.

Got PEANUT.

You took the peanut back upstairs to the main basement and spoke to the strange pair once more.

"Nyeh? Have you brought me the favorite food of the beast?" the tall being asked.

You showed him the peanut.

"Wrong! Absolutely wrong!" the tall being cried.

"Try again, buddy." said the short being.

You were confused. Why all this buildup to a discovery that wasn't even the answer? There had to be a reason why that peanut was there. But what could it be?

Wondering what to do now, you suddenly remembered the hungry life-sized nutcracker down in the "movie room", and wondered if you should give the peanut to him instead. It wouldn't hurt to try. You went down the west stairs to where the hulking object resided, and spoke to him.

"Ah... is that... a peanut?" he asked, "It looks delicious... May I have it?"

You nodded, and placed the peanut in his open mouth. You watched as he happily chewed it in an almost robotic fashion, then swallow it (how he was able to do so was beyond you).

"Thank you... very much..." he said, "Here... take this."

Got SMALL KEY.

"Please... come back later..." he added.

With the key in hand, you went back up the stairs into the main basement. You wondered what this key went to, before suddenly getting the scheme to try it on that locked door that kept you trapped here. But upon trying, unfortuinately,  it didn't work.

"The key doesn't fit..." you muttered to yourself.

Suddenly, you froze like a faun caught in headlights as you heard the tall being call out to you scoldingly.

"Nyah-ah-ah! No bailing out of this!" he said.

Damn. Looks like you had to play fair if you ever wanted to get out of this wretched place. But if the key didn't go to this door, then where could it possibly go?

Suddenly, you remembered that large horned skull mounted above the fireplace down in the laboratory--that which had its muzzle chained shut with a lock. Perhaps the key would work on that lock?

You proceeded down the east stairs to the laboratory, and tried to use the key to unlock its chains.

...It worked!

You remove the chains from the skull's muzzle. A mechanical whirring noise emitting from inside the skull's mouth, followed by a strange cylindrical container ejected from it. Upon catching the container in your gauze-covered hands, you noticed a glowing red object floating around inside.

It was a fragment of a human SOUL.

Got SOUL FRAGMENT.

You carried the container back upstairs, and spoke to the strange pair once more.

"Nyeh? Have you brought me the favorite food of the beast?" the tall being asked.

You showed him the container.

The tall being observed it in shock.
"Why... that's absolutely correct!" he declared, "The beast loves to devour human SOULs!"

"Oh, you've gotta be kidding me." the short being complained.

"Nyehhh! That's impossible! You couldn't have known!" the tall being cried in disbelief.

"Yeah, you couldn't have known." the short being agreed.

You couldn't have known.
For some reason, those words echoed in your mind.

"How?! How did you manage to figure this out?!" the tall being whined.

"Simple. They're a smart cookie." said the short being, "They solved the puzzle fair and square."

"But... but..." the tall being stuttered.

"But... favors for favors." the short being finished.

"Nyeh-heh! That's right!" said the tall being.

"That means you still owe us one more favor, buddy." the short being explained.

"One more puzzle!" the tall being declared, "Sing us the perfect song with the perfect voice!"

"And it's gotta be the voice of choice." the short being added.

"Then will I be able to leave?" you asked, a little annoyed at this extra setback.

"...Yes." said the tall being, in a less enthusiastic tone.

"Cross our hearts--oh, wait, we don't have any. Whoops." said the short being, prompting the tall being to sigh in irritation.

A little disgruntled by this extra setback to your freedom, you went off on your new "quest"--hopefully for the last time.

Chapter Text

During your "final quest", you decided to pay a visit to the nutcracker one last time, wondering why he wanted you to come back. You went down the west stairs to the "movie room", only to notice that the nutcracker had moved away from the wall he stood in front of, revealing a gaping hole behind him.

It could move? you thought.

You passed by the nutcracker and climbed through the hole, and found yourself in another hidden room. To the east wall, you found the strange creature that gave you the egg earlier, standing silently next to a chicken that sat on a pillow--presumably where they got said egg. Along the north wall, there was a piano, a lamppost, and another potted plant. There was also a window in the west wall, displaying the ever-darkening night outside.

