You turn your face up into the sun, closing your eyes. It beats down over you, warm and heady. This is absolute bliss.
You blink, turning back to your sister. “What is it, peanut?”
Your sister cocks her hip, pouting slightly. “You aren’t sticking me with the duty of pitching the tent alone!”
“Would I do that?” you ask, fighting the smirk.
“ Yes ,” your sister says emphatically. “That’s what you did last time.”
“But the time before that I took care of the sleeping arrangements,” you argue.
Your sister snorts, crossing her arms. “That was an AirBnB.”
You shrug. “Still counts.”
She blows out her cheeks, leg twitching like she wants to stamp her foot. You bite your lip to keep from grinning, turning away from the absolutely stunning view. “Alright, alright. You win. You’re just too in-tents for me.”
Her lips twitch but she holds onto her scowl valiantly. “I’m not so sure about that, your lackadaisical behavior is just making me tents .”
You snort, ruffling her hair as you pass. “That doesn’t count, peanut; you’re just reusing my material.”
“Hey you laughed!” she replies, fixing her hair. “And besides, your policy is s’more humor the better, right?”
You laugh outright, even as you move back to your backpacks and camping equipment. “Well, you’ve got me pegged. So, how are you enjoying the trip so far?”
“It’s amazing,” she effuses, going to stand on the perch you were on just moments ago. Knowing this is her trip, a celebration of her, you choose not to say anything, just pulling the tent out of storage. “I had no idea that Grandma owned land as beautiful as this; I would’ve visited sooner.”
“Well, to be fair, I doubt she’s ever been up this far herself,” you reply. “Grandma wasn’t much for hiking; one mile versus thirteen, it’s all the same to her.”
You and your sister were taking a road trip together, your last and grandest of all before she goes off to college. In fact, that is the dual purpose of the trip, adventuring together and getting her moved to school. Though it certainly makes the road trip more exciting, you wish she wasn’t moving nearly entirely across the country; it would make it so hard to see each other. Still, you’re making the best of it, taking off a full month from your job in the lab to see this through. You’re near the very beginning of your trip, a few days into the travel and tourism that you can do close to home.
“Maybe she and Grandpa came up here when they were younger,” your sister says optimistically. “Made a romantic getaway of it.”
Your smile softens; your sister’s KINDNESS shines through in everything she says and does. “I’m sure they did.”
She turns to you, jumping when she realizes that you’re already halfway through putting up the tent. “Hey!” she exclaims, scrambling down from the rock. “You should’ve told me you were getting started.”
You sniff piously at her, catching an arm around her neck to draw her close. “There’s just no pleasing you is there, Your Majesty?”
“Well, maybe if you pitched the tent correctly,” she replies, nudging you aside with her elbow.
Your faux protests soon turn to giggles as the two of you set about your task quickly and effectively. You sit back on your heels when it is complete, satisfied in a task well done. Your eyes drift skyward and you purse your lips, filtering through fuzzy memories.
“Want to go on a hike before dinner? If I remember correctly, there’s a small waterfall about two miles from here,” you say, caught up in gossamer strand memories of wandering these forests with cousins without a care in the world.
You pull out the map you brought with you from home. There are a littering of hand-drawn landmarks, added to the map meticulously by your Grandma as she consulted the multiple discoveries written out by you and your cousins so long ago. These are memories that you cherish and you only wish your sister had a chance to form some of them herself.
Well, no time like the present.
“Absolutely!” she replies, hopping to her feet and digging through her pack. “Is there a pool of water? Should I put on my swimsuit? Is it too cold, do you think?”
“Whoa there, slow your roll, kid,” you say, laughing. “I don’t think it’d be the best idea to go full-on swimming; it’s supposed to get pretty cold as the sun sets tonight. Besides, from what I remember, the water isn’t deep here. When I was a kid, it was up to my thighs I think? So shorts and water shoes will be perfect.”
“Give me a moment,” your sister says. “And then we can go.”
You stifle a fond snort, meandering over to the large rock once more. You know your sister all too well; it’ll take her at least ten minutes. If you hadn’t seen her SOUL before, you’d be tempted to guess it to be a bright cyan blue for PATIENCE. She always moves at her own pace.
You shake your head, pulling out your phone and headphones. You have no service out here, but you can still play your downloaded music. You spend the next twelve minutes seated on the warm rock, listening to music as you stare out at the rolling mountains lined in ancient trees.
There is something so peaceful about this place; you feel your anxieties seep away from you. When your sister places a hand on your shoulder, you lay out on the rock, staring up at her with a smile.
“Ready?” you ask.
“Whenever you are,” she replies.
The two of you set out, making sure to carry all of your food items with you. They are vacuum-sealed and placed into a second bag as a precautionary measure, but neither of you wish to tempt fate. Bears are unlikely to attack you, but leaving food at your makeshift campground may be too much temptation for them to ignore.
“You excited to meet your roommate in person?” you ask, trying to make conversation after several minutes go by.
Your sister hums. “I am! We share a lot of interests, though I think she’s more athletic than I am. Did you know that she’s a master at ultimate frisbee? She started a league at her high school and she’s planning on leading a team at the university.”
“Maybe you could join as well,” you say.
“Maybe,” she replies with a nervous smile. “You know I’m not much for sports.”
“Well, maybe Dee-O-Gee can give you some pointers,” you say. “How does she feel about having a human roommate?”
“She’s excited and a bit anxious,” your sister says. “She and I get along so far; her tail is always wagging in our video chats, but I know she’s a little apprehensive about university life in general.”
“Well, it is a long way away from New Home,” you say evenly. It’s been nearly eight years since monsters first surfaced not too far from your own hometown, settling into the sleepy mountains that surround Mt. Ebbot. Their central city, New Home, is just shy of a two hour drive from where you currently are. You find monster naming conventions charming; who else would think to name a city New Home? There’s something...refreshing about that sort of straightforwardness. “Most monsters tend to stick close to New Home; I didn’t know any would venture as far as you’re going.”
“From what Dee-O-Gee says, a lot of the younger monsters are more restless and adventurous; they want to explore the world,” your sister says. “And now that tensions have settled…”
“Well, sounds like you and Dee-O-Gee have that in common too,” you say with a smile, catching your sister around the shoulders for a quick squeeze before continuing on. “It’ll be an adventure for you both.”
Your sister gives you a grateful smile and you lapse into silence as you continue your trek toward the waterfall. Neither of you really mind the quiet, absorbing the nature and ambient noises that surround you on all sides. Something in you demands that you commit this to memory, the sticky humidity, the buzz of cicadas, and your sister walking alongside you with a peaceful if somewhat absentminded expression. Knowing the limited time you have left with her, you do so, wishing this moment could stretch on without end.
Alas, in no time at all you hear the rush of running water and your sister’s expression lights up as she darts off ahead in pursuit of the sound. “C’mon, c’mon!” she says, grinning widely.
You pick up your pace, running after her for a brief time before the waterfall is revealed to you both. Your steps slow as you take it in; it is smaller than you remembered it being, but then again, you were half the height you currently are when last you visited. The waterfall cascades down the surface of a sheer, steep rock face, water from snow melt higher up. Your sister is already merrily splashing through the shallow pool, shrieking both in joy and, you suspect, at the chill of the water.
“C’mon, Y/N!” she says, turning back to you. “It looks like there’s an alcove behind the waterfall.”
“Is there?” you say, amused. From what you remember, the alcove isn’t much, just a dry spot where you and a couple of your cousins could sit and watch the waterfall from the other side. “Well, if you insist--”
Your words cut off abruptly as something rattles through you, nearly throwing you off your feet as it leaves your body keyed up and tingling. It isn’t an earthquake; you’ve been in several of those and they aren’t common to this region. No, you recognize it as something similar to the handful of friendly Encounters you’ve had.
You stumble back, barely keeping your balance as your SOUL throbs, squeezing as it is pulled and tugged. It’s almost like the sensation of being pulled into an Encounter, but so much more forceful and unrelenting. You don’t know what is happening, what is going on, but you can feel the foreign magic coating you and you feel so cold--you can’t breathe --that you do the only thing you can think to do.
The magic subsides just as quickly as it started and you close your eyes, inhaling shakily as you rub a hand over your chest. “Any clue as to what the hell that was, peanut?” you ask, trying to calm your racing heart and doubtless racing SOUL.
You open your eyes, stiffening as you realize that you can no longer see your sister. “Peanut?” you call cautiously, turning around to survey the entire area. “You alright, kid?”
Swallowing against the fear that rises in your throat like bile, you hurriedly splash your way over to where she was standing just moments ago. The only sign that she had been there is the bandana she’d been wearing, now floating in the water. You pick it up, clinging to it tightly.
“Peanut,” you try again, voice rising and edged in panic. You call again and again, nearly screaming at this point, as you search around for any sign of, well, anyone really. “Peanut!”
But nobody came.
You exhale heavily through your teeth, keeping a tight rein on your emotions. You keep walking almost mechanically, feeling almost separate from your body. Panic hems you in on all sides, threatening to drag you under. You can’t let it out, not yet. Not until you get your sister back.
Falling apart won’t help anyone--not you and certainly not your sister.
Check for phone signal. Walk back to camp. Pack up camp. Check for phone signal. Look at the map. Check for phone signal. Figure out closest location.
You keep repeating your next steps to yourself as your feet eat up the distance between the waterfall and your campsite, finding some solace in the clear instructions you give yourself. It’s better than your once-common habit of rumination, lingering on negative thoughts until you think yourself to pieces. You have your tasks. You’ll get your sister back. You’re following protocol for someone going missing in the mountains; you’ll be able to report to the proper authorities in a couple of hours.
Still, in your heart of hearts-- your SOUL? --you know it’s futile.
Whatever happened to your sister; it wasn’t your average reason for a disappearance.
Whatever it was, it involves magic and, in your experience, magic always complicates things.
Well, whatever the case, you will deal with it as it comes. First, you have to take the necessary, non-magic precautions.
You’ll do whatever it takes to get your sister back.
Walk back to camp. Check for phone signal. Pack up camp…
You pass your brisk walk this way, muttering your tasks to yourself under your breath when bad thoughts begin to encroach. You cannot help the disappointment that catches the breath in your chest as you come back upon your camp, as empty as you left it. You swallow back the sting of tears and quickly and methodically break down the tent and roll up your sleeping bags after checking your phone and confirming a lack of signal.
You pause for a moment, glancing down at your watch. You have another hour of solid daylight, followed by a hazy forty-five minutes or so of dusk. You won’t be able to make it back to the trail head before nightfall and, truthfully, you don’t want to.
You press your hands to your closed eyes, hard , thinking for a moment. If your sister is still in the woods, there are a couple of avenues she may take. She has a map on her and a compass; her sense of direction has always been better than yours. You’ve discussed contingencies should you get separated. She is supposed to go to the nearest official landmark, be it a ranger outpost or the trail head.
However, knowing your sister, the odds are good that she would come back here.
She wouldn’t want you to be alone.
You shove that thought away, unwilling to enter that downward spiral.
You pull out your map, checking the locations around you. As you thought, there’s a small ranger tower posted about six miles northwest of you. It’s a little out of the way from the trailhead, but it’s much closer. Even if the tower doesn’t have access to a phone signal, they should at least have a radio you can call out on. And truth be told, you want contact with someone, at least to discuss what the hell happened out here.
Hopefully, that someone will be your sister.
And, if that fails to pan out, you will go back to the trailhead at first light and contact the local authorities.
You pull out your journal, scrawling a legible if somewhat shaky message of your plan, pinning it under a rock. You look at the flimsy sheet for a moment, deliberating. You don’t have much daylight left to get to the tower, but you also don’t want to risk the paper getting lost or overlooked.