As you observed the piano, you noticed that it was playing a melody all on its own, without anyone visibly there to press the keys. It was a rather peculiar sight. But as you listened more closely to the tune it played, you found yourself beginning to pick up on it.

Then finally, you memorized it.

But though you have a song now, you wondered if you should sing it to the strange pair. You were used to your little "tra la la"s, "tri li li"s, and "hum hum hum"s, but to outright sing? Would it even be the answer you were looking for?

Only one way to find out, you suppose.

You returned to the main basement and spoke to the strange pair once more.

"Can you? Can you sing me the perfect song with the perfect voice?" the tall being asked.

You took a deep breath to calm your nerves, and attempted to sing the song you learned with your own voice. Queerly enough, it sounded nothing like the voice you've been speaking with this whole time. While your "normal voice" sounded rather strained as you spoke, the voice you sang with sounded soft, gentle, and lilting. The very sound of it even made you jolt a little in surprise.

"Hm! A fine song indeed!" the tall being remarked.

"Not to be rude or anything, but... your voice sucks." said the short being, letting out a bone-rattling cackle.

"Right you are, brother!" said the tall being, "That was the perfect song... but far from the perfect voice! And honestly, was that even your voice we heard?"

"It sounded too... girly." the short being remarked.

"Try again, friend." the tall being dismissed.

Refusing to be discouraged, you decided to head back down to the laboratory one last time. Upon entering, you saw the diary flip its pages again. You went up to read it, to see what it said now.

"May 18th, 191X

Today, after being granted permission, I took an afternoon excursion into their back garden.

And... if I am to be honest with myself, I found the area rather terrifying in spite of my fascination.

Unidentifiable beasts, lurking about in the shadows, piercing me with their leering gaze... it filled me with the utmost paranoia.

 And yet, the flora that grows here... they are far beyond my wildest dreams.

They may seem ordinary to the naked eye, but their properties are, I daresay... magical.

For example, the ruddy rosette extract emanates incredible warmth, even in the most bitter cold."

The fairy clover concentrate appears to sharpen one's mind, allowing them to read long-forgotten tongues."

It was the exact same words as last time... until you noticed something new was added at the end.

"And the essence of moon violet even boasts the power to resurrect the deceased!

I plan to leave this place with ample samples as soon as possible.

The mistress of the house is queer enough in her own right, but truth be told...

It's her demented child that frightens me most."

The entry stopped there, as the remaining pages were blank. The fact almost unsettled you, as if something terrible happened to the author.

But still, brushing that off, you went over to the chemical table and took the last test tube from its rack. Knowing that the red chemical was the "ruddy rose extract" and the green chemical was the "fairy clover concentrate", the blue chemical must be the "essence of moon violet". You take the blue chemical and pour it into the test tube.

Got BLUE POTION.

You began to think about any dead things that could be lying around. Then, you noticed the little bird hanging over one of the cribs. You went over to the bird, reaching up to pour the potion on it.

...The bird was resurrected!

You watched as the bird's eyes blink way their glaze, and began chirping in distress as it attempted to struggle free from its string. You untied the string, allowing the bird to fly away free. The bird tweeted in gratitude, and proceeded to fly over to perch on your shoulder.

Getting an idea, you decided to bring the bird down the west stairs into the "movie room". Specifically, you brought it into the hidden room with the self-playing piano.

The bird seems to like the song, you noticed.

You guided the bird to perch in your hands, and held it closer to the piano. Before long, the bird memorized the melody, singing its rehearsal in the loveliest voice you've ever heard. The bird then returned to your shoulder, and you brought it back to the strange pair.

"Can you? Can you sing me the perfect song with the perfect voice?" the tall being asked once more.

You nodded and allowed the bird to fly into the air, singing its song.

The short being sniffed. "Man, that's the most beautiful song I've ever heard."

Suddenly, the short being pulled out a flintlock pistol, and aimed it at the bird.

Bang!

You let out a sharp gasp as you watched the bird fall to the floor, dead once again.

"Dead things should stay dead, shouldn't they?" the tall being asked in a rather unsetting tone.

"Let dead things die." the short being agreed.

"My sentiments exactly! Nyeh-heh-heh!" said the tall being, letting out a bone-rattling cackle.

"Heh heh heh." said the short being, letting out another bone-rattling cackle.

"Well, congratulations! You've won, my friend!" said the tall being, "But didn't we all have a smashing good time?"

"Yeah, what's the rush?" the short being agreed.

"Why leave so soon?" the tall being asked.

"After that lovely tune?" the short being added.

"...You just shot an innocent bird." you chastised.

The short being was stunned silent for a moment, looked down at the dead bird on the floor, and tried to nudge it out of sight with his foot.
"Er... well... that's beside the point, heh."

"Say! Why don't you stay awhile?" the tall being asked, seemingly trying to change the subject.

"Yeah, stay awhile!" the short being agreed.

"We think you're... cool!" said the tall being.

"Super cool, too cool for school." the short being added.

"Well? What do you say?" the tall being asked, extending a hand.

You took a deep breath.
"...No."

"No?" the tall being repeated, retracting his hand in disappointment.

"No? Aw man..." said the short being.

"You really must go?" the tall being asked.

"Man, this blows..." the short being muttered.

"I'm sorry, but I can't play anymore." you told them, "There is someone I need to find."

The two beings stood in crestfallen silence.

"...Well, we did promise, didn't we?" the tall being asked.

"Yeah, we kinda did." said the short being.

The tall being sighed. "You will be missed, my dear friend."

The two stood in further silence.

"The door to the outside..." the short being began.

"It's open now." the tall being finished.

"You can skedaddle if you want..." said the short being.

"If you want..." the tall being repeated.

"...Thank you. Goodbye." you said, turning to leave.

"Farewell." said the tall being.

"Catch ya on the flip." said the short being.

You take the initiative and headed to the entrance door. Reaching for the knob, you were relieved to find that it was unlocked.

With that, you finally left the basement, shutting the door behind you.

Chapter Text

As you walked down what you'd thought would be the corridor leading back upstairs to the foyer, you instead found yourself in someplace you weren't quite expecting. The walls and floor looked exactly like that of the basement, not to mention the variously-sized gaping holes in said floor that seemed to stretch all the way across.

This isn't familiar, you thought.

In spite of it all, you refused to let this stop you. You were quite a nimble being, so the holes couldn't be that cumbersome, right?

You decided to try leaping over a hole, with success. Then you kept going, leaping over more holes with swiftness and grace. As you made your way across the corridor, you eventually encounted the Picture Kid again.

"P...Picture?" they asked.

You nodded.

"Hold... still..." they said, holding up their camera and pressing the button.

The camera flashed, followed by a new polaroid scrolling out of it.

"They won't... let you go... you know." said the Picture Kid, in a rather ominous fashion.

"What do you mean?"

The Picture Kid did not answer, which only added more tension to the already uneasy air.

You decided to keep pushing forward, leaving the Picture Kid behind. But then, as you continued your "holey parkour", the world around you seemed to jump-cut into what you'd hope to be the familiar grey corridor that lead the way out... except you couldn't go any further down. You looked around, wondering what the hell was going on.

You proceeded upward, as it seemed to be the only way you could go, with a faint sense of dread beginning to swell in your chest. However, it wasn't the kind you felt during your encouter with that strange man upstairs. That was mostly fueled by anticipation, even though he did not appear hostile in any way.

But this was different.

This was real dread.

Real, genuine dread, as if your life was actually in danger.

You continued proceeding up the corridor, until it came to a stop. What you saw next horrified you beyond imagination.

There was a pair of young monster children, hanging together by a conjoined noose over a toddler-sized crib. Their faces were obscured by white, pixellated clouds, but you could tell from their visible features that they were skeletons. The child on the left appeared to be shorter, wearing denim overalls and a long-sleeved striped shirt. The child on the right appeared to be taller, wearing similar denim overalls but with a short-sleeved striped shirt instead. It was so dark, though, that you could barely see what color they were. You were so horrified by the sight that all you could do was stand there, frozen in place.

"...Why?" you heard a small, ghostly voice say.

"...Why did you leave us?" said another, slightly higher voice.