You sigh, grabbing up a fallen branch and gouging out a rudimentary sketch of a tower in the deep red clay of the ground. Beside it, you draw a sunrise, followed by an approximation of the sign at the trailhead. You examine your work, shaking your head. It isn’t your best work, but it is understandable to you and, hopefully, to your sister.
You’ve lost about twenty-five minutes in total since arriving so you take one more look at the site, barely able to remember how relaxed you felt a handful of hours ago, before setting off in the direction of the ranger tower.
You make it five and a half miles without incident. Night has officially fallen and you are a bit of a sweaty mess; you hadn’t planned for this much hiking today and you are carrying more than you expected. You’ve been tempted to put on your headphones if only to drown out your own thoughts, but you can’t risk missing someone calling out to you. The chances are slim to none, but you won’t risk it.
You have your industrial flashlight out and your phone charging on your extra battery pack as you keep a wary eye on it just in case you manage to step into a pocket of forest with coverage. So far, no luck.
You turn your eyes skyward for a moment, taking in the stars twinkling so cold and distantly above you. Something about that, maybe the idea that the stars are silent, passive observers of your plight, settles you.
You aren’t alone in the world, even if you’re alone in this moment.
The sentiment is nice and all, but it doesn’t prevent you from pitching forward, releasing an unbecoming squawk as you trip over something. Your arms windmill as you overcorrect, but you manage to right yourself. You thank the stars for the sturdy hiking boots you’re wearing; they’re probably the only thing preventing you from twisting an ankle.
You swing your flashlight around, trying to determine what the hell you tripped over.
A hiking pack lies a few feet behind you, knocked over and items spilling forth. You frown, allowing your flashlight and gaze to rove your surroundings. Other than the wind that shakes the lighter branches of some trees, there is no movement or any sign of life.
“Hello?” you call. “Anyone there?”
You count a few beats in the ensuing silence, waiting for a response.
You don’t receive one.
“Huh,” you say, keeping an ear to anything that isn’t part of the natural wildlife as you crouch by the pack.
It’s a light pack, small. The only compartment is open and, from what you can see, your unexpected kick/trip knocked most of the contents free. You doubt its owner was planning on camping overnight; there is no sleeping bag or change of clothes and the only food items you see are a couple of Clif bars and a half-eaten bag of granola. You eye the other contents, mindful to keep from rifling among the things. You feel a bit uncomfortable going through someone else’s things like this, but they are out in the open…
There’s a map, a couple of brochures for monster-themed tourist attractions in a couple towns over from here, a small flashlight, a pocket knife that, from its handle, you’d guess is pretty dull, a set of nondescript car keys which have a tag attached to them detailing a rental company, and a wallet.
You linger on the last, turning your gaze over the area again. You really don’t want to get into someone else’s private property, but you doubt they left it behind here willingly. From what you can gather, this person isn’t local, is most likely human, and is not used to hiking, at least up in the mountains.
You stand, circling the area thoroughly. You don’t see any signs of a struggle...is it possible this person was caught up in the same nonsense as your sister?
Your tremulous thought solidifies as you come across an item several yards away from the pack. That item is a single running shoe, lying on its side. There’s no sign of a fight or a flight here and you strongly doubt someone would walk away willingly in only one shoe in these forests.
“Hell,” you murmur to yourself, gingerly moving back to the upended pack. With only the slightest hesitation, you pick up the wallet, flipping it open. “Florence Taylor,” you say, eyeing the photograph of the human man. He’s in his mid-thirties and, as you thought, he’s from out of state. “Well Florence, I hope you’re well, wherever you are.” He has a kind looking face and your heart twists. “If you’re with my sister, keep her company until I can get there.”
You tuck the wallet into your own pack, planning to hand it over at the ranger station. The rest you leave, knowing it’s better to leave it undisturbed as best you can. The rangers can call the police in to investigate it, in case the worst is true.
In case, this--these disappearances are a crime.
And even if they are not, it’ll be a good place for the investigations to start. You hope that the location so close to the ranger tower will deter any wildlife from approaching and messing with the scene, but there are no guarantees.
You leave the site weighed down by more than a stranger’s wallet, mind racing to explain whatever happened. These thoughts are scattered and wild, unwilling to be tamed into something coherent at the moment. You let them run rampant for the final half mile of travel, sagging in relief as you see the rickety ranger tower appear before you.
The lights within beckon you forward and you pick up your pace, nearly flat-out running the last hundred yards to the spindly building. You remember being out this way before long ago and the wood and metal contraption of a tower looks much the same as it once did. It tickles your childhood fancy; once, you imagined this tower as Baba Yaga’s hut, its gangling legs ready to shake off the earth hosting them to move freely. A half smile tugs your lips for a moment, nostalgia intruding before reality settles once more.
You climb the stairs, ignoring the way they creak ominously, climbing to the top. This tower isn’t really utilized by the public from what you remember; rangers are posted here during the heat of the summer to keep an eye out for forest fires. Considering that you’re nearly at the height of the season, you are certain that a ranger will be here.
You peek in through the large glass windows. The lights are on low and the station certainly seems occupied considering the rumpled bed sheets, but you do not see anyone.
You frown, knocking on the door.
You keep trying for ten minutes, knocks becoming more frantic as you go. You hiss out an expletive as you come to terms with the truth.
Nobody is here.
You try the handle of the door.
It gives .
You swallow as the door swings open, peeking inside. The area looks well lived in, a bit messy too, with rumpled clothes on the ground and an overflowing garbage can. There’s a smell like something burning, masked somewhat by the couple of lit candles. With lit candles, the ranger has to be somewhere nearby.
“Hello?” you call loudly. “Hello?”
When several minutes pass without response, you tentatively step inside. “I’m sorry for coming in,” you say, more to yourself than anyone else. You don’t feel comfortable intruding on someone else’s property like this. “It’s just...well, there’s something strange going on out in the forest. My guess is something magic. There are a couple of missing humans…”
You trail off as you round the counter of the kitchenette. The floor is covered in a dark, sticky stain and you see the shattered pieces of a mug among the liquid.
“Hell,” you mutter, pinching the bridge of your nose.
You turn your gaze to the candles, realizing just how far down the wicks have burned. You follow the acrid scent of burnt material to the oven, turning the knob off. Raising one arm to cover your mouth, you throw open the oven, closing your eyes against the stinging black smoke that billows forth. You cough, turning and opening a couple of the windows.
You lean out the window, looking out onto the night sky. You pull out your phone, unsurprised to see that you still have no service. You grit your teeth, refusing to fall apart yet.
You can search the tower for a radio and try to use it, though you aren’t confident in your abilities. You’d been banking on the ranger making the call but needs must. You glance back at the oven, grabbing a dishcloth and pulling out a tray. You think that the charcoaled pieces on the tray were once bread, maybe four or five hours ago. Your lips twist and you gingerly place the tray in the sink.
Based on a few context clues, your best guess is that whatever happened to your sister and to Florence happened to the ranger here too. You have no idea why you’ve been spared and your thoughts threaten to spiral into paranoia.
Is there anyone left in the forest?
In the world?
Are you the only person left?
Is your sister safe?
You cannot block these intruding thoughts and questions, but you decide to start looking for the radio. You pick through a couple of things before coming across it on the desk. It’s a huge system and your heart sinks, knowing that your knowledge of technology does not extend to technology from before you were born. This device?
You’d guess it’s been around for at least fifty years, probably more.
You fiddle with a few of the switches, but it’s futile. You lean back, looking up at the bulletin board above the desk. There’s pamphlets, a couple of drawings that appear to be in a child’s hand, and a littering of missing posters.
You sway forward, eyes darting over the pictures and text beneath them. There are about ten posters in all. Most of the posters are older, from six or so months ago. One missing poster you recognize from the local news; a tourist who got off the trail and ended up missing for two days before being discovered. You frown. That case was solved months ago.
The fresher missing posters catch your interest most of all. There are five in all from the past three months, disappearances concentrated in this area. You haven’t seen anything about the disappearances in the news or even heard whispers of it from your friends in the hiking community; you doubt you would’ve brought your sister out here if you had.
Two posters stand out in that they depict two humans who disappeared from this mountain at the same time seven weeks ago under abrupt and mysterious circumstances. Based on the hometowns of both individuals, you doubt they were here together.
You reach up, untacking the five recent posters from the board and smoothing your fingers over the pictures. You tuck them away in your journal, hoping that they won’t come in handy later. Their disappearances seem too similar to be coincidental, but you really hope this isn’t a pattern.
You eye the board again, plucking up the keys. You head back to the door, blowing out the candles along the way and turning out the lights. You shut the door and lock it behind you, placing the keys into your pack. You’ll turn everything over to the police tomorrow when you exit the trailhead, but you don’t think it’s safe to leave the building unlocked.
You climb down from the tower, deciding to set up camp here. You want to stay close to the tower, just in case someone does come by, but you don’t feel comfortable sleeping in a stranger’s home. Besides, you have the means to take care of yourself. You pitch the tent and unroll your sleeping bag quickly, before rifling through your pack for dinner. You grab an energy bar and some chips, knowing that your sister would scold you for your paltry dinner, but she isn’t here to get onto you.
Your spirit falls some and you finish eating mechanically. You scroll through your music library on your phone, willing to waste the battery a bit for your own comfort. You put on your headphones and get to your feet, deciding to go collect Florence’s belongings. You don’t want to leave them out overnight and you can take pictures of the set-up for the police. It might not be the best method, but you feel the need to do something.
You heft your flashlight, orienting yourself before you set off in the direction of Florence’s disappearance.
You freeze at the sound of a branch breaking, pulling out your headphones and whipping your eyes toward the sound. In the darkness, you see two pinpricks of glowing red.
Before you can even consider adjusting your flashlight, the hairs on your arms and neck stand on end as magic crackles in the air. You skip backwards as a glowing red bone strikes the ground before you.
A warning shot.
Your jaw firms and you adjust your grip on your industrial flashlight, handling it with both hands. “You, uh, got a bone to pick with me, friend?”
There’s a long, pointed pause and you can’t really make out the monster other than their silhouette considering the way you’re gripping your flashlight like a weapon.
Then, you hear a low, raspy laugh. “well, what `bout you, slugger ?” the monster says, voice deep and rough. It sounds distinctly amused. “ya got a flashlight to pick with me, pal?”
The tension in your shoulders eases a bit at the monster’s wisecracking, though you don’t loosen your grip on your flashlight. “You planning on pulling me into an Encounter or something?”
The monster is silent for several moments, the air still heavy with their magic. “encounters, huh? how’s a human like ya know the lingo of monsters?” You remain silent, puzzled by the question. The monster’s magic recedes and the hairs at the nape of your neck finally settle. “nah, i’m not planning nothing right now. you gonna practice your swing on me?”
“Jury’s still out,” you reply, even as you adjust your stance to something much less defensive. You swing the flashlight around, catching sight of the monster for the first time. You blink in surprise. “Huh.”
You’ve seen skeleton monsters before, one of them works in a different department on your campus. And who can possibly forget the mascot for all monsters? Still, it’s a bit spooky to come across one alone in the woods at night. This particular skeleton has bright red eyelights in their sockets, which shrink to pinpricks beneath the glare of your flashlight. They’re short, shorter than you and solidly built, dressed in an oversized coat with a fluffy hood that makes you wonder how they aren’t experiencing heat stroke right now. Their mouth is stretched wide in an easy grin full of sharp teeth and the light glints off a single gold tooth.
“what’s the matter, kid? never seen a walking, talking skeleton before?” they ask, stepping forward.
“I have,” you reply absently, missing their sharp look. “Just realizing how appropriate the ‘bone to pick’ line was, that’s all.”
They snort, shaking their head. “where are my manners?” they ask, striding forward until they stand right before you. “name’s sans. sans the skeleton.”