"We barely had a chance." said the first voice.

There was silence for a moment.

"Why did you leave us?" the second voice asked.

"We barely had a chance to live." said the first voice.

There was further silence.

"...Why did you leave us, ▋▋▋▋▋?" the second voice asked, "Why, why, why?"

Further silence.

"...It's your fault, you know." said the first voice.

"Why did you leave us?" the second voice asked.

"Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?" the two voices repeated over and over.

The world around you suddenly fuzzed out and jump-cut back into the corridor with the holes, except now the atmoshpere was an angry, burning red. You suddenly felt an unnatural heaviness in your chest, causing you to absentmindedly clutch it. You peeked between your spindly, gauze-covered fingers to realize that it was your SOUL, glowing a strange blue color.

Your MONSTER SOUL.

Suddenly, your obscured eyes darted upward at the sound of a piercing, terrifying roar. Then, you felt dozens of thunderous footsteps that shook the very firmament behind you. You swiftly turned around to see an enormous, horrifying, multi-armed skeletal creature approaching you. It loomed over you, glaring down with piercing red-orange eyes.

"Don't leave..."
It snarled, baring its frighteningly sharp teeth.
"DON'T LEAVE!!!"

The creature lunged after you, prompting you to abscond posthaste to get away from it, though the strange weight in your SOUL gave you some difficulty. You leaped over each hole you came across, while dodging the beast's claws as it clawed after you.

"GET BACK HERE!!!" its voice bellowed from behind you.

You ignored it, trying to get further away from its clutches. But it always seemed to get right back into hot pursuit. You continued leaping across the holes, your heart pounding faster and harder than ever before.

"YOU CAN'T RUN FOREVER!!!" the creature screamed.

You narrowly dodged getting slammed to the ground by one of its massive hands as you leapt over another hole. You began to wonder how long this corridor was, and how far the exit was... that is, if there was one at all.

"▋▋▋▋▋!!!" the creature roared.

Panic began to blind your train of thought, causing you to stumble long enough for the creature to slam you to the ground, pinning you down with brute force. That weight in your SOUL was gone, but now you were in the terrible clutches of your pursuer. With a yelp of surprise, you were lifted up to the creature's enormous face, feeling its burning gaze pierce you. You struggled and thrashed in its grip as it pulled you closer.

"Now you'll stay with us... forever!" it snarled victoriously.

All of a sudden, the world around you went dark. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with your monstrous captor, as it looked around with just as much confusion as you had--and, might you say, a twinge of fear.

Then, you heard a terrifying, semi-garbled voice bellow:

"THA...T'S EN...OUGH, YOU T...WO!"

You cried out in surprise as you felt a icky, sticky, tar-like substance pry you out of the creature's grasp. It tried to keep a hold of you, but the substance was too strong and succeeded in its "kidnapping" of you. The darkened walls were running with a similar kind of substance, and it was slowly filling the room.

The goop did not harm you, however. It simply plopped you on the ground, allowing you the opportunity to make your true escape. The creature roared and tried to follow you, but this goopy substance blocked its path.

"NO!!!" it shouted in a surprisingly distraught voice.

You finally found what you hoped to be the real exit, and went through. Everything faded to white.

...
...
...

"Don't forget us...
Even if you don't like us anymore.
Please, don't forget us."

...
...
...

You found yourself standing in the gray corridor to the basement, much to your relief. But then, as you began to walk down, guess who you saw?

"Arial!"

The girl stood there silently, her backed turned to you.
"They didn't like me anymore." she said.
The was a few moments of silence.
"Ever since those two were born. The twins. Mommy and Daddy didn't seem to need me anymore."
Further silence.
"So I left. That's why the twins are mad."
Further silence.
"The twins... Mommy and Daddy.... they all died."
Further silence.
"...I killed them."

With that, Arial suddenly vanished before your very eyes.

"Hey! Wait!" you cried, but the girl was already gone.

Before you knew it, the world around you faded to white, and you found yourself back outside in the front yard.

"Arial..." you muttered.

You stood there for a moment, before heading back up the steps.

"I need to get those pearls back." you resolved.