You introduce yourself in turn, shaking their hand. It calms something in you to see someone else out here. You’d half believed yourself to be all alone in the world and company is something you sorely need. You keep hold of their hand, desperately hoping to get some answers. “Have you seen a human girl?” you ask. “Her hair is like mine but longer, she’s about yea-high--” Your mind is crowded with so many questions you want to ask and it is so hard to latch onto a single train of thought. Monsters don’t usually care much about physical appearances, especially in humans because they look so similar compared to the variety of monsters; no, monsters pay attention to-- “Her SOUL is the purest green I’ve ever seen. Absolutely vibrant. I’ve been told that it can be a bit overwhelming for some monsters. Please, have you seen her?”
Sans tilts their head, expression going bemused for a moment at the anguish in your voice. “nah, kid, sorry. haven’t seen a human in a good four or five years. `til ya showed up, breaking my streak.”
“Five years?” you ask, stunned. “Have you been living--” You stop, cutting yourself off. There’s no reason to be rude. “Well, did you feel that...event earlier? There was some sort of disruption earlier and my sister…” Your throat tightens and eyes sting as you fight to say it aloud for the first time. “My sister disappeared in the aftermath.”
There’s a slight pressure on the hand you hadn’t yet pulled away from Sans and you suddenly realize that Sans is squeezing it with an awkward expression on their face. You give Sans a watery smile, appreciating the unexpected comfort. “i didn’t feel anything. my brother didn’t either, though he is patrolling the forest right now.”
“Your brother?” you ask, giving Sans’ hand an appreciative pat as you pull yours away. “You live here in the forest?”
“yeah, papyrus. we’re brothers and he’s the captain of the guard,” Sans says, smile gentling. “he’s the greatest.”
You stare at him for a long moment, mind faltering at the inconsistent information. You may not have met him, but you know that the monster mascot is a skeleton named Papyrus, you’ve seen his face plastered across the television, internet, and many a glorious meme. And Undyne is the Captain of the Royal Guard, though the title is more decorative now that monster-kind has settled in among the humans. Is Papyrus a common skeleton name? Is there another Guard, perhaps one for the few monsters who choose a more secluded way of life?
Finally, you realize Sans is watching you with a wary look and you startle, shaking away the errant thoughts. Now isn’t the time to pick apart everything he says. No, you need to take everything he says for face value at the moment; you’re just glad for the company.
You can’t handle being left alone with only your thoughts as a companion.
“He does sound great,” you reply evenly, tucking your hands in your pockets. “I was headed to investigate and clean up an area about half a mile from here. Would you like to join me?”
“hell, why not? s’not like i got anything better to do,” Sans says, falling into step alongside you.
You notice that his eyes are focused on the sky for most of the walk and your smile takes on a melancholy note. Most monsters that you know adore the sky and it hurts something in you to know that they were deprived of it for so long while in the Underground. You don’t really try to make conversation, respecting Sans’ utter absorption with the stars above you. You’re just glad for his presence, the solid body and soft footsteps enough to remind you that you are not alone in the world.
Admittedly, you are more than a little impressed at how easily Sans navigates the landscape, despite keeping his eye sockets trained far above the ground.
“gorgeous,” Sans murmurs, almost under his breath.
“It is,” you agree softly, blinking as Sans jerks violently. Had he forgotten you were there? He glances at you and you’re surprised to see a hint of glowing red across his cheekbones. Huh. You weren’t aware skeletons could blush. You split your gaze between the sky and the ground, unwilling to risk a twisted ankle. “I’m always glad to get out of the city for a bit. The stars here are much clearer. After all, star-gazing is Sirius business.”
“yeah?” he asks, chucking as his shoulders relax.
“Yeah,” you say. “See that cluster there?” You point it out. “Humans call it the Big Dipper; it’s a part of Ursa Major, the Big Bear.” You huff a laugh. “Monsters have taken to calling it River Person’s Oar, which I think is more accurate.”
“what are ya talking `bout? mon--” Sans begins, a confused look on his face.
“It’s still here,” you say in relief, hurrying forward to Florence Taylor’s strewn belongings. “Thank goodness.”
You pull out your phone, turning on the flash and hoping the photo quality is enough for police as you start taking pictures.
“SANS!” You jolt, caught unawares by the absolute bellow of a voice. “SANS, QUIT BOONDOGGLING ABOUT YOU LAZYBONES! WE HAVE MUCH TERRITORY WE MUST EXPLORE AND SECURE HERE ON THE SURFACE! WE CAN’T HAVE THOSE GOOD FOR NOTHING MUTTS EDGING IN ON OUR TERRITORY.”
You turn, phone still raised, and catch sight of another skeleton who strides into the clearing with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance. This skeleton is tall, a good head taller than you are, and bedecked in a uniform of black and red. They stand ramrod straight, a direct contrast to Sans’ slouch. There is a deep scar down one eye socket and your own eyes linger there, wondering what type of injury could cause such a lasting mark on a monster. As you’re contemplating this, the monster’s red eyelights snap to meet your gaze.
“SANS, OH MY GOD. IS THAT…A HUMAN?”
“uh...actually, i think that’s a backpack.”
“hey boss, what’s that in front of the backpack?”
“OH MY GOD. IS THAT...A HUMAN?”
You snort, unable to help it. “Yes, ‘that’ is,” you say, smiling at the skeletons. Where Sans was so stiff and distant earlier, he is now relaxed and content. If you had to guess, this must be-- “You’re Papyrus, yes?”
The skeleton straightens even further beneath your scrutiny, placing a hand to his hip. “YES, I-I SUPPOSE THE FEATS OF THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS HAVE SPREAD EVEN IN MY SHORT TIME ON THE SURFACE.” Papyrus’ face glows a soft red, his smile wide and happy. “HUMAN! YOU MAY APPROACH.”
You glance at Sans for a moment, smile growing. You do as Papyrus requested(?)/demanded, introducing yourself as you do so. “It is good to meet you Papyrus.”
“O-OF COURSE IT IS!” he says. “IT IS A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU TOO, HUMAN.”
You grin at his loud enthusiasm. Though his strength of his voice is a bit overwhelming, you find that you don’t mind it, not really. “I was wondering if you happened to encounter a human girl during your patrol. My sister. She has the greenest SOUL I’ve seen. She, uh, disappeared a handful of hours ago during a strange surge...I’ve been looking for her ever since.” You glance down and away, eyes skirting back to the backpack. “I think that others have disappeared too.” You meet Sans’ quizzical eyelights. “I came across Florence Taylor’s abandoned belongings and it’s possible that the forest ranger also disappeared.”
“I AM...SORRY HUMAN,” Papyrus says. “I HAVE NOT SEEN A HUMAN LIKE YOU ARE DESCRIBING.” He eyes you for a moment, coughing into his glove. “IT IS IMPRESSIVE THOUGH, THAT YOUR SISTER HAS A GREEN SOUL. GREEN SOULS ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN AMONG HUMANS.”
You cock your head. KINDNESS isn’t truly all that uncommon among humans, but maybe Papyrus hasn’t come across the right types of humans. Regardless, you appreciate the attempt to cheer you up. “That’s alright, Papyrus. I don’t think that she’s still here in the forest, but I can’t help but hope…” You shake your head, smiling at Papyrus. “Well, thank you for your time.”
“YOU’RE WELCOME!” Papyrus says, striking another pose. “THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS IS GRACIOUS TO THOSE BENEATH HIS PROTECTION!”
Sans startles. “boss?”
“AFTER ALL, THIS IS NOW OUR TERRITORY ON THE SURFACE!” Papyrus says, ignoring his brother’s incredulous look. “WE MAY BE NEW, BUT WE STAKE OUR CLAIM AND WE WILL PROTECT IT.” He pauses, glancing at you before clearing his throat. “AND. AS THE FIRST HUMAN WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED ON THE SURFACE, YOU ARE NOW UNDER OUR PROTECTION!”
“I’m sorry, what?” you ask.
“hey, boss is offering ya a good deal here,” Sans says, looking a bit dumbstruck. “ya should take it.”
“No, not that,” you say, waving away Sans’ warning comment. “What do you mean I’m the first human you’ve encountered on the Surface?”
“well, kid, what’d ya expect? we’ve only been here for a couple of hours.”
“Fuck,” you mutter. “Fuck!”
“You’ve only just now arrived on the Surface?” you ask, pressing your fingers to your temples. “ Today ?”
“HUMAN ARE YOU WELL? YOUR FACE IS RAPIDLY LOSING COLOR.”
You exhale, calming your wild thoughts. “Most monsters surfaced eight years ago,” you say. “What happened to you both? Were you trapped Underground? Did you find another exit? All the other monster emerged in New Home a few hours away from here.”
Sans shrugs. “listen kid, we didn’t really emerge here or anything. one moment we were in the underground and the next we were standing on the surface.” His voice is wistful and your heart aches at the underlying pain.
“What time would you say that was?” you ask, a sinking feeling in your gut. At least two, maybe three, humans disappearing just as two monsters appear? You don’t believe in coincidences. “When you realized you were on the Surface?”
“I REALIZED IT RIGHT AWAY, HUMAN. THE SCENT OF MANGY CURS DISSIPATED,” Papyrus pauses, turning his gaze up to the sky. “AND WE WERE BATHED IN THE LIGHT OF THE SETTING SUN.” The gentleness disappears from his eyelights as he laughs maniacally. “TRULY, THE ONLY APPROPRIATE SETTING FOR THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS TO MAKE HIS ENTRANCE!”
“kid?” Sans says, eyelights trained on you. “you good?”
You’re not good. You’re not good at all. Whatever the hell happened earlier to your sister, these monsters were caught up in as well.
It had to be magic.
You thought it might be, but it’s something else entirely to have it confirmed like this. Magic…magic complicates things. It makes things more difficult on your end as well. You can’t bring your sister’s disappearance to the police or the rangers; at least, not at first. It’s doubtful that they will have the resources on hand to handle the necessary magic investigation; only the police forces back in New Home and immediately surrounding towns deal with magic on a regular basis.
And there’s the issue too of the impact that a major magic investigation may have on human/monster relations. Human/monster relations got off to a bumpy start when monsters first came to the Surface, but, with a persuasive ambassador like Frisk, and determined, kind-hearted citizens on both sides, relations were thriving. Most people in this mountain region were accepting of monsters and they’d been integrated on all levels of life. You knew a few human/monster couples even. However, just because the locals were accepting, it did not mean everyone else was.
Many humans traveled to New Home to see the monsters, treating it in many ways like a zoo, including live interactions with monsters. Most vendors, both human and monster alike, embraced the tourism with open arms, engaging tourists and locals alike with monster food, SOUL checks, and friendly Encounters. While things were calm for now, you know full well that there are politicians and companies that would be more than happy to swoop in on the idyllic life of New Home and rip it to shreds for their own gain.
A major magic case, outside the jurisdiction of New Haven...well, it might be enough to blow the current peace to hell, giving a platform to the vocal minority that claim that monsters are dangerous and evil. You can’t do that, you can’t fan the flames of the rhetoric that set off the first War; you won’t allow monsters to be forced Underground again...or into an even worse situation.
So, your plans must be adjusted. You’ll go to New Home and make your report at the Embassy there. Someone should be able to help you there. And you turn your gaze over the two skeleton brothers, surprised to realize that there is pressure against your back.
You look up, meeting Papyrus’ concerned eyelights. His hand is pressed against your back, steadying you.
“SANS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE HUMAN? ARE THEY TOO TIRED? IT’S LIKE THEY’RE SLEEPING ON THEIR FEET, MUCH LIKE YOU.”
“heh, boss, i don’t think it’s anything like that,” Sans says, eyes trained at the point of contact between you and his brother. He seems nonplussed, but he smiles as his brother. “i think they’re just daydreaming.”
“BUT SANS, IT’S NIGHTTIME.”