Opening the door, you entered the house once again to reclaim what was yours.

Chapter Text

As you re-entered the house, you felt an uneasy change in the atmosphere. The warmth and coziness was now gone, replaced by a sense of... emptiness. Yet you were still determined to find Arial and get your beloved pearls back. You stood there in the front foyer, wondering where she could be now. You searched around the first floor again, without any luck. Arial couldn't have been in the basement, either, since you were just down there (and that trail of footprints was gone anyhow). A part of you wanted to check upstairs again, but worried that the strange man was still there, blocking the way.

Though... it wouldn't hurt to try.

Taking a deep breath, you slowly climbed the ascending stairs. Once you were near the top step, you peeked around the corner.

The strange man was gone.

You cautiously climbed up and entered the hallway. It was rather wide, with similar walls and flooring to the foyer. The three doors that lined the hallway were white (pretty much like every other door in this house that didn't lead outside). You decided to check the nearmost door--the one that strange man was previously standing in front of. Thankfully, it was unlocked, and you entered.

You enter into what seems to be a child's room or a nursery. The walls were a girlish pink, with a colorful rug that one would likely find at a daycare center draped across the floor. At the top left corner, you see a small bed with pink sheets. Next to the bed, there is a small nightstand with an illuminated lamp. Across the wall is a small bookshelf filled with various children's books. Directly south of the bed and nightstand was a crib large enough for two, looking as if it were freshly assembled. Hanging above the crib was a gently rotating solar system model. In the middle of the room were colorful wooden blocks strewn across the carpet. One set spelled M-O-M, and another spelled D-A-D. There was also a pink rabbit doll laying around nearby, looking rather ragged and dusty.

Seeing all these childish items, you surmised that this must be Arial's (and her siblings') room. Which made you wonder: who was that strange man, and why was he "guarding" this door? Did he had any relation to Arial and her siblings? You decide to shrug it off, though, and leave. Arial wasn't in here, so there was no reason to stay.

Once you were out in the hallway again, you decided to check the other two rooms. You approached the second door in the row, and tried the handle. However, it was locked. You tried the third--and last--door, but it was locked as well. Though you couldn't help but notice how warm the knob felt. And for that matter, you wondered why you saw a faint orange glow leaking through the space beneath the door, or why you heard the distant sound of steaming, working machines.

You decided to go back downstairs, stumped on what to do now. But then, by some stroke of luck, you saw a new trail of footprints that seemed to lead out the back door in the living room.

You went up and tried the handle.

It was unlocked.