“I’m awake, I’m awake,” you say. “Sorry, I was just thinking. I zone out a bit sometimes when that happens.”
“what? did you have a brain freeze ?” Sans asks.
You chuckle, shaking your head even as Papyrus makes a noise of frustration. “More like the opposite really, more like a meltdown ,” you say. Your words are a little more honest than you meant them to be, but you keep your smile light and easy. “Thank you for your help, Papyrus,” you say, touching his radius. “Sometimes I get too in my head; your touch grounded me.”
Papyrus’ mouth opens, but no sound comes out. He closes it with an audible click before shaking his head, pulling his hand away from you. “OF COURSE! THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS IS A MASTER AT UNDERSTANDING SUBTEXT AND NUANCE! YOU ARE WELCOME FOR MY FANTASTIC ASSISTANCE!”
You smile at them both. “So, your first day on the Surface. My guess is neither of you are registered at the Embassy?” They exchange puzzled looks. “I thought so. Well, if you’d like to join me, I’ll be traveling to New Home tomorrow; I need to make a report at the Embassy for a missing person-- missing persons --case.” You run a hand through your hair. “Would you like to accompany me? The Embassy can connect you with people you know on the Surface--friends and family, anything like that--and help you get settled with housing and assistance in securing a job.” Really, you were sometimes jealous of monsters, their government took much better care of them. “What do you think?”
The brothers look at each other again and, this time, appear to hold some sort of silent conversation that involves much brow and eyelight movement. Huh. You hadn’t realized their bones were so malleable. That’ll take some getting used to.
“up to ya, boss,” Sans says, gold tooth glinting under the glare of the flashlight.
“WE WILL ACCOMPANY YOU, HUMAN,” Papyrus says. “WE WILL FIND THE BEST SUITING ACCOMMODATIONS FOR MONSTERS AS TERRIBLE AS WE ARE.”
“Sounds good, Papyrus,” you say, stifling a yawn. You glance down at your watch and blanch. “Well, speaking on accommodations, I need some sleep. Do you have a place to stay tonight?”
“nah,” Sans replies. “only abode i’ve seen is that tower ya were at earlier.”
“Yeah, I’m camping out there,” you say. “You’re both welcome to join me.”
“YOU MEAN LIKE A SL--” You see Papyrus’ eyelights expand for a moment before quickly returning to their normal size. He cuts himself off, scowling slightly. “THIS IS RATHER FORWARD, HUMAN, BUT I WILL ACCEPT THE INVITATION.”
You duck your head to hide your amusement. You don’t want to hurt Papyrus’ feelings, especially with how seriously he’s taking his response. “Sans, you want to lead the way?”
Sans looks between you and his brother, brow furrowed. “nah, pal. ya know the path better than me. you first.”
You take off back toward the tower, pausing when Papyrus thrusts a hand in your direction. “HAND ME THE BELONGINGS OF THE MISSING HUMAN,” Papyrus says, refusing to look at you. “YOU ARE SM-- WEAKER THAN THE GREAT PAPYRUS; I SHOULD CARRY THE LOAD.”
“Sans was right,” you say, handing off the bag. Papyrus looks at you in question. “You really are the greatest, Papyrus.”
You have the distinct pleasure of watching his entire skull light up a violent red as he snatches Florence Taylor’s belongings out of your hands, storming off in the opposite direction.
You look at Sans.
“Should I--should I stop him?”
“ya could try, kid,” Sans says easily, flinging an arm around you. You get the feeling he was aiming for your shoulders, but, with his height, it lands around your mid-back. He starts steering you back toward the tower. “wouldn’t suggest it though. the boss is unstoppable. don’t worry, he’ll turn up at the tower; he’s got the best sense of direction.”
“Alright,” you say, biting your lip to keep from protesting when he draws away. You could use the comfort of contact right now. “Well, let’s see if we get back before him.”
Sans snorts, head turned up to the sky again. “doubt it. boss will compass t us.”
You chuckle softly, spending the remainder of the walk in contented silence. Sure enough, as Sans said, Papyrus is already at the tower when you return, scrutinizing your tent. As you come up alongside him, you see the immediate problem.
The tent, while large enough for two, would be a tight fit for three. And Papyrus is uncommonly tall; the tent is not designed to accommodate someone of his height. You rustle in your pocket, pulling out the tower key and grabbing up your backpack.
“I didn’t think about how uncomfortable the tent would be for you both,” you say, starting up the rickety stairs. “How about you stay in the tower tonight?”
“you sure we won’t be in ranger ?” Sans asks.
“THAT WAS POORLY DONE,” Papyrus snaps. “WILL WE BE TRESPASSING ON SOMEONE ELSE’S TERRITORY?”
“I don’t think so,” you reply honestly, looking up at the unlit room. “I think that whatever event brought you to the Surface and made my sister disappear also affected the ranger. Besides, rangers are dedicated to helping people who come through the forest; I doubt they would mind you borrowing their residence for the evening.”
The brothers remain silent but you hear the stairs creak beneath Sans’ feet (though not Papyrus’ strangely enough), so you assume they’ve accepted the arrangement. You push into the room, flipping on the lights as you do so. Nothing has changed since you were last here.
You prop your backpack on the wobbly card table that constitutes a kitchen table and pull out all of the food you have packed inside. “I, uh, just realized that you both might be pretty hungry,” you say, turning back to the brothers. “You’re welcome to any and all of the food I have; there’s a mix of human and monster food.” (You’ve got a sweet tooth and monster food hits all those buttons just right.)
“what about you, kid?” Sans asks, crossing his arms, even as Papyrus starts perusing the items. “gonna eat?”
“Maybe some chips...or chisps,” you say, grabbing up both the bags and enjoying the crinkle of the food within. “I had a bit of dinner before you showed up.”
You pop a couple of both into your mouth, noting that Papyrus gravitated to the spider donuts. Sans swipes both the bags from you, watching you for a reaction, even as he stuffs his face.
“Hey,” you say with a laugh. “That isn’t cool.”
“sharing is caring, kid,” Sans replies.
You size him up for a moment, before deciding you’re too exhausted to attempt a rescue mission on your food. “I’ll come up with a rousing eulogy for those poor potatoes tomorrow,” you say, missing the sudden sparkle in Sans’ eyelights.
You move away from them, grabbing up your toothbrush, toothpaste, and pajamas. You leave them to devour your food as you seek out the cabin’s restroom. You step inside, perform your nightly ablutions, and take in the sight of yourself in the mirror. You look like hell, hair greasy, skin sunken and sweaty, and eyes red and ringed in exhaustion. You huff, splashing your face with cold water. It doesn’t really fix anything, but you do feel a bit more alert.
“You’ve got this,” you murmur to yourself. “I’ve got a plan. I just have to follow it through. I’ll get peanut back.” You meet your gaze, firming your jaw and watching as your chin rounds in stubbornness. “I promise.”
You step out of the bathroom, eyeing the bed. The sheets are rumpled, strewn, and you can see crumbs among them. You glance around, finding a small linen closet beside the bathroom and pulling out fresh bed sheets. As you set about making the bed, something in you calms, perhaps because you’re completing a mundane, routine task.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HUMAN?” Papyrus asks, coming up alongside you as you finish tucking in the fitted sheet.
“I’m making the bed for you...or Sans,” you say. “Or both of you. Whoever plans on sleeping in the bed.”
“HUMAN, YOU ARE...VERY DIRECT,” Papyrus says, flushing and glancing away from you, hands fidgeting. “YOU’VE SKIPPED MANY STEPS IN THE MANUAL; ALREADY TO THE STAGE OF SHARING A BED!”
Your eyes go wide. “Oh,” you say, at a loss for words as Papyrus grabs the other side of the sheet to help you make the bed. “I won’t be sleeping in the bed.”
“WHAT? BUT YOU’RE PREPARING IT FOR--” Papyrus trails off uncertainly, looking almost disappointed.
“I’m preparing it for you,” you say. You gesture to the couch that Sans leans against, watching you both like a hawk. “The couch is too short for you to sleep on and so is the tent. The bed is the best bet, though I think it might also be a bit short for you. Sans can--” You turn to Sans.
“i’ll take the couch, boss,” Sans says, saluting lazily.
Papyrus remains silent, but his blush deepens. “YES. THIS MAKES THE MOST SENSE. YOU HAVE SEEN THE GREATNESS AND TERRIBLENESS OF PAPYRUS AND CANNOT HELP BUT FALL FOR MY CHARISMA! THIS BED WILL SUIT ME VERY WELL FOR THE NIGHT, HUMAN. YOU HAVE CHOSEN WELL FOR MY TERRIBLE SELF!”
“And look,” you say, pointing up to the skylight above the bed. “This bed is even closer to the stars.”
“YOU ARE...UNUSUAL, HUMAN,” Papyrus says, cocking his head. “WHERE DO YOU PLAN TO SLEEP?”
“I will stay in my tent below,” you say. “I have everything set up already.”
“BUT WHO WILL PROTECT YOU, HUMAN?” Papyrus asks, straightening. “YOU ARE NOT VERY STRONG; ANYONE CAN ATTACK YOU! IF THOSE MUTTS ARE ON THE SURFACE THEY ARE SURE TO ATTACK!”
“I’ll be alright, Papyrus,” you say soothingly. “Besides, I know I’m safe. The two of you are here. I trust you to keep me safe.”
You wait for a response, but neither of them speak so, with a shrug, you grab your backpack. “Sleep well you two. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Sans watches as the door clicks closed behind you before turning his eyelights back to his brother. Papyrus is still standing where you left him and Sans can hear the way his SOUL flutters. “ya alright, boss?”
Papyrus jumps, almost spooked. “YES, OF COURSE, SANS! I AM THE PICTURE OF HEALTH.”
“ya sure are, boss,” Sans says. “healthiest set of bones i’ve ever seen.”
“NYEH,” Papyrus says, preening slightly. He drops the pose quickly, looking at the door you just exited. “SANS...THIS HUMAN IS...ODD. NONE OF MY TRAINING PREPARED ME FOR SOMEONE LIKE THEM. ARE ALL HUMANS LIKE THEM?”
“yer guess is as good as mine, boss,” Sans says with a practiced shrug. He’s uneasy with the seemingly effortless comraderie you’ve struck up with Papyrus. His younger brother is abrasive and cruel; he had to be in the Underground. The way Papyrus presents himself to the world is part-practiced, part-true and even Sans sometimes forgets which is which after so many years. And yet, somehow, you’ve slipped through Papyrus’ many defenses and you seem to like what you’ve found. Sans can understand that ; his brother is his favorite person, but he doesn’t quite understand the seeming reciprocity, especially in such a short time. Maybe it has something to do with being on the Surface, maybe it has something to do with you specifically. “better than, even.”
He’s gonna find out.
“IT IS GOOD TO BE ON THE SURFACE, SANS,” Papyrus says. “I AM...GLAD TO SEE THE STARS.”
“heh,” Sans says. “me too papyrus. would you like a bedtime story tonight?”
“NO SANS, THAT IS ALRIGHT,” Papyrus says, climbing onto the bed. “I WILL...WATCH THE STARS TONIGHT.”
Sans smiles, turning out the light and waiting until he hears Papyrus begin to snore. As soon as he does, Sans stands from the couch, smile tightening into a grimace. He doesn’t trust you. You’re too good to be true, your first meeting too convenient and contrived for his liking. And your behavior considering the fact that “your sister is missing” does not make sense to Sans. Why aren’t you calling the authorities? Taking direct action? Hell, he’s a lazy sonuvabitch, but if it was Papyrus missing...well, he’d be bouncing all around using Void magic to g e t h i m b a c k .
Well, Sans expects that you want something from him and his brother. It wouldn’t surprise him; they’re a pair of strong monsters and hold a lot of sway among monsterkind. He still isn’t sure about the whole monsters surfacing eight years ago, but that’s a minor detail in Sans’ mind right now.
You are a much more pressing threat.
So--one of Sans’ eyelights snaps open with a glowing red flame--it’s about time that you two had a heart-to-heart chat.
Or, rather, SOUL-to-bone attack chat.
He winks out of existence, reappearing at the bottom of the staircase. He strides forward, SOUL buzzing with agitation as he prepares to pull you into an Encounter, only to freeze at a strange sound.
A wet hiccuping sound.
He creeps forward, putting forth the effort to keep his steps silent. He catches sight of you seated at the lip of the tent, body wrapped in an unzipped sleeping bag. You are hunched over, shoulders shaking with force.
For a moment, Sans thinks you’re laughing and anger thrums through him, before your head turns up and to the side and he catches sight of wetness streaking across your face. Tears spill forth from your eyes, shoulders wracked with the absolute force of the sobs that tear free from deep in your chest. You keen, a thin, high-pitched sound, and Sans realizes, much like Papyrus has, just how small you are.
When you first met mere hours ago, you seemed much larger than life, cracking jokes at him, holding yourself with poise, and thinking your way through both your problems and theirs. You were intimidating, always having a plan to follow through on even when confronted with new obstacles.
But now? Well, Sans can see the chinks in your armor. You’re young; an adult by human standards but so young to monsters. You’re lonely and scared, barely keeping yourself together for the sake of seeking out your sister. And the moment you have time alone, well, of course you fall apart.
Sans feels guilt creep up his spine, threatening to overwhelm his SOUL for a moment. Whatever you are, you aren’t trying to hurt him or his brother. You’re a genuine person, just trying to--
“Sans?” you say, voice hoarse and choked. You swipe hurriedly at your cheeks, rubbing your nose against your shirt. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were here. How can I help you?”
Sans just watches you, stupefied. You’re a genuine person, just trying to help him and his brother. He doesn’t know what to do with that information; he’s never dealt with this type of authenticity. Everyone in the Underground played dangerous, high-stakes games; they had to to survive. But you…
Sans abruptly surges forward, taking a seat right beside you. He doesn’t know how to offer you comfort, but he doesn’t want to leave you alone.
“ya know, some astronomy books showed up at the dump in the underground,” Sans says, casting about for a topic. The heaving of your chest starts to ease and he continues, “well, i’ve had a chance to memorize a lot of the constellations. ya know which one is my least favorite?”
“Which one?” you ask, voice thick.
“orion’s belt. it’s just a complete waist of space.”
“Oh my gosh,” you say, letting out a hacking cough. It isn’t a pretty sight by any means, but Sans’ SOUL lightens and warms nevertheless. “Are you kidding me? You had me going there for a second.”
“heh, don’t hold it against me,” Sans says. “like the moon, i’m just going through a phase .”
Your shoulders start shaking for a different, entirely more pleasant reason and Sans keeps up the astronomy jokes and puns until the tears are dry on your face and your voice evens out.
He startles ever so slightly, when you list against his shoulder. His eyelights track your movement and he realizes that you’ve fallen asleep. Sans watches you for a long moment, taking in your slack features. He can see the exhaustion and fear that lined your expression now that they’ve melted away in the bliss of sleep. You look peaceful, for the very first time in his presence.
Sans’ eyelights dart away, up to the sky, unwilling to contemplate the odd tightness in his chest at that thought.
He’s never been around someone like you, someone who so freely offers a helping hand to him or to his brother. He knows now, that you aren’t a threat to him.
At least, not in the way that’ll dust him.
Then again, given the way his SOUL is nearly purring at your blatant display of trust in him, you may be a threat of another kind. He chuckles, rubbing at his chest as he shifts, trying to make you more comfortable.
Yeah, you’re trouble alright.
Sans startles awake at the brief crackle of magic that flits across his senses.
He jerks, arms tightening around the pillow he’s holding as he meets Papyrus’ gaze.
Sans immediately eases, sockets lidding as he releases his grasp on his magic. “damn, bro, ya really rattled my bones there.”
“Sans,” Papyrus says, voice low and tight. Sans goes on the alert, unused to hearing Papyrus speak so quietly. “What Are You Doing?”
“sleeping?” Sans says. “it’s my favorite pastime.”
He shrugs, freezing as his pillow shifts with a low groan. No. Not a pillow.
Your head lolls against his shoulder, face slack and relaxed in sleep. You look to be in better shape after a night of rest and Sans’ arms shift reflexively to better accommodate you. Which, uh, draws his attention to the fact that the two of you are intertwined, his arms looped around your waist. It appears that he fell asleep while watching the stars last night, still in his seated position. Somehow, both of you had adjusted, until your upper body is pressed against his. He notices that your hands are wrapped in the front of his jacket.
“Peanut,” you whine, “stop moving.” You reach out, looping an arm around Sans’ neck as you snuggle into his jaw.
Sans flushes, jerking free of the far too intimate embrace.
“SANS,” Papyrus begins, hurrying forward with a hand outstretched and one eyelight flickering blue. Sweat appears on his skull from the effort of using this type of magic, but your body freezes and he, with a gentleness that Sans hasn’t seen in many years, lowers you to the ground. “That Was Unnecessary.”
“heh, sorry boss,” Sans says, blush still hot and red across his bones. He knows he overreacted, but he’s unsettled. He may have slept around quite a bit in the Underground, but he’s never, uh, slept with someone--alongside someone. And he’s never passed a night with such good sleep; no nightmares, no startling awake in paranoia. It was a deep sleep and Sans is already lingering on it wistfully. “didn’t mean to leave ya to pick up my slack .”
“SANS!” Papyrus stomps his foot, losing control over his voice. “YOU ARE SO INFURIATING! ENOUGH OF YOUR SHENANIGANS!”
You jolt, sitting upright. Both brothers turn your way and you look at them sleepily. Sans won’t meet your eyes, but Papyrus does, albeit a bit guiltily. You raise your hand to your head, grimacing at the tangled mess that is your hair.
“Morning,” you say, climbing to your feet a bit unsteadily. Your neck is a bit tight--you must’ve slept in a strange position--but you slept hard. “What’s going--”
You cut off, remembering all of the events of yesterday. You stagger slightly, before firming your stance. It wasn’t just a dream.
Your sister is gone.
You press your hand to your eyes for a moment, before patting your face. You took the time to mourn last night and you’ll have time again to ruminate later, but for now you’ve got tasks to do.
“Did you sleep well?” you ask, looking at the skeletons. “Was the cabin alright?”
They exchange looks, Sans seeming nervous and Papyrus seeming irritable. “IT WAS A SUITABLE ACCOMMODATION FOR THE EVENING,” Papyrus says. “SANS, DID YOU ENJOY THE COUCH?”
“s-sure did, boss,” Sans says. “it was surprisingly soft.”
“NYEH!” Papyrus says and you catch a flash of color across his face. “HUMAN, GET PREPARED FOR OUR TRAVELS. SANS AND I WILL PERFORM A PATROL OF THE AREA FOR THREATS!”
You watch with a bit of confusion as Papyrus strides forward, grabs Sans by his hood, and marches away. You shake your head, deciding not to question it. It’s too early in the day for you to contemplate skeleton tomfoolery.
You head up to the cabin and dress for the day. You fill up your water bottle at the sink, pausing in thought. You aren’t sure if skeleton monsters need water, but you figure it won’t hurt as you fill up your spare water bottles, before locking up the cabin as you leave. You set about eating handfuls of granola as you pack away your remaining supplies.
You aren’t sure how they managed to time it (magic maybe), but the skeletons emerge from the woods as you shoulder the tent bag.
“THE PERIMETER IS SECURE, HUMAN,” Papyrus says. “IT IS SAFE FOR TRAVELING PURPOSES.”
“Thanks Papyrus,” you reply distractedly as you examine your map. “We’ve got a bit of a hike ahead of us, about eleven miles to our destination.”
“great,” Sans says, looking miserable. “i--uh, i might just meet ya there. could i see that map, trouble?”
Trouble? A new nickname? “You got a method of getting yourself there quicker?”
“yeah. ya could call it a shortcut.” Sans’ eyelights flit between you and the map, contemplating something. “actually, i could get us all out of here pretty quick if you can trust me.”
Papyrus opens his mouth, but you don’t notice, relief lining your features. “Really? That would be amazing! It’s the house that’s circled there.”
“heh, glad to hear it, kid,” Sans says, unable to look at you directly when you wear an expression of such abundant relief. “so it looks like the house is directly south of us and slightly east. let me test this out first and i’ll be back.”
You watch Sans wink out of existence, feeling his lingering magic buffet against you for a moment before dissipating. A hand settles on your shoulder and you look up. Papyrus’ phalanges are curled around the straps of all of the bags you’re holding. Florence Taylor’s belongings are already held in his free hand.
“ALLOW ME, HUMAN,” he says. “YOUR STRENGTH IS NOTHING COMPARED TO MINE.”
Your lips curl into a fond smile. “Thank you for the offer, Papyrus. Are you sure it is not an imposition?”
“OF COURSE NOT!” Papyrus blusters, snatching up the bags. He holds them effortlessly. “I AM PLENTY STRONG ENOUGH.”
You raise your hands in surrender just as Sans appears beside you both. There’s the slight sheen of red sweat on his temple. “got it. i can take you both now.”
“Alright, what do we need to do?” you ask, glancing between the two brothers. Papyrus seems displeased, sharp teeth locked into a scowl. You return your attention to Sans. “You sure it’s alright? We could make the walk.”
“nah, it’s good. it’s what my magic was designed for after all,” Sans says. “it’s a bit intense though. you ever travel by void magic?”
“Void magic?” you say, interest peaking. You’ve studied quite a bit about magic, both in academic and popular literature, but you’ve never heard the Void mentioned. And, considering your job, you know a lot more about SOULS and magic than even what’s been made available to most humans. “I can’t say that I have. What should I expect?”
“haven’t brought many people through before,” Sans admits. “from what little i’ve seen, you may experience some pressure on your soul and physical coldness.” He pauses, eyeing you with trepidation. “i, uh, haven’t brought a human through before.”
You shrug. “Humans have shown themselves to be consistently more resistant to different types of magics than monsters.” This is, for the most part, true. Human SOULS are stronger than monster SOULS; Encounter magic does less damage to humans. However there are some magics, used outside of Encounters, that are more effective on humans, most likely because humans aren’t made of magic and are less used to those effects. But those non-Encounter magics are benevolent and you really want to learn more about Void magic. How can you possibly pass up the opportunity for field experience? “It’ll be fine.”
Sans scrutinizes you for a long moment and, for a heartstopping second, you think he’s going to call you out. Then his grin stretches, gold tooth glinting. “whatever ya say, trouble. i’ll, uh, try not to let you slip through the cracks .” He wiggles his segmented phalanges at you.
You snort, even as Papyrus rounds on him. “NO SCRIMSHANKING ABOUT, SANS!”
“ya got it, boss,” Sans says. He grabs Papyrus’ wrist before turning to you and raising his brow bones. He slings an arm around your waist and pulls you up against him. “i’ve got no body , will you hold yours against me?”
Your peals of laughter are abruptly cut off as the three of you wink out of existence.
Void magic is the strangest thing you’ve yet experienced, yet an overwhelming sense of deja vu rings through you. Your SOUL is pulled and tugged upon, squeezed in a vice as you resist.
This is similar to the disappearing event of yesterday.
But, you realize with dawning horror, this sensation is so much stronger; it is unrelenting. You forget your body, your mind, everything centering on your SOUL. You can see it, even though it hasn’t been pulled into an Encounter, glowing and pulsing. You feel alien magic buffet you, wrapping itself around your SOUL. It’s...it’s like your SOUL is being coddled and you hear a whisper of... something , garbled words that sound like they come from underwater. Your SOUL flares, light intensifying as something stares into you, through you.