Taking a deep breath, you slowly turned the knob and went through.

~~~

You find yourself outside in the backyard--or rather, an enormous garden. It admittedly looked rather lush and beautiful, especially on a night like this.

"Arial?" you called.

No answer.

Suddenly, you heard the door shut and lock behind you.

Not this again, you sighed.

You head up into the garden, and found the Picture Kid again.

"P...Picture?" they asked.

You nodded.

"Hold... still..." they said, holding up their camera and pressing the button.

The camera flashed, followed by a new polaroid scrolling out of it.

As you went further into the garden, you found yourself before what seems to be the hands of a giant clock pointing at twelve-thirty, forming some sort of bridge across the pond. You carefully stepped across, relieved to find that it was safe. After finishing your crossing, you then found yourself standing before an enormous, twisting tree. There was a strange being that appeared to be a monster spider (as opposed to a regular spider), with pale purple skin and loose, close-cut black hair. She was wearing a purple-and-maroon kimono as well as a white mask depicting the face of a lovely humanoid woman. You saw her hanging from the branches, sitting in some kind of swing or hammock made of spider silk. She clung to the silk with the top two sets of arms, while the last ones rested in her lap.

"Ahuhuhu~" she said, "Back again, dearie~?"

"...Pardon me?" you asked, confused.

"Come, have a seat." she beckoned, "I'll put on the kettle~"

You blinked your obscured eyes.
"I'm terribly sorry, but... who are you?"

The spider lady cocked her head. "Who am I? Why... hm."
She sat there, shifting her posture in thought.
"Who am I...?"

"...Have you seen a little skeleton girl dressed in pink around here?"

"Oh, do you mean little Arial~?"
Though you couldn't see her face, you could hear her voice beginning to falter with nostalgic sadness.
"No, I'm afraid we haven't seen her since the accident."

"What accident?"

She didn't answer, seemingly too lost in thought. You heard her sigh.
"I'm so worried about my family."

"Your family?"

"That... that thing that's been plaguing this garden! It's taken my family prisoner, and even chased me away from my own web!" she tiraded, "It's been making a nuisance of itself ever since--!"
She stopped herself and took a deep breath.
"Would you please be a dear and free us of that nasty intruder so I can return home? I would greatly appreciate it~"

You stood there in silence as she sat about, humming to herself for a moment.

"...Oh? Back again, dearie~?" she asked, "Have a seat, won't you? I'll put on the kettle~"

You were beginning to question if this spider lady was "right" in the mind, but decided not to worry about it too much. You had some folks to rescue, and a "thing" to get rid of.

You cross the bridge to the other side and see a strange-looking monster sitting on a tall pedestal. It resembled some kind of a mix between feline and canine, with cat ears on top of its head and dog ears on the sides. It also had shoulder length black hair, and wore a plain blue Eastern-style shirt.

"hOI!! i'M TEMMIE!!" it said, "cAN U TELL TEM THE TIM??"

"Tea time...?" you sheepishly answered.

Suddenly, you heard a loud, metallic, revolving sound.

"mMM!! GOES GUD WIF TEMMIE FLAKES!!" it proclaimed.

You went down to investagate what happened, and saw the hands of the clock-bridge have shifted to three o' clock. Curious, you crossed the bridge to see where it led. You find yourself in a clearing, occupied by a gigantic spiderweb.

"HEEEEEEELLLLP!!!" you suddenly heard someone shout.

You noticed what appeared to be an animate flower-like creature with a white face and six yellow petals, planted in a simple terra cotta pot. Though it was not trapped by a wrapping of silk, it still appeared to be stuck by the web's surface alone.

"Hey, you!" it called.

"...Me?" you hesitantly answered.

"Yeah, you! Creep! Get over here!" it said, in a rather rude tone.

You reluctantly climbed up the tree stump to boost yourself high enough to reach the web. The silk lightly cling to the bottoms of your boots as you stepped across towards the flower-thing.

"Get me outta here!" it cried.

"Ah..." you trailed absentmindedly.

"Are you stupid or something?" it shouted "Hurry up! Before they come back!"

"Who do you mean by 'they'?" you asked.

Then suddenly, you heard something descending at an alarmingly fast rate, and landed on the web hard enough to jostle it. You turned around to see four humanoid being conjoined from the waist down, holding themselves up with their hands. The one facing directly in front of you had pale skin with short platinum blond hair, and wore a silver-white hanbok outfit with a snowy branch pattern on it; while the one facing east had light skin with long red hair, and wore a pink hanbok dress with a lighter pink flower pattern on it; the one facing away north had darker skin with curly brown hair tied in a bun, and wore a light green hanbok dress with a leaflet pattern on it; and the one facing west had light olve skin with short wavy dark brown hair, and wore a brown hanbok outfit with an orange maple leaf pattern on it. You couldn't see what their faces looked like, as they were obscured by wolf-shaped masks that matched the color of their respective attire.