This entity, whatever it is (you think that trying to understand it may fracture your very self), tightens around your SOUL with intent and suddenly you can make out the words--
“Those aren’t the only options. There is always another choice--”
And then you are back in the material world, snapping back to your physical body. You immediately mourn the feeling of being unfettered, limitless, as your SOUL suddenly feels too big for your body. It’s tighter than the sensations of the Void and you can’t breathe --
You tear away from Sans, hurrying to a tree as you start retching. You hear an argument behind you, as if from far away and underwater, but you can’t focus on the words as you try to readjust to the confines of your body. All of the hairs on your arms and neck are on end and you tremble, losing your breakfast.
“Peanut,” you say softly, closing your eyes as you place a trembling hand against the tree.
She’s alive. She’s...well, she sounds alright. Wherever she was, she was ranting at someone, something about always having a choice…
You slowly come back to yourself, the overstimulation of inhabiting physical, material space easing away. You suddenly realize that someone is speaking to you in low, soothing tones, as a hand rubs along your lower back.
You straighten, looking over at Papyrus whose hand is on you and Sans who continues speaking, anxiety and guilt warring on his face. “ya alright there, sweetheart? ya gave us quite a scare. really rattled our bones .”
“YOU ALREADY USED THAT ONE, SANS,” Papyrus says, voice tight. You wince slightly at the bracing quality of his voice, but it passes quickly. “Y/N, ARE YOU WELL?”
“I’ll be fine,” you say uncertainly, taking inventory of yourself. Your stomach is settling, the ringing in your ears is nearly gone, and your limbs no longer feel like liquid. “I am fine. The Void was just...unexpected.” Understatement of the year. “We’ve learned something though; humans and the Void do not mix well. At least, without preparation.”
You want to try again. Not right away, you don’t think you could muster the energy to pull yourself back together if you went into the Void again.
Even more than that, you fear not wanting to return. Already, your mind is trying to pick apart your experiences in the Void and the thing you keep circling back to is that desire to stay. Being in the Void wasn’t pleasant by any means, but something draws you back to it; like a moth to flame.
“yeah, we aren’t doing that again any time soon, trouble,” Sans says. “scared me right outta my skin.”
“You don’t have any skin,” you say with a huff, reaching into the pack Papyrus is carrying to pull out some gum. You offer some to each of them.
“ see ?” Sans says, gesticulating widely. “ya scared it off.”
You smile at that, moving away from the tree. “Thank you both. You’re both really sweet.”
Both Sans and Papyrus look away, faces flushing a glowing red. You eye them both, realizing that Papyrus’ is a bit of a deeper red, something like crimson, while Sans’ is lighter, a vermilion. Your smile softens, heart warming.
They’re really cute.
“C’mon,” you say, gesturing away from the trail. You start heading down the path and pull your keys out of your pocket. “Let’s get out of this damn forest.”
You see the brothers join you in your peripherals, but your focus is on the path. You crest a rolling hill, sighing in relief as you see your grandmother’s house. But you don’t really focus on the familiar building, built by the loving hands of both your grandparents. No, your eyes are on your car.
You approach the vehicle, affectionately named “Alfred” by your sister. She always names the inanimate objects you own. It’s hard for you to keep track, but your sister never skips a beat. A pang of melancholy strikes you, but you push through it.
You pop the trunk, turning to the brothers. “Well?”
Both of them regard you with a surprising amount of reluctance, staying away from the car.
“What’s wrong?” you ask, immediately concerned. Have you unknowingly done something to offend?
“IS IT SAFE?” Papyrus asks. “WILL IT TRANSFORM INTO A SENTIENT FIGHTING ROBOT IF WE APPROACH?”
“What?” you say, absolutely lost. Then it hits you. Monsters didn’t have cars in the Underground; you can still remember the carnage in the months immediately following monsters surfacing. So many fire hydrants lost in the crossfire… “Oh. No, this car is not sentient and it doesn’t transform into anything else.”
“NOT EVEN THE ARM OF A LARGER ROBOT?” Papyrus asks, looking a bit disappointed.
“Unfortunately no,” you reply, smacking the bumper with affection. “Alfred here only serves as transportation.”
“but it has a name,” Sans says.
“Just a little joke,” you say. “I promise, no sentience here.”
They approach warily and you leave them to circle the car, investigating as you load it. You climb into the driver’s seat, glancing up at your grandmother’s house. Your heart hurts at the reminder of your family and you redirect your attention to the brothers.
The brothers climb into the car, following the amused instructions you have to give them to guide them through the process. This includes explaining the rights of shotgun, how car doors work, and right now--
“WHY MUST WE WEAR SEATBELTS?” Papyrus asks, snapping the belt. “IT SEEMS LIKE A TRAP TO ENSNARE YOU WITHIN THE DEPTHS OF THIS MECHANICAL BEAST.”
“It keeps you safe if something were to happen, like if the car must stop or is stopped abruptly,” you explain. “Without a seatbelt, you can be flung from the vehicle.”
Both brothers tense.
“so this is dangerous,” Sans says.
You turn to look at him in the backseat. “I think you’ll be alright if anything happens; that Void magic is pretty handy.”
“what about ya, trouble? boss has gravity magic and i have my void magic, but what will ya do?” Sans says, hands twitching in concern.
You thumb your seatbelt. “That’s what this is for. Seriously, I appreciate the concern, but I’ll be alright. I’ve been driving for years. Trust me.”
Sans watches you, jaw tight in a grimace. “alright, trouble. i’ll trust ya.”
You smile at him empathetically, reaching out to squeeze his patella. You resettle yourself in your seat, offering Papyrus control of the radio. “Next stop, New Home.”
“We’re here,” you say, pulling into a parking space. Both Papyrus and Sans jump slightly; they were absorbed in watching the world of the Surface pass by outside their windows. “Welcome to the Embassy.”
You step out of the car, looking up at the building with something of a wry grin. Before monsters surfaced, this building was a derelict and abandoned hotel. Once, generations ago, it’d been the shining pearl of the town, but between poor management and a flatlining economy, it’d gone under years before you were born. When monsters surfaced, they were offered the space and others like it oh so generously by local government.
Well, the joke was on them as, in little time at all, the building was restored to its former glory. Honestly, you like it even more than the grainy black and white photos you’ve seen of the hotel in its heyday; the combination of its old art nouveau style and the `80s retro style that pervades monster aesthetic creating an odd but uniquely beautiful effect.
Most of New Home is refitted in much the same way and you love it.
Papyrus strides over to you, sticking close enough for you to feel the crackle of the magic that runs through his body. It isn’t exactly the same as body heat; it leaves a lingering tingling sensation. You glance up at him in question, in your brief acquaintanceship with Papyrus he doesn’t come across as the most touchy-feely person.
His eyelights rove over your surroundings, scrutinizing the few monsters and humans alike who mill about the area.
“It’s alright,” you say, placing a hand on his ulna. His red eyelights snap to you, shrinking for a moment. “We aren’t in danger here at the Embassy.”
Papyrus tightens his jaw, but he steps back from you slightly. It isn’t much, he is definitely still hovering, but you’ll be able to move without stumbling into him. You turn back to the car, snorting at the sight of Sans sprawled across your backseat. You rap your knuckles against the window.
“C’mon lazybones,” you say. “It’s time to get you both settled.”
Sans’ snores cut off abruptly as he sits up, eyelights large and dazed. Still, he’s more alert than you expected. He meets your amused gaze and grins. “couldn’t let me sleep a little longer? i’m still dead tired .”
You shake your head, huffing under your breath. “I’m sure.”
“SANS, DO NOT CONFUSE THE HUMAN!” Papyrus turns to you with concern as Sans ambles out of the car. Sans casually slings an arm around you and you leave it be, catching the way his eyelights dart around. You doubt anything you say will ease their caution, considering the way that Papyrus still hovers as you walk. “HUMAN, WE ARE NOT DEAD. I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HUMANS POSSESS SKELETONS WITHIN YOUR BODY, BUT THOSE ARE NOT ALIVE. WE ARE.”
“I know, Papyrus,” you say with a laugh. Is this an actual worry of his? “Human skeletons don’t walk around; you’re pretty different from those.”
Papyrus gallantly holds the door open for you and you give him your thanks as you step inside the Embassy. You pause on the threshold, taking in the splendor of the Embassy. You’ve been here many times, but it always catches you off guard, leaving you a bit breathless. Murals cover the walls of the lobby, depicting the history of monsters and the day they surfaced. Light glints off the gilt accents and your eyes catch on the depictions of the Seven Souls, arresting there.
“c’mon danger,” Sans says, jostling the arm around your waist. “let’s get this over with.”
You head to the reception’s desk, greeting the hand monster that mans the desk. “Hi there, uh, Dextra. We need to set up a meeting to…” You trail off, scrambling for the right words. “...resettle monsters from the Underground to the Surface.”
The monster nods, fingers shifting slightly. “There aren’t too many monsters who still need to be placed. We do have case workers who can assist. If you would fill out these forms?” She hands over two clipboards. Her head shifts, fingers fanning for a moment as she regards Sans and Papyrus. “Oso should be back from lunch in ten minutes; he’ll come out for one of you--”
“both,” Sans interrupts, arm tightening around you. “we’ll see him together.”
“You waive any privacy concerns?” the receptionist asks.
“OF COURSE!” Papyrus replies.
She taps away at her keyboard for a few moments. “Alright. Oso will see you both shortly.”
“you coming, trouble?” Sans asks, realizing that you’re still planted in front of reception.
“In a moment,” you say, waving him off. “Just need to get a little more information.”
He watches you for a moment. You raise Florence Taylor’s belongings and you see the tension in his shoulders ease in realization. “k.”
Sans leads Papyrus over to some plush armchairs and they both begin filling out their forms. You watch Papyrus for a moment, surprised by the ease and even grace with which he handles the pen in his sharp claws.
You turn back to the receptionist. “I have something to report to the Guard,” you say, fiddling with your bag. You’re filled with a nervous energy; you don’t want to hit a dead end or another complication. You’re so afraid that you’ll hear the worst; that your sister is beyond your reach… “Do I need to schedule an appointment for that?”
“No, no, nothing as formal as that,” the receptionist replies. Her head shifts and her forefinger points up and to the left. “You’ll just need to go up to their office on the third floor. Is there any other way I can be of assistance?”
“No, thank you for your help, Dextra,” you say.
You glance longingly at the stairs before heading over to sit with the brothers. You’ll be able to make the report soon; Sans and Papyrus will be in their meeting and you’ll go to yours.
“ya get it figured out?” Sans asks, barely glancing up from the forms.
You nod, taking a seat beside Papyrus. He straightens slightly and the clipboard shifts. You can briefly see his handwriting scrawled on the page and you sit up, interested. You avert your eyes from his page, not wanting to actually read the content as you pull out your phone and fiddle with it a bit.
“Oh my gosh,” you manage to choke out before dissolving into giggles.
“WHAT IS IT HUMAN?” Papyrus asks, turning to you.
You shake your head, clutching your sides as you sink into your seat.
Papyrus writes in a perfect Papyrus font.
How can he even write like that with a ballpoint pen?
“what’s tickling your funny bone, danger?” Sans asks, leaning around his brother to look at you.
“Do you--do you write in a sans-serif font?” you force out, face red with the force of your laughter.
“not sure what ya mean, sweetheart,” Sans replies. He turns his clipboard to you though, allowing you to see his handwriting.
Your giggles evolve into full-on laughter and you raise a hand to your mouth, trying to muffle the sounds.
Sans writes in Comic Sans.
“I--I can’t,” you say. “You really are font -ful family!”
The brothers exchange looks before looking back at you.