"Awooooo!" the one in silver-white cried.

"Hey, guys! Look who decided to join the fun!" the one in pink declared.

"You got a lot of nerve, showin' your face 'round here." the one in light green sneered.

"Finally, I've been getting tired of squashing flowers." the one in brown muttered.

"Ah... are you... humans?" you asked hesitantly.

The one in silver-white bursted out laughing.
"Bah-ha-ha-ha! That's the stupidest question I've ever heard!"

"Are we humans, they said!" the one in pink jeered.

"Of course were are, dummy." the one in light green huffed.

"What's the matter, aren't you a human, too?" the one in brown asked.

"Pffft, obviously not!" the one in silver-white said, "Why would they ask if they were one of us? They're not one of us, they're one of them!"

You sighed and straightened your back. "Excuse me, but would you mind leaving this place? You are disturbing the residents here."

The one in silver-white turned towards the one in pink.
"Yo, Daisy! Do we mind leaving this place?"

"I dunno, Noel." said Daisy.
She turned to the one in light green.
"Hey, Julia! Same question!"

"You're freakin' right we mind!" said Julia.

"Hey, anyone else wanna see if this monster can bleed?" the one in brown asked.

"You shut up, Hunter." said Daisy.

"Yeah, can't you see we're in the middle of somethin' here?" Julia chimed in.

"Oh, yeah? Well, your dress looks stupid!" Hunter protested.

"Hey!" Julia shouted.

"Uh..." you trailed, "I thought humans weren't conjoined together...?"

"You better freaking believe it!" said Noel.

"It was that lousy, stupid Sphinx!" said Daisy.

"I told y'all she was magic!" said Julia.

"So bored..." Hunter muttered under his breath.

"We used to be free kids, man!" said Noel, "We went where we wanted, did what we wanted, whenever we wanted!"

"But that gosh darned, liver-eyed, yellow-bellied hag of a Sphinx stitched us together!" said Daisy, "And we've been forced to drag ourselves around this stupid garden ever since!"

"I told y'all she was trouble!" said Julia.

"That's it!" Hunter shouted, "I've had it up to here with you three! Do you dummies ever shut up?!"

As you watched this "human amalgamate" bicker amongst themselves, you heard the talking flower discreetly attempt to get your attention. You shambled across the sticky silk of the web to hear it better.

"Psst! Hey, creep!" it whispered.

"...Yes?"

"Tell them you'll go ask the Sphinx for a cure!" it said, "It's our only chance for escape!"

You stood there in silence.

"What? You don't believe me?" it complained, "Fine, it's not like I want to be saved by a creep like you, anyways!"

After a moment of consideration, you decided that it wouldn't hurt to try. You returned to the still-bickering humans.

"I'm sick of you idiots dragging me down!" Noel complained.

"You're one to talk, cracker!" cried Daisy.

"I never liked any of y'all!" Julia shouted.

You cleared your throat.
"...Excuse me."

"Whaddaya want, monster?" Hunter grumbled.

"...I can ask the Sphinx for a cure." you offerered.

"...You'll do what?" Noel asked, surprised.

"Are you insane?!" said Daisy.

"She'll tear you to pieces, man!" said Julia.

"Yeah, that's our job!" Hunter added.

"But... bein' free of these fools would be nice..." Noel conceded.

"Very well." you said, "However, in exchange for my help, you must leave this garden and never come back. Deal?"

"...Fine!" Daisy grumbled, "Just go talk to the Sphinx!"

"But you'd better come back." Julia warned.

"Or we'll dust you." Hunter added.

"Oy! What about me?!" the flower creature cried in the background.

"We'll be keepin' this here 'til you come back." said Noel.

With that, you struggled a bit walking back across the web to the tree stump. You uttered a small grunt as you climbed on the stump and jumped down, looking back for a moment before leaving. You pass by the center of the clock, where the spider lady resided, and noticed that she was now hanging upside down with her lower body wrapped in what you'd assume to be her own silk--which was rather odd.

You heard her sigh as she dangled from her branch.
"All day, we wait..." she said, "Wait all day for daddy to come home."

You went north to find another "Temmie", and talked to it.

"hOI!! i'M TEMMIE!!" it said, "cAN U TELL TEM THE TIM??"

"...Bed time?"

You heard that familiar metallic revolving sound again.

"bUT TEM DON'T WANNA GO 2 SLEP!!" the Temmie complained.

You head down to the clock again, and saw that its hands have shifted to nine o' clock. Almost instinctively, you figured that this was the way to the Sphinx. You took a moment to ready yourself for what's to come, and bravely crossed the bridge to another open clearing.