“YOU BETTER NOT HAVE BROKEN OU--THE HUMAN, SANS,” Papyrus says, turning back to his paperwork.
“me? she’s laughing because of ya,” Sans replies. His eye sockets lid as he watches you. “but i can think of a few ways to make ya scream .”
“SANS!” Papyrus says, voice increasing in volume. “THAT IS INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR!”
“it’s fine, boss. i’ll let danger hold it against me.” Sans’ eyelights travel over you and he gives you an exaggerated lascivious grin. “or just hold yourself against me.”
They snipe back and forth at each other as you slowly recover yourself, swiping at your watering eyes. Wow. You really needed that. You’ve been wound so tight; no wonder you fell apart the moment that humor was presented to you. You take several deep breaths, recovering.
“Thanks,” you say.
Papyrus and Sans pause in their banter, returning their attention to you. It looks like they’re about to say something, only for their expressions to shutter and go absolutely blank.
It’s kind of a terrifying transformation and you tense, just as a gruff voice says, “I’m the case worker, Oso. I’m guessing you’re the skeletons Dextra was referring to?”
You turn, taking in the bear monster standing before you. “They are,” you reply belatedly, frowning at the silent skeletons. Why are they acting so cold?
“Alright, we can meet in my office,” Oso says. “We can get you settled with an apartment today and start discussing job opportunities, figure out what type of career you want to have on the Surface.”
“k,” Sans says, getting to his feet. “you ready, boss?”
“HUMAN, ARE YOU COMING?” Papyrus asks as he leaps to his feet.
“I don’t know if that’s the best idea,” you say, looking between him and Oso. “You’ll be discussing private information...”
“it’s fine,” Sans says. “you’re welcome to join us.”
You look at Oso who just shrugs. “Alright,” you say, following them into the office.
You all take seats and you notice that you’re between Papyrus and Sans, bracketing you in...for protection? Just because?
You shrug it off, watching as Oso quickly flips through their paperwork. “Are Sans and Papyrus family names?”
“WHY DOES IT MATTER?” Papyrus says. “PAPYRUS IS MY NAME NOW; ANYONE ELSE WHO HAS HELD THE NAME IS IRRELEVANT.”
“Just seen a couple other skeletons with the same names,” Oso says. “I recently completed the paperwork for some other skeletons a couple months ago. Seems like skeleton monsters are starting to settle in New Home.”
You frown, glancing between the brothers before returning your eyes to Oso. “Guess New Home has a pull, huh,” you say lightly, ignoring the churning in your gut.
“Seems like it,” Oso says agreeably. “Well, everything seems to be in order here. We’ll be able to get you housed today. You are allowed to stay in this housing as long as you like, but most monsters regard it as a temporary residence. It’s a bit isolated from the greater community of the Surface and most monsters want to be more integrated than this housing offers.
“Now, career-wise, Sans, you have written that you have training as an engineer?” Sans nods. “There are many jobs on the Surface that need engineers. I’ll get you a packet on some positions currently available and you can apply for any that you care for. Papyrus, you were in the Guard?”
“I WAS CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD!” Papyrus says.
You see a flicker of something on Oso’s face--uncertainty maybe--before it smoothes away. “Well, you can apply to work in the Royal Guard on the Surface if you choose. You can also complete a career aptitude test if you like.” You frown, not caring for the subtle condescension Oso is directing toward Papyrus. From Sans’ glare, you think he feels much the same. “The only thing left to do in this first meeting is to do a SOUL check to make sure you’re in good health.”
You shift in your seat. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Sans places his hand on your shoulder. “stay.”
“You sure?” you ask, face warming. Seeing a SOUL is always an intimate thing, but seeing a SOUL outside of an Encounter? Well, that’s another level of intimacy. You look at Papyrus. “It won’t bother you?”
“STAY,” Papyrus says, averting his eyelights.
“Okay,” you say.
“how’re ya wanting to do this, pal?” Sans asks, looking at Oso. His face is hard and eyelights so dim that they are nearly invisible. “it’s just a check right?”
“Yeah,” Oso says, looking discomfited. You can feel the pressure of Sans’ magic and you’re sure that Oso can too. “No need for an Encounter.”
“heh, can do,” Sans says, standing up.
The crackle of his magic increases and you can feel sweat bead your brow.
You reach out and grab his hand, intertwining your fingers through his. His magic almost hiccups as he looks at you and you’re relieved to see his eyelights grow larger and brighter when he looks at you.
He grips your hand in turn, scoffing. “let’s get this over with,” he says.
Sans brings his free hand to his chest and you avert your eyes as his SOUL emerges. Still, you can see it in your peripherals. His SOUL, like all monsters, appears as an inverted heart and is a pure, pristine white. You find your eyes drawn to it, despite your best efforts. You love how monster SOULS look.
There are some people who think monster SOULS are boring because of the uniformity of their coloring. Human SOULS come in a variety of sizes and colors, but monster SOULS all look alike for the most part, with only some minute differences. There are even some, a minority thankfully, who think the differences in SOULS is proof that humans are superior.
But, in your mind, monster SOULS are beautiful. Sans’ SOUL has a pearlescent quality to it, a shimmery sheen that refracts light. You know, from experience, that, when in Encounters with humans, monster SOULS reflected the color of the human SOUL. You personally think that monster SOULS, being literally made of love, hope, and compassion, are white because they equally encompass all of the SOUL traits. Human SOULS, while physically stronger, cannot handle more than a few traits at a time and rarely are they equally represented in the SOUL.
But you have yet to truly test this hypothesis.
As you contemplate the matter of SOULS, you stare deeply at Sans’ SOUL.
“we done here?” Sans asks tightly, flush high on his cheekbones as he watches you from the corners of his eye sockets.
“Yep,” Oso says. “All clear.”
Sans sends his SOUL back into his body and you guess that the disappointment is clear on your face because, as he sits down, he leans over and says, “if ya didn’t get enough, sweetheart, i can give ya a private showing later.”
And then he winks .
Well, you aren’t taking that lying down.
You assess him in turn, allowing your gaze to linger as you do so. “Not sure you could handle a one-on-one session with me,” you drawl. “You already look dead on your feet .”
Sans’ flush deepens and you see his eyelights wobble before he ducks his head with a laugh. “alright, danger, ya win this round. i’m feeling a little winded.”
You rub your thumb along his phalanges and he glances down, surprised to see that you’re still holding hands.
“HERE, GAZE IN AWE UPON MY SOUL, HUMAN!” Papyrus says, thrusting his chest out. “OSO, TREMBLE IN TERROR BEFORE THE MIGHT OF THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PAPYRUS!”
With his express permission, you watch as Papyrus’ SOUL emerges. He reaches out and grabs at your free hand, which you offer him willingly. Your monster friends have mentioned how vulnerable exposing their SOUL can be and you’re happy to offer any type of comfort that you can.
His SOUL fairly glows, making the rest of the room appear dim in comparison. You can feel his magic fizzes up your arm. It feels different from Sans’, heavier and more direct and somehow warmer. Physically, it appears much the same, though slightly larger than Sans’. Your mouth tastes of sour candy, a side-effect of heavy exposure to magic.
You stare at his SOUL, taking in the shifting lights across its surface. It’s absolutely gorgeous and your breath catches. You instantly mourns its loss when it is reabsorbed into his chest and you blink as your eyes try to adjust to the lighting.
“Well, you’re both the picture of health,” Oso says, writing a couple of things down. “There’s no need for a follow-up with a doctor at this time.”
“great,” Sans says. “now what?”
“Well, there’s a representative who can take you to your apartments,” Oso says. “Should be available to take you over in about thirty minutes.”
“Perfect,” you say, getting to your feet. “And those career packets?”
“The representative will bring them,” Oso says, eyeing Sans warily.
You lead the brothers out of the room. “I need to make a report with the Guard,” you say, gesturing toward the staircase.
“consider us joined at yer hip,” Sans says.
“WE WILL NOT LEAVE YOU UNPROTECTED,” Papyrus adds.
The three of you make your way up the winding stairs and you go through the motions of making a report to the dog monster stationed there. You somewhat reluctantly hand over the items you found, finding it difficult to part with them. You’re part in all of this is over, and something in you fights that thought. You will do whatever it takes to get your sister back though, so you do hand over everything.
You keep your sister’s bandana though, tied tight around your wrist. You won’t--you can’t --bring yourself to part with it.
And as you watch the dog monster take everything away into evidence, you comfort yourself with the knowledge that you took pictures of everything. It’s a small thing, but it’s a start.
If the official investigation proves a bust, you can always conduct your own.
“THAT’S IT?” Papyrus asks as you head back downstairs to the lobby.
“That’s it,” you say, striving to keep your voice even.
“WELL, I DON’T KNOW WHY THE GUARD ABOVEGROUND FUNCTIONS DIFFERENTLY, BUT THAT WAS SHODDY WORK ON THEIR PART! THEY DIDN’T EVEN INTERVIEW YOU!”
“They said they’ll give me a call,” you say, slumping into a chair. “They have to verify the information first. And probably untangle the jurisdiction nightmare this is certain to be.”
“I AM...SORRY,” Papyrus says, voice uncharacteristically hesitant.
You can feel Sans jolt beside you, his expression incredulous, but your attention is on Papyrus. “Why do you feel sorry, Papyrus? It isn’t your fault.”
“I KNOW THAT!” Papyrus blusters, crossing his arms as he keeps his sockets turned toward the ceiling. “IT’S JUST...YOU SEEMED A BIT DOWNTRODDEN. AND THAT JUST WON’T DO!”
Your chest warms at his display of abrasive concern. “Thank you Papyrus.” You place your hand on his arm and exhale deeply. “We’ll see where things go from here.”
“ya got a plan don’t ya, trouble,” Sans says, eyelights brightening. “gonna stir up some mischief?
You smile nervously, meeting his knowing gaze. You’re unsure of his intentions, but he seems to see right through you. “I’m not planning to make a mess of things,” you say. “I just want to get to the bottom of things. I just want to get my sister back.”
Sans doesn’t reply immediately, but you see a softening in his eye sockets. His eyes shift toward your chest and you’re almost offended for a moment before you realize his gaze seems unfocused, almost like he’s looking beyond you.
His smile shifts to something genuine and delicate. “yer soul’s in the right place, trouble. just watch yerself. don’t want ya to have a bad time.”
“HELLO!” a voice booms and you jump, turning. “I AM THE MASCOT OF ALL MONSTERS.” You stare in disbelief at the skeleton monster. “I AM THE REPRESENTATIVE WHO WILL BE TAKING YOU TO YOUR NEW ABODE.” The monster is tall and lanky and bears an almost scary resemblance to Papyrus. If not for Papyrus’ sharp grin, scar across his eye socket, and slight advantage on height and width, you would call them twins. You wonder briefly if that’s a racist thought, but Papyrus resembles this new monster more than he resembles Sans. This new monster is wearing a crop top and a red scarf and you recognize him from memes. Isn’t his name-- “I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS.” What ? “IT IS A PLEASURE TO MEET--” He cuts off, taking in the three of you. “Oh.”
You can feel the tell-tale crackle of magic from both of the skeletons beside you and you stand up, stepping forward toward this new skeleton. Papyrus ?
It’s...well, you’ve seen a number of videos and memes featuring this monster. You knew his name was Papyrus, but you thought that maybe it was a common name among skeletons. But now, seeing both the Papyrus you know and this celebrity Papyrus at the same time, you notice the striking similarities.
“Hello...Papyrus,” you greet, offering your hand. You introduce yourself. “I’m their…” What’s the right word for it? You’ve known them for less than a full day. Acquaintance? Friend? “Associate.” It doesn’t feel right, but you press forward. This whole conversation feels awkward in any case. “They’ve recently arrived from Underground and I brought them into town.”
“OH,” celebrity Papyrus says, sockets darting between you and the brothers. “THAT WAS VERY KIND OF YOU, HUMAN.”
“WHO ARE YOU?” your Papyrus snaps, leaping to his feet and taking you by the shoulder to tuck you slightly behind him. “WHY DO YOU USE MY NAME AND UTILIZE A SIMILAR BUT SUBPAR FACE?”
“the hell’s this?” Sans says.
You glance his way. His sockets are completely empty, grin somehow threatening as he strides forward. You grab at his elbow and his grin tightens, but he stops beside you, also positioning himself in front of you.
“THAT IS A VERY GOOD QUESTION,” new Papyrus says. Sweat beads along his skull. “COULD WE--WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO WAIT TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION IN PRIVATE?”
“listen bud--” Sans’ magic swells and you see one of his sockets light with red fire. Shit . “--if ya think we’d go anywhere with--”
“Hey,” you say, voice high as you realize that Sans is more than willing to start an Encounter in the Embassy. Monsters are watching the interaction curiously, but most of the humans haven’t picked up on his crackling magic. Yet. You can imagine just how bad it would be for someone to film this confrontation between Papyrus and...Papyrus. “Let’s settle down a bit.” Sans glares at you and you can feel the brunt of his magic come to bear on you. You stand firm, holding his gaze evenly. “ Please .”
“yer asking for trouble,” Sans says, even as his magic eases.
“I thought you were asking for trouble,” you say. “It’s my name after all.”
Sans snorts, catching you around the waist easily. “not sure if i enjoy this ribbing , sweetheart.”
Both Papyruses--Papyri?--let out a disappointed sigh. “SANS--!”
They both cut off, looking at each other. You can sense your Papyrus’ magic, even see it coalesce into swirling red, as you reach out to grab his hand.
“ Please , let’s go talk somewhere else,” you say. “I get the feeling that...whatever this is is more complicated and sensitive than you’d want passerby to overhear.”
Celebrity Papyrus brightens at that, letting out a relieved breath. “INDEED. THE HUMAN IS QUITE ASTUTE. I HAVE AN OFFICE HERE AT THE EMBASSY IF YOU’D LIKE TO SPEAK THERE. I PROMISE I WILL DO WHAT I CAN TO ANSWER ALL OF YOUR QUESTIONS.”
“NICE TRY, FOOL!” your Papyrus says. “I WILL NOT FALL FOR SUCH AN OBVIOUS TRAP! WE WILL MEET IN NEUTRAL TERRITORY, WHERE YOU DO NOT HAVE THE ADVANTAGE.” His eyelights snap to you and you squeeze his hand as you notice the tightness around his sockets. He’s doing a pretty stellar job of hiding it, but you know he must feel addled. “HUMAN, IS THERE A SECLUDED PLACE NEARBY THAT WILL SERVE APPROPRIATELY?”
“We could go to the park?” you say. You look at the new Papyrus. “Do you know the one off of Wooly St.?”
“I DO!” he replies, smiling so brightly that you can’t help but return it. “I HAVE A WONDERFUL VEHICLE OF TRANSPORTATION, WOULD YOU CARE FOR A RIDE?”
You take in the displeasure on the brothers’ expressions. “Thank you for the offer Papyrus, but I’ll drive separately.”
“SIGH,” He actually says sigh out loud! You grin, eyes crinkling at the corners. Celebrity Papyrus is definitely worthy of his fame; he’s really cool. “WELL, YOU WILL BE MISSING OUT ON A RIDE IN MY CONVERTIBLE. PERHAPS NEXT TIME, HUMAN!”
Both of the brothers stiffen, but you nod, raising a hand in farewell.
They stay silent until you’re back in the car and then Papyrus says, “WHAT WAS THAT?”
“I...have no idea,” you say.
“ WHO WAS THAT?”
“You don’t know him?” you ask. “He isn’t a relative?”
“there’s only two living skeletons and yer looking at them,” Sans says. “though i guess there’s three now.” Sans clears his throat, shifting slightly. “what about ya, danger? ya seemed to recognize that...skeleton.”
“I…” You look at them both, reading the slight suspicion and clear befuddlement in their faces. “That Papyrus is, as he said, the mascot for monsters. It’s something like being an ambassador, but a bit more casual? He’s something of an internet celebrity; the only monster with more name recognition is Mettaton. I knew of him; I’ve seen some videos and photos of him and knew his name.”
You turn directly to meet Papyrus’ eyes. “I didn’t realize, until we met him in person, just how similar the two of you look. I thought that Papyrus was a family name--” You see the realization in Papyrus’ eyes, obviously connecting it to the question you asked him. “--I didn’t really consider a connection.” You look between the brothers, smile going wry and bitter. “I was, uh, thinking about other things instead.”
You read remorse in Sans’ eyelights as he grabs your hand. “shit, sweetheart, yeah. ya don’t have to explain yerself. it’s just a little--”
“ UNNERVING ,” Papyrus says, an expectant gleam to his eyelights.
Sans begins to laugh, deep and full, from the gut. You stare at them both for several moments before the dots connect.
“Wow,” you say, laughing lightly. “That was pretty tasteless of you.”
“YOU’RE WRONG HUMAN. WE HAVE THE ABILITY TO TASTE, BUT WE DO LACK NERVES,” Papyrus says.
“I don’t know about that,” you say, finally pulling out of the lot. “I think you’re both plenty brave.”
With your eyes on the road, you do not notice the sudden lull and shyness that overtakes them momentarily.
You take a couple of back roads, idly listening to the brothers as they start bickering as you navigate toward the park. The park is one that has been in New Home for long before the city became New Home; you remember visits taken here when you were in elementary school.
“Here we are,” you say.
The park is, thankfully, a bit empty right now, with only a few humans and monsters milling about. You make your way over to the empty swing sets, wrapping your hand in the links as you take a seat.
Papyrus and Sans watch you, looking a bit impressed as you start moving back and forth.
A thought strikes you. “Have you...have you ever used a swing?”
“NO,” Papyrus says, gaze following the swing’s motions. “HOW DOES IT WORK?”
You stop, assisting Papyrus in settling onto a swing. It’s a bit small for him, his long legs are a bit awkward, but he picks up on your instructions quickly. You watch him pump his legs, heart pinching. You taught your sister how to swing too. Keeping an eye on him, you say to Sans, “You want to give it a try?”
“nah, i don’t swing that way,” Sans says, a fond look in his eyes as he regards Papyrus. “isn’t my bro the coolest?”
You watch Papyrus, catching the flicker of blue magic on the chains of the swing to send him impossibly higher. “He is,” you say softly in agreement. You glance at Sans, startled to find him staring directly at you. “You can just sit in the swing; you don’t have to put in quite the effort that Papyrus does.” You grin conspiratorially and start swinging again. “I don’t think anyone could possibly match Papyrus’ efforts.”
“yer right about that,” Sans says, ambling to the swing beside you. He hops up onto the seat and you have to suppress a smile at the way his feet dangle, unable to touch the ground. “i’m glad ya brought us here. i haven’t seen boss have this much fun in a while.”
You jolt, turning toward celebrity Papyrus as he lopes over to you. Your Papyrus leaps from the swing at its zenith, landing gracefully in front of you. He stands to his full height, crossing his arms as he glares at celebrity Papyrus. “Hi Papyrus,” you say, standing from the swing. “Did you find the park alright?”
“YES,” celebrity Papyrus says. “I APOLOGIZE FOR THE WAIT; I GOT HELD UP AT THE EMBASSY.” His sockets are directed away from you and you get the feeling that he’s lying. “WELL. THAT ISN’T EXACTLY ACCURATE. I WAS TRYING TO CONTACT MY BROTHER. BUT THAT LAZYBONES REFUSED TO ANSWER HIS PHONE!”
“Your brother?” you repeat dumbly. “There are others?” You stop, remembering what Oso said. Of course there are others. At least two others. No wait, there’s a skeleton monster at your university. Probably at least three. “Did he...did he register at New Home recently?”
“NO,” Papyrus says, skull sweating. “MY OLDER BROTHER HAS LIVED IN NEW HOME SINCE WE SURFACED.”
“what’s yer brother’s name?” Sans asks, still sitting on the swing.
“UM…” And then, accomplishing something you didn’t think possible, celebrity Papyrus mutters something under his breath, quiet and unintelligible.
“WHAT WAS THAT, IMPOSTER?” your Papyrus asks.
“HIS NAME IS SANS,” Papyrus blurts.
“Sorry,” you say, keeping your voice even, as magic crackles through the brothers. “Could you explain that a bit?”
“YES, OF COURSE. THAT IS WHY WE ARE HERE AFTER ALL. THERE HAS BEEN A...DISTURBANCE IN VOID MAGIC. I CAN’T EXPLAIN IT AS WELL AS THE OTHERS--THAT’S WHY I WANTED TO SPEAK WITH MY BROTHER--BUT IT’S...WELL, IT MESSES WITH TIMELINES.”
Sans stands, glaring up at celebrity Papyrus. “explain.”
“ABOUT TWO MONTHS AGO, TWO SKELETONS APPEARED IN THE FORESTS NEAR NEW HOME. SANS FOUND THEM. THEY ARE...WELL, THEY ARE ALTERNATE UNIVERSE VERSIONS OF...US. SANS AND ME, SPECIFICALLY. SANS AND STRETCH--THAT’S THE NICKNAME THAT ALTERNATE PAPYRUS GOES BY--ARE ATTEMPTING TO REVERSE THE PROCESS.”
“Obviously it did not work,” you say, blood pounding in your ears. You look at your Sans and Papyrus--one set of three?--and catch their stricken looks. You grab at their hands, trying to offer them some semblance of comfort and take some for yourself. It doesn’t exactly ground you, but you aren’t sure if anything can right now. “What set off the disturbance in Void magic?”
“I AM NOT ENTIRELY SURE,” Papyrus says. “MY BROTHER KNOWS MORE ABOUT VOID MAGIC. I KNOW HE WAS WORKING OUT IN THE FOREST WHEN BLUE AND STRETCH WERE PULLED THROUGH--”
“was he now?” Sans says through gritted teeth. “and what the hell was this...prime directive working on?”
“I DO NOT KNOW,” Papyrus admits. “SOME SORT OF MACHINE. HE CLAIMED IT WOULD FIX THINGS; MAKE OUR TIMELINE STABLE--”
“WELL IT SEEMS TO HAVE DONE THE OPPOSITE,” your Papyrus snaps, gesturing angrily. “WHAT IS HE DOING NOW?”
“HE’S ADJUSTING HIS CALCULATIONS,” Papyrus says. “HE’S TRYING TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT.”
There’s a roaring in your ears, but your voice is calm and steady as you say, “What about the humans?”
Celebrity Papyrus--stars, you need to come up with a nickname or something--looks at you. “WHAT ABOUT THEM? THEY ARE THUS FAR UNAWARE OF THE SKELETAL ANTICS--”
“Not that,” you say distantly, breaking contact with Sans and Papyrus to approach celebrity Papyrus. You faintly hear noises of protest, but you’re beyond that, beyond them. “The missing humans.”
“WHAT?” Papyrus asks and you see his eye sockets boggle. In any other situation, you would laugh. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”
“People are missing; disappeared around the same time that the…alternate universe skeletons appeared.” Stars, you can barely wrap your mind around it. “That’s how I came across these two. I was out in the forest with my sister--” Your voice breaks, raw and angry. You shake yourself and glare up at Papyrus. You know he isn’t at fault, but you need him to understand . Desperation fills you and you are certain that, if you were a monster, you would’ve already pulled this Papyrus into an Encounter. “Whatever the hell your brother did, I’m willing to bet it has something to do with these disappearances. So. I’ll rephrase the question a bit. Where the hell is my sister?”