Chapter Text

The clearing was filled with a field of tiny flowers, alongside the fallen leaves that laid strewn about. A massive black tree with bare branches stood rooted in the middle of the clearing, its shadow looming over you. As you looked around, you noticed a small, Eastern-style cottage located north of the big tree. The outside was illuminated with the soft glow of red lanterns hung outside the doorway, which lead to a wide-open entrance inside.

This must be the Sphinx's house, you thought.

You slowly approached the entrance of the cottage, standing on the doorstep for a moment. Then, steeling yourself, you went inside. The interior of the cottage was rather minimalist, consisting of little more than a large paper screen, a table with a painted flower vase, and a large red lantern hanging from the ceiling.

Standing near the corner next to the paper screen stood a big, tall, caprine she-monster with white fur and floppy ears. She wore a red floral kimono with a purple-and-white striped sash, and matching red eyeliner that highlighted her piercing gaze.

Cautiously, you approach her. She greets you with a pleasantly surprised smile, as if she was waiting for you this whole time.

"Ah... ze girl returns." she said.

"'Returns'?" you asked, "What do you mean?"

"Oh? Ze girl does not remember?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Ah... I'm terribly sorry, but... I don't believe I am who you think I am." you sheepishly explained.

"Hm... Then ze woman must be mistaken." she conceded, "If zat is so, then... What does ze guest call zemself?"

"I am... the riverman." you said.

"Ah." she said, "And has ze 'riverman'... come for ze woman's SOUL?" she asked in a midly amused tone.

"...Er, no." you said.

There was awkward silence for a moment.

"Are you the Sphinx, by any chance?" you asked.

"Some call zis one zat, yes." she affirmed, "But zis one calls herself... ze woman."

You simply stared in silence.

"Now, ze riverman has come to ask if ze woman will separate ze humans, no?" she asked.

"How did you know?"

"Ze woman knows many things." she explained, "However, she cannot honor ze rivermans's request.

"...Why not?"

"Vile creatures, humans." she spoke in a dark, almost venomous tone, "Zey must pay for what zey have done."

"What exactly did they do?"

"However..." she said, ignoring your question, "It has been too long since ze woman has seen a red snail."

"A what?"

"A red snail!" she repeated, "Nothing would make ze woman happier. If ze riverman brings ze woman a red snail, then perhaps ze woman will separate ze humans."

"...Okay, where can I find a red snail?"

"Ze riverman can find ze red snail if zey enters ze hedge maze." she explained, "But bewarned! Ze riverman may not come back out. Now off zey go!"

You promptly left the cottage and returned to the clock, passing by the spider lady's tree on the way.

"Ahuhuhu~" she said, "Mind the flowers, dearie: some of them don't like being stepped on. Don't get lost now~"

You could've sworn that silk around her body was covering more of her, but you decided to ignore it. You went up and found what you surmised to be the entrance to the hedge maze. The Picture Kid was standing nearby, who noticed your presence.

"A...Are you going in the hedge maze?" they asked.

"...Yes."

"Y...You shouldn't." they said in a mildly nervous tone.

"But I must. I made a bargain with a Sphinx that I must fulfill."

"Oh... okay." they conceded, "Just b...be careful in th...there."

"I will."

You approached the entrance of the maze, stopping for a moment. It looked enormous inside. In spite of your doubts, though, you refused to let that stop you and stepped in there anyway. You are a person of your word, after all, and you are not one to break it.

~~~

The maze seemed to go on for miles. Winding, lush walls of leaves were the only thing you could see. Heeding the spider lady's warning, you tried not to step on any of the flowers you saw.

...At least you were sure you didn't.

As you traversed the maze, you encountered a large pearly-white snail with a dainty flower pattern on its shell.

"Mind the flowers, dearie." it said, "Or else you might get lost."

You turned back and wandered around some more, growing a bit frustrated at your lack of progress. Then, you stopped for a moment. Weren't you in another part of the maze just a few seconds ago...?

Suddenly, you heard an eerie wailing noise. Peeking around the corner, you saw some sort of "bedsheet ghost" with big, wide eyes floating around nearby. Curious, you approached it to see what it would do. The ghost passed through you, and the world faded to white.

"You... shouldn't..." a voice echoed.

You found yourself at the entrance of the maze again.

Well that was a foolish move, you thought.

Who was that ghostly being, anyway? Was it there to guard something? Perhaps so. Why else would it have teleported you out of the maze?

Mentally berating yourself for your stupidity, you marched right back in.